I can understand why people, especially educators, might shy away from social networks. There is a perception that social media is a place for celebrity gossip, teenage banter, and making connections with old friends from high school. The potential for social networks to serve as a learning tool doesn’t reconcile with that view of social media. However, after spending a summer in a course designed to help me learn how to use social media to develop myself as and educator, I am not only convinced of the power of social networking, but I am also ready to spread the word about the power it holds for all of us.
As I reflect upon the coursework I completed and the connections I’ve made, I want to share my five biggest take-aways from the course with the hope that other educators will be more open to exploring these social networking tools.
You’re Never Alone- I work at a school where I am the only history teacher. Across my district, there are only six of us who teach history in the middle grades. And although I think they are some of the best educators I know, when we collaborate we are limited to the resources and knowledge of only 6 people. Social networks have allowed me to connect with hundreds and thousands of educators who share my interests and passions. By following a few hashtags on Twitter that connect me with other social studies teachers, I’ve been able to gather resources, learn more, and gain insights that I never would have learned about had I allowed myself to be limited to my team of six.
Emphasize the Personal Aspect of a PLN– Throughout the course, I’ve grown my Personal Learning Network. I am pleasantly surprised at how truly personal my learning has been. I joined communities of other educators who teach the same subject and/or age group as I do. I follow hashtags of educational topics that interest me. As a result of social networking, I can target the communities I join to fit my personal learning needs. In another context, the word personalized carries a different meaning. Within these self-selected social networks, I have also made real connections with individuals. While social networks do allow me to connect with hundreds of educators from whom I can gather resources, there is an opportunity to develop deeper relationships as well. Personal Learning Networks are indeed personal.
Everyone Benefits from a PLN- When educators connect through personal learning networks, everyone benefits. Connected educators have immediate access to resources, support, and information. When teachers bring these learning experiences into classrooms, students benefit. It is truly a domino effect. Among the most important things I’ve learned in this course is that students – even young ones- can benefit from their own PLN and social networks. With proper safeguards in place, students can learn, share, and grow through connections with others in a digital environment.
Share What you Know– I believe in the power of collaboration. I also truly believe that everyone has something to share. Even people who are new teachers or new to social networks have something to offer. This was, for a very long time, where I would often fall short. I was certain that I couldn’t offer anything new to a group of well-connected educators. It wasn’t until I started answering questions on Twitter and sharing links on different platforms did I realize I was wrong. We truly do all have something to offer.
Proceed with Caution- Social Networks are powerful indeed. Based on the learning from this class, I will argue that claim with conviction. That does not mean, however, that we throw caution by the wayside. We must all manage our digital footprint with the utmost care in order to protect our professional, personal, and digital reputations. As educators, we must not only set the example for those we teach, but we must also give them the tools and knowledge to protect themselves. We have a responsibility to keep our students safe in every possible way.
As I continue to take on more leadership roles in my school district, I hope to serve as a resource for teachers who are growing their own PLNs.
Grading: My posts for this course have been thoughful, reflective, and published on time. After taking time to look back at the requirements and the specific writing tasks, I think it’s fair to say that I have met all of the expectations. 75/75