The Professional Learning Network (PLN) Starter Kit

PLN Starter Kit

Updated: 1/9/2018

One thing I say at every presentation that I give is that I truly believe we are living in the best time to be a teacher or a student.  The reason I say this is because of a little thing called the Internet!  Never in human history have we had instant access to so much high quality information and digital tools for FREE.  This information is available in written, audio, or visual form.  It’s available on demand from the palm of your hands 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

For these reasons, I have to shake my head when I hear people complain about a lack of professional development when they’re asked to implement something new.  Really?  There are literaly 100’s of blogs, websites, and podcasts that will tell you how to integrate small group instruction or how your students can create digital portfolios.  Of course, you can also buy books on these topics.  In other words, the information is out there, you just need to know where to look.

If you don’t know where to look, this blog post is for you.  There is simply too much information and not enough time to research every blog, podcast, YouTube channel, etc.. to find the best stuff.  So, here is my attempt at a Professional Learning Network Starter Kit for those newbies who want to take control of their professional development rather than waiting for someone else to deliver it to them.  With these tools, you can keep up with the latest technology tools, pedagogical research and theory, and lessons learned from practical experience.  Not to mention, you have the opportunity to start conversations and make connections with high quality educators.

By no means is this a comprehensive list of all social media outlets that you can explore.  I don’t discuss PinterestFacebook, Google+, or Snapchat, for example.  However, the platforms that I do cover, Twitter, blogs and podcasts, YouTube, and Instagram, I have found to be most useful.

WARNING: PLEASE, do not try to follow every Twitter and Instagram handle, blog, podcast, andYouTube channel listed.  Start slow with one platform and build from there.  I think Twitter is the best place to start because it is where I started my journey toward becoming a connected educator.  If it doesn’t work for you, try the other platforms.

Twitter

Twitter is a social media platform that allows you to post short messages (up to 280 characters) along with links, images, and tags that everyone can view.  A hashtag (such as #edtech for educational technology) are topics of conversation that anyone can start and use simply by adding the “#” (hashtag) symbol and other characters.  Other examples are #SuperBowl or #HappyNewYears.  Another type of tag is simply a person’s Twitter handle (mine is @instruct_edtech).  This is a great place to start because it’s so easy to setup and utilize quickly.  So let’s breakdown a tweet.

  1. Author’s name and Twitter handle.
  2. Message of the tweet.  Add a link to the end of your message as well.
  3. Hashtags (all contents inside the red boxes).  Remember, these can be started by anyone but #edchat, #edtech, and #education are widely used by educators.
  4. Tags (all content in green that isn’t a hashtag) for other people’s Twitter handles.  All these people will get a notification that they were tagged in a tweet.
  5. An image linked to the tweet.  You can also attach animated gifs.  Those viewing the tweet can tap on the tweet to see it full size.  You can also link to websites and YouTube videos.
  6. The date and local time of the tweet.
  7. The number of retweets and likes.  A retweet is when someone reposts your tweet on their Twitter feed which of course will be shown to all of their followers.
  8. The bottom of a tweet has a few icons to explain.
    • Comment Bubble: shows that a person commented on your tweet.  This is a great way to start a conversation with others about the contents of your tweet.  Tap on the tweet to see all the comments.  When viewing someone else’s tweet, tap on the bubble to comment.  The author of the tweet will get a notification about any comments made on their tweet.
    • Retweets:  A retweet, symbolized by the arrows that make a square, can either be a quote tweet in which you add some text before the copy of the original tweet or a simple copy of the original tweet with no added text which is just called a retweet.  See the images below for examples of both.  The author of the tweet will get a notification about any retweets.
    • Like: A like, symbolized by the heart, is simply telling the author you liked their tweet.

Quote Tweet

Quote Tweet: The text above the original tweet from Amy Fast could be your reaction or take away from the tweet.


