Tools for Building your Professional Learning Network

10 years ago, I would really feel inspired only after having gone to a teaching workshop. With social media, I'm inspired all the time with as a constant stream of ideas and resources come to me through a latticework of networking through my Professional Learning Network, or PLN. I've learned more in the last two years of teaching than the 9 years before that, and much of that has been commensurate with building a PLN in the last two years. Instead of being a participant of workshops at our school, I'm starting to be a presenter; many of the ideas coming from things I learn online and trial in my class.

Building up a PLN is easy, but it does take time. There are many tools, but I'll share my "big 5". I don't think that ones need to use all of these tools, and in some respects, many have similar uses.

Twitter is great for sharing resources back and forth and with so many websites having icons to "share to twitter" it becomes the ultimate micro-blogging platform. With a limited amount of characters, most of the exchanges have been short, and the limit does not allow anyone to go overboard with comments. It's a great way to increase traffic to your or other people's blogs. There are somethings that can be done to ensure more followers and build up your bases such as liking or favoriting other peoples sharing. Of course, to comment on others posts is crucial. To get a little, one must give a little too.

Speaking of sharing, Edmodo is a great, but I feel it is a little more "back and forth" discussion between educators. Although people do put posts on Edmodo, I think it is a little more of a forum or discussion over dilemmas that educators have or calls for suggestions. Edmodo has a number of communities that one can join and an online library that you can save resources to as well. Many teachers use Edmodo with their students as an online learning platform.

Speaking of creating an online library, Diigo's main draw (I think) is that one can bookmark favorite posts or websites and cataloge them by tags. As I read fast and steady streams of articles, rather than save them to a bookmarks toolbar on my web browser, Diigo puts them in a library and organizes them there. I often cite articles when I blog and Diigo is a nice place to have them all. Diigo also can craft groups so if I find a math article that I'd like to share with all the math teachers at my school, I can create a group within Diigo so when I save it, all those teachers will see my bookmark. It also has tools for putting sticky notes on web text and the ability to highlight sections which can be installed on your web browser.

Google Reader
For anyone that has a google account, Google reader makes use of RSS (Really simple subscription) buttons which look like this:
and send post to a reader as a stream of posts so you don't have to go back to the original website. I subscribe to dozens of RSS feeds and have them all on my google reader account so when I feel like reading and getting professional development, I log onto my Google reader account which looks like this:

Pinterest is similar to twitter, but gives an image to go along with posts for resources. The big allure of pinterest is that people can have different "boards" that correspond to different interests the user has. A teacher might want to put a post on their "Educator Board" but they may also have a "Cooking Board" which conveys work they do in the kitchen.

Navigating all these tools does take time, and everyone must meet it on their own learning curve. As I've connected with educators, I learn that some of them don't have an RSS widget, so I can't subscribe using google reader, so I may follow them on twitter. Or, people don't have a twitter account, but do have one on "pinterest".

How educators share with the world is a mixed bag and there are many tools to choose from. I share cool resources that I find on Twitter to communities in Edmodo. I bookmark articles from my RSS feeds on Google reader and bookmark them to Diigo. Whatever your style, consider these sites for sharing, asking for feedback and building a group of people with whom you can develop your teaching practice. Together, we can share more than ever before.

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