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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

My Personal Learning Network

Personal learning networks are important because they keep you connected to people with similar interests and job titles so that you never stop developing professionally. With infinite access to resources on the internet, it can be hard find a place to begin your PLN, but many already have partially established personal learning networks that they are unaware of. Here's a picture of what I thought my personal learning network consisted of at the beginning of the semester.

The PLN that I made on January 20th in class.
Photo by Rebecca Hall

Little did I know my PLN was about to grow immensely within the next couple of months. As an education major, I am constantly finding more resources that can be used to help me as a student and as a future teacher.

Here are some steps I took to grow my PLN:

1. Create a professional Twitter profile 

I have been on twitter since November of 2011, but while making my way into the professional world I realized that in itself was a problem. While 14 year old me thought that cringe-worthy tweets about how much I loved the boy band Big Time Rush, misspelled Phineas and Ferb quotes and that I thought the hit sitcom Big Bang Theory was #legit were extremely relevant, I'm sure my future employers will not. Thus I created my professional twitter profile. I no longer need a profile containing the accounts of my early high school life so I switched over to this profile to share important moments of my professional life and stay connected with educators, authors, and companies around the world. 

2. Tweet At an Author or Company

My professional twitter also allows me to interact with companies and authors by following, messaging, and tweet at them as well as favorite and retweet their posts. I can also tweet links to articles, websites or applications that I find useful. When I discovered an amazing online children's book service called Epic!, I tweeted that I was excited to be able to use their resource in my future classroom. I was very excited when their twitter account mentioned my tweet saying "We can't wait either!". It is great to interact with these twitter accounts because it gives you a feeling of validation as a future teacher.

After I Epic! mentioned me in a tweet I got a notification that I got a new follower. When I checked it out I realized that Lenovo Education (@lenovoeducation) followed me. It was pretty cool to get followed by a "verified" twitter account, and I thought their content was interesting so I followed them back. I then got a direct message from them.
Screen capture by Rebecca Hall

Lenovo Education sent me a message saying, "Hi Rebecca, we've enjoyed your tweets about EdTech! We're curious - in your opinion, what are the best technology solutions for learning?" They also shared a link to an infographic they had put together. I replied to them thanking them for sharing a link and explaining my views on technology in the classroom. It is ways like this that Twitter allows me to draw knowledge through personal connections.

3. FolloPinterest Profiles 

An important part of a personal learning network is connecting with people that can help you discover new information. I did some research and found teachers that have profiles that focus on education, specifically ones that have boards pertaining to educational technology. I was able to go through their profiles and see previous pins that I found interesting and educational. I followed them so I will also see all of their future posts on my home page so I can stay constantly connected.

4. Create Pinterest Boards

Pinterest is a large part of my personal learning network because it makes it so easy to find online resources. Teachers and educators use Pinterest every day to share information they have either created and put on the internet for others to use or information that another person has created and put on the internet that they have found interesting or useful. I have used Pinterest in the past to find activities for my students

 I called my first Pinterest board "Ed Tech" with plans to pin all educational technology posts to this board, but began to realize that there were too many subsections and it would be more helpful for me to find pinned resources later if I split them into groups. Ultimately I decided to use this board for pins that strongly relate to educational technology such as digital citizenship.

The next board I created is called "1 to 1 Classroom". I post all pins related to integrating technology into the classroom and posts that discuss the benefits of one to one classrooms. I am not sure if my first teaching job will be in a school that is already 1:1 or if I will help integrate technology into the classroom but either way, I know the information on this board will come in handy in the future when I am learning to manage technology in the classroom.

I also created a board called "Apps" where I post all the pins relating to apps that can be used in the classroom. I currently only have 11 pins on this board, but those posts give me links that lead to hundreds of different apps. These apps can be used every day or as part of a thematic unit.

The last board I created is "Teacher Resources". The pins on this board are vital resources that can be used for teachers to make their classroom more tech-savvy. The pins on this board cover a variety of topics such as bulletin boards that relate to technology in the classroom to tips and tricks teachers can use every day.

5. Follow and Interact with Education Blogs

Every classroom is different so it is important to hear input from a wide variety of people. Blogs allow people to connect around the world from the comfort of your own desk. There are two types of blogs that I have found to be helpful: blogs of fellow educators and blogs of famous people such as authors.
I enjoy following blogs of other educators because I can read their beliefs and experiences and gain knowledge from them. Some teachers blog about topics that never would have crossed my mind, such as student's posture while using devices in the classroom. When I read an article that really opens my mind I like to leave a comment thanking the author.
I like to follow blogs of famous people, such as authors because their blogs can do two things. First, their blogs can open my mind to who they are as a person and what the story is behind their books. Secondly, their blogs are often appropriate to use in the classroom to teach students more about authors. For example, Mo Willems is one of my favorite children's authors. I love reading his books to the kids I nanny for and my daycare students. If I wanted to create an activity based on Mo Willem's books I could go to his blog and look at his different posts. A recent post he has includes a link to a video that students would enjoy called Learn How to Draw Piggie, with Mo. In this video, Mo Willems teaches how to draw his famous character, Piggie. This video can be used so the students can put a face to the name of the author, as well as gain interest in his books. 

