Of all the internet memes that emerged in 2009, it was surely PLN (Personal Learning Network) that caught the attention of the blogging educators.
The Twittering Classes
This was mainly due to the emergence of Twitter as an essential tool for the connected teacher, although there are still many teachers who have decided it's not for them. Some have been put off by its trendiness (in the UK it became much talked-about because of Stephen Fry and other celebrities - the same seems to have been true in other places too) and others don't see the point of the 140 character limitation or think it's just a variation of the status update in Facebook.It is similar, but people are far more likely to connect to lots of other people in Twitter than in Facebook (For me it's 1800 on Twitter to Facebook's 721). I think this is the whole point - I get so much out of having an extensive network of people there , and the fact that its focus is on short messages is what makes it work so well
It's interesting to see comments made by educators who have recently discovered the point of this social network, such as these words in a post at What's New in the World :
"I have found more resources and got more useful advice for professional development in 3 months on Twitter than in the previous 5 years without it. "
The blogger goes on to mention just some of the benefits of actively taking part in tweeting: the access to expert opinions, links to useful resources, advice and immediate feedback to any questions you may have. I would also add a few more to this: real time search (if you use a tool such as Tweetdeck this becomes even more useful), access to a quick and easy concordancer, debate on best practce.
PLN: Small Pieces Loosely Joined
Of course, Twitter is only one useful part of my own PLN. Having a blog and reading and commenting on other people's blogs is another, vital part. As is belonging to specialist social networks (usually using Ning). Facebook is also important, especially as there are so many teachers who use this social network and who don't use Twitter.
The Importance of Facebook
In fact, nowadays (at least in my situation) if you're not connected to people on Facebook, and other social networks, you'll miss out on what's happening (more and more people are using Facebook to organise events, etc.) in your social and professional circle of friends and colleagues.
Here's an example that comes from a conversation with a colleague yesterday - I was talking to someone about the TESOL EVO sessions, because I'd invited lots of people to take part through Facebook, and she asked me what we were talking about. The conversation that followed went something like this:
Me: Didn't I invite you too? Aren't we connected on Facebook?
Teacher: No, I keep my Facebook limited to close-friends and family
On the one-hand, I can totally understand the reasons for doing this, but this attitude is definitely not for me - I only started to appreciate the personal and professional advantages and benefits of social networks once I'd become more inclusive and widened my network to include people from all over the world and who I hardly know (or don't know). It's led to so many benefits: to me finding out about things I'd otherwise never have heard about, establishing friendships and reinforcing professional contacts, being invited to speak at conferences and take part in projects, etc (in some cases based on a single tweet being picked up by someone who was monitoring a term in Twitter!)
2010 - The year of the PLN
All of this is why I think 2010 will be the year when teachers many more mainstream start to embrace the idea of the PLN and begin to take a more active part in belonging to the global staffroom that is out there waiting for you, offering you friendship, support, help and advice - if you want it!