Grow Your Network: Become a Detective

Connected Educator Month is only a few days away.

Seeking to build on this success, the Department of Education has called together a second Connected Educator Month, to be held (by educator request) in October, 2013. This year’s event will have a special emphasis on helping districts promote and integrate online social learning in their formal professional development.

Other goals include:

  • Getting more educators “connected” (to each other)

  • Deepening and sustaining learning of those already connected

  • Stimulating and supporting collaboration and innovation in professional development.

Looking at the goals, I want to take a closer look at “getting more educators connected”. I see Twitter profiles of educators every day who have “jumped on board” by joining “The Twitter”. I wonder if these newbies are network literate? Where do they receive the support to grow? Who supports them?

A typical profile might look like the one below. No tweets and tentatively starting to follow random people.

twitter-profile

Or it might look like this one, with already a few tweets under the belt and a growing number of people to follow.

twitter-profile-4

At this point I am following over 5000 educators. That might seem a lot and very overwhelming to many. I acknowledge the point of view of many others who have unfollowed everyone on their Twitter list, to handpick few they wanted to follow. Others have a large disproportionate difference between the number of people that follow them and the one they follow. These methods  work for them.

twitter-profile-3

Twitter is about building, growing and maintaining your network for YOU. It has to work for YOU! My network would not necessarily work for someone else. I would not get the same benefits out of someone else’s network. That is why it is called PERSONAL.

twitter-langwitches
@langwitches

I am also fiercely protective of the kind of educators I follow. I will unfollow people as my own interests change, grow and evolve. I unfollow people, when THEY interests and the things they tweet about change.

I am a “connector” though. I work with colleagues from all subject areas and different grade levels. I want to be able to curate and funnel resources to the Art teachers as well as to the Math teachers. I might be looking for collaboration partners, peers or experts who can bring in different perspectives, authentic feedback and serve as primary sources. My role as a connector is facilitated when I receive a constant stream of ideas and resources, I did not even know I was looking for them. I don’t want to rely on people specifically having to @mention my username to make me aware.

Creating a Twitter account (or starting your own blog) is only the first step in building a PLN (Personal/Professional Learning Network). Your network won’t build or grow itself. I am on a constant lookout to STRATEGICALLY add members to my Twitter network that will enhance the QUALITY of content of my feed.

Here are some strategies that work for me.

crystal-clear

Be clear about what you want out of your network.

  • information filter?
  • resource curation?
  • support for your learning?
  • potential collaborators?
  • global audience?
  • controversial discussions?
  • stimulating discussions?
  • opportunities to read and write in other languages?
  • multiple points of view?
  • preaching to the choir?
  • answers to burning questions?
  • tech support?

…and what you will or will not tolerate

  • non-educational related issues (sports scores? illnesses? family affairs?, etc.)?
  • foul language?
  • bullying?
  • self-promotion?

Once you have an idea of how your network will help your specific learning needs it is time to actively and strategically grow.

detective

Become a detective

  • by reading blog posts
    Blogs are great spaces to intentionally be looking for twitter handles of educators that are involved, transparent and willing to share. Reading blogs about your specific interests and learning needs will yield new additions to your network. Read the posts with the intention to look for connections. Does the author mention other collaborators or resources? Does he/she include additional Twitter handles in the post? Follow these links! Check to see if the mentioned twitter user feeds match your criteria of quality followers for your purposes?
    In the example below, I found the link to a Math blog on Twitter, which in turned shared the Twitter handles of various connected Math educators. Bingo, for the connector, who wants to support her Math teachers with resources, ideas and potential members for their learning network.
    harvest
    @Trianglemancsd, @bobloch, @mbosma8, @LukeSelfwalker, @ddmeyer, @fawnpnguyenAs you are reading blogs,  take the time to check if the blog author is on Twitter. Most blogs will should have  Social Network buttons displayed in one of their sidebars or as a link in the top navigation bar. Click on the link, check out their Twitter feed and, if interesting, follow them.
    twitter- link
  • by taking  advantage of people using personal brands
    Sometimes, unfortunately, bloggers don’t easily display a link to their Twitter feed. It requires a little more detective work. In the example below, you will see a blog about TCKs (Third Culture Kids), that I am a reader of. The name of the blog is DrieCulturen, but I was having trouble finding a direct link to a Twitter account.
    twitter-brand-2
    It was worth a shot to hope that the author was thinking about personal branding and was using the same username “DrieCulturen“on Twitter. Bingo… I was able to find the Twitter feed and start following them.
    twitter-brand
    @drieCulturen
  • by commenting and following up on blog posts
    When you leave comments (make sure you also include your Twitter handle) on blog posts that are of interest to you, it is worthwhile checking back to see who else has left a comment and contributed to the conversation. Follow the breadcrumbs to check out their blog and/or Twitter feed.
  • by exploring twitter followings
    When I find a Twitter feed that is especially interesting, I wonder who inspires that person? Where do they get their resources? Collaboration or discussion partners? I check out the list of people THEY follow to be able to harvest potential quality contributors to MY feed.
    twitter-following
    @edtechworkshop
  • by exploring twitter lists
    Twitter allows users to create public or private lists of specific users they follow. Once I find an educator who contributes significantly to my learning, I take a look if they have taken the time to organize the people they follow into a specific lists. I can also see, the lists that they have have subscribed to an are a member of, which will give me further people to explore.
    twitter-list
    @allanahk
    Twitter-lists
    @jefflippman
  • regularly check who has started following you
    Make it a habit to check who has started following you. Take the time to click yourself through to their profile and their last tweets in order to make a strategic decision to follow them back or not. Once someone looks interesting, digg deeper by following some of the strategies mentioned above.
  • pay attention who @mentions you on Twitter
    People who take the time to interact with you on Twitter (not the spamming kind of mentions) are always worth to check out. These twitterers have already shown that they are interested in connecting and contributing.
    twitter-mention
    @mmreesescott
  • harvest #hashtags
    Hashtags are the threads that string together a Twitter conversation about a specific topic. Looking for someone interested in a particular subject or topic. Find an appropriate hashtag and follow the conversation to see who is also interested. Below you can see a snippet of people participating in a connected conversation thread of the Connected Educator Month via the hashtag #CE13
    twitter-hashtag
  • tweet out specific requests
    Looking for resources or collaborators? Just tweet it out and see who response as well who gets recommended to check out.
    tweet-harvesttweet-harvest2
    @kidsilkhaze
    @LesothoJohn

What are some of your strategies you use to grow your network? How do you read online with a lens of network literacy? As you make your own thinking visible, HOW are we going to teach these strategies to our student ? Is anyone teaching them?