Networking is key to building your professional contacts and finding your next career move, but it is no longer simply about greeting colleagues over cocktails and exchanging business cards. Social-networking and the Internet have led to a myriad of new opportunities that have changed the way professionals meet and interact with one another. And networking is no longer simply about making contacts for prospective positions: Many educators are using networking as a means of continuing their professional development, exchanging ideas, improving their teaching, and learning about new strategies.
A Personal Learning Network (PLN) is created by the individual to suit individual needs. They can include your colleagues, friends, family members, and experts in your field of interest. And thanks to technology, they are no longer limited to people you know personally and have face-to-face contact with, but can be anyone from anywhere in the world.
Here are some of the many tools available to you to help build your own PLN, and some tips for how to use them:
Facebook and MySpace aren’t just for teenagers who want to tag and share photos or obsess over the details of each other’s lives. Many professionals use the sites to meet and engage one another. You can use the sites to share articles, engage in conversations about professional topics, find and shares tips and ideas, ask for advice, and more. You can find educators through keyword searches, or by looking up the names of professionals whose work you have read about in other literature, such as journals. You can also join groups on the sites according to professional interest or membership affiliation.
With the limitations on space — updates are limited to 140 characters — these microblogging sites can recreate the feel of a real-time conversation. Many educators use these sites to share links to blog posts, articles, resources, and more. They also engage in conversations about pedagogy and trends in education. You can find other educators on Twitter by looking at groups like http://twittgroups.com/groups/teachers.
Learn Central is a forum designed especially for educators. You can share content and participate in live online meetings.
LinkedIn and BrightFuse offer a space for an online professional profile and a chance to connect with other professionals. You can add contacts that are both personal and professional, and you can find new contacts through these connections.
Reading blogs is a primary tool for learning about what’s new and important in your field of interest. You’ll find articles, reviews, opinion pieces, and in-depth discussions through blogs. You can engage in the conversation, or you can simply read them to stay abreast of what’s current. Many education blogs are also rich sources of information, ideas, tips, strategies, lesson plans, and more. Once you find some blogs that match your interests and that provide the most useful information, be sure to subscribe to them or add them to a RSS aggregator like Google Reader to receive notifications for new content.
Writing and maintaining your own blog is also a good way to build your network because you control the conversation. You can solicit the kind of information and opinions you want to receive, and you can even solicit advise on techniques or lessons that you want to try out in the classroom.
Nings are online community networks that you create or join. In order to get the most out of them, you need to be an active participant. Join the discussion forums, ask and answer questions, share links and ideas, and more. Being a passive observer may result in you learning some information about your topic, but becoming actively involved will let you control the information you receive and will help you get the most out of the resource.
Delicious and Diigo allow you to create a collection of bookmarks that can be shared with others. You can categorize bookmarks, and look at what others have compiled. It’s a great way to discover new resources according to your interest! You can also join groups and get e-mail updates on new bookmarks that may be of interest to you.
Podcasts are becoming popular both for entertainment and for continued learning. iTunes U and Weblogg-ed TV offer podcasts that include lectures, audiobooks, lessons, and more. You can learn about anything anytime, creating a virtual university that can be tailored to your own interests.