For each of the seven steps in this week’s activity, document what you did, and what you found? What did you learn during each step?

Step 1: What is a PLN? For this step, I explored what a PLN is, why educators create their own PLNs and how they use them. PLN stands for Personal Learning Network and is used to “describe a network of people and resources that supports ongoing learning” (pp. 1). The term PLN was thought to have been originally coined by Daniel R. Tobin after he wrote an article about the term, Personal Learning Network, but has since been argued after discovering that others also wrote about the term around the same time as Tobin. The term has since “evolved and is now sometimes referred to as a Professional Learning Network – taking into account the fact that most ‘connected educators’ use their PLN for professional growth and interaction” (pp. 1). Dori Digeni states that “the PLN consists of relationships between individuals where the goal is enhancement of mutual learning. The currency of the PLN is learning in the form of feedback, insights, documentation, new contacts, or new business opportunities. It is based on reciprocity and a level of trust that each party is actively seeking value-added information for the other” (pp. 1). Tom Whitby noticed that there can also be a hybrid of the personal or professional learning network called the Personalized Learning Network, stating, “the shift in nuance maintains that participants are both personal and professional learners. A PLN is a tool that uses social media and technology to collect, communicate, collaborate and create with connected colleagues anywhere at any time. Participating educators, worldwide, make requests and share resources” (pp. 1). PLNs also don’t just exist in the education world, as they are also important in business, certain hobbies, etc. I found it interesting that many teachers stated that they have learned a lot more from their PLN than from any professional development session they have ever attended. With the ever so evolving day and age, technology has improved and progressed. Technology has made it easier for teachers to connect and to search for guidance, ideas, inspiration, support, and new perspectives. Technology has allowed for teachers to interact with others from different locations and not just within their social community. “Educators now have access to people from all corners of the globe 24/7. This may largely be through social media but other platforms as well, such as blogs, online communities, and news sites” and through this, many barriers have also been eliminated such as travel, time zones, language, etc. (pp. 1). In the video, What is a PLN, states that a “PLN is a way of describing the group of people and sometimes organizations you connect with in order to learn from their ideas, their questions, their reflections, and their references. Your PLN is not limited to online interactions, but it is that online global interactive part that really makes it special.” I learned that it is personal because you choose who is apart of that group. It is a network because these “people are connected to other people in organizations that influence and enrich the interactions of your group through various collaboration tools, usually referred to as web 2.0.” It is focused on learning. You can use Twitter, YouTube, etc., to engage with your PLN. I learned that your PLN is “always on” but that you don’t always have to be on it for it to be always on. You just “take what you want, offer what you want, when you want, where you want, and on whichever device you prefer” and this keeps “learning or your professional development always easily accessible.” Being a connected educator means collaborating online and using a range of tools to build your own PLN. Watching the video, Connected Educators, I was amazed to see how transformative and powerful a PLN really is. As, Al Pichego said, “you have to ask, you have to connect, and you have to collaborate.” Sandy Hayes said, “it really is collaboration and communication across not just disciplines, but philosophies and practical projects that is crucial to our growth as educators.” “The tools for education today, lie in technology.” Getting connected is important because you are growing your network and are accelerating your learning. There are multiple benefits of having a PLN such as: being “in charge of your own professional development; exploring your own interests, needs, and passions (or even your students’); 24/7 learning offers the flexibility to learn and connect at a time that suits you; learning and connecting in a way that you enjoy; there can be light and shade to your PLN; a PLN allows for broad brainstorming or fine tuning; and globally connected students need globally connected teachers.” I learned that there are also four big ideas around the connected educator such as “model for students, local isolation, data crowdsource resources, and gaining perspective.” Being a connected educator can make you a “better and more relevant educator.”

