Feb 13

Connected Collaborator

We must always continue to grow and learn on a personal and professional level. My husband and I have started taking a competitive toll on who has the most followers on Twitter. When I started Twitter over a year ago, his initial reaction was simple; “why?” and “what will you twitter about?” What great questions!
And, as the year has passed, both he and I now find ourselves tweeting about all sorts of things . We tweet about posts we have written for our professional development, share what we’ve read but mainly we retweet about other people’s interesting blogs posts and tweets.
As a result I find myself continuously working on what I call being a connected collaborator.  My personal learning network (PLN) is growing and I am learning through social media; making it possible for me to gain a bigger audience which means more feedback and more learning.

Building my PLN means collaborating with others. It has opened doors for sharing with strangers around the globe with a shared enthusiasm for an idea, a project or a product. Kim Cofino wrote an amazing post quite some time ago about collaborative partnership as the powerful tool to increase student learning. Like her, I strongly agree collaboration allows for teachers to learn from each other. This is what building a PLN should be all about! I often come across Will Richardson, as I roam the web. I agree with him on many aspects and I believe we’re in a ‘Collaboration Age’ and it’s our responsibility as teacher to embrace this.

But building my PLN isn’t just about me. It effects my teaching and inevitably student learning. It is through online collaboration that we can “bring the world” into our classrooms. Edutopia recently shared an article written by Suzie Boss on authentic ways to connect classrooms to the world. Student learning should no longer be confined to the four walls of their classroom. Successful collaboration with one classroom teacher begins to create a ripple effect among other teachers at the grade level or division – allowing other teachers to see how one of their colleagues has utilized technology effectively in their classroom. By sharing the results of quality collaboration more teachers may become interested, spreading the effects far and wide throughout the school, helping move an entire school community forward.

When I look at where I am in Jeff Utecht‘s stages of a PLN, I find myself going back and forth between the stages 3 (wanting to know it all) and 5 (finding a balance).

I often ask myself the question of how to make the best of the vast sea of knowledge online and conclude, I just can’t do it and know it all. As for myself, it is important to encourage students to build up their PLE networks but also to find that balance and that it is okay to not know it all.

Before I had convinced him to join Twitter, my husband asked me why I bother thinking about my PLN?  Whether you’re a full-time parent, a full-time teacher, or a full-time student, your PLN can be extremely interesting and helpful. The beauty of people communicating and collaborating online is the ease of finding and sharing information and – if you ask for it – the group feedback that you get on ideas and projects.

If you are not yet convinced, here are some ways that educators are using their PLNs:

  • Professional development – learn from content-area specialists
  • Locate resources for your classroom, such as free websites and software
  • Get lesson plan ideas from others
  • Learn about new technology and how to integrate it into your teaching
  • Find collaborative solutions
  • Find interesting links to education news


Here a several ways to for you to start building and to continue expanding your PLN:

Category Value Examples and Guides
Social Networking The challenge is to keep up with personal, more social contacts like friends, family, and former students FacebookMyspace
Microblogging A great place for educators from around the world to share best practices and resources TwitterMy guide to TwitterPlurkUtterli
Professional Profiles Find other professionals and experts LinkedInBrightfuse
Wikis Community-monitored sites. They can function as websites and/or for group organization and projects Wikispacespbwikiwetpaint
Blogs Great sources of information such as best practices as well as personal opinions WordPress,BloggerTypepad,
Alltop – top blog headlines by subject
Technorati – a blog search engine
RSS Reader RSS means “Real Simple Syndication” – an RSS reader is a tool that allows you to keep up with many of your favorite blogs, all in once place
(see this video on ‘RSS in Plain English’)
Google Reader (what I use) Netvibes,PageFlakes,
Nings Communities of people interested in similar topics, with forums and messaging Classroom 2.0Future of EducationNing
Social Bookmarking Share bookmarks with others, see what others are bookmarking; you can join groups and get email updates on new bookmarks DiigoDiigo Groups,Delicious
Webinars Live, on-line presentations or conferences, with real-time chat, hosted by experts on specific topics; Great way to learn about new things and to meet new people Classroom 2.0 Live!EdTechTalk LiveElluminateDim Dim
Backchanneling of conferences This is a great way to follow conferences when there are good, but usually expensive for you to attend; follow conversations and links about the highlights Twitter search – use acronyms like ‘NECC’ or ‘SXSWi’




Images: Peripitus, Jeff Utecht


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  1. Profile photo of Jeff Utecht
    Jeff Utecht

    Thanks Sanne! Will be sharing this post with our new course 1 cohorts who are just starting the PLN journey. Your reflections are priceless.

    1. Profile photo of Sanne Bloemarts
      Sanne Bloemarts

      Thank you Jeff. It’s good to know others are reading my blogs and thank you for your feedback. I always hope for my blogs to help others along in their journeys. I get so much knowledge from you, the COETAIL course (and the net for that matter), and I enjoy the challenge of putting the puzzle pieces together in my blogs.

  2. Verena Zimmer

    Hi Sanne,

    I love this overview of the stages I am going to go through or I will go through. Immersion happens already a while for me, also to decide who I want to follow (who is my teacher) and what I want to learn. But still I’m discovering something new on a daily base which is great but … I’m afraid sometimes that I get lost in this new and so exciting world. That’s why I make sure that I still go to my hot yoga, take a book, cook, go to exhibitions … but my mind is always on. Professional wise I try to focus on what we get to read for Coetail and the iPads in Classroom which is my focus at school at the moment.

    How do you manage to find your balance?

    Have a great weekend!

    1. Profile photo of Sanne Bloemarts
      Sanne Bloemarts

      It is so important to find that balance and to be able to let go of the idea that you want to know it all. I remember feeling so overwhelmed when I just started COETAIL and discovered how much learning was right there in front of me – ready to be absorbed. I did want to know it all and found myself spending hours behind my computer. I loved it, felt rich and enlightened. But at the same time exhausted and at times even disconnected from the ‘real’ world around me. I wrote a blog about this at the time:
      As a result I found myself going the complete oposite way and I stopped researching, building my PLN, and absorbing information for a couple of weeks. This only lead to finding it hard to get back into it all once I had to starting writing blogs again. In conclusion: try to find just the right balance from the start. You can’t know it all and that’s okay. Tune into only those educators that you enjoy reading (I use Google Reader) and manage your twitter account by searching only particular topics rather than feeling you need to read it all. HootSuite is a great way to manage yours and others tweets.
      Good luck and relax….You will truly love this course.

  3. Profile photo of Katy Jean Vance
    Katy Jean Vance

    Hi Sanne,

    Thanks for creating this! Way to be a part of the 1% of creators. This is an excellent resource.

    Thanks again,

    1. Profile photo of Sanne Bloemarts
      Sanne Bloemarts

      You are welcome Katy. I hope it will be of good use!

  4. Profile photo of Julie Lemley
    Julie Lemley

    I enjoyed your post as well. I too oscillate between stage 3 and 5 of the “Stages of PLN adoption”. I held out for a long time with Twitter, but have found it to be an amazing resource and collaborative tool.
    I’m curious how you encourage your students to create a PLE. This is something I can definitely work on with my students, but I’m not sure where to start or how to have them aggregate their information.
    I think most of their Twitter feeds are jammed with more friend “social media” to use it academically. I’d love to hear what you do!

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