Thursday, November 19, 2009

Twitter up a PLN

One of the primary benefits I have received from becoming a prolific tweetster is the establishment and expansion of my professional learning network (PLN). Prior to my self-learning foray into the world of tweeting, I primarily relied on reading news and relevant blogs through what are called RSS readers, my favorite of which are Protopage and NetNewsWire. But I was still on my own to search and figure out which sites were most beneficial to my professional as well as personal interests. I have been an avid Facebook-er for several years but I find that to be more useful for building and maintaining social connections and communicating with our graduates, rather than as a learning platform.

Then came Twitter, and I like many others only dabbled in it at first still wondering what benefit I would derive in exchange for the time commitment. I walked away from it for a little while but then saw quite by accident what a few other educational professionals were Tweeting about. I was hooked! It didn't take long for me to see the potential learning benefits of selectively expanding who I follow on Twitter and who I allow to follow me. Not satisfied with using just the basic Twitter web site as my platform, I tried several different desk-top Twitter apps until I settled on Tweet Deck for my notebook computer and Uber Twitter for the Blackberry. Both are free and quite easy to get familiar with after a bit of use.

For the past half year, I have been touting the benefits of opening our communications within the district using Twitter, as well as the district Facebook page and our website, where I blog about district-wide interests a couple of times each week (I assume that's where you are reading this). My aim has been to build a more transparent exchange of information that will help each of us grow professionally and become an even closer "family business." But while a few of you have become more prolific in your tweets, the fact remains that most are still waiting for proof that joining the twitterverse will be beneficial.

My twittering experience has opened many new doors, both for relationships with like-minded professionals around the world as well as new ideas for improving my professionalism and job performance. Those whom I have chosen to follow and get regular daily updates from provide links that take me to new learning opportunities. In return, I share my experiences and what I have self-learned with those who choose to follow me. The network (followed and followers) is growing exponentially as I participate in more relevant learning through Twitter.

In the past week, I expanded my use of Twitter to include participating in a couple of one-hour sessions called #edchat (this is called a hashtag that serves to group tweets together that contain it in the message). While the flow of tweets during #edchat is fast, what I have learned and retained each time has been quite phenomenal. These tweetups occur at noon and 7 pm on Tuesdays and anyone can join in or just observe. You only have to enter #edchat in the search window on the Twitter website. Following each session, a log of the discussion can be accessed for those wanting to go back over what they might have missed or identify a certain tweet they want to pursue more information on. So far it's been both a relevant and incredible learning experience.

I also joined a Ning (oh, no, not another idea!) in the past week to expand my options for my PLN. Called the Educators PLN, within this Ning I am able to choose specific topics I'm interested in and join groups that share those interests and exchange ideas. Other useful resources are also posted on the Ning and I have my own personal page to post up anything I want to share that might be a help to others members. The Ning fully integrates with Twitter and the #edchat stream can even be read on one of the pages. I'm still exploring the potential uses of this Ning but so far, it has proven to be beneficial. You can check this out for yourself at

As I mentioned in a previous blog (below) posted earlier this week, we have to become more avid self-learners, especially when it comes to learning about and expanding our use of technology, both with our students in the classroom as well as for our own professional development. Twitter is not an end-product, but a doorway to simplifying the process of reaching out beyond your classroom, school and district walls to like-minded professionals who want to share what is working and what is not. I'm encouraging everyone to continue exploring the potential of Twitter and other social-networking and PLN sources. I'm here to assist and encourage you and we have others on our team more than willing to help you get started. And don't worry if you still don't get it; I'm still scratching my head over how to use and benefit from the new Google Wave!

Here are several places to start or extend your learning journey:

Conquering Technophobia: Web 2.0 Explained: This is a short, handy teacher's resource guide in PDF format. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to open this file.

Twittering, Not Frittering: Professional Development in 140 Characters: It's more than just "what are you doing?" Twitter is quickly becoming the super-highway for quick sharing and professional learning.

Oh, the Adventures You Will Have If Only...: More than ever teachers need to be connected in order to make a difference and be relevant in their fields. As school districts continue to increase the use of educational technologies in the classroom, teachers will have to prove they know how to use these technologies to help their students problem solve, evaluate, analyze, debate, critically think, collaborate, and so forth.

Creating a Personal Learning Network with Web 2.0 Tools:
How do educators keep current with the ever changing world of technology? How can Web 2.0 tools be used to communicate and collaborate with peers across the hall and around the world? This website focuses on some of the newest tools teachers are using to support their own professional learning goals. A tremendous resource that you should bookmark right now!

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