Creating & Nurturing Your PLN

Recently, I had the opportunity to work with Johanna Lawler at the Minds on Media day of the Ontario Teachers’ Federation’s Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century event.  We had our own station entitled “Creating & Nurturing Your PLN”.  The over 200 participants had either received some insights to or had created their first Twitter account on the previous day courtesy of Will Richardson.  Our task was to act as a resource to take folks from wherever they were in their learning and push them a bit.

I kept thinking throughout the day that we should have a continuum so that people can jump in where they need to be.  From our day, here are some of the bits of advice that we passed alongl.

Be the user you’d want to follow
It’s amazing when you discuss Twitter and ask people who it is that they want to follow.  We threw it back … shouldn’t you be that person?  It involves…

  1. Don’t be an egg!  New users have an egg avatar and we agreed that this didn’t exude a feeling of warmth and professionalism.  So, it was out with the camera phones and we changed the avatars right on the spot.
  2. Don’t be a puzzle.  Having a bio that tells the world a bit about you is important.  Typically, a potential follower gives you about a five second speed read of your bio so make it good (and interesting)!
  3. Don’t hide.  While you may not want to give out your address as 123 Maple Street, YouVillle, Ontario, it doesn’t hurt to give an indication of where you’re from.  A town and province is perfect.
  4. Bonus – if you have a website, blog or wiki that’s current, brag about it in your profile.  It’s cheap and effortless advertising that targets the right audience and you might just make a new connection.
  5. Start posting.  Thee’s no quicker turnoff than to visit a Twitter account where the message @xxxxx hasn’t tweeted yet appears.  When you see that, it’s an easy account to pass.

Think Local
In any workshop, the first person that you follow is the workshop leader.  That’s how Will gets thousands of followers!  It’s not that he’s a bad follow, but …

  1. How about the folks around the table that you’re learning with?  Hopefully, you can continue the sharing after the event.
  2. Related to that, we had them follow the hashtag for the event #OTF21C.  Doing a little search revealed what others in the room are saying.  If they’re saying things of interest,  follow them.
  3. Ontario Educators – the list that I curate is a good place to find other educators in the province.  It’s at  There’s nothing better for discussions around education in the province that with other Ontario educators.
  4. Do you know someone in your school or district who might be on Twitter?  We did a little searching to see if we could find them and followed them if we were successful.

Thing Global
Discussions around the province are great, but a powerful PLN involves opening your eyes to other possibilities.

  1. We took a look at who Will follows.  In his presentation, he indicated that he deliberately keeps the number of people that he follows to a smallish number so we figured they must be good!
  2. We talked about people that lead or think about projects globally.  They often provide some nice insights about what being connected is all about.  Two that come to mind immediately are Canadian @downes and worldly @langwitches.
  3. Follow a newspaper or a few!  They’re terrific source for immediate information.  It was through @nationalpost that we stumbled into the news reports from Sweden.  It was such a powerful moment.

The Magic
But, getting an account and following people doesn’t make the magic happen.  It happens when you get involved.  Anything worthwhile requires effort and building your network through Twitter is no exception.

  1. Lurk.  It doesn’t hurt to get the lay of the land but don’t do it for too long.
  2. We talked about immediately replying to a comment from any of the above as they tweet them.  There’s a natural hesitancy, it seems, to want to just sit back and be passive.  It’s safe – nobody is judging you.  The nice thing about educators on Twitter is that they do embrace new voices.  Unlike the traditional forum approach to online discussion, I have yet to get into a shouting match with someone on Twitter.  Usually, if someone doesn’t like your comments, they just ignore you rather than challenge you.
  3. Diversify and keep trying.  It’s very seldom that you head to Twitter for one topic.  Be prepared to balance parallel discussions for incredibly magical learning.

During the conference, we used the hashtag #OTF21C.  It was a tough concept for folks to believe that there wasn’t a formal registration process if you want to start using a hashtag.  Once we got past that, though, the sky’s the limit.

  1. There are great discussion groups ongoing all the time.  Some hashtags are used regularly and so a sophisticated Twitter learner will check them out.  We referenced “Top Twitter Hashtags for Teachers“.
  2. Two of the hashtags that I suggested were great to look at were #edtech and #edchat.
  3. We even started one of our own — #Gr4Teachers.  I didn’t know if it would work but it served to demonstrate how easy it is to create one.  Without a word of a lie, after creating that hashtag, within half an hour, it had been found by other participants in the room.  I think it would be very cool if it does take off.

Get a Client
Very quickly, people realized that they needed more power than working just with the Twitter website.  We offered four clients as powerful tools for folks.

  1. Tweetdeck – Johanna uses this program as her default
  2. Seesmic Desktop – I use this program as my default
  3. Hootsuite – Another very powerful client for managing your network
  4. Twitter Mobile – There’s nothing better than the Twitter branded clients for mobile computers

Of course, this didn’t include all of the rich conversations that just sort of happened as a result of the format.  It was a wonderful day of learning for everyone.

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OTR Links for 07/28/2011

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.