Baiting the Digital Hook to Build A Professional Learning Community!

Last week I was invited to present on PLNs (personal learning networks) as part of Getting Connected 09 for The Australian Flexible Learning Frameworks.

As the conference targeted the VET sector I decided to take a different PLN approach and share how social networking tools can create communities of professionals, and students, that help each other.

Skills level of participants

Participants were surveyed near the start of the session to help guide how little/much information on each aspect need to be explained. The results are shown in the table below (Yes= has their own or uses with their students; No = doesn’t have own or use with students; No response = they didn’t respond to the question).

Value of Creating Communities

The message for creating professional learning communities using social networking tools was similar to PLNs. Our daily face-to-face interactions offer limited opportunities for:

  • Asking our work colleagues/students questions
  • Reflecting on ideas with each other
  • Effectively sharing information

Social networking tools provide the ability to easily connect ourselves, our students, with educators in the same/similar fields, and people from industry to form a global community. This greatly increases opportunities to receive assistance and provide assistance.

The main difference to a PLN is technology skills of individuals you may want as part of your professional learning community are often (very) low. This means you need to use a range of tools including ones they are more likely to feel comfortable using.

To stay sane remember:

  • Not everyone will share your excitement (and it is unrealistic to think they will)
  • Let them choose whether or not they join
  • Don’t be offended if you can’t encourage everyone to participate
  • Be grateful for those that do participate
  • It takes time!

During the session I discussed the main tools I use for aquaculture industry to highlight their benefits and how it can be done.


In terms of aquaculture Facebook is used mainly with my students (but I do have some work colleagues in my account). My students are given the option to add me to their Facebook account knowing that they can email me, use the chat or leave comments on my wall.

Years ago I used to give students my email address and never get got any emails. With Facebook student regularly contact me to help with both my work and other courses. Many continue to remain in contact when they leave.


Our AquaEd Ning community to connect educators, industry and my students together (consists of members from within Australia and oversees).

Benefits of Ning are ability to have forums, upload photos, upload/share videos and easily email all members etc.

For me this Ning community meant I was about to source training material and images to use for an aquaculture elearning unit. I couldn’t have sourced this material as well (or as quickly) using traditional methods.

My students, and other community members, are using this Ning to share what they are doing and ask others questions.

Ning challenges are you need to be prepared to facilitate and encourage conversation. The more people you can encourage to help you facilitate the more likely it will grow. As a Ning owner you need to closely monitor all new members (using RSS) due to spammers.


Never thought it would happen but have people from aquaculture joining my twitter account. Which has been excellent because they also then join AquaEd Ning.

As these people are already into social networking they add value to your community because they aren’t reluctant users.


This session was recorded and you can watch it here!

My advice for building a community remains the same as for a PLN — your first step is to start using these tools for your own learning then start thinking how you can connect with members from your industry. Check out my PLN Yourself website to get started!

Meanwhile for those that have created professional learning communities — please share your stories. What has worked well? What aspects have caused problems?

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My Post On Facebook You’ve Been Waiting For

Sorry I just can’t help myself.

For all those waiting for me to post my true thought on Facebook this video sums them all up but my words are a bit stronger. Perhaps not a good idea to show it to your kids 🙂 .

Thanks to Alan Levine for sharing it from Suw Charman-Anderson post.


Happy for you to try and change my thoughts on Facebook.

But don’t even think about that Twitter song, Alan. I’ve got totally different feelings towards twitter 🙂 .

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Educational Networking and Staying Out of My Face

36924662_5f7ea8ef37_m.jpgAllison Miller posts on Facebook and Social Networking (To Unblock Facebook or To Not Unblock Facebook? and Should Facebook be banned from Educational Institutes) and Michael Coghlan’s podcast on Should TAFE be Using Facebook has evoked really strong emotions. Photo by Bunch of Pants.

Lets Separate The Debate

My strongest belief is we must separate the debate on the educational use of social networking totally from whether Facebook should be used in an educational context. These are two totally separate issues.

Facebook is just one form of social networking; the educational benefits of social networking shouldn’t be devalued because managers and educators base their views on social networking solely on their own personal limited knowledge and/or experience of sites like Facebook and MySpace.

It’s about Educational Networking NOT Social Networking

I totally agree with Vicki Davis — It is about Educational Networking NOT Social Networking. There is huge difference between social networking and how we use these social platforms in an educational context; educational networking is a far more appropriate term for educators to use than social networking. Read Vicki’s excellent post for a better understanding of the difference!

The Personal Nature of Social Networks

We each have varying levels of personal connection to different social networking sites, and spaces that we want to keep private and personal, and this needs to be taken into account when considering the use of sites for educational networking. I’ve no personal connection to my own Facebook account; and happily connect to anyone, including my students, within Facebook. Yet my twitter network is extremely personal to me; it’s my personal space, I don’t want to interact with family or students in twitter.

My personal belief is that Facebook should be used only as a personal network; where educators and students can choose if they do/don’t connect with one another, and if learning occurs it is a result of informal networking and support. If we want to encourage educational networking then we should be using social platforms such as Ning community; where we can make the distinction between personal and education networks.

Banning of Web Sites

I believe it is far better to educate appropriate use than ban or block web sites. As educators, we should be treated as professional, and not have to justify reasons why we want to use a web application.

The shame of the Facebook debate in the TAFE sector actually has more to concerns that adminstration staff will waste time inappropriately; then concerns of how we might use it with students.


Allison Miller has asked the following questions to ponder from this discussion which I’m unable to respond back to in this post; however we would love it if you added your thoughts to the conversation.

