The Educator's PLN

The personal learning network for educators

This article is cross-posted here


When people ask me where I get all of this information for my blog, how I know so much stuff, I usually answer with a "I just know" accompanied with the "well, I am smart" look!! It works most of the time, however, I think the time has come to reveal my secret: Twitter + a Personal Learning Network (PLN). Everybody knows what Twitter is, but I think not everybody knows how useful it can be in building a PLN for your professional needs. When I first heard about Twitter I thought "No, not another social networking thingy". However, after witnessing (especially at ISTEKELT) how teachers all over the world are using it to share ideas and resources, I thought "why not try it?". I tried it, I am still using it and believe that all teachers should use it. What is happening is that you follow certain professionals (teachers and other notable figures in the ELT world!!) and after a while, depending on what you have to share, people start to follow you. It can be described as an "ever-expanding network of ideas at your fingertips". There is always someone out there who had the same experience as you and found a solution or another useful idea to your problem .Maybe you can add to it and make it even more useful.
So, how do you build a Twitter PLN? Let's see how:

First you have to get a Twitter account, which is pretty easy. You just go to www.twitter.com and sign up for an account:

Sign-up is easy
When signing up, do not forget to include a photo of you. People will take you more seriously if you have some kind of an "avatar" that represents you. It does not necessarily have to be a photograph of you. Cartoons or logos will do fine as long as they are a representation of you. Providing a short bio of yourself is also important since people who want to follow you will want to have at least some information about who they are going to follow. If you have a blog, or another website, do not forget to include the url (your web address).
PLN in action

After you have signed up, you have to look for people to follow. The best way to do this is to follow certain "hashtags" or "searches". Hashtags are certain words or phrases followed by the # number sign. Everyone who uses the same #hashtag can be followed by searches. For example, when you search for #elt, you will be able to read all tweets which contain the hashtag #elt in it. People do this to separate certain tweets according to their topics. You can always save your searches and access them whenever you want.

First step to find who to follow: Search #hashtag
While reading your search column, you will have to decide who to follow. All you have to do is to click the profile name and you will see a summary of the profile with recent tweets from the user. This will give you a main idea about the users activities and subject area. Here you can now click "follow" if you want to follow this user's tweets. 
All the users that you follow will appear in your timeline:

The users that you follow will appear in your timeline
 All the captures that I have used have been take from Twitter's official web site. There are also other ways to use Twitter. These are applications that were written by developers to make the Twitter experience more fulfilling or more tailored to your needs. The most known ones are Seesmic and Tweetdeck. The main reason why they are so popular is that you can see everything in a "column" design. For example, you do not have to change pages to access your #searches:  Seesmic is a web-based Twitter client.

Seesmic
Tweetdeck is a separate program that you have to install on your computer.

Tweetdeck
 I am sure there are many other programs that can be used to access your Twitter account, but these are the ones that I have found to be useful. If you are using different ones, please share them with me.
After you have found people to follow, you can start to share your own tweets and links and resources. You can also retweet other users' tweets. Do not forget that you only have 140 characters to use. That's why you will see url shorteners in all the Twitter clients. Because nowadays web addresses are way too long to fit in a 140 character tweet, you need automatic url shorteners. The moment you paste a web address into the tweet space you will see that your url is automatically shortened by services like bit.ly or tiny.url
Twitter at a Glance
Here is a great image that I found at the Daring Librarian. It gives a short summary on how to start your PLN with Twitter:
Twitter at a Glance
 In conclusion, building a Personal Learning Network with Twitter is really easy. All you need is a little bit time and the freedom to experiment. You will see how fast your network will grow and how fast you will be able to learn new things, not only for the sake of using the information but also for the sake of sharing.
Have fun.

Below you will find links to useful resources related to Twitter and Twitter for Educators:

An Educators Guide to Twitter
Twitter for Teachers
Nine Great Reasons Why Teachers Should Use Twitter
Thirty Interesting Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom

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