The long-term subbing job I have has allowed me some great opportunities so far. I’ve got my foot a little farther in the door at this school, for one thing. I know about job openings before they happen and I can speak easily to other teachers and administrators. Since I work at a computer all day (I’m a computer aide sub), I’m able to spend a great deal of time reading and completing my homework. I don’t think I would have attempted going to grad school full time right away if I had a teaching job right now. This way, I’ve been able to ease into my program and give it great attention.
Furthermore, and perhaps most beneficial so far, I have been able to build and maintain a powerful personal learning network (PLN) online. I started using Twitter (@stevejmoore), Plurk (stevejmoore), and GoogleReader (Steve) to connect with teachers and administrators across the country and beyond. I’ve been able to find blogs, ask burning questions, and ultimately make significant connections with people whom I would have otherwise never met.
You’re obviously here, so I have either asked you to visit this page or you’re already hip to the benefits of reading Education blogs (maybe you’ve built a PLN of your own too). In case you’re with the former, I’ll explain each service that I use as a teacher, a grad student in Administration, and as a writer.
I’ll use a macroanalogy that most everyone should be able to grasp: the conference. When you go to a conference of any kind there is a similar format. Why do we go to conferences? To learn new information about our profession and to build relationships with other professionals. In my experiences, there are three basic environments at conferences: the keynote speech, focus groups (workshops), and mingling (unstructured). I use a digital counterpart that meets each of those networking criteria.
These are the keynote speeches, the main events of conferences and PLNs. All social media networks lead to blogs at some point. This is where authors, the pros pen their prose. Like at conferences, there is usually one big headliner who sets the tone for the whole, and several more mini-keynotes that function as bullet points to the larger headline. This is a good way to stucture your blog reading. Have fewer big blogs you read and focus your attention on. These are bloggers whom you may not ever personally contact or meet like LeVar Burton or Erin O’Connor, but whose material is widely read and considered a part of many larger conversations. Then, there are a myriad other bloggers that you can find whom are more specific in their situation and whom you may come to know personally due to their smaller readership.
For example, I’ve come to know Scott Elias, a principal in Colorado through my spiderweb-like PLN. I live in Springfield so I started searching Twitter for teachers using the service nearby through a service call Twello. I found Melinda Miller, an elementary principal in nearby Willard, MO. I started following her and checking her blog regularly. Through her, I found Scott. He and Miller run a blog and a podcast together called The Practical Principals. I’ll write more about them in the Twitter section.
If blogs are the main event, then Twitter is the exact opposite. When you’re at a conference, you spend most of your time socializing and browsing: snacking on Chex Mix, drinking mysterious hotel punch, and browsing tables of displays that other people like you have set up. Maybe you’ll exchange emails, web addresses, and chat about your classroom practices. Maybe you’ll end up collaborating on a project together in the future.
This casual open forum is like Twitter. This service is like walking into a giant ballroom full of people and eavesdropping on conversations as you walk through. When you someone posts a link, it is like one of those displays leading to more information you may or may not be interested in. The bottom line is that you are exposed to a great deal of people and materials very quickly in little snippets. Twitter is a social gateway for building longer conversations, it’s like browsing the internet and making bookmarks of people rather than sites.
I mentioned Scott and Melinda before in blogs. Twitter is different than a blog because of the length. Twitter is often referred to as “microblogging.” There you are limited to 140 characters to express your opinion, state your question, or reach out to someone. At the risk of sounding very 1996, I’ll liken Twitter to a chatroom, one that never ends though. The more you use it and the more people you follow, the larger and more powerful your PLN can become.
Lastly, I discovered Plurk through Paul Bogush. His blog was nearly named the “Best Education Blog of 2008″ by the Weblog Awards. I found him on the awards page and started reading his work. I started following him on Twitter and saw that he linked to something called “Plurk” on his blog page as well. Being the curious person I am, I decided to check it out. At first, I thought that this service was a lot like Twitter, only newer and more strange. I started following Paul and his “plurkers,” as they’re called.
You see, Plurk isn’t open and microcosmic like Twitter, nor is it as large in structure and as singular as a blog. Plurk is like the part of a conference inbetween the casual browsing and the big group keynote speeches. The small groups or workshops on specific topics, that is what it is. You can participate in whichever ones you want and the people running the groups are usually very casual about it. Plurk has a character length like Twitter and resembles another form of the chatroom. The difference with Plurk is that conversations are grouped by the person publishing each comment.
Just like at a conference, with Plurk, your reputation counts for something. You earn Karma through your volume, regularity, and quality of comments. Plurk is a great place to go with a question for other teachers.