Step 2: Making Connections. In this step, I looked at how to build a PLN, I evaluated some tools that educators use to connect with their PLN, explored tips for connecting with educators from around the globe, and recognized barriers to building a PLN. In Alec Couros’ two diagrams, I found it interesting that the first diagram illustrates how a teacher would traditionally connect and learn such as by “curriculum documents, colleagues, popular media, print and digital resources, and family/local community” but in his second diagram, he demonstrates how educators can connect now that technology is so readily available and easily accessible. His old ways of connected are still clearly demonstrated in his second diagram but he adds ways such as “microblogging, blogs, wikis, video conferences, chats, social networking services, online communities, social bookmarking, and digital photo sharing.” It is important to remember that while technology is an added bonus this day and age, that it’s not only about what you “consume but what you create. You can give as well as receive.” The most popular tool that educators use for their PLNs is Twitter. “53% of participants [in the study called Together we are better: professional learning networks for teachers] indicated that they used this tool to connect with others.” Other popular tools are blogs, Edmodo, Facebook, Discovery Education Network, and Pinterest and “84% of survey participants indicated that they use more than one medium or site.” Educators use online sites in a variety of ways to connect with their PLN such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Blogs, Email newsletters, Voxer, YouTube, and LinkedIn.” I learned that when building a PLN that there are a few tips to consider such as, investing some time, trying different tools, following up with people, finding tools that work best for me, asking for help, to curate wisely, to diversify, to involve my future students, and to spread the word.” I learned that there are also some barriers to creating a PLN such as: “many teachers simply don’t know about PLNs.” They don’t know that there are educators around the world who are online connecting, collaborating, and learning together. Tom Whitby also outlined three deterrents to educators using PLNs as a tool for ongoing learning, stating “the PLN is a mindset, not the outcome of a workshop or the PD offered annually by many school districts. It is not a one-shot fix. Successful users of PLNs overwhelm the uninitiated with techno-babble; and it requires, at least at first, digital literacy beyond a Google search.” Prioritizing the investment in time that building a PLN requires is also an obstacle for a few educators. Many educators claim to not be that good with technology and so this creates another obstacle for some. Also, having the “skills and abilities to read and write in various media forms and on multiple platforms including digital spaces” is very important. Overall, being a connected educator takes work but has many advantages for you and your students. “Many educators would say it’s an essential responsibility of teachers to connect and commit to lifelong learning” and I couldn’t agree more. As George Couros states, “isolation is now a choice educators make” because there are so many ways to connect with others in this day and age. There are “three powerful avenues to becoming a connected educator – Twitter, blogs, and content curation.”

Step 3: Using Twitter to Build Your PLN. In this step, I looked at what Twitter is and how it’s used; I evaluated the benefits of using Twitter as part of my PLN, and how to set up a Twitter account and connect with others. Twitter is a “social networking, news, and microblogging service that allows you to send out short messages called tweets.” Tweets can also contain media, text, and links and now allows you to use 280 characters. With Twitter, you have a choice to either just look at others’ tweets or contribute by sending out your own tweet(s). Now, you don’t have to have an account to read others tweets, as long as their accounts are public, but in order to contribute, you have to make an account. Twitter is accessible on a variety of devices, which makes the platform super functionable and accessible. You can now organize your Twitter feed using Tweetdeck. Twitter is used by people all around the world. I thought it was interesting to read that “83% of 193 UN member countries have Twitter presence” because this means that you could be potentially connecting to thousands of teachers with rich backgrounds and experiences that can contribute to your own professional growth. I learned that “Twitter is more than just another social networking tool.” It is a place for educators to connect with “like minded individuals for personalized and ongoing professional development.” I loved the analogy that Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach used to describe Twitter. He said, “Twitter is like a river. The river keeps flowing but sometimes you might just walk past and have a quick look, sometimes you might hang around and dip your toes in, other times you might spend hours swimming around. The choice is yours.” In the video, Using Twitter effectively in education, Alec Couros states that “when you see good practice on Twitter, you’re seeing teachers develop a personal learning network over a long period of time. In the video, Couros mentions the work of Stephen Johnson, specifically his book called, where do good ideas come from, and he states that “we hoard our knowledge and we keep it close to ourselves and that we thought if we sit in isolation and think deep thoughts, that eventually a good idea would come to us but we are seeing this idea that the more parts you put out on the table, that you make available to other people, you see new innovations, and things that were partial hunches, turn into things bigger and greater than we could have ever imagined because of the idea-collusion of others and that is exactly what is happening on Twitter.” Teachers put out their ideas in Twitter and are able to connect, see better practice, see what other teachers are doing and to share lesson plans. Educators use hashtags to find material and information more easily. “Twitter is like a virtual staffroom where you can catch up with your PLN. It is a place where educators find advice, find great links, share work, and engage in general musings about education.” In the video, Twitter for Educators: Can it really help?, I found it interesting that people can find inspiration, motivation, challenge, innovation, camaraderie, people, apps, tips, lists, expertise, humor, collaboration, sarcasm, all within the platform of Twitter. I learned that Twitter is a modern platform for educators to “share, network, gain emotional support, build professional learning communities and make contributions to their profession.” There are five steps to building your PLN via Twitter and they are 1) join Twitter, 2) follow people, 3) lurk, 4) contribute, and 5) stick with it. To be an effective and successful teacher, you need to have a diverse and innovative network. With Twitter, the “barriers of distance and access are broken down and the world is at your fingertips.”