6. Watch YouTube Videos

YouTube is so important to me and my personal learning network because when I want to know more about something I want a real person to talk to or explain it to me. When I can not find a person that is available, I turn to YouTube. I enjoy having a complete understanding of something before I begin to work on a task. Sometimes if I am struggling to find a way to begin a project I watch YouTube videos to gain a better understanding. In fact, before developing my personal learning network I watched a variety of videos explaining what they consisted of. I learned how to use many of the items on my personal learning network by watching YouTube tutorials and reviews of them. YouTube works well for me because I am able to watch someone do a task and learn with them. I enjoy hearing the voices of real people and seeing them complete the task.

I also find that it is useful to see how something works in a classroom or how it can be applied to teaching. For example, when I was building my PLN I first watched videos on personal learning networks, then I went on to watch videos on personal learning networks for teachers, and finally I watched videos on how we can use personal learning networks in the classroom to help our students have a better understanding of how they learn. I even created a playlist of all the videos that I found interesting in that order so I can go back and use them as a resource later, or for other people who are interesting in learning about personal learning networks and their use in schools.

An example of a playlist I created to learn more about personal learning networks and their uses
Screen capture by Rebecca Hall.

7. Subscribe and Interact with YouTubers 

In addition to searching YouTube for specific topics and videos, I also subscribe to channels that constantly put out relevant information pertaining to education. While some of these channels are informational or tutorial channels for teachers, others make videos that can be used in the classroom to help students better understand a topic. I am notified when these channels upload new videos so I can constantly stay informed.

I also like to interact with YouTubers. When I like a video or find it very useful I leave them a comment thanking them for taking the time to create the post. I hope that this encourages these YouTubers to continue making quality content that many people can learn from. If I have a question about a topic someone discussed during a video I will ask for clarification in the comments. I learned in elementary school that there are no "dumb questions", so hopefully if I ask a YouTuber for clarification and they respond it may answer the same question for somebody else watching the video in the future.

The photos above show comments I left on YouTube videos I watched to gain more information about Symbaloo, its uses and how to get started.
Screencaptures by Rebecca Hall

8. Get Connected with Classroom 2.0

Classroom 2.0 is a great resource for teachers and educators. It is almost like blogs mixed with social media mixed with Reddit with all the topics pertaining to education. There are blogs, forums, groups, recordings and much more. Classroom 2.0 is a closed network, meaning in order to view content you have to first get approved. Getting approval was easy and I was able to join the site within 24 hours of requesting access.

I really enjoy the forum section of classroom 2.0 because it is very interactive. I find myself getting immersed in reading all the replies. It is very helpful to see multiple points of view on a topic before I make my own decisions.

Like always, I like to leave comments on topics I found interesting. These comments appear on my page, which is helpful because I can go back and use that resource in the future.

The above photo shows a comment I left on Karen Cameron's Classroom 2.0 blog post that I thought would be a useful source in the future.
Screen capture by Rebecca Hall

9. Collaborate with Educators

A great way to gain information is to collaborate with fellow educators you know. There are many resources you can use to get in touch with educators that you know or work with, but I have found that Zoom is very efficient and convenient.

Zoom is a free video conferencing service. It is quite similar to Skype or Facetime but is used to make conference calls. Your group of educators decides on a time to meet and when everyone logs on you are able to share thoughts and suggestions from virtually any location with access to wifi.

In this class, we used Zoom to discuss projects we worked on and how they can be edited to increase productivity. In the future, I will be able to use Zoom to collaborate with colleagues or other educators no matter our location. As a teacher it is important to see the world through different perspectives, this source will allow me to reach out to people all over and share our thoughts.

Above is a photo that was taken during a Zoom conference call with my thematic unit team and our professor, Magda Galloway.
Screen capture by Magda Galloway.

10. Keep Resources Organized Using Symbaloo

What is the use of having all of these resources if I can not go back and find them when I need it? That's where this awesome online resource called Symbaloo comes in handy. Symbaloo is a web-based bookmarking tool that can be used to keep track of everything under the sun. Not only can this be used to keep my favorite resources and websites handy, it can also be integrated into the classroom for students to use.

After using and mastering all of these resources I feel I have a pretty comprehensive personal learning network that can be used throughout the rest of my years at the University of Northern Iowa and into my teaching career. I have no doubt that my personal learning network will continue to grow as I do. Here is what my current personal learning network looks like:

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