Today it is easier to keep up to date on your profession and find ideas for teaching than ever before because of the amount of information and the ease of finding it on the Internet. Before email, blogs, and social networks, we "had" to physically talk to someone else just to pass on a new idea. Now we have ideas from thousands and thousands of people literally at our fingertips any time of day we'd like. Finding that information is the hard part!

There are many ways to develop a PLN (personal learning network). Your PLN can consist of a variety of different forms of obtaining information. The key to making a PLN work for you is to find what you are comfortable using and what can benefit you the most. We'll look at some different ideas to get you started. Explore the following to see what interests you, then check the assignment at the bottom of the page to see what you want to try. Feel free to try more than one to get a taste of different methods of online networking!

Social Network Sites

Twitter

Twitter is a social networking service that is widely used by many. Limited to posts of 140 characters, you can give brief updates on what you are doing. Find people to follow that have similar interests to you--other teachers in your subject or grade, others that are using technology in their classrooms, etc. The use of "hashtags" (such as #edchat) can help you find information that is important to you.

How to get started: sign up for a free Twitter account at the above link. You can invite people to be your friend, search for friends or try this--in the search box, type a recommended hashtag and hit return. This will give you a list of things people are talking about that relates to your search topic. They have specially marked their post to fit in your topic that is then denoted by the hashtag. You may find someone who makes lots of informational posts that you would then like to follow.

Here are some searches to try--just type this in the search box and see what results it pulls up:
#edchat
#elemchat
#edapp
#edtech
#kedu (kindergarten)
#spedchat (special ed)
#titletalk (librarians & books)
#classrooms
#biology
There are hundreds--whatever someone marks with a hashtag (#) is searchable. These are just a few--google hashtags for a list, or just randomly try some for fun!!!

Twitter also has many more possibilities--this will get you a taste of what you can find there for a professional network. If you want help learning and finding more about Twitter, let me know & I'll get more in depth.

To build your twitter network, you can also look for sites that list other people that Twitter. Here are some places to try:
Twitter4Teachers
This is a wiki listing teachers by subject area and other topics (Athletic Directors, etc) so you can find people that would have similar interests to you.

Seven Ways to Find Teachers on Twitter
An article by blogger Richard Byrne, this gives you tips on finding other teachers as well as some other helpful Twitter tips!

Plurk

Plurk is another social network, much less known than Twitter but my personal favorite so that's why I'm including it! :)

Sign up for a free account, then search for some friends. If you do this, I have several that I will recommend. My plurk name is "nflibrarian" so you can friend me, then you can click on the people that I am friends with to see if they would be good friends for you too. Look at their information at the bottom of their page (if it's public) and ask to be a friend. You can also search for people, such as kindergarten teacher or elementary, etc. One hint if you're friending someone you don't know--check their "karma." This is a number that starts at 0, and the closer to 100 it gets, the more active the person is on Plurk.

Here are some sites that teachers voluntarily put themselves on to build their professional network. You can search for people with similar interests to you & friend them.

Plurk4Teachers wiki
Plurk4Educators wiki

Blogs


I can't even touch on a fraction of what is available to educators to use for blogs. There are limitless resources depending on what your interests are. I'm going to provide links to a few of my favorites, but if you want to start following a blog to build your PLN, you should simply spend some time doing a Google search for what you're looking for. For instance, if you want to find a great kindergarten blog, simply do an Internet search for "kindergarten blog." Some of these may be geared to parents, and some to colleagues, but check out what you come up with and find what fits your needs. Even if it is a site geared toward parents & students, it may be helpful to you as you can see what someone else is doing!

Before you go out searching, I should explain briefly what a blog is if you aren't familiar!

Blog comes from the term weblog, which simply means it is a something someone is writing down. Anyone can sign up for a blog, and to get the most out of following a blog, you can comment on other people's blogs. Discussions can take place through someone starting an idea on digital paper and others reading it and responding.

Edublogs is a great place to start looking at blogs. You need to sign in for a free account, but there are nearly a million blogs dealing with education through this service.

Here are a few of my favorites:
Larry Ferlazzo
This guy is simply amazing. He posts more in a day than I ever have time to read. While his focus is English Language Learners, he posts about everything educational. If there is a tornado or an earthquake or a coal mining disaster, he has news links, he has explanations, he has amazing resources that I frequently pass along to the teachers in my building so they can have current information. He will frequently post good apps for iPods, good websites for teaching English, and any other topic a teacher could need.

Kevin Honeycutt
A technology trainer that always has great things to offer!

Stump the Teacher
While I don't read many of this teacher's actual blog posts, the video tutorials he does are fabulous! From Twitter to using a green screen, he has some helpful information on his blog.

The Lemme Library
Yes, I had to include a library blog! Books, books and more books. Something new they've added is "Book Talk Tuesday" where anyone can add a link to a book talk. Looks like valuable stuff to me!

Educator Communities

Thinkfinity Community

Thinkfinity is an amazing resource for lesson plans, activities and more. Use their community to discuss education with others, read newsletters & blogs, and find information about topics in education. Use the link above to take you to the Thinkfinity community, then press "Take the Tour" so you can see what it has to offer. You need to register to be able to take advantage of the many opportunities Thinkfinity has for educators. You can save things that you want to find later, follow their blog, or even sign up for the RSS feed to follow (more info about RSS below!)

SMART Exchange

While you are looking for lessons to use on your SMART board, you can ask questions and learn more about using SMART in the classroom through their community. This probably isn't the most prolific choice for learning about social networking, but I put it here because it may come in handy to the elementary teachers learning about using SMART.

eInstruction Community

So I don't leave out the secondary folks, here is the equivalent of SMART's community for the Interwrite users. Again, this could be helpful if you need some support for your Interwrite board or tablet.