Step 4: All About Hashtags and Twitter Chats. In this step, I examined what hashtags and twitter chats are, the benefits of participating in Twitter chats with my PLN, and I looked at tips for getting the most out of Twitter chats. “Hashtags are written with the pound sign (#) and are sued to index keywords or topics on Twitter. Putting a hashtag symbol in front of a relevant keyword or phrase helps to categorize the tweet and make it easier for people to find.” It is cool to be able to place a hashtag anywhere within your tweet, whether you replace a word with a hashtag or simply put it at the end of your tweet, is solely up to you. While you can use any hashtag you want, it is important to know that if it isn’t being used by other people then others won’t be following it or searching for it and so, to get the most out of hashtags, you should probably use ones that others are using. Hashtags are created by Twitter users and not Twitter itself. I found it interesting how easily Twitter is to use and how easy it is to find information on it. For example, you can simply type a hashtagged keyword in the search bar to find tweets and accounts based on whatever you are searching/looking for. I also learned that you can use TweetDeck to follow hashtags that you want to keep track of regularly. In the video, How to Set Up Tweetdeck with Hashtags, I learned that you can easily connect your Twitter account with Tweetdeck to easily follow the hashtags that you have chosen to keep track of. I also learned that anyone can start a hashtag and that “hashtags are community driven.” It is important to look first though to make sure that the hashtag you wish to create has not already been created by someone else. In the article, Quick Tip: Twitter Digital Notebook, I found it interesting that Kathleen Sokolowski would use a personal hashtag to find tweets that she wanted to come back to later on. She would create a personal hashtag and search for that hashtag in the search bar and once she clicked latest to see all of her tweets, she was able to easily find the article or posts that she saved. How smart/cool is that? I learned that you can find popular hashtags by simply typing in the hashtag and being able to see the popularity of it and the bigger the hashtag, the more popular it is. The tool to see how popular a hashtag really is, is called hashtagify.me. You can also see trending hashtags on Twitter. “Trending topics are a mix of hashtags and regular phrases that shows you wants currently being tweeted about the most. They are tailored for you based on your geographical location and who you follow.” How neat is that? I found that super interesting. You can simply click on these trends to find out more information and to join in. “A Twitter chat and a hashtag are the glue that brings Twitter chat together.” Since hashtags make it easier to search and follow conversations that are happening on Twitter, sometimes people stay to discuss a specific topic at a specific time, hence creating a twitter chat. In the video, Twitter Chat Basics, I learned that “Twitter chats are one of the best ways for educators to connect with each other, exchange and debate ideas, ask for help and provide assistance, and find new resources.” I also learned that a Twitter chat is a live conversation on Twitter, normally focused around a specific topic and held during a certain time and day. They are meant to be a relaxed and respected conversation among colleagues. To organize the chat in a single conversation, a designated hashtag is used, and they normally last an hour. They also normally have “moderators who guide the conversation using a question and answer format.” Participants tweet their responses and put the letter and number in front of their response, so others know which question they are responding to. I also learned that if you can’t keep up with a Twitter Chat, you can simply look at the archives, you can follow up, bookmark, like, and lurk. I learned that education chats “generally occur in the evenings each week, either during school terms or throughout the whole year. Most chats focus on a particular topic, subject area, theme, or year level.” To find a Twitter Chat, you can look at the Twitter chat calendar for educators, explore Kasey Bell’s educational hashtag and twitter chat database, or use participate.com/chats to find chats in your time zone. Overall, using hashtags are a perfect way to share resources and find resources, and to ask questions and find answers.

