My initial connections with social networking were, well, social in nature. I used MySpace to post songs I had written and recorded, and then started using Facebook for posting my thoughts and sharing what was going on in my life. I post YouTube videos as a marketing tool for my guitar building hobby. But through it all, I never really considered the potential of social networking for educational applications. Part of the reason might have been that I've just come off of an extended run of unemployment, and before that I was in a teaching situation that really didn't lend itself to flexibility in what I did in the classroom. Still, the truth is I didn't think about things like building a PLN or open classrooms and the like.
Now, of course, as a MET student, I think about it all the time, and as I have said on a number of occasions, the possibilities seem limitless. How does one find the social networking sites that serve them best? That is the real conundrum. Sometimes you have to dig through a lot of manure to find the pretty pony.
Among the new social networks I have tried in the last week are two, Classroom 2.0 (classroom20.com) and English Companion (englishcompanion.ning.com), that brought me to the conclusion that you have to hunt for the network that works best for you.
Classroom 2.0 has a lot to offer, but my experience on their site left me feeling disoriented and unfulfilled. It features member pages, forums, groups, and a large archive of podcasts and video from the worldwide virtual conferences it sponsors. It seemed promising at first, but the more I tried to interface with the various offerings, the more I ran into technical difficulties. I had to download Blackboard Collaborate to stream videos, and that was unsuccessful. I found myself chasing from one site to another in a chain of links, each one requiring an additional sign up for membership. And often groups I thought I might find informative were very small and limited or intended only for individuals who were enrolled in a specific course at a specific school. Overall, I came to realize that, while Classroom 2.0 might be an ideal social network for some educators, it wasn't my cup of tea.
When I came to English Companion, I felt like I was home at last. I majored in English and taught high school English and Theatre for several years. I am presently on the staff of a writing lab at a community college, where I help students improve their writing skills and learn to write research papers. At English Companion, everywhere I turned I found information, discussions, and educators who were focused on the same things I am. The groups were much larger than those I saw at Classroom 2.0, and they were specifically aligned to areas that I found interesting and engaging. Groups like "Teaching with Technology," "College Developmental English," and "College Freshman Composition" truly met my needs. They were also easy to access and gave me valuable connections to people who had the experience and skill set to help me. What a great place for me to grow my PLN!
It seems pretty obvious in hindsight, but I don't think I fully realized it until I started digging deep; not every social network is going to be suitable for every educator. Don't be discouraged by the sites that aren't a good fit for you. Keep looking. With all the variety out there, you will find your corner of the digital sky.