Monday, October 12, 2009

Building a Personal Learning Network (PLN) on Twitter

The Personal Learning Network (PLN) that I've built on Twitter over the past couple of months has become an amazing resource for learning about what's going on in the educational technology world. I was excited when I had an opportunity last week to present using Twitter as a tool for personal learning to some of my colleagues. Although I knew I wouldn't have time to share everything I've learned or done over the past couple of months with them, I wound up reflecting back in some detail on my own journey as I prepared for the presentation.

The list that follows is a result of that reflection. You might think from reading it that building my Personal Learning Network (PLN) has been a linear, methodical process, but in reality I stumbled my way through and saw the steps I took only on reflection. I almost titled this post How To Build a PLN on Twitter, but that would imply that there really is a specific "method".

One thing I've learned about using the web and Web 2.0 tools in general is it's often "messy"; that is to say there are not usually step-by-step guidelines for doing this or that. So glean what you can from the list below. What worked for me may not work for you, but I hope you find a nugget somewhere that might help you along the way.

If after reading the list below you find yourself wanting to know more, you might want to check out these PLN related blog posts from @kylepace and @shellterrell, or take a peek at my first PLN building post (before I knew it was called a PLN!). You might also want to check out my Twitter related links on Delicious. Tons of informational resources there! (NOTE: As of 2011 I am using Diigo as my primary online bookmarking tool. You can now access my Twitter related links there as well.)

I reference the building of an educational technology (edtech) PLN below, but you can apply the same principals to building a PLN on your topic of interest.


This is what has worked and continues to work for me in my PLN building:
  1. I set up a Twitter account. You might want to pick a Twitter username that reflects why you are on Twitter. I did that on accident because I was investigating for professional purposes, but in hindsight I’m glad I did! The name I picked was EdTechSandyK.

    Privacy Tips These are personal preference to me, useful if you don’t want your pic and name all over the web yet:

    Numerous other sites pick up Twitter tweets or feeds, and they lift your pic/avatar with them. I didn’t know that at first, but I’m glad I use a cartoon avatar.

    I decided not to use my last name in my account.

    I changed my email account to a new one I created just for edtech stuff. That way friends don’t find me when they sign up for Twitter. Since I don’t use Twitter to keep in touch with personal friends (I have Facebook for that), this works for me!

    I kept my account protected at first (no one could follow me without permission) until I figured out what was going on.

  2. I started slowly by following just a few organizations or ed tech leaders I knew. Ex: @TCEA, @ISTEconnects, @wfryer, @moodlefairy

  3. I scanned Twitter help to see what all of the symbols like RT and @ and d and # meant.

  4. IMPORTANT TIP: After following a couple of folks, I took a few days to just observe: Watched tweets (posts) of the people I was following and watched who they RTed (re-tweeted or re-posted). I started to follow some of the folks they frequently RTed. (I subscribed to a few blogs based on links I saw tweeted, too!)

  5. Edtech people tend to tweet a lot of links. I save ones I might use to my Delicious account for future reference. (NOTE: As of 2011 I am using Diigo to save my links.)

  6. I started to RT (re-tweet or re-post) useful tweets when I saw them.

  7. I started to notice #hashtags (words that start with # like #edtech, #moodle, #teaching) and added them to my RTs when they applied. #Hashtags help other people on Twitter find posts related to topics they are intersted in.

  8. I also searched by #hashtags to get more info. This helps you get ideas without having to subscribe to a lot of people all of the time. I subscribed to more people who posted a lot about #edtech.

  9. Eventually I got brave and posted original tweets with good resources I had found. I used #hashtags with them, too, so people looking for that info would benefit.

  10. Started using Hootsuite.com to better organize my tweets and see who was RTing me or replying to me. It also made shortening links a lot easier!

  11. I started to get more followers! I monitor my followers and block spammers and marketers. You can tell by going to their profile and seeing what they Tweet about. A suggestive or pornographic profile pic is also a sign you don't want them to follow you. Unfortunately, those folks are out there. (You should subscribe to the @spam Twitter account and report all spammers and pornos to them.)

  12. A couple of EdTech leaders on Twitter added me to recommended lists on TweepML. I was flattered and that has really increased my follower numbers which potentially increases my PLN. Here are their lists in case you are into EdTech:

    @ShellTerrell TweepML EdTech List: http://tweepml.org/EdTech-Links (Link no longer active)
    @NMHS_Principal TweepML Education PLN Builders: http://tweepml.org/Building-an-Education-PLN/ (Link no longer active)

    NOTE: As of 2010, TweepML no longer exists. Twitter has had a built in list feature of its own for quite some time. 

  13. Now that I've been at this a little longer, I don’t follow people as easily or quickly as I did at first. There’s only so much info a person can take in! Before I decide to follow a Twitter account, I look at their profile. Are the majority of their tweets specific to edtech? Do they share lots of resources through links? Or are they just tweeting mostly mundane stuff?

  14. I don’t feel obligated to follow people who follow me. I usually check them out when they start following me, though. Or if they RT me frequently I might check them out again down the road.

  15. Out of courtesy to my followers, I try to keep one-on-one conversations private (direct) or very short if “public”.

  16. I was following some news tweeps and other personal interest tweeps, but it got to be too much for me on one account, so I started a separate account for following them. I keep that account protected (no one can follow me) and don’t Tweet from it at this time. Using Hootsuite.com it's easy for me to check both accounts at the same time.

  17. I was obsessive about reading EVERY Tweet at first, but it quickly became information overload. So, I now follow the “stream” philosophy. I won’t see every drop of water that goes by, and I won’t know what I missed. I glean from the drops I do get to see.

Well, that's it! That's where I am and how I'm operating now. If anything stood out to you or you have other tips on building a PLN, I hope you'll comment and share!


5/6/12 Update - I am amazed by how often this blog post gets visited or resurfaces on Twitter, two and a half years after I originally wrote it. It was early in my PLN building when I wrote this post, yet each time I revisit it, I find it still pretty accurately represents the process of building a Twitter PLN. Earlier this year I presented a three hour workshop on Twitter for Professional Learning at the 2012 TCEA Convention in Austin, Texas. If you liked this post, you might also benefit from the resources from my presentation, which I published in a Livebinder here. Hope to see you in the Twitterverse! Be sure to comment below or Tweet me and let me know if any of this information was helpful to you. ~ Sandy Kendell, AKA @EdTechSandyK
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