  • What are the POSITIVES of Social Networking? and what are the NEGATIVES of Social Networking?
  • Why do Educational Institutes ‘shy away’ from embracing ‘Social Networking Sites’ – and ‘block’ them?
  • How do we entice Educational Institutes to ‘value’ Social Networking?
  • Do Educational Institutes have an ethical responsibility to be ‘guiding’ their students through ‘how to operate’ in SNS?
  • How do we ‘measure’ and ‘demonstrate’ the educational value of SNSs?
  • How can we gather the data to show the ‘ROI in terms of relationships’ and ‘ROI in terms of information and learning’?

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Lets have fun with Facebook

Did I mention that I was on holidays?

Yippee stay up late, get up late, get dressed late and … in a bit of time online.

I am slowly starting “to get” the fun things you can do in Facebook. fun


Frances introduced me to the FunWall application which lets you do creative things with photos that you can add to your wall or a friends wall (provided they have the FunWall application). I really love the cool things you can do to photos with these application (love the glitter so pretty).


Harriet introduced me to Scrabble. Really cool I kept wondering why they were talking about Scrabble in Twitter – now I know – personally I thought they had gone slightly nuts. Hopefully she will stay distracted for long enough for me to win! I am a bit competitive with Scrabble.

Come and join me in Facebook (Sue Waters) if you want to play Scrabble.


There are lots of applications in Facebook which I will have to check out over the next few days – definitely a fun task for the holidays.

Facebook + Sue = Assistance Required

A week ago I posted that I had decided to persist with Twitter and Facebook because other people who I read are obviously getting them so hence they must be worth investigating. LOL some of them have contacted me and requested me to inform them when I “get it” so they can also “get it“. 🙂 At least they didn’t say to Google it to find the answer.

Where I am with Twitter

Yes, given my addictive personality, I have become a twitteraholic in an incredibly short period of time. Why? Well twitter means that a message sent out through twitter can be distributed immediately to a group of people using a variety of methods such as mobile phones or IM services like Google Talk. What a really good concept for managing a project! Also great way to ask a question and get a response back from a group of people. Check out my twitter account if you want to see it in account.

Facebook – calling in the experts

If I am still not understanding Facebook and neither are most of my online friends then it is time to call in the experts. Fortunately a few of my students are really into Facebook and were more than happy to give me a Facebook lesson.

The student from Zambia uses Facebook a lot. He says “the key feature with Facebook is being able to keep in contact, easily exchange information and share items (e.g. photos) with friends. It is easy to lose email contact with friends. Facebook give you a mechanism to locate friends (provided they have a Facebook account) and scan through friends’ list of friends to locate the more hard to find friends”. He also stated that more of his friends overseas are using Facebook compared to friends from Australia.

So my lesson with Facebook is still ongoing and here is where I am at:

  • My student has been testing out applications and sharing them with me. This has been really good because I would not have thought to try out applications and he has shared some really cool ones (e.g. Slideshow that takes photos your photos from Flickr and puts them into a slideshow within Facebook, Top Friends). Reality – I was so not sure of Facebook that I did not think about adding an application.
  • I have had people join me as a friend based on locating me via their friend’s friend network.
  • Learnt that giving a virtual gift in Facebook is not a good idea – they try and charge you $1.00 per gift. Maybe I have got this wrong?
  • Facebook is just another way of connecting online with individuals. For some people this is their preferred method of you connecting to them.
  • You can find me in Facebook as Sue Waters (with I looked like the Susan Waters further down the page).



I recently attended the E-trends Unconference online using Elluminate (was really good). Participants choose the topics and 10 minutes was spent talking about each topic. Grabbed some great links and was impressed by Generation Yes Youth and Educators Succeeding web site that Jason Hando showed us. The concept is that students work with teachers to bring effective technology into classrooms and libraries i.e. students provide professional development for teachers on using technology. I think this is a really good idea.

Giving it a try!

In my post on the Fickleness of Consumers and its implications I talked about the “Word of Mouth” by one of the most powerful reasons why I will give a Web 2.0 application a try. If I hear enough noise (e.g. people talking about them on blogs) I will give it a go – even if I can not immediately perceive a benefit.

There are lots of Web 2.0 applications that I just “didn’t get” when I first started using them (e.g. flickr,, blogging, wikis) – many of these it has taken me a year “to get them.” However it was worth persisting because once I understood how to use them effectively – WOW they are great!!!

If enough people, who I follow, are using an application they must “get” what I still need “to get”. So currently the two Web 2.0 applications that I am going to persist with are:

1. Twitter

If you want to read a post that has great information on Twitter read This Twittering Life by ELT Notes. If you want to try out Twitter you can follow me at Although I don’t “get” twitter yet I must admit it is pretty cool how twitters from my friends can be set to forward to my GoogleTalk account.

2. Facebook

If you want to learn more about why Facebook may end up being more important to us than we realise check out Facebook’s new face by David Kirkpatrick. If you want to join me in Facebook you will find me as Sue Waters.

Thankfully a couple of my students that are into Facebook are trying to educate me. Sorry to all my friends in Facebook who are receiving invites but my students keep sharing Facebook applications – if they find them cool they must be?

Final thought

Lets hope the people who I follow (Sean, Darren, Kathryn, Vicki, Kate, Jacinta, Stephen) that are using these applications are actually getting them …. because I am hoping that the Wisdom of Crowds is going to help me here.

Maybe I just Got TWITTER hehehe

Just wrote a message in Twitter about “Writing a blog post about trying to get Twitter and Facebook”. Kate instantly sent the following message back to Twitter which was delivered to my GoogleTalk before I have even finished the post. Her was her twitter back.


My answer is I have no idea. I could not get it working initially either. I know I installed two versions of Twitter application into Facebook by accident. One works and one doesn’t. It was also annoying me that Sean could easily post from Facebook into Twitter and I couldn’t.