Retweet

Retweet: Notice the small retweet text at the very top. Use this to share a great tweet with your followers.

But I don’t know anyone and I don’t have anything to post.

It’s okay if you don’t have anyone to follow you in the beginning.  It’s okay if you don’t know what to post.  Most Twitter users simply follow and retweet other people’s content rather than create their own.  But who do I follow, you ask?  Well, here is a list to get you started.  These are all amazing people in the field of education.  They’ll give you insights, ideas, questions, and sometimes even personal feedback.  Also, if they follow you, you can send them a private direct message.  Simply click on the links in the “Twitter Handle” column and click “Follow”.  Also, take the time to read their profiles.

Twitter Tips and Tricks from Kathy Schrock

Twitter for Teachers Infographic
Twitter for Teachers by Kathy Schrock (http://www.schrockguide.net/twitter-for-teachers.html)

More Twitter Resources

Blogs, Blogs, Blogs

Not every insight can be distilled into 280 characters, so in order to really go in depth, you have to read blog posts — like this one!  Many of the aforementioned people on Twitter have amazing blogs as well.  Here is the list of blogs.  Use a free service, like Feedly, to aggregate blog posts from several websites in one place so you aren’t constantly going to 10+ websites to read the latest article.  After your setup your Feedly account, click “Add Content”, search for the blog you want to add such as “Edutopia”, and presto — it’s added to your list of blog posts.  Now any new Edutopia post will appear in Feedly along with new posts from other blogs to which you subscribe.  Comment on a blog post to ask the author questions.  You’d be surprised at how many of them read and respond to each comment.

YouTube

Often times, video can explain something more clearly than text.  What you want to do is subscribe to YouTube channels (like TV channels) that you know will have high quality content.  Otherwise, YouTube can seem like a cluttered garage, full of junk with a few hidden gems that you can never find.  Subscribing will make it easier to find this content later.

Here’s how to start on YouTube

  1. Go to YouTube and sign in using the link in the top-right corner.  If your school has integrated with Google, use your school Google account to sign in.  Otherwise, use your school email account.  If you have done this correctly, your profile picture (or avatar) should display where it said “SIGN IN”.
    YouTube Sign In
  2. Click on these YouTube channels to get you started.  They will help you learn more best practices and examples of different teaching methods.  Simply click on each one and then the red “SUBSCRIBE” button.
    Subscribe in YouTube
  3. Access your subscriptions on the left sidebar by clicking “SUBSCRIPTIONS” in gray.
    Subscriptions
  4. Search your channels.  Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a way to search all of your subscription channels at once, however there is a way to search within each channel.  For example, you could go to Catlin Tucker’s YouTube Channel and search for “Station Rotation” models by clicking on the magnifying glass shown below.
    Search Channel

You did it!  What I really like about learning on YouTube is the examples shown for various teaching methods, like blended learning,

Instagram

“If you can’t beat’em, join’em.”

Instagram is a platform that is predominately based on pictures, short videos, and text descriptions with hashtags .  . . lots of hashtags.  I’m embarrassed to admit that I just started using Instagram.  I don’t know too much about getting started, what to post, or who to follow, but the good news is that Tony Vincent, creator of Learning in Hand, does.  He has an amazing blog post entitled Instagram for Teachers that you must read if you are just getting started like me.  I have added his suggestions to my Instagram list.  Thanks Tony.

But Wait . . . there’s MORE

Admittedly, this is not everything you can do to build an amazing professional learning network.  It’s simply a starter kit.  The truth is that I am still exploring other social media outlets such as Facebook, Google+Pinterest, and Snapchat.  I’m sure these platforms have some fantastic content that will help me learn even more about the art (and science) of teaching and learning.  In fact, Kasey Bell (@ShakeUpLearning) has a nice introduction to Google+ Communities in her blog post “The Google+ Communities You Should Know About

What did I miss?  I welcome your comments with questions or suggestions on how to build an amazing PLN.

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