Social Networking sites include the popular Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest and have been extended to include additional sites such as LinkedIn, Goodreads, ScoopIt, PearlTrees, Classjump, and StumbleUpon. These sites are all excellent for professional development and connection. What is important to be aware of is that, if you don't use these sites personally, your students probably do! So, integrating them into your classroom and professional development can be very useful! Posting homework on Instagram or creating a classroom hashtag are just two ways to bring social media into the classroom. For my own professional growth, I use Pinterest the most to search educational related topics that I would like to explore and to get creative classroom ideas - although Twitter is also a growing resource in these areas as well. I find that it is very time consuming to be on every social media site, so it is important to pick the few that are the most beneficial to your networking and classroom needs. I am on Pinterest and Facebook the most, but can see the benefit of the other sites. Professionally, I think Twitter and LinkedIn would be the way to go. As the internet changes, and my students' usage changes, I realize that means my online usage may also need to change. Flexibility and adaptability are two qualities that seem to be highly valued when it comes to technology and it can be difficult – but worth it - to shift online habits and update with the times!
Personal Learning Networks
Personal learning networks such as Google Plus, Learnist, LinkedIn and Twitter all have their place in connecting businesses and educational professional with each other. The benefit of separating your personal online presence from your professional online presence is that you can tailor your connections and home page links to contacts and information directly related to your field of interest. In addition, you can separate your friends and family photos that don't necessarily need to be shared with colleagues and future employers. The two networks I use most often for these purposes are Twitter and, most recently, LinkedIn. LinkedIn acts as an online resume and is an excellent way to network with like-minded individuals in your field. There are also educational groups and job postings that could be beneficial throughout your career. Twitter is also useful professionally and in the classroom. The hashtag (#) feature allows you to narrow your search to trending and specific topics. By creating a classroom hashtag, you can quickly share articles and lesson extensions with your students. A site such as Twitter makes the classroom more interactive and engaging to students. I found the website 50 Ways to use Twitter in the Classroom extremely inspiring to add even more ideas to my classroom! The possibilities to connect my classroom to my students and to develop as an educator are important to my professional growth. Personal learning networks help me do both!
Pros and Cons
Social Networking and Personal Learning Networks both provide opportunities to share teaching ideas and connect educators around the world. Even mainstreamed networks such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest have become platforms for teachers to share lesson plans, classroom organization ideas, articles and start meaningful discussions related to education. More specific sites such as Edmodo, Classjump, GlogsterEDU and Padlet are specifically useful to not only connect educators but connect students with each other and their teachers. One of the greatest benefits to online networks such as these is that it extends the student's and teacher's learning beyond the classroom walls! The challenges, and sometimes negatives, of these sites however, is that they require teachers and students to sign up with an account and they make your life a little more public. The presence of “spammers” and online predators increase when a site's popularity increases, therefore, protecting your privacy online and filtering through your contacts is important. The learning curve is also high with all these sites; it takes a little time to learn how to use them, but they are fairly easy once you do! Vance Kite gave good advice in his article, “ 10 Tips for Getting Started with Edmodo,” when he said “Don’t worry about being an Edmodo expert before getting your students hooked up with it. If you dabble around the edges, full adoption will never happen. Figure out the basics (creating groups, giving assignments, grading assignments, posting), then let them know that you are all in it together.” This is good advice for integrating any site where you choose to network will hopefully turn your social media and networking interactions into a positive experience!