Step 5: Using Blogs as Part of Your PLN. In this step I examined what a blog is, the benefits of using blogs as part of my PLN, I evaluated ways people keep up to date with blogs, and how to use blogs as part of my PLN. “Blogs play an important role in most educators’ PLNs and making blogs part of your PLN is more than just publishing posts on your own blog.” I learned that even if I don’t see myself setting up my own blog, that there are many benefits to “simply reading, commenting, and sharing other people’s blogs.” Blogs are a “dynamic community, feedback and interaction (comments, sharing, RSS, and subscription), and are typically journal-like. Websites are “static information and are a general term for online space – complex or simple.” Portfolios are a great way to “scaffold, showcase, or organize students work and typically are over a period of time (years).” I always thought that a blog was just a website and left it at that. I never really understood the difference but while reading this article, I learned the difference. The difference between a blog and a website is, “a blog traditionally would be updated fairly regularly and display posts in a reverse chronological order, comments have always been a key feature of blogs, providing an interactive space; and that most blogs have pages where key information is housed that isn’t updated very frequently (such as an About Me page).” A lot of people today “have a website that has a blog component; the home page doesn’t change but readers can click on a tab to view a regularly updated blog.” In the video, What is a Blog, I learned that blog was originally created from the words web and log. A blog is the “logging of one’s thoughts, ideas, experiences, and more, all in one place on the web.” I learned what makes blogs so great. “They are easy to use. In a few clicks, you can share thoughts, opinions, news, anything. Your blog is a staple of who you are and is an expression of you on the web.” Your blogs theme controls how your blog looks, and most blogs themes are made up of four sections – the header, the sidebar, the footer, and the body. The header consists of the title or logo and main navigation menu. The sidebar includes widgets and what you want to highlight. The footer is at the bottom of your blog and is usually where content is displayed that does not often change. The body is the main content area and is where your thoughts and ideas come to life. “Blogs can be viewed from anytime, from anywhere.” I learned the reasons why educators blog, which are: “to share information and tips with other educators, to collaborate with a global audience (increased collaboration with others leads to greater innovation and new perspectives), to reflect on their learning or their teaching/work practices, and to learn how to blog themselves so they can use blogs effectively with their students.” In the article, The Current State of Education Blogging 2017/2018, I found it interesting that students were commonly using for practicing reading/writing, reflective blogging, and for other various assignments in the classroom. I also learned that there are tips for building your PLN via blogs such as “reading and commenting on other people’s blog posts. Then share anything that resonates with you with your PLN; Publish posts on your own blog to reflect your thoughts, ideas, and/or to share resources.” It is important to read blog posts because this is an important way to connect with other educators. I learned that if you want to keep up with your favorite blog, you can use an email subscription or email newsletter, an RSS feed, and/or social media and curation tools such as Flipboard. I found it interesting reading that “61% of respondents indicated that their favorite way to keep up to fate with the blogs they like to read is via social media.” Though, for me, there is no surprise there because that is exactly how I like to keep up to date with numerous things that I like. I learned that there is a tool called Flipboard that allows you to put all the links shared on Twitter onto your Flipboard account in a magazine format where it is easy to read, share, and comment on articles shared by the network you wish to follow. In the video, Flipboard for Educators – Curating and Sharing Content – I learned how easy it is to find content you wish to save for later and using Flipboard to organize all the links in a format that is easy for me to comment on and share the links. When it comes to commenting on posts, I learned that “your commenting skills and how you engage in comments with others on blog posts is one of the most important and often overlooked aspects of using blogs as part of your PLN.” Ultimately, “the comment section is where the deep learning, questioning, and reflection can occur. Comments turn your blog from a static space into an interactive conversation.” I learned comment tips for blogging such as “don’t just lurk, comment; approve comments quickly, always respond back to readers on your own posts, and use the subscribe to comments option.” While I personally have never really thought about having my own blog until taking this class and creating my very own RamPages blog, I have since become super interested in keeping in going. I loved reading George Couros statement about blogging, he said, “my best advice… write for you and don’t overthink. See every blog post as a rough draft to something you are building over time, not a college term paper. The more you do it, the better you will become. The better you