How 2.0: Building a PLN, Part 2/4

Hello and welcome to How 2(.0) – your guide to Web 2.0 and how it can work for you, the teacher.  Today we’ll be continuing with part 2 of our 4 part series on building a PLN, or Personal Learning Network.

Or Professional Learning Network.

Whatever.

Before we begin, I must apologize for making part 2 an audio-only version.  I’ve just recently started up my school’s Art Club AND enrolled in a class myself, so not adding in all those pictures is going to save me a few hours that I can then spend writing a critical response to two articles on the legal and ethical issues surrounding a well thought out inclusion program.

But that’s a subject for an entirely different podcast.  Let’s get started.

PLN Wordle

This episode is once again brought to you by the Discovery Educator Network, Teachers 2.0, and … um … me.

In episode 1 we covered what a PLN is and why it’s useful, but didn’t mention a thing about how to build one online.  Well this installment is here to fill in that gap, starting with finding interesting people to follow!

The first thing we need is something to keep track of our PLN.  There are a lot of services with this feature built in, though I’ll be saving some of these for episode 4.  Let’s start off with a good RSS aggregator.

Now it’s called an “RSS Aggregator” because: 1) It sounds fancy and 2) It takes less time to say than “That one website or program that checks other websites for me and lets me know when they’ve updated so I don’t have to waste all my time visiting all of these websites every day.”  Although granted, that’s a pretty good description.

There are a few downloadable programs that do this, but I’d recommend going with a web based aggregator because they’re just as easy, just as free, and, oh yeah, you don’t need admin rights to get them to work on your school-supplied computer.  The my personal favorite is Bloglines.com, though Google has one called Google Reader  that works equally well.

It’s fairly straightforward to create an account through either service, though Bloglines takes just a little more time because it takes you through a few screens where it recommends sites to which you might wish to subscribe.

It’s important to note that everything I’m talking about is free.  “Subscribing” simply means that you want your Aggregator to check that site for changes every now and then, but it shouldn’t cost you a dime.

Once your account is set up it’s time to add some useful educational websites.    There are thousands to choose from, but fortunately I know a few really good ones we should start with.

Open a new window in your web browser (we’ll be coming back to your aggregator very soon) and head over to Digital Passports.  This a great blog by the talented Steve Dembo, a former Kindergarten teacher and current employee of the Discovery Educator Network.  Oh yeah, and he’s a Dad.  Combine all this with the fact that he’s a geek (it’s true, I’ve seen him dressed as a Jedi Knight) and he’s the perfect person to try out all kinds of new and wonderful educational websites and let you know what’s cool about them.

So since he’s so cool, why don’t we add him to our PLN?

Look over on the left hand side of his blog and you’ll see a section labeled “Subscribe.”  At the time I’m making this there’s two ways to do so – email and RSS.  Now email subscriptions are all well and good, but not every site will have that option so let’s go with the more universal RSS option.

Right click (or hold down the “Control” key and click, if you’re on a Mac) on the “Via RSS” link and select the option that lets you copy that link.  It’ll say “Copy link location” or something similar to that, depending on which browser you’re using.

Got it? Good.  Now go back to the window that has your aggregator and look for a link that says “Add” (if you’re using Bloglines) or a link that says “Add subscription) if you’re using Google Reader.  Bloglines will ask you a few extra options before you finish subscribing, but you’re essentially done.  Now as you look on the left hand side of your window you’ll see “Digital Passports” (the name of Steve’s blog) in bold text – that means Steve’s written some new things that you haven’t read.  Click on that and his last 10 or so blog posts should appear in the right column of your window, ready for you to read.  If you decide that one of his posts is so interesting you’re just going to have to revisit it again you can click the “Keep New” box in Bloglines or the star in Google Reader.

There, that wasn’t so hard now, was it?

I also recommend you repeat this process by subscribing to:

weblogg-ed.com

teachers20.com

blog.mrmeyer.com

teachingforthefuture.com

and academicaesthetic.com

(Yes, that last one was totally a shameless plug for my own site.  I admit it.)

I subscribe to a lot more people than just this, but I think this short list is enough to get you started.

As time goes by and these authors continue to update, they may point you in the direction of some of the blogs they like.  If you check them out and like them too, you might want to add them as well.

Conversely, if you find that one of the blogs you’ve been subscribing to just isn’t useful to you, you might wish to unsubscribe.   (Even if it’s mine.  Don’t worry, I won’t cry … much.)  This is actually very important because otherwise you’ll find yourself subscribing to hundreds of blogs and completely overwhelmed by the number of unread posts that show up every day.

All set?  Well congratulations, you now have a one-way PLN!  Stay tuned for part 3, where I’ll talk about how to give back to your Personal Learning Network!

Or Professional Learning Network.

Whatever.

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