Behind the Scenes: Building a PLN, Part 2

Last time we took a look at some behind the scenes steps to building a Personal Learning Network, aka PLN. This time we’ll take a look at some more steps to get a fuller look at what truly goes into building a PLN.

1.      Active participation: A PLN won’t just build itself once it’s been set up. In order for a PLN to flourish and grow, it needs you to actively be involved with it. For example, if you’re using Twitter, you’ll probably want to be tweeting at least once a week, and reading through tweets of those that you follow. If you’re a blogger, you’ll want to make sure you’re posting somewhat consistently. If you’re reading blogs or sites, make sure you set aside time in order to do so.

It’s easy to let things fall to the side. I’m just as guilty of doing it myself. Sometimes things just happen or life gets busy. I’ve made sure to set aside time so that I may focus on my PLN. It’s easier to start with one day a week at first, and if need be, add more time as your schedule fits. I may check Twitter throughout the day, but by evening, I’m rarely checking it, unless I get a notice about someone sending something my way. When it comes to reading blogs, I’ll try to catch up on my reading at least once a day. This doesn’t take too long because I only follow certain blogs, and they don’t always update each day. As for writing my own blogs, I write down my ideas on a Word document when I think of them. I aim to post one piece of content a week. I write when I am inspired and have the time. If I can write more than one post in a setting, I will. I’ll simply set it to post on a future date in my blog. This particular post was written in May, but it won’t have posted until sometime this summer.

Since most people will only start with one tool, they only need to sit down and determine how much time they want to sit aside to engage with the tool. It doesn’t have to be a lot at first, and probably won’t for awhile. As you become more comfortable with the tool, increase engagement as necessary.

2.      Give and take of information: Building a PLN works best when you’re engaged in finding new information AND sharing your own information at the same time. At first, you may feel as though you don’t have very much to give at all, but in time, you’ll find that there’s a lot of information that you can share. Don’t feel obligated to share right from the start if you’re just getting used to how to use the tool in the first place. Give it some time, and then jump right in!

For example, when educators look at others who blog, they might wonder how they can do it, or if they’d ever have anything worth sharing. The answer is yes. From class updates to reflections to lesson plans to opinions about what is going on in education today, educators will find they do have plenty to say.

Many educators find they get the most out of their network when they can discuss or talk with others in that network. This can spark impromptu discussions on topics and allow educators to see how others might feel about a particular topic.

3.      Using Tools to Build Smarter: Tools can help make managing a professional learning network easier. After all the saying goes “work smarter, not harder”. Twitter is an easy tool to keep up with at first…until you have a lot of people you’re following, or an edchat running. There are tools that allow users to break Twitter down into more manageable chunks.

TweetDeck is a great tool to use on Twitter. It allows users to create columns for certain users, hashtags, topics, and more. I can add the people I follow to lists. For example, I may choose to have a list of people who mostly tweet about Minecraft, and another who tweet about edtech. I might follow the hashtag for #stem at the same time. Tweetdeck allows users to customize to their heart’s content, making it much easier to sort through large amounts of data.

Another way your professional network can get out of hand occurs when one follows blogs. It’s easy to keep up with one or two at first, if you bookmark the site and remember to check every site that is bookmarked each day. Once you add more blogs though, it can be hard to remember to keep up with every single one. A good tool to utilize here is an RSS Reader. RSS stands for “rich site summary”, but is also known as “really simple syndication”. An RSS Reader allows a user to gather content from multiple sources into one location. Instead of me checking each blog individually, I simply add them to my RSS Reader, and then sync the reader each day. If new posts are up, they will appear in my reader immediately.

There are many RSS Readers out there, and which is best is all going to depend on personal preference, and the device being used. I use Feedly’s website to set up my Reader, and then use Newsify on my iPad because it syncs with Feedly. I like the layout that Newsify uses, so I stick with it. A quick Google search will provide many results, so make sure to narrow down your searches by using “RSS readers android”, “RSS readers iOS”, and so on. Try out a few options and then stick with the one that works best for you.

Now that we’ve gone through a look at some of the behind the scenes work, you’ll see that it takes work to build up a successful Personal Learning Network. It isn’t something that can be done quickly, or that will be successful right away. However, with the right amount of time and effort, it can grow and be successful.

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