Non-Teaching, Research, Social Media, Technology

Prepping for a PLN Presentation

This Tuesday morning I’ll be presenting to my colleagues during a day of professional development. I was given total freedom and flexibility to present on whatever topic I wanted, and I ultimately chose to talk about strategies and tools that foster professional development beyond conferences or specific professional development days — essentially, developing a “Personal Learning Network.”

"Stages of PLN Adoption" - Courtesy of Jeff Utrecht -

While I’m not wholly enamored of the phrase “Personal Learning Network,” or its attendant acronym, PLN, that terminology seems to have become dominant and so I’ll go with it until something else gains precedence in the lexicon. In spite of my non-plussed attitude toward the PLN title, I do think that the presence of a PLN has been hugely influential in shaping my own teaching practice over the past three-plus years, and I hope to share with others how I’ve gone about building this an why I’ve found it so useful.

A cursory Google search for “PLN” or “PLN presentation” yields oodles of hits on these topics, and I’ve seen a number of similar presentation titles at ISTE over the past two years, all of which indicates that this is well-trod ground, so I’m not anticipating making any earth-shattering contributions. Nevertheless, reflecting on my own PLN and my approach to using it has helped me consolidate a sense of which tools are the most valuable in facilitating this form of professional development.

My primary goal in the presentation is to make the construction and use of a PLN, and the tools that are most essential for a PLN (and interesting question of priorities in and of itself), as accessible and pragmatic as possible. Therefore, focusing on the theory and value isn’t going to be something I stress as heavily, which instead will allow me to focus on specific resources, how I use them, and how they prove themselves helpful.

However, I do think that it’s important to establish how this type of networking and information acquisition is different from a simple Google search — a distinction I find most evident in the ability to get specifically tailored types of information from sources that have been pre-vetted. The most obvious difference, perhaps, is also the ability to interact with the sources of one’s information rather than simply having to be the receiver of the information.

So, here’s where the request for feedback and input comes in:

Which of these is vital? Which of them should I omit? What have I missed that would be important to include? Where can I change my emphases?

Without further ado, let me get to my quick recap of resources and emphases for each one.

  1. Twitter
    • Twitter is vital in building connections to other educators and getting an up-to-date look at the resources that people are using, generating, and finding most helpful. I’ll provide a brief overview of some of the intricacies of the service and specific features (e.g. @replies, hashtags).
    • Twitter provides powerful community building features by searching specific hashtags, e.g. #sschat, #engchat, #edchat, and others.
    • The real power and value of Twitter comes particularly when one begins to use a third-party Twitter client like Echofon, Seesmic Desktop, Tweetdeck, or others.
    • Once one has a network built up, Twitter can be incredibly helpful in getting feedback on ideas, lessons, classroom techniques, or research questions.

      Example of @ Reply to question on Twitter.

  2. Google Reader
    • Once you start finding resources and other educators, some of whom have blogs, finding a way to constantly track that information and have it accessible in one condensed location is important to make it manageable.
    • Using an RSS Reader, like Google’s, makes this process very simple. Adding the RSS feeds from education blogs (or blogs related to other personal interests) helps one get a specifically tailored look at the topics in which one is interested.

      Sidebar on Google Reader

    • The search feature within Google Reader allows one to scour through sources that you’ve already selected as valuable. Moreover, the ability to “Star” and “Share” posts in Google Reader make it easier to track and remember ideas and resources that one found particularly helpful.
    • Reading blogs and webpages within Google Reader is a pretty passive experience, but by clicking on the title of a post, one can go to the page of the post itself and then write a comment, thereby interacting in a more in-depth way with the authors of these posts.
    • Google Reader also allows you to create “Bundles” of blogs that you’ve grouped thematically, making it easy to share with your colleagues a set of resources that you’ve found helpful. For instance, here’s the “Bundle” of all the Education blogs in my Google Reader.
  3. Google+
    • While relatively new, Google+ has some interesting features that make it a good venue for PLN interactions. The most notable of these is the ability to create “Circles” and group people according to the ways in which you want to interact with them.
    • This “Circles” feature allows posts to specific constituencies, so that the message intended for your “Educator” friends doesn’t have to show up in the feed of your “Knitting Group” friends or “Kayak Enthusiast” friends.
    • Interaction with and posting to others’ walls is intuitive and very similar to Facebook. However, Google+ has the added benefit of allowing you to edit your own posts in the event you misspell something or include the wrong link.

      "Educators" Circle on Google+

    • Google+ also makes it very easy to find people who have common interests or expertise as you through their “Search” feature. Because it is very intuitive to add anyone to your circles, creating connections with these people and sharing your materials with them is quite simple.

      Search for "Social Studies" on Google+

  4. Longer-form venues — Educators PLN and Classroom 2.0

    • Honestly, I know less about these resources than the others I’ve mentioned in this post, but they were recommended by Richard Byrne, so I think they’re worth checking out. Richard stressed that PLNs shouldn’t be limited to Twitter or other micro-blogging resources, (a point he made here), so I hope this presentation effectively conveys that.
    • Rather than the shorter-form interactions facilitated by Google+ and especially by Twitter, these websites include forums and pages dedicated to specific topics that remain static and more easily navigable than the ever-rushing stream of Twitter.

For the time being, I’m going to cut it off there. I think this set of resources is a good one, and I don’t want to create a presentation so chock-full of info that it’s overwhelming and therefore intimidating to experiment with. So, what feedback do people have? How’ve I met (or not met) the goals I set out to achieve? For the sake of reference, here are those questions again:

Which of these is vital? Which of them should I omit? What have I missed that would be important to include? Where can I change my emphases?

Links to other PLN Blog Posts and Resources:

PLN Videos:


4 thoughts on “Prepping for a PLN Presentation

  1. Hi Nate,

    Good stuff. One thing I would add about Educator’s PLN and Classroom 2.0 is that for new folks there is already a lot of content that they can dive right into. The challenge with Twitter/ Plurk/ Google+ is that it takes time to build up a network from which you can glean good information.


  2. Christine Besack says:

    I am really enjoying Twitter for professional info regarding Art Education and Ed Technology, I have not tried Google plus yet , but am intrigued by the idea of separate circles, facebook gets a bit muddled with personal. Professional organizations work for me to target subject specific Ed info and networking (for me PAEA and NAEA blogs using NING, also Art Education 2.0)

  3. I’ve been developing PLNs with my colleagues and I would like to suggest adding a social bookmarking site, such as Diigo, to your list. Educators new to the notion of PLNs tend to find the idea of saving and sharing bookmarks amongst like-minded individuals as revolutionary. It also teaches valuable Internet skills such as tagging, commenting, subscribing, and organizing information.

    • Nate says:


      Thanks for your comment. In fact, I had considered including Diigo, and I use Diigo personally as a way to keep track of the huge array of resources that I encounter from my PLN. However, I was hoping to keep things concise and manageable to avoid giving the sense that all these tools needed to be incorporated to create a PLN effectively. Nevertheless, I think you’re absolutely right that Diigo’s a great resource. Maybe if I have a follow-up presentation I’ll bring it in then.

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