become, the easier it will be. Be kind, be thoughtful, but don’t overthink. It is probably holding you back for inspiring someone else, and probably surprising yourself.” “Your unique perspectives could be exactly what someone else needs to hear.” That’s deep! In the video, Obvious to you, Amazing to Others, I learned that while you might believe that you are sharing your simple thoughts but to others, your simple thoughts may be amazing to others. While something may seem obvious to you, may be amazing to someone else. I have learned that a blog is your online home. George Couros has three reasons for blogging, and they are: “to share [your] thinking, to develop [your] thinking, and to archive [your] thinking.” Overall, having your own blog, allows you to share cool tools, articles, and resources with others. You can also start collaborations with others. “Even if you don’t have an audience, a blog can be a fantastic way to keep track of all the work that you are doing both online and offline.” Your blog can be a great “professional portfolio, which can be an advantage when you are trying to demonstrate who you are and what you are passionate about for future career opportunities.” I have learned more about the choices that I have when it comes to choosing what platform would be best for me such as using Edublogs or CampusPress. Blogging ultimately allows you to “dig deeper and really form strong connections with others. You’re not limited to 280 characters like on Twitter.” You can write as much or as little as you want. Just remember, “what you get back is directly related to what you put in!

Step 6: Using Curation Tools as Part of Your PLN. In this step, I examined what content curation is and the benefits of it. I also evaluated a simple framework for getting started with content curation and a range of different tools that I can choose from to make content curation easier. Having good curation skills saves you time by going through the “vast abundance of content on the internet to select the best, most relevant resources on a specific topic or theme. The curator organizes, manages, and collates for their own use and shares it with others.” In the video, What is Content Curation, curators “carefully assemble collected items with a point of view, with a goal of enlightening or altering the understanding or perception of others.” Curators search “the digital world for the most powerful ideas around a topic and bring them together for their audience. They provide their value by being the collector and bringing together the ideas their audience desperately wants to see and understand, but might not be able to find on their own.” Curators may not have created the thought themselves, but they are adding a point of view to the collection. Content Curation “can be a powerful tactic in establishing yourself as a publisher.” It is important to select a topic that is broad enough to appeal to a large audience yet niche enough that the supply of information has some specificity. Find a way to get that information to your audience, to the people with the same interests as you but with your point of view applied. Teachers “have always been curators – bringing together the most worthwhile materials to help their students learn. In the past, this might have been limited to books, posters, concrete materials, guest speakers etc.” Now, however, there are many digital resources available. I have learned that “content curation has been happening since the beginning of time in some form or another; however, it’s becoming increasingly worthwhile and complex as the volume of information online continues to increase. 21st century content curation can involve finding, verifying, organizing, annotating, remixing, creating, collating, and sharing.” The benefits of content curation and the reasons why educators curate content is: “1) to find, organize, and manage information and resources on specific topics, 2) to stay informed about the latest information on specific topics which leads to professional growth, 3) to learn through the process. As you search for and curate the best resources, you reflect on their value and you may develop new ways of thinking. 4) To help build their PLN. Networks actively seek and follow good content curators because they save us time. 5) To learn how to curate themselves so they can teach students how to curate content for research, their interests, and passions. Curation is an important part of being digitally literate. In the video, Students Should Be Content Curators, I found it interesting that while we do live in a world of instant information, speed of consumption does not reflect the depth of knowledge. Students need to learn the “art of curation” because “curators ask thoughtful questions, find resources that are accurate and interesting, they geek out on the content, finding the takeaways and making sense out of new ideas and as this happens, curators organize their content into categories or themes, they make connections between seemingly opposite artists, ideas, and disciplines, and this makes us think, ‘man, I had never considered that before.’” Curators are also able to “determine trends from multiple sources and eventually they are able to add their own unique lens and share their work with an audience.” All of this is what we what students to be able to do. I have learned that the Curation Process involves three steps, 1) read, 2) editorialize, and 3) share. During the editorialize step, this is where you “add your own touches to your findings