Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tips for Conducting PLN Professional Development

Over the past year, I have been using various social networking tools to promote my own learning.  The discovery of these tools has had a profound impact on my own learning as I have been able to connect with hundreds of educators around the world and engage in professional discussions about our educational practice.  As an advocate for the use of these tools, I have been working within the structure of our school PD days to provide workshops and training to faculty members who wish to discover how social networking can improve their own development as teachers.  Now that I have conducted a few of these workshops, I thought I might share some of my ideas of how others might begin introducing these powerful tools to their colleagues.

Use the resources of your PLN - Thankfully, there are many people who are conducting sessions helping people to become connected and there was no need to start from scratch.  There are some great youtube videos which describe the purpose of PLN's (here and here).  There is also an amazing amount of resources to help teachers understand the purpose of twitter.  Some of the most useful ones that I have found are from Angela Maiers, Joe Stumple and Edudemic.  Having these resources in hand helped provide me with some of the courage I needed to get in front of a crowd and get people started.

  You need to provide participants with a "container" for these tools - I believe that this is a very important part of any workshop since these tools can be very difficult to manage without an integrated system.  The workshops that I have run have been designed to use Google Chrome as our container.  Google Chrome's extensions allow for everyone to easily integrate various networking tools (google reader, twitter, diigo, etc) in one central location that can be used on a daily basis.  Usually, I have asked participants to come with Chrome loaded onto their computers and we spend the first portion of the workshop signing up for accounts in google reader, twitter and diigo and installing the google extensions for these tools.  Once everyone has established their accounts, we subscribe to a reader bundle (George Couros has a great bundle here) and a couple twitter hashtags and lists that they can begin to follow (I have used #edchat, #cpchat or Liz Davis' Twitter list).  This allows the participants to become instant consumers of information and allows me to demonstrate how they can use diigo to save and share important bookmarks.  In addition, we can begin to find people to follow from the hashtag conversations in twitter and learn about re-tweeting, direct messages etc.

There needs to be time to play - I think that this is the most important part of the workshop and try to devote as much time as possible to this activity.  When working with our k - 12 faculty members, it is very normal to have a very diverse group of teachers together in the same room, and it is my hope that everyone who attends has the time to tailor these tools to their own specific disciplines or interests.  Personally, I went to a few different workshops that sold me on how great blogs, twitter, etc are but left without actually setting up a system to use these tools.  I know that the more time that I can spend helping teachers tailor these tools, the more likely they will continue to use them once they leave the workshop

Don't forget to follow up - Jesse McLean recently wrote a good post about how important this was for him and I know that a little push after the workshop can help someone get through a "twitter block."  As I mentioned earlier, the whole point of this workshop is to try and create a manageable system to develop and participate in a personal learning network.   Sometimes, it may take reconnecting with people to see if they have any follow up questions or need some help using these tools.

I have had a lot of fun introducing my colleagues to some of these tools and I am hopeful that they feel confident enough after these workshops to connect and engage with people around the world.   If you have any other great tips for conducting a PLN building workshop, please feel free to leave a comment.