Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Question of the Day: On Building a PLN In an Age of Mainstreamed Social Media

Question of the Day: "Is It Harder Now In 2011 to Build a PLN Than It Was Before the Mainstreaming of Social Media?"

In my experience, teachers understand the value of building a PLN. A common problem many have, however, is just getting started. And for many teachers just starting out, it seems as though they may have even more struggle than many teachers did just a short time ago.

Though engaged in all sorts of online endeavors since the earl 90's, I only began in earnest putting my education PLN together back in 2008 through minor blogging endeavors and some freelance writing. It was in the winter of 2009 that I got into Twitter and I recall that for about the first three months, I didn't even make a post. I remember reading the tweets and blogs of other folks and I recall becoming so full of anxiety whenever I would leave a comment. (I probably checked to see if anyone commented on my comments several times a day at the beginning...)

It was only with the creation of this blog and my cross-pollination of content into the Twitterverse that I started to feel more comfortable with social media -- despite the fact that I'd been engaged in one way or another going all the way back to the days of BBS boards. Things started picking up. Eventually (eventually!) I found my own voice, and of course now I feel completely at ease in my writing, in my commenting, and in my tweets.

I wonder though if it was easier engaging in a PLN in early 2009 -- before the mainstreaming of social media -- than it is today. We often talk about how events in the summer of '09 changed the public perception of social media. From the China earthquake to the Iranian protests to the founders of Twitter on the cover of Time magazine to FB hitting 500 quadrillion members (slight exaggeration), that summer saw social media go big. And I wonder if that actually makes it more difficult to engage.

And I'm not talking about the number of followers you have. That's relatively arbitrary. I'm talking about the quality of connection you are able to make. I'm talking about the ability to foster professional -- and personal -- connections via this huge and ever moving arrangement.

I would like to see the community here give some practical advice to those folks plugging their user ID into Twitter for the first, second, or third time. What should they expect? How can they leverage social media to get the most good out of it? Why is it worth their time? And is it harder today (or not)?

Let's hear it in the comments and get some conversation going.


  1. Good question Shelly,

    I think building a PLN is the same as building friendships in real life (whatever that means!)

    You have to talk to people. Find people who interest you and engage them in conversations through whatever tools you and they are comfortable with.

    If you spend the time talking to people you will develop meaningful and helpful relationships. I think it really is as simple as engaging people.

    Not everyone will engage back to you at the same level. Don't take it personal. You won't "click" with everyone on-line and you won't be able to have the same level of relationships with everyone, but you will start to build a network of people to learn with.

    For myself since I will be teaching a new subject (social studies) next year, I have started following the #sschat hashtag and have started to engage those people because I know we have common interests and can help each other.

  2. What does PLN mean?

  3. As an online educator and someone who should be more comfortable with technology I am often overwhelmed to the point of being "frozen" with trepidation in where to start. I Facebook, I (read) Tweet(s) and I follow a couple blogs but I am missing so much. I don't know how to draw the boundaries and snuff out the unnecessary when it comes to both the personal and the professional side of technology when the ease of both is at my fingertips all day long. Any advice would be most welcome.

  4. @anonymous a PLN is a Personal Learning Network. It is a group of educators you interact with (mostly online) by sharing resources, ideas, reflection, etc.

    I started really getting into developing a PLN during my time as a dean of students and technology integration specialist in the middle school. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but several other educators started sharing resources with me and helping me learn what and how a PLN works. That was back during 2008-09 and I seriously had no idea what I was up to or why I was trying to do it. However, another teacher at our school had been encouraging me before he left for Singapore and I just kept at it. Sometimes I wouldn't blog or tweet for days at a time, because I was busy with other aspects of my job. But once I committed myself to blogging regularly, things really started to happen for me professional and personally.

    The commitment I made was to use Twitter for 10 minutes a day and post to my blog at least twice a week. Sometimes the posts were only one paragraph (and often still are) but it was the discipline to do it weekly that was important. When I was taking guitar lessons in high school, my instructor taught me this lesson about practice -- 10 minutes every day. Of course, you often don't practice more than that, because of other things, but often you spend more time; especially if you really enjoy it. My advice -- 10 minutes a day on Twitter and/or 10 minutes blogging. It works and you will see and feel the payoff in a short time. I'm a better teacher and learner because of my PLN.

  5. I have just started trying to build my PLN. My two areas I am trying to focus on are organization and commitment. I am uncomfortable when thing are not well organized, so I have spent most of my time choosing paths of information (Twitter, Blog, RSS reader, etc) and syncing them (as best I know how) to work together with as few daily clicks from me as possible. The result is a system I am fairly comfortable with but the information is only going one way at the moment- a lot coming in for me to read, but not much going out. So, now I will focus on getting two-way traffic going on my information paths.

    Tim, I like how you gave yourself goals (2 blog posts a week, etc). I think that is what I need to do. Give myself a few reachable goals per week and set aside a designated block of time to do them in.

    Next obstacle to staying focused on creating my PLN: summer vacation.

  6. Shelly, great post as always. I think what made it easier for me was connecting with one person and then going from there. I reached out to many and then focused in on people I felt more compatible with. A big thing as well is to try to get to know that person outside of their classroom or job, which gets easier when you have "spoken" for a little bit. So be courageous, reach out, and comment on other blogs. I often find new people to learn with through comments.


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