Tuesday, June 9, 2009

How I Built My Personal Learning Network

Two years ago my Personal Learning Network (PLN) was totally offline and practically nonexistent. Today I have a PLN that I am connected to through this blog, Twitter, and a few other social media sites. I have learned more about effective teaching practices, learning technologies, and the teaching profession in the past two years through my PLN than I learned in the previous 15 years of teacher inservices, graduate classes, and faculty meetings. The biggest problem now is managing the time to effectively maintain and contribute to my PLN. However, the benefits of my PLN far outweigh the problems. For example:
  • At any time of day I can learn about new strategies, tools, or ideas that could positively impact my classroom instruction.
  • If I have a question I can rely on my PLN for an answer within minutes (sometimes even seconds).
  • I have connections with teachers, administrators, professors, and educational and technology experts from around the world. In the past school year I have communicated with and learned from people in my PLN from not just the United States and Canada, but also New Zealand, Australia, England and Singapore.
Thinking back about how my PLN started I realized that this blog was its foundation. When I started American Cultures 2.0 in the fall of 2007 I really had little idea about how to blog, let alone how to develop a PLN. Reflecting on the last two years I realize that there were three stages I went through to get to the point where I am now.

1st Stage--Getting Organized & Gathering Information
2nd Stage--Joining, Reading, and Commenting
3rd Stage--Creating & Sharing

These stages did not occur disconnected from each other, or in a lockstep order, rather they overlapped each other. I began reading blog posts related to teaching by subscribing to rss feeds directed to my Google Reader at about the same time I began American Cultures 2.0. My method of trying new things is typically to just do it (thank you Nike!). I have certainly learned, and continue to learn, from my mistakes. What I refuse to do is to not try something because it might not work, or because nobody else is doing it, or because it is different. The three stages occurred pretty rapidly for me because I jumped into using technology. I decided that I wanted to teach using technology, so I figured I better learn how I could personally use technology to learn if I wanted to use it to teach students. Now that you know my motivation for developing my PLN, here are the tools in my PLN tool belt:

Getting Organized & Gathering Information
  • Delicious (atitzel)--My primary social bookmarking site currently has 634 bookmarked websites, blog posts, news articles and wikis that I find most interesting and relevant. Most are directly related to some aspect of teaching. My Delicious network is small, since I am only networked with 14 other people, however, I find that the quality of the people is more important than the quantity.
  • Diigo (atitzel)--Another social bookmarking site. I primarily lurk on Diigo. I know I should be contributing more, but you only have so many hours in a day. I have subscribed to 4 Groups on Diigo (Classroom 2.0, Educators, Social Studies, and NCSS History) that I get a weekly email with shared links. When I have the time to peruse the links I am guaranteed to find several gems.
  • Google Reader--My online personalized magazine of anything that I am interested in reading or seeing (I even subscribe to Flickr feeds). Any blog that I run across that seems interesting and relevant to teaching goes into my School folder. I also have a Technology folder, Delicious feed folder (you can subscribe to individual tags on Delicious!), wiki edits folder (yes, you can subscribe to edits on wikis), and a Hershey Blog folder (for teacher and student blogs at Hershey Middle School).
  • iGoogle--I really don't use my iGoogle start page that often, but I know a lot of people rely on iGoogle or Pageflakes to organize their blogs and other info (news, weather, quotes, etc...). It is nice to have everything you need on one page.
  • Google Wave--This much anticipated, game changing Google platform will be released later this year and could change the way we organize and communicate with our PLN. Here's a recent blog post about Google Wave.
Joining, Reading, and Commenting
  • Classroom 2.0--The mother of all teacher networking sites. This is the place to ask that question related to teaching, since there are thousands of educators of all stripes who call Classroom 2.0 home. This is another site where I need to become more involved. I have already posted a couple of questions and have been impressed with the response.
  • Diigo Groups--I discussed the value of Diigo Groups above. Diigo is another great place to get connected with other teachers.
  • LinkedIn--Although this is primarily a business networking site there are educators who are active on LinkedIn. I created a profile, which is like an online resume, and joined the Edublogger group. Although I am not very active it is one more site that I can immediately become active and learn from at any moment. Plus, you never know who will read your profile.
  • Alltop--Probably the best place to find quality blogs related to any number of topics. Alltop only select the most credible blogs to include on their site, so the edublogs included in Alltop are excellent blogs to start subscribing to in your Reader.
  • TED and FORA.tv--Two excellent websites that contain fascinating videos from fascinating people talking about fascinating topics (including education). One of my favorite bloggers, who is actually a friend and colleague of mine, cataloged dozens of TED Talks related to education on his blog post: TED Talks Demystified for Teachers.
Creating & Sharing
  • My Blogs (American Cultures 2.0 & Viva la Historia)--The two blogs that I write are a reflection of what I read. Each has a focus and a purpose. American Cultures 2.0 is my personal journal focused on what I have learned related to teaching with technology. Viva la Historia is my class blog intended primarily for my students, although I hope Viva is an effective communication tool with parents and is seen as an example of how one social studies teacher uses blogs with his students. It is my hope that each blog will evolve and continually get better since they are both my creations that reflect what I have learned from my PLN.
  • Twitter (titzel)--My primary way to communicate, share, and learn from my PLN. It took me a while to get Twitter, but I learned that the more quality people who you follow the better. I can go onto Twitter at any time and find something of value within seconds. Twitter has become one of the sites that I check out on a daily basis. Besides getting and sharing teaching tips and tools, I get breaking news headlines, current weather, and up to date traffic. Here are some excellent links about Twitter (How to find local tweets, 100 Excellent, Educational Twitter Feeds, 9 Great Reasons why Teachers Should Use Twitter, A Teacher's Guide to Twitter, and Twitter4Teachers).
Another great benefit I get from my online PLN is that it helps my offline PLN. The teachers I teach with were the original PLN and now the great tools, strategies and ideas are being shared and used in the classrooms at Hershey Middle School. As more teachers develop their own online PLN the benefits for everyone will multiply.

