When I started my MA last September, the acronym ‘PLN’ was (like many others) a new one to me. As my course mates talked about getting useful information from their PLNs, I speculated they may be referring to some sort of handheld iPhone style device. When they later mentioned expanding their PLNs, I assumed it was some web application I hadn’t heard of. It was only when members were mentioned that it finally clicked – Personal Learning Network. As I explored the area further, it became apparent that my PLN basically consisted of my work colleagues and fellow MA students and I thought I should expand it. At first everyone was signing up for trial accounts on Google Wave but that never really took off. I also looked into linking to other ELT professionals on FaceBook but I found it hard to move away from the personal aspect of that particular site (not one of my favourite site anyway). Blogging looked like a good idea but getting connected beyond my existing contacts didn’t seem to happen.
Twitter was a possibility that came up on discussions with my fellow MA students but it was one I initially (and quite deliberately) overlooked: it seemed to me of all the ‘social networking’ sites to be the most pointless. 140 characters for an update – to say what exactly? It was described to me as being like the status updates on FaceBook but I’d already had enough of hearing that someone I went to high school with and have barely seen since had a hangover that was worth it or that my cousin was having relationship troubles again. I did sign up to have a look but I quickly arrived at the same conclusion as Ricky Gervais.
So what made me look again? Well, I set myself a summer project of developing my PLN and, yes, I have got a lot of spare time on my hands at present. But, it was actually the World Cup that got me into it (see? This is what I was talking about in my previous post: “When did you start using Twitter?” “Hmmm, World Cup in South Africa – must have been 2010”!) as the Guardian set up their Fans’ Network and I started to see the value of receiving various links to articles, stories and web pages I otherwise would never have seen. Around the same time, I also started to notice the Twitter feeds and ‘follow me’ buttons on a couple of the blogs I read. I started by looking up course mates from my MA and seeing who they were following and it all kind of snowballed from there. I found and started to follow other EFL teachers in Turkey, EFL and ESL teachers and teacher trainers around the globe, specialists in EdTech and K12, people in the field of ELT publishing, and even luminaries from the world of academic study, whose articles I had been reading and discussing over the course of the last year. Through their Twitter pages, I followed links to their blogs and through their tweets, links to various thought-provoking and informative articles, discussions, videos etc.
And slowly, I started to get hooked. I downloaded Tweet Deck to my PC and iPod Touch and set up a Twitter Feed link to this blog. My routine soon began to mirror that described by Vance Stevens (2008) in his ‘Trail by Twitter’ of checking tweets that had appeared overnight shortly after breakfast and following the various links throughout the day. I still think Twitter is a load of twaddle as a ‘social’ site but I now really value the ‘networking’ side of it. In fact, I believe it would be better if Twitter was referred to as just a ‘networking’ site rather that a ‘social networking’ one. I’ve also learned how to use Twitter effectively through links from various tweets. Here are some of my favourites:
7 Power Twitter Tips and Why I Like Them
Seven top tips for building your professional learning network with Twitter
How Social Media Can Make Us More Productive
…and this one I saw late last night – I wonder if this social media thing will ever catch on?
There are also many great tips out there for making use of Twitter in language learning. Alas, as my students are aged 8-10, I don’t think my school or the parents are going to be overly keen on getting them to tweet (they were even concerned about me telling my students to make use of the British Council’s LearnEnglishKids site last year!). However, when we are back to work in September I shall certainly be working hard to persuade as many of my colleagues as possible to start developing their own PLNs through Twitter and other social media. I’ve even made an early suggestion that it could be workshop material. I’ll let you know how I get on!
In the meantime, those of you out there in my PLN and beyond, any advice on how to further expand and connect? any comments and advice welcome!
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I just have to check Tweet Deck…..