PLN Challenge #3 is all about using Twitter to build your PLN.  I’ve been on Twitter for a couple of years now, and it has been the focal point of my PLN.  I feel that Twitter is an excellent tool for finding resources and connecting with others.

Many people think that Twitter is a service for broadcasting the minutiae of your day, the classic example being an announcement of the contents of your lunch. I’ve found it to be much more than that, but it can take some time to find the right people to follow. As I mentioned in my first challenge post, Darren Rowse’s excellent TwiTip blog provides a list of the top educators to follow. The Edublog Awards provide another excellent source for discovering potential colleagues.

An objection I often hear is, “Where will I find the time for this?”, followed by “How will I keep up?” The beauty of Twitter is that it requires very little commitment to be useful. My basic Twitter routine goes like this:

1. Open up the TweetDeck extension in Google Chrome.
2. Scroll back until I reach a post that says it was posted 2 hours ago.
3. Read from that point forward, clicking on interesting links as I go.

When I find something particularly moving or interesting, I retweet it so that anybody following me who may have missed it can take a look. I never read tweets that are more than an hour old. This eliminates the concern over catching up. Good stuff gets shared repeatedly, so if I’ve missed something, I trust that it will pop up again. Twitter is kind of like a party or a conference that happens all the time: when you’re there, it’s fun and enriching, but when you’re not, there’s no need to worry.

What is your Twitter routine? Do you have any limits like my 1-hour limit?

The PLN Challenge continues!  The Teacher Challenge blog asked us to answer two questions:

1. What do you hope to learn more about with respect to your PLN in the coming weeks?

In every form of professional development – in-service provided by the county, conferences, PLNs – I have a habit of getting very excited about all the new ideas to try, and then filing the ideas away for later.  Later rarely comes, of course.  I’m looking forward to finding out how other people manage all of the exciting news that comes their way with their PLNs.  There are great blog posts, lesson plans, and communities out there.  How do people organize the immense amount of information they encounter every day?  How can I do likewise, and then put these ideas into practice rather than letting them lie fallow?

2. What have you learned with creating your PLN that you wish that someone had told you before and what tips do you have to share?

Relax. This is the big tip I have for past-me and for everyone else building a PLN.  Information moves quickly.  The point of a PLN is not to be that dreaded “one more thing” teachers are always talking about having put on their plate.  It’s to energize and excite.  To improve.  But it’s your thing, which means you get to figure out how best to use your time.  I’m the kind of person who reads a magazine cover-to-cover, starts novel series with the first book, and will read six years’ worth of blog archives all at one blog.  A completist, if you will.

That’s not how PLNs work.  If I were to spend all of my time catching up on my Twitter stream, I’d get nothing else done.  So I need to relax.  You might, too.  The PLN is there when we need it.  It’s a resource, not an obligation.  Sometimes we’ll be able to help others in our PLN and sometimes we’ll need their help.  We can jump in or out as time allows.

What about you?  What do you want to learn about PLNs?  What advice can you give?

Over on The Book of Faces, I noticed that Edublogs is hosting a PLN challenge – 30 days to build and/or grow your personal learning network.  Fresh out of school, still with a bit of enthusiasm, and not yet busied by the responsibilities of a professional position, I think now is the perfect time for me to join in.

The Question Everyone (Including Myself) Asks: What does PLN really mean?

I’ve been building my PLN since fall of 2008, though I’ve torn it down and rebuilt it a couple of times now.  Essentially, PLN is a blanket way of referring to all the different methods we have of learning new things by interacting with other people.  For me, blogs have always been a big part of that.  In 2008 I added Twitter.  I’ve tried Nings but that format is not very intuitive to me, so I just dip my toes in and out.

That said, I’ve never really been able to wrap my brain around PLN as a concept.  So in my head it looks like this: People I Follow On Twitter + Authors of Blogs I Follow + Colleagues from School + My Husband + My Dad + Any Other Resource I Happen Upon = My PLN.  (In case you’re wondering why my mom isn’t on there, it’s because she’s not in libraries/education/academia.)  It’s big and messy and organic, and The Internet tells me that’s okay.  My librarian-brain disagrees but I’m working with her to move through this.

So, how did I decide who to follow on Twitter and blogs? (Because how I obtained my dad and school colleagues is pretty obvious, and how I got my husband is personal info not suited to a professional blog…)

First, over at TwiTip, Darren Rowse shared a list of the Top 10 Educators to follow on Twitter.  Then, of course, I followed the old advice of looking at who those people follow and who followed them.

Next, as part of my School Library program, I was required to follow the blogs of luminaries like Joyce Valenza, Buffy Hamilton, Doug Johnson, Will Richardson, and David Warlick (most of these folks are on Twitter, too).  These blogs post links to other resources which expand my network even further.  I don’t remember how I found 8-Bit Library, but I’m so glad I did, because JP and Justin are my heroes.

But here’s what I think is the coolest way I found people to add to my PLN…

And it’s something I haven’t seen/heard anybody else talk about yet.  At conferences, I’m in danger of being a wallflower.  Sitting in the back of the room for presentations, eating by myself, this sort of thing.  The bigger the conference, the more likely this is to happen.  So when I went to ALA’s Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. last year, this was a big risk.  Especially when my husband and my friend Katy weren’t around.

BUT! Because of my PLN, this never happened.  I was wandering between sessions, all by my lonesome, when folks like JP Porcaro and Justin Hoenke (both of 8 Bit Library) would recognize me and we’d exchange greetings.  Then I’d do things like follow JP to the exhibit hall where we’d sit and chat about video games in libraries, followed by some wandering around until he introduced me to people he knew, like Ed Garcia and Jenn Wann Walker.  Or I’d meet up with him in the Networking Uncommons and happen to find him talking to people like Evelyn Bussell, who is actually local to me and had just returned from lunch with my advisor.

Because of my PLN in virtual space, I felt more comfortable in the physical space at ALA, and met new people who I then added to my PLN.  It was amazing.  Especially the part where Buffy Hamilton and I compared shoes.

What’s next?

This year I won’t be attending the ALA Annual Conference.  But you can bet I’ll be keeping an eye on #ala11 on Twitter and soaking up everything I can from my PLN.  I trust them to let me know what new connections are worth making.