Go beyond Twitter to deepen your PLN and knowledge

I’m pleased to see so many educators using Twitter to share ideas, resources, and best practices with one another. Too many educators (teachers and admins) never have any professional conversations other than a handful of chats within their own school each week. Social media enables connections with other educators all over the world. Twitter is a great tool to get that connectivity started (some call it a gateway social medium), but to truly make an impact on your practice, take it a step further to deepen your knowledge of a particular topic or to strengthen your relationship with people who share resources online.

This is not a knock on Twitter at all. It is a service that has done incredible things for education with messages limited to 140 characters. For me, Twitter is too shallow and disjointed to really get to know and understand a person or a topic at any meaningful depth. I always like to think in analogies, so here is my attempt at explaining my point for this post. Trying to understand a person or topic thru Twitter would be like if a book was written on thousands of individual post-it notes and then those notes were scattered somewhat randomly around the book store. If you look hard enough, and if the notes haven’t fallen to the ground, you can pull all these together for a reasonable understanding of the person or subject.

To really understand a person’s or organization’s stance on learning, take a look at what they share on their blog or website. If you like what someone shares on Twitter, then find their blog and subscribe to it. I user Google Reader to keep track the blogs that I like to read, but there are other services that do the same thing. If you really dig a post, make sure you leave a comment and then share the post with a tweet of your own. I subscribe to a few dozen blogs, but the ones that really get me thinking are Brad Saron’s Cognitive Interfund Transfer, the Paper Grader’s blog, and elearnspace from George Siemens.

One of my favorite ways to really dive into a topic or understand a great thinker in education is to listen to podcasts. There are many educational podcasts out there, but here are a few that I follow: TeacherCast, Eduleadership Radio, and Ted Talks. Rather than only listening to countless hours of NPR or ESPN Radio in my car, I frequently play these on my iPhone while traveling back and forth to work. My absolute favorite podcast is Shifted Learning from John Pederson and Julia Fallon. (Yes, John and Julia, it’s official. I’m stalking you.) Their interview subjects and topics are really engrossing and the issues they address really start you thinking about different ways to view the world of education and technology. Another analogy for you: listening to John and Julia’s talks with their guests is like eavesdropping on a fascinating conversation among friends at a bar or coffee shop.

The Philip Seymour Hoffman of ed-techers. He's everywhere and he does it all well.

They both have a great sense of humor and the technical production of the show is very good (some podcasts out there sound like they were recorded on a CB radio).

Each of their episodes are entertaining and will really make you think, but my favorite is probably the interview with Gary Stager. The description of the show in this image says it all.

Thanks for reading this and please make some time to check out the blogs and podcasts of all the motivated educators out there on the interwebs.

2 thoughts on “Go beyond Twitter to deepen your PLN and knowledge

  1. Another thoughtful post! First, it’s humbling to be not only mentioned by you but also placed in the same category as other said #edtech leaders/thinkers.
    Your core thesis here is interesting in that it springboards off of the observation that people are beginning to be myopically centered on their twitter stream as their sole PLN resource. We all agree that twitter is one of the core resources used to construct a meaningful PLN, but to consolidate all effort into twitter is a mistake. How many times have I found followed colleagues on twitter only to find their blogs almost abandoned?
    We are certainly not short on literature describing the worthy upshot of both reading and writing blogs. Why are we seeing (then) the implosion of a PLN to just twitter?

  2. We are of like mind Brad. Twitter is a cocktail party (yes I am fond of analogy and metaphor), of which I am certainly a participant. Plenty of interesting and frequently worthwhile snippets of conversations are happening, but to really dig into a topic or problem solve with a member of our PLN, educators must go beyond the 140 characters. We need to expand upon and explore thoughts with a blog post of our own, or write a thoughtful reply or counterpoint to a post we’ve read. We could also pick up the phone (Skype chat, hangout, etc., it’s all the same) to connect with others who might help us out with the problem of practice that is at the top of our priorities.

    While I think that utilizing Twitter is a worthy step toward progress for educators, if it doesn’t result in a change in instructional practice that positively impacts student learning, it is just an innocuous and amusing activity. (This criticism applies to any social media service.) This is also the same for the current common practice of the one time workshop that sparks some ideas, but doesn’t result in any meaningful changes within the classroom. In terms of any professional development activity, we need to learn it, try it, measure the results, reflect on the effect, make necessary adjustments, and then start this process again.

    I also see the influx of new tech devices and services in schools that aren’t being utilized to the fullest extent. Students are sitting at individual computers, working on projects that don’t involve choice of personal interest and meaning. Students who word process reports aren’t being challenged or engaged any more than if they had written them out by hand. Carts of tablets are being deployed to schools, only to be used for flashcard type work that won’t challenge higher level thinking.

    To end on a positive note, services like Twitter and Pinterest are populated by thousands (tens of thousands?) of motivated educators who do want to share and learn. Back to my cocktail party comparison, plenty of jokes and gripes are shared on social media, but that does lead to strengthening relationships so that it is possible to move beyond the trivial to things that really matter for school improvement. Like anything in education, it just takes time for ideas to take root and be implemented in classroom. I’ll do my part and keep on reading, writing, thinking, suggesting, disagreeing, and complimenting.

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