in Professional Development, Reflection, Technology, Web2.0 Tools

Reach by Jeff Utecht – A Review


Reach is especially useful for people new to building a virtual learning network. Jeff Utecht, the author, defines terms and introduces the reader to a variety of tools and experiences in social networking. He does a good job of comparing the recommended tools and showing the connections between them. Jeff recommends particular tools for developing your professional/personal learning network and includes many web links that highlight his use of those tools.  There is no doubt that Jeff is authoritative in this area from his experience in developing his own network, and from his experiences teaching people of the value of professional/personal learning networks and guiding them in creating their own. Get it from lulu.

My Notes and Highlights

  • A person joins a community but creates a network. Networking involves choosing the people that you want to interact with, a personal decision.
  • RSS enables the creation of a PLN outside of the framework of community. This tool lets you aggregate content from a variety of web resources.
  • RSS enables you to set up a system whereby content is delivered to you from websites that you choose to include in your network.
  • “The more you participate, the more you get out of your network.”
  • “Sharing and being active within the community is the first step.”
  • You can start by being a lurker, just watching and learning but this does not build any connection or relationships between you and people in your professional/personal learning network.
  • “Activity= Visibility = Connection opportunity” This is when the true learning occurs.
  • “In order to be a node within a community you must be an active contributor.”
  • “The trick is using your personal learning network in those 5 or 10 minute blocks of time you get in your working day.”
  • Your network gives you the ability to participate in virtual staff rooms.
  • “In order to grow your network you need to be recognized.”
  • “It is like you are applying for a job, but rather in this case you are applying to people’s interest.”
  • “People need to understand who you are, what you do, and what you are about before they will create a connection with you, before they will count you as a node in their own learning network.”
  • “What makes it a network is when you start using the collective intelligence of others to find information, resources, and collaborate on projects.”
  • I use Edublogs with grade 9 students. After introducing it, one student came to see me next class to tell me that he had opened a WordPress account to share his love of creating plastic figurines. He’d gone home and researched blogging platforms and was impressed by the response to WordPress.
  • “Building up a readership when blogging means reading other blogs and leaving comments on blog posts that speak to you.”
  • “There’s no real science to blogging other than to reflect on what you’re learning, be true to thy self, and blog as often as possible.”
  • It is “difficult it is to keep focused on a single abstract topic for stretches of time over several days” when formulating a complex blog post.
  • The amount of time that we have is finite. “We make a choice on how we are going to spend that time.”
  • I practice spending at least 30 minutes during the work day learning from my network. I do not blog in that time as it often takes me longer than that to write a post. (This one’s taken me an hour.) Even with this scheduled time, I feel like there is a backlog and I can’t catch up. Participating in a PLN especially when connections are young takes a lot of time and commitment.
  • “Where a blog is used to build a community around a person’s thoughts and ideas, wikis are used to build communities around content.”
  • “Twitter is more than just updates of what people are doing at any given moment. It is links, information, news, and answers to questions, all in semi-real time.”
  • Jeff advocates using fan pages on Facebook to connect with students instead of “friending” them.
  • “The ability to connect with other professionals around the world, to connect classrooms across oceans, and to be able to video conference for free is simply amazing.”
  • “Skype’s ability to show you what other users are on at that given time allows you to chat, call, or video with people when you need them, or when they need you.”
  • I recently used the screen share feature of Skype from Japan to help a friend in Mauritania edit a web site in yahoo small business web hosting, an environment that I am not familiar with. I don’t usually think of Skype as being part of my learning network but is most definitely is.
  • “Spend some time and find a way to connect your networks together to create one large network that talks to each other the way you want it to on the devices you use the most.”
  • Jeff shares his stages of PLN adoption. I’m not sure where I fit. Maybe I’m close to balanced because it’s my second day in Shanghai and I’m not twitching from my inability to get on Twitter and Facebook. However, I don’t feel like I can keep up with the barrage of new content but I feel that this is okay; I don’t need to know everything because I have great people in my network who I can call on when I need something.
  • “Just remember it’s your network not theirs.”
  • “Look for communities and networks not only online but in the real world as well, and think about the relationships between them.”

Implications/Next steps

  • Use the example of from location 218 to show how to use google reader to collect resources for teaching.
  • Use example of @nzchrissy using Twitter to teach geography and weather to her grade 3 students with teachers.
  • Set up spaces on my Macbook to facilitate more efficient use of my time
  • Customize my Twitter background (tried to once before but didn’t finish) and check that my bio is reflective of my purpose/goal for using Twitter.
  • Check bookmarks in the books for possible further learning.

New Questions/Explorations

  • Explore the idea of personal network of people versus personal network of information. How are they related? There is clearly some overlap.
  • Explore the relationship between PLN and personal branding.
  • Building a personal/professional learning network has a lot in common with personal branding. A key element of both is the importance of representing and sharing your true self to build meaningful connections
  • When relying of social networks for a learning experience in the classroom, how do you know people will respond especially at such a critical point. Is just having followers that you interact with sometimes enough?
  • Some educators are moving from Ning because of their adoption of the freemium model. What are the replacements/additions?
    Are the benefits of Facebook groups enough to open Facebook at my school or can we have the same with existing school structures like wikis and class pages?
  • What are some of the dangers with the cloud computing model? How do associated costs compare with your own storage? What are the benefits/added value?

My final thoughts

Virtual networks are powerful tools for continuous personal development. They can provide a wider range of experiences than those in our local communities. However, the face-to-face, human connections in our local communities provide powerful opportunities to network as well. Based on your character, you may prefer one type of network to another. However, each of them has value. It’s a good idea to take stock of your networks and communities and ensure that you are balanced. So plug into your online networks but don’t forget to build on local ones as well

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