Two social media savants share how to build the right social PLN for your needs
Twitter and Google+ may not have been designed for educators, but every day thousands of teachers, school leaders, and learners of all sizes take to social media to connect, grow, and share in ways that would seem almost impossible a few short years ago. With all the noise, though, it can be tough to know where to begin.
The biggest benefit is that social media helps break down of traditional geography-based professional development and exposes educators to outside ideas, says Thomas Murray (@thomascmurray), a director at the Alliance For Excellent Education, co-founder of Twitter’s #edtechchat, and new author of Leading Professional Learning. “It helps you keep up with the latest trends and hot topics, and it keeps you on the cusp of what education is looking like.”
Recently, Murray and Steven Anderson (@web20classroom), a former director of instructional technology in North Carolina and co-author of The Relevant Educator, shared their best tips for making the most of social sites like Google+ and Twitter to grow and learn in the age of the truly global PLN.
1. Start with what (and who) you know
It’s fine to begin building your network with friends and colleagues, Andserson says, because it will naturally branch out as you get more comfortable. He also recommends starting to build a PLN based on your own passions. If you’re interested in project-based learning, try a #PBLchat; if you’re a tech director, look for others who share your job title. “Don’t feel like you have to go into every community,” Anderson says. “Find one place where you can learn and that will provide the most value to your learning in the shortest amount of time spent.”
Next page: Find any Twitter chat with this handy spreadsheet
2. Find chats that are right for you
These days there are Twitter chats on virtually every topic for every time zone—from #4thchat, a chat specific to fourth grade teachers to #makerED, a discussion group centered around the burgeoning maker movement—so finding an interesting one shouldn’t be a problem. To make the search even easier, Murray and his PLN connected with one of the brains behind Google Apps who helped them create a comprehensive, Google-fied spreadsheet, which lets you see the often 30+ chats a day at a glance and switch between time zones. “It gives you perspective on how much is going on the education world, the dedication, and the conversations taking place,” Murray says.
3. Take time to get the hang of it
Murray says that educators rarely jump in feet first and become overnight power users. Instead, they usually follow a three-step process. “I call it lurk, learn, lead,” he says. “First people lurk. They get setup with something like Twitter, at a professional learning day or with a friend, and they’re in that ‘Whats in it for me?’ mentality. What happens is they start to learn: they see people sharing resources and people that are doing things in their classroom that they can use. If I’m on Twitter, I can connect with people all over the world.” Finally, he says, some begin to assume leadership roles, from moderating chats to showing new users the ropes.
4. Google+ is great for educators. Really.
While it was never in any danger of replacing Facebook for most people, Google+ has found a second life among educators who use the site to create multiple PLNs where they can engage in richer conversations and also filter their posts by circles. Part of that is because Google is already such a big part of the fabric of ed tech, Anderson says. Another reason? “It’s an extension of something educators are already doing. For very few people, I believe, it’s an exclusive place they’re going, but it’s this kind of add-on social network to something else. They’re already on Twitter, having those conversation and starting those threads, and then they’re going into more depth on Google+.”
5. Find conversations by searching hashtags
It’s not just Twitter users that benefit from an intentional hashtag search. Google+ uses the feature, too, often reusing the same hashtags, such as #edchat, which helps new users cut through some of the noise. “Hashtags will expose you to lots of great people who are equally as valuable, or could be more valuable, than the people with huge followings,” Andserson says.
Next page: How to go deeper than 140 characters
6. Dive deeper
Social media is a great place to make lasting friendships that translate from the digital to the real world at places like conferences, Murray says. To bridge the gap between online and face-to-face communication, Murray says that many educators are flocking to Google Hangouts and Voxer, an app that lets users leave voicemail-like messages for a group asynchronously or voice chat in real time like a walkie-talkie. “In a Twitter chat your conversation is limited to 140 characters at a time,” he says. “What people are starting to do is pair Twitter with another tool that allows them to go deeper with a much smaller audience.”
7. Make the time, if you don’t already have it
According to Murray, spending time growing and interacting with your PLN pays off in the long run. “Often people will say to me, ‘I don’t have the time for social media,’ and I respond, ‘You don’t have the time not to do it,” Murray says. “Personalized professional learning and staying on top of the latest trends and resources is really something that will help you be a top-notch educator. That availability for anytime-anywhere PD is at your fingertips.”
8. Model global learning for students
Collaboration, global learning, and analyzing different points of view are tentpoles of 21st century learning. Participating in truly global PLNs helps educators walk the walk as far as students are concerned, Anderson says. “For my students, it shows that learning doesn’t just happen in the isolation of me but it happens with other people and that there are a lot of people out there who have a lot of things to share. I say this all the time: alone we’re smart but together we’re brilliant. Imagine the problems we could solve if we all band together and learn from each other. That’s what my PLN does for me on a daily basis.”
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