Four simple words…I love my PLN! For those who are unfamiliar with the acronym, a PLN is a personal learning network where you decide what you want to learn and who will help you learn. It is an informal, organic type of learning where individuals engage with the goal of contributing to the overall base of knowledge. It typically starts online but may continue in person through attending conferences. One of my professional goals for this year will be to encourage others to build a robust PLN, using my experiences over the last year.
My online presence takes place on Twitter (@sturmdon), Voxer (@dsturm823), SnapChat (don.sturm) and Facebook (member of The Innovator’s Mindset and Teachers Throwing Out Grades groups). These four online resources have provided me with much inspiration as they are filled with educators who truly care about teaching and learning. Even if I don’t use specific strategies that are shared, the interactions inspire me to try new things.
Educators need to be encouraged to take risks and try new things. This is exactly what you can get from a PLN. It is very easy to bounce ideas off of others simply by posting it. The bigger your PLN, the more advice you will receive. People are more than willing to share their experiences, both positive and negative, so that the collective group can benefit. My philosophy is to follow as many educators as possible. As a result, I follow many more than follow me.
Online PLNs help to make collaboration more than just a buzzword. Working with others is easy if you are open to experiences. PLNs can be a one-way street, but if you are willing to share it becomes something more. There have been many times that a Twitter chat or Voxer chat has turned into work sessions with other educators. Most of these work sessions have taken place on Google Hangouts where your online colleagues are now “real” in the sense that you can see and interact with them. I have also had side conversations with individuals where we hash out issues that are important to us in our jobs. I have to give a shout out to Tara M. Martin for being a great PLN collaborator! We have had many conversations about teaching and learning. In the spirit of collaboration, I hope that I have given back…at least a little…to her. She is down to earth and has inspired me (and many others) to create and contribute to our PLNs so as to get the most out of the online experience. Her development of #booksnaps as a way to get students and educators interacting with text using emojis/Bitmojis and images is fantastic. I can honestly say that it has changed the way that I read. Her blog can be found at http://www.tarammartin.com. I have also included a few of the (from the MANY) #booksnaps that I have created. Search for #booksnaps on Twitter to find the hundreds of others who have added their own.
The chat capabilities of these online mediums are AWESOME! Twitter chats are probably the most well known, but I have also taken part in EdCamp Voxer, as well as regular groups that are part of the Voxer experience. My new interest is experimenting using SnapChat as part of my PLN. Recently, I started a SnapChat group chat that has been an interesting experience with the fifteen others who joined. The point is that chats allow you to discuss real issues with real people and have real-time interactions versus the typical social media experience of posting something and waiting for a reaction. These chats sort of kill two birds with one stone. You get the professional discussion, but you also learn how to use the medium. The later is important with learning and understanding the social media lives of students. While many complain that this generation of kids always has their head buried in their phone, my experiences have led me to believe that kids are being much more social on their devices than we think!
The belief that we need to do things the way that they have always been done is one of the major ideas holding back schools from being even better. The sheer nature of online PLNs will help to combat this feeling. These PLNs surround you with people who do and want to try new things. It helps you to see that there are other ways of doing things. Teaching used to be a very independent endeavor, but it no longer has to be! Give an online PLN a try this year. Find someone in your district/school who can help or, better yet, get someone to join you on the new endeavor.