Social Bookmarking

You are familiar with bookmarking on your computer, but have you ever thought "there's got to be a better way?" The two services below allow you to keep your bookmarks in "the cloud" which means you can bookmark something on your Macbook, pull it up on your smartphone, and get to it next week on your iPad. Not only are your bookmarks saved remotely, you can also organize them by using tags (remember when we talked about tags with wikis? Give the bookmark keywords so you can easily search for it). Watch the video from Diigo to see how it works, and then watch it a few more times to figure out all the things Diigo can do! I will admit I am new to Diigo but after looking at it for this course, I am impressed with what it offers over Delicious. I have used Delicious in the past and shared bookmarks on it with my iCoach (which makes it "social") but Diigo is the way I'm moving!

Diigo

Diigo V5: Collect and Highlight, Then Remember! from diigobuzz on Vimeo.


If you sign up for Diigo, don't miss the "Educator? Sign up here" button at the right hand lower corner of the sign up screen. You can get upgraded to have some premium services for free!

Delicious


Oh, and what makes Diigo and Delicious "social"? Once you've found useful bookmarks you can share those with others--a great resource for teachers to share favorite websites and articles!


Other Helpful Info

RSS Feeds

How many times have you looked at that little orange box on your screen that says "RSS" and wondered what it does? I think it became part of the landscape for me and I stopped noticing them at some point until someone actually showed me how they work. RSS does not stand for any great technical term--it is "Really Simple Syndication." What does that mean for you? If you find a website that you like, such as a blog or a news service, you can use a "feed reader" (see below) to keep up with the website at your leisure.

For example, I signed up for a Google Reader account. I frequently go to the Topeka Capital Journal website to check the local news. Many times, I get too busy to check the online paper, so instead, I have signed up on the cjonline site to get the news delivered to me in my Google Reader. If I missed checking the paper last week, I can still browse through my Google Reader and see what headlines happened last week. If I want more information, I can go to actual article, I can email it to myself, I can even share it on Facebook or Twitter. I have found a number of educational bloggers that I also follow this way.

One note about following people using a feed reader--we all have moments in time when we get too busy to keep up with all the information that can be coming our way. Make sure to find out where the "delete all without reading" button is, because in the middle of May, that will be something every teacher needs! :)

I encourage you to sign up for one of the feed readers below and give RSS a try. If you find Nings or blogs or any other source of regularly updated information that you want to follow, it makes it easy to do it at your own pace. Once you have an account with a feed reader, just click that orange RSS button whenever you find something you'd like to follow. It really is simple!

These are the three feed readers--each link will take you to the site where you then need to take a tour (they all have buttons or videos to watch to show you what to do). Choose one, or take a look at all three!

Google Reader

Google Reader is the one I use. This link will take you on a tour to get you started.

I haven't used Bloglines Reader or Feed My Inbox, but wanted to present some options. These are both I've heard good things about. Bloglines is similar to Google Reader in that it is a service that maintains your lists on the web, while Feed My Inbox sends you email about your feeds. I already use some Google products, so I just added the Reader to my list of services Google provides me rather than adding a new item to my list.

Bloglines


Feed My Inbox

One More Thing......

The librarian in me can't let this pass. I want to fit in one of my most favorites, both professionally & personally. Goodreads is a social site where you keep track of what you've read, what you are currently reading, and what you want to read. Every time I hear someone recommend a book, I add it to my Goodreads list. I have become friends on Goodreads with other librarians around the state, teachers in my building, and friends from high school. All of them have different reading "purposes" but using a social network for reading allows me to see what other people like, what I might like, and what I could recommend to students. Give it try!


Professional Learning Assignment


Join or follow one of the above sites or forms of networking. Check in once daily with your choice method to see what is new for at least one week. Make comments or offer ideas of your own, or ask questions when appropriate. Upon trying a new PLN for at least a week, write a reflection on the experience. Tell us what you chose to become a part of and how it has gone. What have you learned about PLNs? Is there anything on the PLN that you have learned about that would be beneficial to share with your PLN on the wiki (surprise, you already have a little PLN formed with this class if you hadn't thought about that!) Tell us in a couple of paragraphs what you have learned as well as what you liked or didn't like.

To submit your assignment, create a heading on your personal wiki page (the one with your name) that shows where your Professional Learning assignment starts, and then gives us your feedback on networks directly on your wiki page. If you have time to take a look at what others have to say, you may want to browse around the wiki!

**If you join a community where you can make friends, post your screen name on the discussion board so we can become friends on those services. I will post to my PLN on services like Plurk or Goodreads that you have joined so other educators can become friends with you as well. That will be an easy way to build up people for you to follow so you can quickly receive benefits of being a member of a social networking site.

Extension Idea:


If you are feeling truly adventurous about developing an active PLN, follow this blog: http://teacherchallenge.edublogs.org/. I started following it several months ago to learn about blogging as they had a 30 day challenge about how to blog. When that was over, they developed other 30 day challenges. On June 15, they started a 30 day PLN challenge! There is detailed information and daily challenges for the next month on their site. You can sign up to get the daily challenges emailed to you or subscribe through the RSS feed.

While I was working on the Google Reader part of this page, I checked my feeds. My favorite blogger I follow, Larry Ferlazzo, posted a comment about the EduBlogs challenge, as well as reposted his article he did a while back on PLNs! So if you want to read a little more about how to develop your PLN, he has an excellent article at http://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org/2010/12/21/the-best-guides-for-helping-teachers-develop-personal-learning-networks/.
Even if you don't want to read Larry's article about PLNs, I still encourage you to check his blog some time at http://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org. His focus is English Language Learners, but the amount of information he provides in terms of current educational issues, current events, and helpful tips for technology are simply amazing. Every time I look at his blog I find something new to use or to share with someone in my building.