As I was pulling together my collected information on PLN's for this blog post I discovered David Warlick's CoLearner's wiki that has an excellent page entitled, The Art & Technique of Personal Learning Networks. The page is used as a resource at conferences where Warlick presents on PLN's. Enjoy it from the comfort of your home!

O.k., now I need to begin reading Why Don't Students Like School, by Daniel Willingham for the 2nd annual CASTLE book club. By the way, I learned about this opportunity to read and discuss this book about how students learn from a tweet by Dr. Scott McLeod, an Education Leadership Professor at Iowa State University and co-creator of the viral video Did You Know 2.0.

Now do you see how I have learned more from my PLN in 2 years than in all the inservices and classes combined over 15 years?

Image Source: Clix on Stock.xchng


Beth Holmes said...

Hi, Art,
I was looking through my messages from Twitter followers and came across your recent follow! Thank you! It takes me awhile to visit each follower's blogs and tweets to be sure I am adding the right members to my PLN. I check each one and am always thrilled to meet another serious educator! I am sorry for the delay in response you but I am totally OUT of time and am behind with my PLN! At any rate, your follow led me to your blog, which I thoroughly enjoyed! In your most recent post you describe the process you went through in creating your PLN. I relate to each phase you describe. One difference I have noted is that I cannot find the time to manage the blog I want to produce. I have been disappointed that I am not able to spend as much time with my online community as I'd like. My work is so demanding and the time I spend with it is so great that I just cannot do all of the things I'd like to do!
I do think you are point perfect in your description of the value and the process of building a PLN. I am glad to have met you on Twitter and look forward to learning with you!

Mr. T said...

My biggest problem, as is yours, is finding the time to keep up my pln. I think this is probably the biggest issue for most people. As you notice with this blog during the school year I only post once a month (at most) because of all the other commitments I have. During the summer I hope to post more often. I try not to worry about it because I can only do so much.

Thanks for spending the time to check out my blog. Take care,

Lindsey said...


Thank you so much for sharing this incredible insight on how to create a PLN. Your info and links are most helpful and an overwhelmingly valuable time saver for a new teacher.

Sara said...


I am working on my master's in Educational Technology from the University of Northern Iowa. Our professor had a link to this post in your blog. You have embedded many useful and fascinating websites. It took me an hour to get through this post because I kept clicking on links and signing up for things. Thank you so much for sharing!

CathyO said...

Thank you for this post. I am in the fourth week of a educational technology graduate program, and have been struggling to put all of this in perspective. Your blog has helped me tremendously. I think I am starting to "get" what the professor is trying to have us build. Again...thanks!

Mr. T said...

Sara and CathyO--Thanks for your comments. It's great to hear how others have benefited from the work you do. That is the whole point of PLN's--sharing and collaborating. Only good things can come from the willingness to share.