Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Making Connections-Developing Your Own Personal Learning Community

Many of the teachers that I work with in the Middle School at University School of Milwaukee asked about how I 'met' some of the people that we skyped with at Monday's division meeting. With the exception of Gene Yang who Laurie established a connection with earlier this year, I met the other two teachers using several different social networking tools. I'm going to do my best to explain the networking tools that I've been using over the past 2 months to develop my personal learning community (or personal learning network-PLN for short).

Some of the tools I'm using to connect with others:

1. Twitter-twitter is a combination of email, a blog, and IM all rolled into one. The great thing about twitter is that you are limited to 140 characters and you answer the question, "What am I doing right now?." I use it to tell others about interesting projects in the Middle School that we're engaged in, interesting classroom projects that are going on, etc. If you try it, don't be surprised if you don't like it at first. I didn't like it at first, but now it is one of my most useful tools for developing connections with other teachers. I'm 'mjmonty' on twitter-be sure to follow me when you create your account!

A couple of twitter tips to get you started:
  1. Include a link to a blog, wiki, or website that you use for professional purposes. When you choose to follow certain people they receive a notification that you are following them. The are more likely to reciprocate and follow you if you have a link to your blog, wiki, website, etc.
  2. Search for people to follow by using the search feature at the twitter home page or by using TwitDir. The first thing I tend to look for in someone to follow is how often they make updates. If they haven't updated in several months, I don't follow them. Also, check out their blog or web link to make certain this is someone with ties to education. Finally, if you notice a huge disparity between followers and following, stay away (for example, if they are following 2500 people but only have 3 followers themselves, don't add them!) On the flipside, folks when many more followers than they are actually following usually means they have some good ideas that they're sharing.
  3. Sift through some of their updates prior to adding them. What kinds of things are the posting? Don't be afraid of someone who shares some personal information-this is OK as it helps establish rapport (just like it would help establish rapport in face to face relationships). However, if the only thing they are twittering about is personal business, you might want to move on.
  4. Take a look at my twitter home page to get an idea of some of the people I'm following. Most of the folks I follow are in the field of instructional technology, but I'm also following some english teachers, social studies teachers and a few elementary school teachers (I find some of the most interesting projects from my elementary teacher peers).
2. Classroom 2.0 - This is a "ning" social networking tool. It is an awesome place for meeting other educators from all around the world. This is where I met Chrissy, the 6th grade teacher that we skyped with in New Zealand.

3. Independent School Educators Network - This is a social network intended to be utilized by both teachers and students at Independent Schools. I used this tool to refine and improve our idea for our 21st Century Connections workshop the other night at our faculty meeting by posting the initial idea in the forum and asking others to critique it.

4. Skype - Skype typically isn't the place where you establish your first connections with other educators. It is a tool that you use to extend your conversations after you've developed some rapport online with some folks.

I'm certainly not an expert in the area of personal learning networks. I do know that PLNs are incredibly powerful and have changed me as an educator and instructional technology practitioner significantly. A peer of mine down at North Shore Country Day in Chicago, Vinnie Vrotny, did an awesome presentation on personal learning networks this past fall at the K12 Online conference. If you want to learn more about PLNs, I highly recommend that you listen to Vinnie's presentation as it is outstanding.

Best of luck developing your own personal learning network and making connections with other teachers and students around the globe!

*photo courtesy of MR+G on flickr (creative commons non-commercial)


  1. I find it interesting that blogging and using an aggregator were not part of your list. Perhaps this is an indication of how things are changing! Good stuff ...

  2. Ditto Smeech's comments. Good stuff to get people's feet wet. Call it PLN Lite.