I want to share with you how I use my Personal Learning Network (PLN) to help me grow as an educator. Having a PLN is about  joining groups and communities of people with whom you can connect, collaborate and contribute. Through them, I’ve found resources and lesson plans, learned new technology to integrate in the classroom, and I’ve asked for help and got back great solutions. Equally as important, I’ve been able to keep up to date with the impact of technology on education. With the incredible amount of information scattered around the Internet, it’s often overwhelming and frustrating to filter and organize content that’s relevant to you. Below are the tools I use to maintain my PLN.

Social Media – Twitter

Twitter Screenshot

Start – Created in 2006, this microblogging website has revolutionized the way we interact with others online. It is the best way to find ideas, resources, and best practices shared by educators. Skeptics dismiss Twitter’s potential to curate genuinely substantial and relevant content simply because they aren’t aware of its might. There are several ways to filter content on Twitter: follow users worth following, create lists, and use hashtags. I use Twitter as a bookmarking tool. During the day, I keep my Twitter stream open and skim through the feed. I come across many interesting articles that I want to read but don’t have time to right then. I simply ‘retweet’ those tweets and get back to them when I’m home. (You can also ‘favorite’ a tweet, or more effectively use one of the bookmarking tools I recommend below.)

Extend – I’ve used TweetDeck for a long time, and have recently switched to HootSuite with Twitter. These web apps make it easier to manage the inflow of data from on Twitter. You can set up streams for certain groups of people to follow and particular hash tags.

I also use: Facebook and Google Plus

Bookmarking – Diigo

Diigo Screenshot

Start – It’s one of the most powerful bookmarking tools out there. I use Diigo for personal bookmarking as well as work-related ones. What I love most about Diigo are its features to tag and annotate, create groups, and join networks. You can highlight on the webpage you bookmarked and post sticky notes around the page as well. If your bookmark is shared, others can view your annotations and leave their comments. Just like any other social network, you can connect with others that share similar interests by following their lists of bookmarks. You can also create and join groups based on topic and allow others to contribute to the group bookmarks.

ExtendDiigo tools let you import bookmarks from your browser, Delicious account and even favorited tweets. The extensions and plugins for browsers for Google Chrome and Firefox make your bookmarking experience easier and faster. Lastly, you can check out Diigo’s mobile app for iOS and Android for reading your bookmarks on the go.

Bookmarking 2Learnist

Learnist Screenshot

Start – All you Pinterest fans out there will love this one. This newcomer lets users create Pinterest-like bulletin boards to save and share bookmarks. I really like Learnist because of the specialized categories and worthwhile content. Like Diigo, you can follow user’s boards and check out their bookmarks.

Extend – Learnist allows its users to comment and have discussion on each bulletin board as well as re-publishing others’ bookmarks. You can also set Learnist to automatically publish “learned” bookmarks to your PLN on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and a bunch of others.

I also use: Pinterest, EdShelf, and Claco

Aggregators – Google Reader

Google Reader Screenshot

Start – How do you catch up on news and updates from your favorite blogs or websites? If you’re not using Google Reader, here’s why you should. Google Reader takes the labor from manually checking your favorite websites and delivers the most recent posts straight to you. Sign in with your Gmail address and start subscribing to your favorite content by simply copying the url. The interface is easy and intuitive: you can organize your subscriptions in folders, explore recommended reads, and share content straight to your PLN.

Extend – For mobile reading, you must try Flipboard and Zite. These apps give you a magnificent magazine-like experience for your iOS or Android device.  Just login to your Google Reader account and it’ll publish everything for you in a beautiful layout.

Alternative: Netvibes

Communities – The Educator’s PLN

The Educator's PLN Screenshot

Start – Created by Tom Whitby a few years ago,”this is a ning site dedicated to the support of a Personal Learning Network for Educators.” Since it’s maintained and powered by teachers, the Educator’s PLN is a great place to get ideas, help, and resources. I’ve used the forum numerous times seeking others’ insights and feedback. What’s great is that many of the things I’m looking for already have a conversation started around them. This should definitely be your go-to-place for classroom related stuff.

Extend – A great way to delve into educator communities out there is to create your own web presence. Blogging is an effective way to reflect on your work, share your experiences, and connect with others. More so, it’s the best way to develop a strong, personalized, and growing Personal Learning Network. You can start small with microblogging on Twitter or Pinterest, or start a straight blog using WordPress and Edublogs. For quick brief, read How and Why Teachers Should Blog.

Also check out: TES, Edutopia, and Quora

What tools do you use to maintain your PLN?

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