Deepening Connections with my Professional Learning Network

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I’m going to start off this post with a mini sidenote: there has been a lot of discussion about caring for mental and emotional health during Covid-19. With that in mind, I’m going to try and remember to be kind to myself and let some things go.  Even though I didn’t expand or contribute as much as I would have liked in my PLN, this was a high learning curve year and we were all in survival mode. Now let’s focus on the things I did do!

David Higginson; a key member of my PLN

When I started COETAIL, my PLN consisted of current and previous colleagues.  I reached them privately via Facebook or emails.  However, within my small PLN, I didn’t have any educators with experience in educational technology.  It wasn’t until last year that I acquired an office with another tech educator, David Higginson, and joining COETAIL that my PLN started to really grow.  Considering where I started and looking at where I am now, I am happy with the connections I’ve made and how I’ve expanded my PLN. These social networking options: Twitter, WeChat, Facebook, and with the onset of Covid -19; video calls become part of my PLN staple.

How I extended my Professional Learning Network:

  1. Using social networks
  2. Give back to the community
  3. Communicate and collaborate

Crowdsourcing via Social Networks

Being the only tech person on a small campus, I was used to researching and googling information all the time.  Initially, I started using social networks to crowdsource and gather information, recommendations, and to network.  With the introduction of Twitter as a professional learning network, I decided to start asking questions and getting recommendations instead of wasting hours reading about things that might not work out in the end.  I realized I had access to a bunch of professionals who were the best people to answer my questions because they would where I was coming from and understanding my needs.  It’s incredibly hard to be up to date with all of the latest technology but there is always at least one expert in each area that is willing to help.   However, I noticed that I was still inconsistent about responding to responses to my tweets and but I would try to remember to like all tweets so people knew that I saw their message. 

I even used Twitter to expand my future PLN.  I am moving into the librarian position next year and with no experience in the field, I thought I should expand my online PLN to get some exposure and an introduction into the area.  I asked the Twitterverse for their recommendations on librarians to follow and the response was great!  It was through my current PLN that I got some great librarian recommendations, which then expanded into a few WeChat librarian groups that are based in China.  I didn’t get to really interact with this group so much yet as I’m just observing for now and with everything that’s happened… next year seems so incredibly far away and might look completely different regardless and out of my control. 

Original Tweet
WeChat Messages

I am part of a China Edu Tech Group that has 300 educators all based in China.  This group has proved invaluable to me in a way that is very different than Twitter.  This group has a clear understanding of our limitations within the great firewall.  The group rallied to help each other to troubleshoot, get recommendations for technology that worked within China or alternatives. Through this group, I found more individuals that I would later follow on Twitter.  Even though I didn’t speak up in this group a lot, I followed this group pretty closely as almost everything that was being discussed was relevant to my needs. Since many of the users in this group were using Microsoft Teams, we spent a lot of time sharing feedback and alerting the group of new updates. It also helps to have members of the COETAIL community in the same group chat!

Giving Back to the Community

After becoming more comfortable in asking for help… I realized that I wasn’t getting that much feedback from people because the number of followers was small and my hashtag game was weak (and if I’m being honest, still is).  I knew that if I wanted people to respond to my tweets, I needed to build a stronger connection with the community.  Giving back to the community would be the first step to build that connection and to grow my community base. I started sharing ideas on what I was doing at school.

However, it was when I created this infographic (using the design principles I learned in COETAIL) about virtual learning agreements that people started interacting with me.  I realized that maybe others would want to use it without a logo and so I uploaded a new version sans my school logo.  Based on feedback, I even tried to make one with the creative commons but failed… and then was too busy to go back and redo the poster.

Communication and Collaboration

I knew that I needed to start interacting with people in order to form and keep my connections.  In areas that I could, I began answering questions and trying to help support other educators as well as give feedback and encouragement.  They weren’t necessarily long conversations but rather quick and short answers to try to help teachers troubleshoot as quickly as necessary. Retweeting also allowed me to acknowledge educators while giving us an opportunity for more connection and dialogue.

Samples of my communication and interaction on Facebook, WeChat and Twitter

I wasn’t afraid to ask for help and was actively trying to support others. This made me a better communicator and collaborator with my peers. I connected with individuals to share and ask permission to use their images. After visiting Kristen Ziemke and Kate Muhtaris’ website, I directly messaged them to see if I could use their infographic in my blog post. When they said yes, I felt that I was a part of a community and was being supported while supporting others.

Video chatting/conferencing/calling – whatever you want to call it became a staple during online learning. Members of this COETAIL cohort joined in on a zoom call to discuss best practices and our experiences. I was able to collaborate more often with my colleagues from the school (albeit different campuses) than ever before.

My very first Twitter chat!

My biggest evidence of this growth is my participation in a Twitter Chat! I happened to be on Twitter when I saw the post about it being later tonight and I just happened to be at the right time to be reminded that it was happening.  It felt really good to be able to share my ideas and reading what other educators were doing and thinking.  I was able to find more people to add to my PLN and definitely plan on joining for another one! 

Once I started shedding the guilt of using social media at work and got a VPN router for my home, I found using twitter to be more accessible.  Now that I don’t feel like I’m trying to keep afloat at work, I’ve come to embrace it finally.  I found that twitter has a better reach for international teachers and it is for this reason that I’m not as active on Facebook. The WeChat group is one of the most relevance and I follow that closely but I am still working on communicating more in that avenue. With Covid-19, teachers and administration were messaging me constantly on WeChat. This blend of personal and professional has been an emotional drain. Since I started using Twitter for professional reasons, it is easier to think of it as a professional platform and have that separation of personal and professional. I think I’ve come quite a long way and I think nothing shows that more than my blasé willingness to participate in the Twitter chat.  A year ago, I would have been extremely nervous to participate in something like this, but I had seen it in a tweet earlier and thought, you know, why not?!