Thing x: Online Communities & Personal Learning Networks (2013 Version)

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(2014/15 workshop begins in November 2014. These older pages will remain, but look for updated versions and new topics as the workshop progresses.)

Online CommunitiesAnd we’re on to Thing 2, which is all about participating in and sharing information through online communities.  Many of you are already members of online communities, the most popular these days being  Facebook and Twitter. But there are many others out there! Some revolve around personal interests such as knittingphotography and reading. Others are more professional in nature: LinkedInClassroom 2.0Teacher-Librarian NingALA Connect, and a new-ish one called MightyBell ( MightyBell Book Club test site to play in).

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.” ―J.D. Salinger
In response: “That’s why they invented Twitter.” – Nicole Nicosia (cool tools participant – via email)


Some people love online communities, others hate them, some just aren’t sure what to make of it all. But regardless of our personal opinions, we can’t deny that online communities are a huge part of the world we live in today.  Take a look at this video and see what you think, are any of the facts presented surprising to you?

It’s pretty clear that social media and online communities are a huge part of our students’ lives.  But what about the rest of us? If you’re already participating in them, then you’ve already made a place for them in your personal life. But are you using them in your professional life too? There are wonderful opportunities for making professional connections through online communities and also as a way for connecting with the our students, fellow staff members and our communities.

Personal Learning Networks: As individuals, social networks help us connect with other educators in our local communities and around the world. This can provide an amazingly rich source of innovative ideas and support. Stumped with a problem that you can’t solve or need to brainstorm with someone? Maybe someone in your online community has faced this same problem and can share some good ideas. And you can do the same for them. We all have expertise, let’s share it!

Going to a conference & don’t know many other people attending? Connect with other attendees ahead of time. It’s a great way to get to know people before a conference or workshop. I’m just amazed at the number of online friends who have become “in person” friends & valued colleagues as a result of connecting online and then meeting at conferences.

By doing this you will build a Personal Learning Network (PLN), your own group of people that you can share ideas with, learn from and turn to when you need help with something. Some tips on building a PLN: 10 Simple Ways To Build Your Personal Learning Network

Connecting with community: For a classroom, school or school library, having a presence on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks is one more way to reach out to your students, parents and community. Use these tools to share news about what’s going on in your library & classrooms, highlight great new resources and student work, hold a book discussion online, ask for feedback on your services, run a trivia contest, provide a weekly list of new titles, answer reference questions and so on. Provide them with information about library services and a way to connect to the library staff in a space that they already use often.

Facebook can be also used to facilitate classroom discussions. Some interesting suggestions here: 5 Best Practices for Educators on Facebook  Since many schools still have limits on what you can officially do with these tools, you’ll need to work within your school guidelines. If you’re eager to set up a Facebook Page for your library, you might start out by just posting news, but restricting who else can post notes on the page. Or try setting up a Facebook Group for a class discussion. Groups can be kept very locked down and private or as open as you like.  As your school grows more comfortable with the idea, you may be able to do more with it. Just keep pushing the boundaries!


Some examples of online communities in action and some resources to explore.


Book clubs via online communities:

  • Night Owls – Cuyahoga county (OH) Public Library runs a book discussion on their Facebook page.
  • JoCo Library Teens – Johnson County (KS) Public Library sponsored  group on GoodReads.
  • Luv2Read online book group – Book group for Teens on LibraryThing, sponsored by San Jose Public Library.



Twitter is probably the simplest & best place to start connecting with other educators. If you’re not already familiar with Twitter, do take a look at this CommonCraft video.

Twitter in Plain English

(video also available directly from  CommonCraft)

You don’t have to dive right in and join twitter if you don’t want to. You can easily “lurk” – read tweets from folks who post publicly.  And you can follow conversations about topics by searching for a “hashtag” that is being used to highlight conversations around particular topics.

Hashtags are short codes that people agree to use to tag their tweets that are related to a particular topic. If you’re at at conference, the organizers will set a hashtag for the conference. That way people can easily follow what’s going on at the conference, just by searching for the hashtag.  Hashtags are also used for informal sharing of information via twitter. Two useful hashtags for educators are #tlchat (teacher librarian chat) and #edchat. You might even find some tweets about this course with the hashtag #slscooltools!

