Growing, cultivating, and sustaining a Professional Learning Network (PLN)

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This week’s reflection is inspired by the above graphic, a blog post, and learnings in my graduate course this past week.

This beautifully conceptualized graphic, posted with gracious permission by Sylvia Duckworth and Jacques Cool via Google Communities, initiated reflection upon how I’ve grown my own PLN to date. The graphic’s garden metaphor is an apt metaphor for my progress and challenges in creating, participating, streamlining and sharing content since I’ve begun my graduate program.

Although I signed up for a Twitter account in 2012, I began using it only September 2013. As of today, I’ve followed 613 people – inclusive of teachers, teacher-librarians, authors and educational technology specialists – gained 310 followers, and tweeted 815 times. I’ve learned how to streamline content with Tweetdeck and hashtags, curate favorites, and understand the benefits and challenges of using social media.

Benefits include ongoing professional development through articles, blog posts, and graphics shared through various feeds. Some of these sharings provide answers to or opportunities to learn about educational practices; others afford an opportunity to pose questions. For example, I’m finding many useful resources related to implementing Web 2.0 and the Personal Learning Environment in a high school setting, a context that has been addressed minimally in peer-reviewed publications about research in educational practice. Moreover, when seeking help or clarification about a topic, I’ve also found the responses via Twitter to be much faster than responses via email.

I’ve also created a school Twitter account distinct from my Personal Learning Network to promote news and resources from my school library, applying Tweetdeck to sort feeds on different parts of my library page. I described my use of Twitter as a guest on an EdReach Podcast (episode #8) broadcast from Chicago last fall. The teacher-librarian who creates the show located me through my Twitter feed online. My creation facilitated an opportunity I would not otherwise have had, and it represented my first experience being a guest on a globally-available program.

I’m continued to gather and share knowledge through Twitter but have also incorporated Google Communities most recently. contributing to my graduate cohort’s Tiegrad page, as well as to a community I established for local teacher-librarian colleagues to support our inquiry-based learning book club . The latter community facilitates the sharing of resources, observations and questions between our monthly meetings.

LinkedIn has been a more sporadic yet important part of my PLN for curating detailed responses to specific questions related to Learning Design and Teacher-librarianship. Since joining several groups, I’ve amassed a wealth of tips from various educators in public and private practices as well as contribute my own tips and advice. Although currently connected to only 38 individuals, I’ve grown from a mere five from the previous years, and more significantly, have made use of these connections through online dialogue.

Cultivating and Sustaining a PLN

Cultivating a PLN through two Twitter feeds, two Google Communities, and various groups via Linked In has consumed considerable hours. Moreover, I wonder about the actual impact of my “social presence” as defined by EFL teacher Ana Maria Menezes in her Jan. 2015 blog post. How many individuals are actually reading my tweets and posts?   Could I make use of some tips such as this post regarding hashtags? How much time and energy should I be investing daily? How much should I continue to grow my PLN before it becomes unwieldy?

All of these questions feed into the larger question “how can I sustain a PLN and use it more effectively?” I acquired a few strategies from last week’s M.Ed class: using Feedly to aggregate colleagues’ blog posts, and feeds from my other PLNs. I could also use Tweetdeck to sort feeds on my different pages of my WordPress site, the way I’ve sorted various Twitter feeds throughout my school library web page. I can also work towards making my blogs more concise through use as well of hyperlinks to shorten background explanations and pingbacks to encourage online conversations. Finally, I can stop fretting about maintaining a polished academic style and sound a bit more conversational. I will certainly save time composing my posts, and perhaps my musings will be more engaging to read.

Most significantly, however, I’ll try to plan my time around social media – choosing a specific window in the day to check for updates, and limiting my daily time. Although an online PLN is important for growth, it can take time away from face-to-face interactions as well as the habit of in-depth and sustained reading. Too often I spend too much time skimming and tagging favourites, rather than taking the time to read one effective post in depth. Selectiveness, then!

I’d love to create a graphic titled “How to Sustain a PLN” after the style of Sylvia and Jacques’ creation. I think that it could be a helpful addition to their concept, extend the garden metaphor using the concept of sustainability, perhaps inspiring those currently immersed in social media to reflect upon their own usage. And of course, I’ll share out my creation among my various PLNs.

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