Creating a Personal Learning Network

Before this year's AGM, Helta's Chair Andi White encouraged us in a short workshop to develop and enhance our PLN (Personal Learning Network) by using online tools.

She started off by explaining what a PLN is; namely our peers with whom we are connected and share ideas, experiences and know-how. Traditionally, we connect with our PLN face-to-face during workshops such as this one as well as conferences and other training sessions. As technology advances, so too has the ease with which we connect with our peers for such professional exchanges.

Andi White started off by challenging us to identify as many social networking tools and platforms from a page full of icons and logos. This was fun, but also not as easy as at first glance because it depicted both well-known and lesser known tools; three of which she focused her workshop content: Twitter, RSS feeds and delicious.

Twitter, we were told, is a site which can be used to communicate short bits of information to one's network. We can choose which people we want to follow, and receive updates when they post a new piece of information. Conversely, others can choose to follow what we have to say. A live demonstration showed the extensive community of English and Business English teachers who tweet (the act of communicating to one's followers). They give one another links to sources of interest relating to a whole range of topics around ELT; from lesson ideas to research as well as free online webinars (seminars which take place online). To maintain a good overview of everyone's tweeting we can use an extra application (e.g. Tweetdeck) to aggregate and coordinate the incoming information into categories which we predefine. Andi also gave us a live view of her own tweetdeck which we could see was updating itself regularly in real time with new links, tips and comments as they were posted by those she follows.

She then moved on to RSS feeds, which we recognize on websites with this symbol RSS. We were told what it is, what it does, and why it's such a useful website feature. On websites where we see this symbol, we can subscribe to content updates, e.g. blogs, podcasts, and even the news. To save us the effort of always having to view and download these updates, we can use an 'aggregator', a piece of free software to do the collecting and downloading for us (e.g. iTunes). This is yet another way to keep abreast of the latest ideas, debates, and developments in our field.

Finally, Andi showed us delicious. She explained it is an online tool to store and organize website bookmarks (i.e. websites), which we want to find easily in the future. What is the advantage of this tool? We can access all our bookmarks from any computer online, share them with our PLN and allow them to see sites we've bookmarked or vice versa.

Andi had certainly built up the 'wow factor' within the room. After showing us some of the main ingredients for online PLN maintenance some of us were beginning to wonder how we were ever going to remember it all. Then came the icing on the cake! She showed us Russell Stannard's Teacher Training Videos website.

Russell Stannard's website is full of videos showing ELT teachers how to do it - from "How to download podcasts" to "Using Twitter". Hats off and many thanks to Andi for not only showing us these tools, but also for calling us to action and by outlining the best first steps we can take to developing and enhancing our PLN online.


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