One of the best things that has evolved for me this year is the growth of my personal learning network (PLN). There are two main thrusts to this change, interestingly enough, neither directly related to the school I work for. We do have PD opportunities at work, and the sessions are excellent. They usually consist of a seminar-style dump of information, where I scribble ideas in a notebook, get inspired about the topic, then close the notebook at the end and get back to work. The short burst of information is useful and often inspiring, but I’m always at risk of letting it slip away over time, if I don’t put it to use right away. Obviously there is a value in such formalized professional development (PD), but we mustn’t overlook the value in ‘build your own’ PD or informal PD.
The two greatest additions to my PLN this year have been my classmates in my Masters degree program, and Twitter. Most notably, this has brought about a huge increase in the number of people I can refer to for information on an large number of topics. Taking a graduate degree program has caused me to be substantially immersed in the subject matter. This is a connection to 40 or so other students that are experiencing the same courses, research and writing that I am. This part of my PLN has been all about support, camaraderie and helping each other find new sources of information. It’s a more intimate, close-up view of education in technology-mediated learning. I have met each of these people personally, and expect to remain friends with them for a long time.
Twitter has brought a wider view to my PLN, also in two distinct realms. First is a group of outstanding educators from around the world who share their challenges and successes on a daily basis. These are people I would never have had the chance to meet, were it not for the connectedness of a communication tool like Twitter. These connections are about education and learning itself. The ability to expand my learning in best practices for teaching. Other educators share suggestions on what works, and give the encouragement needed to try new classroom strategies. Where else can you read a book about teaching, and interact with the author one-on-one if you have questions? The second component of a Twitter PLN is in the subject area(s) that I teach. I teach in graphic design, typography, and other graphic arts. Finding and following a number of others in this field keeps me current on what is going on in the world of design, and again, affords a reach that would be impossible before the advent of social networking. In both of these contexts, I am also able to share my expertise back to others at the same time. I’ve worked in the print and graphic arts industry my whole life, but only been teaching for the last 5 years. Naturally, for some topics, I’m able to gain information, and on others, I’m able to share. This two-way sharing of knowledge is what makes it all work, quite seamlessly.
The biggest, most important suggestion for adding to your PLN? Get involved. I’ve had a Twitter account for a long time, but nothing happened much while I watched from the sidelines. Reply to tweets, ask questions, and start a blog so that you can share your insights. All of this will start a ‘snowball’ effect, and put you in contact with more and more experts. One final word of advice would be to not worry too much about your ‘follower count’ – this is merely a number, and unless you are selling something, it doesn’t matter too much in the beginning. But as you interact with others, and you start taking part in sharing information, you will find the count starts to climb naturally. Just let it go. Meet people, discuss topics you are interested in, and most of all, have fun!