to help others. This involves considering your audience and what they might be interested in. Graphics, GIFs, quotes, emojis, sketchnoting, are all great ways to add visuals to your content. I learned more about digital curation tools such as News discovery tools, curation tools, and sharing tools. I learned that some of the most powerful curations tools are blogs, Wakelet, Nuzzel, Pocket, Diigo, Evernote, Flipboard, LiveBinders, Pinterest, and Scoop.it. Blogs are a popular way of curating content because “you can dive deeper and write a detailed elaboration and you can customize and organize vast amounts of information in meaningful ways.” Wakelet is a newer tool and is becoming popular among teachers and it “allows you to save, organize, and tell stories with content from around the web.” Nuzzel is a “news monitoring and research tool.” I found this tool interesting because you can create an account and get a curated email sent directly to you daily with the top stories from the people you follow! How neat is that? This is a fantastic way to stay up to date with important stories and you can then explore these stories to decide whether or not they are worth sharing with your own PLN. You can also create your own newsletter for your own followers too! Pocket is another tool that allows you to save articles, videos, links etc., for later. You can save directly from your browser or apps such as Twitter and view them again when you have more time. With Diigo, allows you to bookmark items and share them in a private or public group format. Evernote allows you to “collect information, curate resources, find your resources, and share with others” all from one area. I found this tool really interesting because you can save your notes, images, etc., and then sort them into a folder, tag them, annotate them, edit or give comments to them and access them whenever you please, even giving you the option to view or edit while offline. How convenient! LiveBinders is basically a digital binder for your online content. Pinterest, which is my personal favorite, is a “virtual bulletin board that allows you to find and curate images, videos, or websites.” One thing that I love about Pinterest is that you can simply click on the pin and it will take you to the site where the pin was sourced from so you can learn more about it. Though with content curation, there can be pitfalls. I learned that as a content curator you want to avoid being a hoarder, scrooge, tabloid, and robot curator. I learned that the hoarder is “a curator who collects everything indiscriminately, who doesn’t organize their content, and doesn’t share – this is really closer to simple aggregation than curation.” That a scrooge is “one who, similarly, hoards their information – although they may organize their collection, they don’t share either; one of the key purposes of educational content curation!” The Tabloid (or National Enquirer) is “a collector who indiscriminately collates everything together, and generously shares this aggregation, whether others want/need it or not!” And, that the Robot is “a curator who uses tools to shares automatically, with no context related additions or value adding; in this case, the curation is really no better than providing a list of Google search results.” I have realized that learning to avoid these pitfalls is what makes an effective curator instead of someone who is just simply collecting content. Most importantly, I have learned that while there are many wonderful resources out there to help with the organization of resources I may encounter out in the digital web, that technology cannot do the curation. I learned that I need to find the tool(s) that I prefer to use for curation and sharing, to curate the content that helps me and is helpful to others, and to make it a part of my routine; to share and curate content.

Step 7: Making Time to Build Your PLN. In this step I learned how to find time to develop my PLN and embed simple practices into my routine and I also learned tips for building my PLN. It is important to do what works bests for you. What works best for someone else might not necessarily work best for you. I learned that it is best to “follow your natural learning style and think about ways to become a connected educator by doing what you’re comfortable with.” Trying to keep up with a lot of people and tools can only lead to you feeling overwhelmed, so it is important to just look at a few tools and follow a few people at first until you get the hang of things and get more comfortable. Set a goal and commit to it. Set a routine such as by reading a blog post for a few minutes, browse through Flipboard etc. I learned to consider becoming more productive. For me, when I am on my phone, I tend to get distracted, whether that be watching YouTube videos, to scrolling through Facebook, to searching the internet etc., but redirecting the time I spend doing that to building/working on my PLN can be time well spent. Not being shy is another tip I learned for building my PLN because while it may seem strange to leave a stranger a comment or to follow someone you don’t know; you never really know where that interaction could take you. This is a great way to start networking. I also learned that it is important to not give up. I loved Tisha Poncio’s tweet “get yourself a PLN who doesn’t always agree with you, replies to your questions in the middle of the night, empowers you to push through your fears and who will cheer you on through your out-of-the-box crazy ideas!”