Personal Learning Networks existed long before there was an Internet. I am perhaps showing my age, but my first “Personal Learning Network” used very little of the technologies we use now. It basically involved colleagues down the hall, perhaps a teacher or two in other buildings or other schools, and my yearly subscription to the English Journal. That learning network was rounded out by the occasional book title I picked up at the bookstore or at a conference. One summer that “Personal Learning Network” extended to other educators during a two-week participation in the National Writing Project at Appalachian State University. The connections made in those days were primarily face-to-face, through-the-phone, and through print. The quality of my “Personal Learning Network” then was as dependent upon my efforts to make connections then as it is now. Sharing with other teachers was a central part of that networking system too.
Many years later, educators now have at their disposal, the most powerful tools for developing and maintaining professional learning networks in history. Yet, many educators---principals, teachers, and superintendents---have yet to fully utilize these tools. Their “Personal Learning Networks” are globally-atrophied and non-vibrant because they either are afraid of engaging in using these 21st century tools of PLN creation, or they have convinced themselves that it is all a fad and will fade in a few years. While individual tools may come and go, the notion of “connecting with others, instantaneously and globally," is here to stay. Humankind has tasted the fruit of being able to interact with others globally with technology, and will only demand better tools and better ways of doing it.
For those school leaders who have not yet taken the plunge into the 21st century world of social media and “Globally-Vibrant Personal Learning Networks,” here’s baby-steps to get you started today. No need to be afraid. Trust yourself and that natural, inner-thirst for wanting to learn, to guide you in taking your first steps in connecting with other educators globally.
Start by setting up a Twitter account. I realize even saying the word “Twitter” immediately sends some administrators, educators and other school leaders into fits of “near-profanity” and disgust. I can sympathize. After you have dealt with 15 incidents in one day of students and perhaps staff members using Twitter, or Facebook, in a less than acceptable manner, your view of the medium can be just a bit tainted. Still, Twitter, despite its “cutesy and dare I say less-than-dignified sounding name,” is the easiest social media tool to begin using. Besides, mention Facebook to some administrators, and they go into convulsions of disgust, so we won’t stretch it that far. Here’s some pointers in getting started with your “Personal Learning Network Development Program” using Twitter.
- Set up your Twitter account first. I would suggest finding a “Twitter-enthusiast” in your school, because I get there's just about one every school by now. Have them help you set up your account. Perhaps they can even suggest some educators you can begin following.
- Once your account is set up, begin simple. Respond to a few Tweets-of-Interest. Participate in a “Twitter Chat” such as #edchat, satchat, or #ncadmin. Don’t be afraid to join in and share your thoughts, but keep in mind the 140 character limit. This is actually good: hard to be long-winded when you only have so few words to do it. You can’t hardly show off that complicated vocabulary either. You have to think concisely and be direct. Over time, the more you Tweet, the more you will build what I call your “Twitter-stamina.”
- Occasionally, share out a “juicy quote” from your professional reading. The really good quotes are the ones others can’t help but reply to. A “well-tweeted” quote will immediately get others to connect with you. Blast it out! See who responds.
- You can’t be a “lurker” for the rest of your life. Get out there in cyberspace and share. The currency of Personal Learning Networks are ideas. You have something to contribute, so get off your lurker-cushion and share how your school has solved a particularly thorny issue.
- Finally, when you hear the “social media horror stories” don’t react with a vow of social-media celibacy, after all, we don’t swear off phones when someone uses them irresponsibly, nor do we take a vow against writing when someone writes a threatening note. Realize that social media is a way to connect with others. Like all media designed for fostering connections, it can be used for good or ill.