As you know I’m attempting to categorise my Evernote notes (now over 5000 of them). Part of that exercise involves going through the notes I marked “now”, “next” or “soon” and making progress or archiving them as appropriate. I also recently added saved searches for (1) untagged items and (2) those posted in the last seven days so that I can more quickly audit my tagging and filing of new notes. I’m currently using the untagged search solely as a gauge of my weekly progress. At present around half of my Evernote notes remain untagged but I’m really pleased to see that I have been 100% successful in filing and tagging new notes so I’m confident the number will only decrease during 2014. The goal is less than 10% untagged notes by the end of 2014. OK – this is not GTD focussed – rather GTO.
One of the earliest “now” notes I revisited was date stamped August 2012. This was a Steven Anderson webinar “Personal Learning Networks: What they are and why you should have one”. I recall watching the preview on the website but wanted to identify the characteristics of a PLN and see if this already existed naturally at my school or if it was something that had to be encouraged.
I’ve blogged about my PLN experiences before ( Failure is good: Twitter changed my thinking ) and I can’t believe it was nearly four years ago! During my first two years of Twitter and blogging I made connections with a large number of international educators. The instantaneous nature of Twitter suits the idea of a PLN being available to support you when needed, so most of what follows relates to my experiences with that particular medium.
## Three observed important characteristics of an online personal learning network
# First impressions count
Your online persona should be carefully, but honestly, constructed. Twitter biogs should be informative, but not necessarily a CV. LinkedIn or about.me is good for more in-depth information, but don’t expect too many of your PLN to be *that* interested in what you’ve done in the past. What your biog says is more accessible than the tweets you wrote five years ago so make sure that it also reflects your current interests and ethos if possible. That way those you follow and those who stumble on your account can quickly decide if you are someone they would like to have in their PLN.
In short: on Twitter most users tend not to follow eggs. Be prepared.
# PLNs are fluid
Your aims, current projects, issues and successes change from term to term. So will those of your network. Followers migrate as your position in their locus of interesting/helpful/useful ebbs and flows. If you don’t keep conversations flowing then you shouldn’t be surprised if you are archived. I recently hit the 2000 follower limit while in Boston and now make fairly regular use of www.justunfollow.com to check up on my PLN. In the beginning Twitter was where all my digital CPD came from as I become more used to using Pocket, IFTTT, Evernote, Flipboard, Pinterest, etc. I should have migrated the one-way connections i.e. those I followed for information away.
# Thoughtful responses are better received, regardless of depth
Related to the last point I suppose but I kind of fell out of love with Twitter chats a few years ago. #ukedchat had evolved as more teachers joined Twitter and had, most weeks, become more about point scoring than supporting. Or at the very least the supporting was drowned out by the arguing. On reflection, it may have actually been my first observation of trolling. Regardless the experience sullied what had, up until that point, been the highlight of my week on Twitter. I’ve dabbled since, but never again committed for the full hour.
It was interesting to read Richard Byrne’s thoughts about G+ enabling more rewarding PLN experience back in August last year:
> “I also find that because folks aren’t forced to express themselves in rapid-fire 140 character messages, the conversations are more robust even if they take longer to develop. For me, Google+ conversations have more depth that Twitter interactions.”
I see his point but I feel there is room for both rapid-fire (thoughtful) reflection and more in depth response. Doesn’t G+ tread the same territory as blogging while enjoying the benefit of easily linked conversations and more carefully controlled sharing mechanisms? It doesn’t seem to be the most suitable place for relationship building, it has the aura of business social media site Yammer about it.
Put simply, there should definitely be space in your PLN for a warm, supportive reply or a cheery “good morning”! One of the most beautiful and uplifting messages I received via my PLN was a piece of blackout poetry. It is far, far down my Twitter timeline now but retains much more prominence in my memory. A digital random act of kindness as close to receiving a surprise chocolate bar or cheery postcard in the mail.
## Comparison to local personal learning network
The next time you find yourself in the staffroom, an inset day or a department meeting ask yourself if the aforementioned characteristics exist in these environments. Obviously we don’t wander around clutching index cards with our achievements on them ready to thrust them under the nose of a new member of staff (imagine the terror that would cause!), but our ethos reveals itself over time through our interactions with others. We curate our relationships around our current needs and can get much more out of our conversations if we take time to listen, reflect and then respond when it is most appropriate to do so. The success of online PLNs are merely due to the increased reach technology has provided, not necessarily due to any change in human interaction.
In my role as PT of ICT for Learning I’ve spend two years getting to know teaching and admin staff both in my school and through face-to-face meetings with digital connections. It has been – without question – one of the most enjoyable aspects of my role. One of the key requirements I had outlined in my interview for the post was to build a community in the school where staff felt they were supported in their use of ICT and could in turn feel confident in providing pedagogical or technical support to others. It remains for me the most important aspect of the digital strategy of the school – to paraphrase a parent’s thoughts on the matter – “Success depends on people not things”. Whether online or local communicating clearly, thoughtfully and with respect for others can only result in success.