Read this post! Joyce Valenza considers Twitter to be her “first alert system!” If you don’t read anything else about twitter, read her post: For newbies: Just Heart the (#) Hashtag!

“Looking back at the past year, when I consider my favorite source for leads for professional learning and growth, Twitter has clearly been my first alert system.  It’s the place I go to when I need to take the pulse of what’s going on in the intersection of worlds I belong to.” (For newbies: Just Heart the (#) Hashtag!)

Some Twitter Tips:

  • It’s ok to lurk for a bit while you get comfortable.
  • Find a friend and practice tweeting with them.
  • You can keep your account private if you want, but others won’t see your tweets unless you let them follow you.
  • Perhaps better to be public and just not tweet anything terribly personal or embarrassing!
  • Share great resources that you find.
  • Share tips and ideas that have made your work easier.
  • Use the RT (retweet) option to re-share information that other’s have tweeted.
  • Watch for questions and offer to help others out.
  • It takes time to build a great community, give it time, it’s worth it.

Finding people to follow:

  • Check the my list of EdTech folks or Joyce Valenza’s. (my list is hit or miss, so let me know who I’m missing!)
  • Start with the Who To Follow search page.
    • Search by name, though you won’t always find people that way.
    • Browse and search by interests.
  • Ask your friends!
  • Watch who other people are talking to and pick some people to follow.
  • People may not follow you back right away. If they have lots of followers, they may not even notice you started following them.To connect with someone, say hello! Thank them for sharing great information. Watch for a chance to help them out or offer an idea.
  • If you find you’re suddenly following hundreds of people and can’t keep it all straight, use the Lists feature to organize people into groups.


Well, you’ve probably figured out that we want you to explore Twitter! While we encourage you to join Twitter and start building your own Personal Learning Network, we realize that not everyone will want to join. And we know there are others who are already using Twitter. So we have several options this week.

Don’t forget to log your blog post when you’re done! When you finish this lesson by fill out the log form. You’ll need the URL of your first blog post to complete the form.

Option 1: Not ready to join Twitter? Then simply explore instead.

  • Visit the Twitter search page and search for the hashtags: tlchat, edchat and slscooltools (or any of these hashtags that are of interest)
  • Read through the tweets, taking time to explore some of the resources mentioned.
  • Also identify a few people that are sharing resources you’re interested in.
  • Write your blog post and discuss your experience.
    • Did you find good information? Interesting people? Anyone you know? How might you use twitter? Are you likely to join twitter in the future?

Option 2: I’m ready to Join!

  • If you feel comfortable just jumping in, then go for itt!
  • If you want a short tutorial on how to sign up, review this Twitter Workshop slide show. Some of the links might be out of date, but the steps for joining and getting started are great. Also a tutorial from Twitter: How to Sign up on Twitter.
  • Search for the hashtags  tlchatedchat and slscooltools (or any of these hashtags that are of interest)
  • Read through the tweets, taking time to explore some of the resources mentioned.
  • Identify a few people that are sharing resources you’re interested in and follow them. Get connected! Follow them.
  • Write your blog post and discuss your experience.
    • Did you find good information? Interesting people? Anyone you know? How might you use twitter?

Option 3: Veteran Tweeters

  • Take this chance to explore something about twitter that you haven’t had time to do.
  • Some ideas:
  • Write your blog post and discuss your experience.

Option 4: Want to Explore Something Else?

  • Take this chance to explore a new online community that you haven’t had time to check out.
  • Set up a community on any tool you have access to and explore the options and how you might use it in school.
  • Write your blog post and discuss your experience.


Facebook– The most visible social network. Connect with friends, family and colleagues. Share news, photos, discussions.

Twitter– Short status updates of 140 characters or less. Build a network of colleagues to share news, links, ideas. A rich source of information and ideas.If you decide to join twitter, tweet about this program and use the hashtag #slscooltools. (what’s a hashtag??)

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