The Potential of Networks – Only Fully Realized When Active.

I found the first two chapters of Reach by Jeff Utecht to confirm and reinforce what I have (unfortunately somewhat slowly) come to understand recently in my professional life – that using social networking platforms to grow your PLN will positively enhance your own professional learning and growth.  

For many years I never paid much attention to using platforms such as Google+ or Twitter for professional purposes.  I had somehow mentally filed them away as social tools for connecting with friends and life outside of my career.  I could say the same for Linkedin, even though it is marketed expressly for the purpose of building a digital network – I simply didn’t appreciate the potential that these platforms could provide in growing my network.

I think one of the main reasons that I failed to see the potential power of these tools is due to the fact I had been a “lurker” on these platforms, rather than a producer.  I would consume the content and ideas produced by others, but not take an active role in producing my own work or adding my own thoughts or ideas to the mix.  Perhaps it was a lack of confidence that I had enough perspective or experience to meaningfully add to the network.  There was also the sense that I was too busy (aren’t we all?) to really get involved, and the idea of adding “keeping up with Twitter, Google+, etc.” to my plate didn’t seem very appetizing.  But by not being an active member of these networks, I was also largely invisible, which didn’t lead to any exciting connections or opportunities to collaborate.

This began to change a few years ago in 2015, when I became involved in teaching a course with Global Online Academy.  I was suddenly working and collaborating daily on teaching and course development with other educators who were thousands of miles away – and sometimes literally on the other side of the world.  Through this experience of virtual collaboration via Skype, Slack, Canvas, and Google Apps, I began to realize that physical boundaries can no longer impede real collaborative learning and development.  I could now easily connect with others, and that my network of colleagues was now beyond the campus boundaries of my school.  

At the same time, some colleagues of mine at my previous school were taking the COETAIL courses, and they shared some of what they were learning with me.  I began to realize that I needed to shift my thinking regarding professional networking, and learn to become an active contributor to my network, rather than a passive consumer.  

This is one of the main drivers behind my decision to join the COETAIL program – I wanted to be part of a network of people that would push me to become a “prosumer”.  The more active one is in contributing to these networks, the more one is also increasingly visible.  And this visibility is what leads to collaboration opportunities, as well as connections with ideas and people.  As Jeff notes on page 18 of Reach: “Activity = Visibility = Connection opportunity”.  This is a simple, yet powerful point – that it really is up to us to become active and contributing members of our PLNs if we expect to also make meaningful connections and really learn from our networks.  

By starting this blog, and by joining the COETAIL program,  I’m taking the first steps toward doing this.  When I read the blogs of some of my colleagues and peers, and see the positive and powerful connections they have made by being active members of their PLNs, I can’t help but feel a little late to the party.  But late is better than never showing up.  I’m very much looking forward to learning with everyone in Cohort 9, as well as other past and future cohorts as well!  

4 thoughts on “The Potential of Networks – Only Fully Realized When Active.

  1. I completely agree with everything that you are saying in this post. I have felt the exact same way as you described yourself – “as a passive consumer instead of a contributor.” I joined Twitter around 2012, but only because I went to a workshop in Hong Kong called “21st Century Learning.” I had been teaching in South America for four years and I had really fallen behind the technology learning community. Anyway, I went to this workshop, learned a lot, signed up for Twitter and never really started using Twitter until last year. I’m still not much of a contributor, so I can challenge myself just like you are trying to challenge yourself.

    I also decided to join COETAIL because I thought I was ready to challenge myself more, as well. I am happy to follow people on Twitter and subscribe to other people’s websites and podcasts. I can learn so much, but can’t we all figure out how to display our own ideas or knowledge and share it too? I think that is what it is all about.

    I have kept my Twitter account and Google+ account as professional accounts – not for friends. Therefore, the amount of time I spend on these PLN’s isn’t really wasted time, at all. For example, I switched over to teaching middle school this year, and I spent many hours this summer in my Twitter account. I learned so many skills through my contacts in Twitter that I could start using right away in middle school. So, like you, I always thought, “I don’t have time to sift through all of these different media sources every day.” But in the end, every time I do check my Twitter feed or my Google+ feed, I learn something new and save it somewhere in an organized place in my Google Drive. So, therefore, the time was not wasted at all, it was used wisely.

    Good job on your post. I imagine many of us here in COETAIL9 are in the same boat as far as wanting to contribute more in our professional learning networks.

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  2. I think you bring up a really strong point of having to have self confidence when you begin to create a PLN. It is hard to put yourself, your ideas, your professional life online and have others experience it. Not too long ago being a teacher meant staying inside the walls of a classroom. Now we expect both teachers and students to push their limits exploring and collaborating with others wether it be down the hall or across the world. We aren’t used to having other people see our professional lives. It’s scary!

    I think that with time, especially in this cohort, we will learn who we are as “prosumers” because it will look different for each of us. Our roles in schools allow us to use our PLNs in different ways. I am really looking forward to seeing how everyone else currently uses their PLN and what that will look like a year from now.

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  3. Hey Brian, great read! This post was such a good summary about my ideas and feelings of using online platforms for professional learning. As you said, I, too, had “…mentally filed them away as social tools for connecting with friends and life outside of my career.” I need to remember that the latest research findings, information, best practices, etc. are no longer stuck in textbooks (do kids still USE textbooks?) and are out there for us to find. We have to stay connected. We have to keep up.

    Even though we’re late to the party, I think it’d be a good idea to stay a while. . . See you there!

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  4. “The more active one is in contributing to these networks, the more one is also increasingly visible. And this visibility is what leads to collaboration opportunities, as well as connections with ideas and people.”
    Brian –
    Many of us who were a bit reluctant (including myself) for what ever reason in engaging on social media for professional reasons have discovered the same thing. Once we find the purpose and benefit of social media in enhancing our practice, the more likely we are to continue contributing and participating. As you have experienced, it is a snowball effect of one thing leading to another which leads to something else. You share a great example of this. I also believe your participation in COETAIL will help you continue to build those connections and collaborations.
    And you are not late to the party! You arrived when you were ready and willing to join in and that was perfect timing for you.

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