Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tweet, Link, and Learn – Part One

I was in a lunch & learn session today with the management group in our District.  We were chatting about doing some professional growth planning and I suggested that the group look at the new ways.  Well, after a brief conceptual overview of building a personal / professional learning network (PLN), I got the job of sharing at the next lunch & learn to show how digital tools are used by professionals around the world for that very purpose. 

This blog post (and a second one) materialized for me while running on the treadmill at the gym after work and will serve as the outline and guide for the lunch & learn.  I hope that I write this in such a way that it is useful to teachers, principals, and other professionals wanting to embrace the new ways of building a PLN.  My definition for a PLN is:
“a group of people who know stuff that I need to know and who might benefit from knowing stuff that I know”
So, essentially a PLN forms through people you find and connect with that are willing to help you and whom you are willing to help.  You may never actually meet each other, in the “real” world, but it doesn’t matter.  You can build strong connections and even friendships, find trustworthy advisors, become a trusted advisor, etc.

The two primary tools that people use today for building and participating in their PLN are twitter and LinkedIn.  I’ll write about LinkedIn in a future post.  Twitter is a social networking short-text messaging service (see description).  My twitter stats include the number of tweets (messages) I’ve posted, the number of people following me and the number that I follow.  Those people are my PLN.  Some I choose and the others choose me, cool hey.  Notice that I follow a fewer number than follow me.  imageI tend to be selective in who I follow – I focus on people that I think will help me or are interesting based on what they tweet, who follows them, who they know.  I let anyone follow me that chooses to.  My profile that people may judge my value on is this:
Twitter goes to work when someone posts (tweets) something.  It could be a website link, a quote, a question, etc. that interests you and you follow the link, save the quote, or answer their question.  Answering the question might involve tweeting a link.  Anything you respond with everyone following you will see.  Some of those people (in your PLN) will be interested and jump in and share, provide input, etc.  And so on, and some people will retweet (forward to their PLN) your tweet, and so on,…  it can go viral in minutes or hours if it’s a hot topic.  It’s very powerful.  Here’s an example tweet where I responded to someone’s invitation for input on a presentation they created:
A few thousand people follow Dave so he can get some broad feedback quickly.  Did I mention that @datruss is in China!

So how should you start:
  • goto and sign up for an account using your name or some minor variation (it is about you); fill out your profile information so people know some of your interests or expertise; upload a profile picture so people can recognize your tweets
  • follow me:  @bkuhn and check out who I follow or my messages to see if there are people you might be interested in following – click on their name and check ‘em out – there’s a follow button you can click for those you want to follow
  • do twitter searches, any keyword with “#” (hash) in front or a string of key words (eg school principal) will search twitter feeds around the world, eg. a search on #leadership yields (picked a few to share):

  • you can click on links in the tweets to go to the website that is referenced (links will often look cryptic – they were shortened – more on that later)
  • by searching topics as in the above example, you may check out a person that seems interesting to you – click on their picture and you are taken to their profile and most recent tweets; from there you can choose to follow them
  • share an interesting thought or website – type your message on your twitter page where it prompts “What’s happening?” and copy the URL for the website and paste it in with your message (maximum 140 characters)
The key is to periodically drop in and see what’s going on and to reply to people for whom you might have something to offer, even if you don’t know them.  Share your own insights, questions, and website links so people can benefit from your input and can help you with theirs.  This is true collaboration with no strings attached!

Once you become comfortable, you will want to install a twitter program on your computer or if you have an ipad, twitter has an app for that.  My favourite twitter program is TweetDeck.  It helps me organize the streams of tweets into columns – I have one for SD43 colleagues, Personal, IT Leaders, and a few searches such as #edtech and #cpchat.

I leave you with a few tips:
I added the "*" tip above after I posted and tweeted this out.  @chrkennedy shared my tweet and blog post with @mrjtyler and I checked out who he was and saw that he had tweeted that tip.  I did not know @mrjtyler before this and never would have "met" him.  Twitter is a powerful connecting device.

So what are you waiting for?  Join Twitter and start networking!  I use twitter every day.  Just make sure you don’t let it consume you.