Just a few minutes ago I walked up to the staff room to check my box. On the way there a teacher stopped me and asked, “Hey I love the techie things you send us. How do you have the time to find them?” Here’s my secret – I don’t! I make my Personal Learning Network do it for me.
What’s a personal learning network? I know. It sounds like I am some high-powered executive with a staff. Really, though I am just a regular teacher connected to a collection of fantastic educators through an Internet connection and a few Web 2.0 tools. To a certain degree I would argue that my Personal Learning Network has been more valuable to me than any college class I have ever taken.
Next week is Spring Break here in the Sylvan District and we have six days of “freedom.” Well, not really freedom – more like 6 days to catch up on laundry, graduate school, sleeping, and (in my case) unpacking boxes. If you have a few spare moments during your spring break you might consider setting up your own Personal Learning Network. Its something you can construct in short amount of time and continue to add to indefinitely. Here are some recommendations based on my experience.
- Set Up a Google Reader or Bloglines Page: Either of these services will end up being the backbone of your personal learning network. Choose one and create an account (I use Bloglines, but Google Reader works just as well). These two products are known as “RSS Aggregators.” In the olden days of the Internet you had to bookmark all of the site you enjoyed reading. The downside to this is that you would have to remember to return to that website from time to time to see if the author had posted any new material. An RSS aggregator will send all of the new material directly to you. Once you have a page set up you can subscribe to other people’s websites and whenever they post new material, the information will automatically show up on your Google Reader or Bloglines page.
- Find a Few Blogs: Originally blogs were pretty much just personal diaries, but much has changed in the past few years. Today you can find blogs literally on any topic you can think of ranging from (just last night I found one solely dedicated to photography of West Sacramento). Think of some topics and start searching. You can also subscribe to websites where information is updated regularly, like CNN or NYTimes Headlines. Here are a few strategies for searching
- Bloglines Quick Picks – If you signed up for a Bloglines account use their Quick Picks feature to find blogs.
- Google Blog Search – Use Google Blog Search and type in your topic.
- Education Blogs – Check out the Education Blogs listed on this page. The links are organized into categories based on students, teachers, administrators, etc.
- Raid Blogrolls – Most bloggers place a blogroll (a list of blogs they read) some where on their page. I always find this to be a great place for identifying other blogs I find interesting. If you know someone who has a Bloglines account (like me) you can also take a look a their public page to see what they are reading.
Once you find a blog (or two or three) that you like, make sure you post a comment to let the author know you appreciate what they are writing. Sometimes, its the only way they know someone was there.
- Subscribe to Your Blogs: Once you have found a few blogs subscribe to them. While I could explain this with words, a video is much easier to understand. Here’s one for Bloglines and another for using Google Reader.
- Create Twitter Account: Yesterday I posted some information about why I now love Twitter. Take a moment and set up an account. Join my network by following me and start looking for friends. You’ll be amazed at how many resources you can pick up from your network.
To be honest, this is just a start to building your own Personal Learning Network. The more you use it, the more resources you will want to add. Whether you choose Google Reader or Bloglines, I would start off by adding no more than 5-10 blogs or websites to your page. Once a day (maybe during SSR) or a few times a week check your account to see if you have any of the sites you are following have sent you updated information. I also wouldn’t immediately start following 30 people after creating a Twitter account and you might want to avoid following corporate Twitter pages Pretty soon you’ll find yourself with a bad case of information overload.
I’ll be taking breaks from all my spring break chores by checking my email. So if you get lost while creating your own Personal Learning Network, let me know and I’ll help you out.