Rethinking My PLN

Three recent posts by members of my PLN have had me thinking. First, in September, Mark Schaefer pricked my heart g in his post “Social Media and the Big Conversation Fail.” (That post led to a cool Skype conversation with Mark.) Then, William Chamberlain posted “EdCampKC: A Rather Painful Reflection” in which he revealed his pain that his online connections are not a meaningful substitute for the face-to-face relationships he needs in his building every day. Finally, Hadley Ferguson wrote in “Why We Go to Conferences” about the need to solidify online connections by spending real, quantity time in each other’s physical presence. These posts struck a chord deep within me, and I’ve been stewing over them for some time now.

For the past year I have worked hard at developing an online presence and connecting with other educators online. I have built a personal learning network (both digitally and face-to-face) of folks that have become quite dear to me. Some are here in Memphis and West Tennessee while others are scattered around the globe. I have done this mostly through web 2.0 technologies and a handful of conferences, face-to-face meetings, and Skype phone calls. Most of these folks are professional educators, but not everyone is. My knowledge has grown exponentially and hopefully my practice has improved as well. The number of connections in my network has grown tremendously as well – a situation that is both a blessing and a curse.

What I long for is genuine connection and friendship within my network. I don’t have a personal need for lots of close friends, but admittedly I long for close friendships. I want to connect with educators around the world, but I want several of those connections to be real, primary connections. I want to know and be known in my network not just as a professional, but also as a real friend. I also want to be faithful in my relationships with my family and my off-line friends. So, I’m making some decisions about what I want to do with all of this, and I think I’m going to take a step back.

At one point I subscribed to almost 250 different blog feeds in my RSS. It was a lot of good stuff, but keeping up and reading that many feeds became oppressive. In trying to consume that much information, I wasn’t able to slow down, reflect, and comment on what I was reading. I also found myself spending way more time-consuming than creating. I want that to change. So, over the past few days I’ve unsubscribed from a lot of great blogs. I’m sure I’ll miss out on some great learning and conversations, and I’ll still check in occasionally, but those posts won’t be in my reader waiting for me when I log in. Instead, I want to spend more of my screen time reflecting and commenting on those subscribed blogs and to those individuals with whom I have connected. My goal isn’t to become a snob, but more to make a deeper connection with a few. If someone reaches out, I’ll still reach back in the hope of making a meaningful friendship.

I plan to take a similar approach to Twitter. If you know me, you know I believe in growing my digital PLN. I follow lots of educators and a smattering of people in other professional fields that interest me. I also like to connect online with members of my local community. I’ve met some incredible, fellow Memphians just by following them on Twitter. Having said that, my Twitter feed has become quite noisy with all the folks following me and my willingness to follow people back. (I don’t follow everyone back, but if I believe you might add value to my learning or I can add value to yours–you’re in. If you’re selling something, you’re ignored. Spammers always get blocked.) My new approach will be to establish a micro-PLN feed through a Twitter list or a Tweetdeck group. I plan to work hard to get to know those I include on a deeper level. My goal isn’t to be exclusive (I’m sure I’ll continuously add and subtract from the list) but to focus my energy on building real friendships where I can. I want to chat, call, and Skype with these folks, make plans to meet at conferences, and get to know them beyond their online personas.

I want to do more writing, so I am setting a short-term goal of averaging two posts a week from now until the end of the year – 12 posts, starting with this one. I’ll still do the occasional In Retro Cite from Diigo, but those don’t count toward this goal. I’ll also continue to share things on my Posterous, but I’m not counting those either.

As for my face-to-face learning network, I’m going to be intentional in those relationships as well. I want to spend more meaningful time with my wife and kids and more focused time with my friends. I’m going to try to silence the smartphone and be fully present in those moments. I also plan to write some personal notes to my co-workers, make a few phone calls, and line up to some gatherings with local friends. Who knows? Maybe we will even have a holiday party this year.

In conversing with Hadley after her post, we talked about the idea of a PLN road trip, and I invited her to Memphis to spend some time and see where I live. I’d really love something like that to happen. I’d love to introduce her to my family, to show off my school, and to tour her around town. I’d  love to deepen that connection and others, as well. (Let me know if you’re interested in a trip to visit and see Graceland, Stax, or the Civil Rights Museum.)

In my former life as a youth minister, I learned that quality relationships only happen through quantity time. I guess it’s time I prioritized mine.

Any thoughts? Do you long for deeper connections? How are you solidifying your face-to-face and online relationships? What are you doing to grow closer to other members of your network? What do you think of my plans? Feedback is always appreciated.

8 comments

  1. Jabiz Raisdana (Intrepid Teacher)

    It’s funny that we should “meet” right around the same time we both decided to go for quality over quantity when it comes to PLN relationships. I can’t count how many times, in the past, where I would dread going through my RSS feed only to delete sometimes hundreds of posts by people I was “supposed” t be reading. Not only was I not learning anything, I began to dislike the process of reading blogs at all. I rarely commented, because I was not really involved in conversations, but rather skimming.

    I have since realized that I have a core group of people who are slowly becoming friends. They are people who I admire greatly and who I enjoy reading. While we have similar interests and educational philosophies we keep each other on our toes.

    Like you, I have decided to comment more often and try to promote their work, but linking to their blogs or by RT their Tweets. In the last few months my PLN feels much more personal, and I am getting much better feedback on my own work. In short, it feels like a small community is building. For me this is after three years of work. It is a pleasure for me to read my RSS now, because I know the voices I will find speak to me.

    I appreciate your comments on my blog and look forward to seeing where our relationship goes. We have a lot in common, but I am sure we are different in many ways, curious to see how those differences play out.

  2. John Spencer

    I’ve never been able to strike that balance well. I read your blog posts and occasionally tweet to you, but I would certainly miss you if you were out of my PLN. Being more introverted, I’ve never had a hard time keeping space, perhaps even big space, between most people online, but still preferring to connect when people write blog posts. My blogging and perhaps even my tweets might seem too insular, local, introverted or whatever. But I still need to connect. All of that to say that as you cut down your PLN numbers, I hope I make the cut. If not, I understand.

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  4. Philip Cummings

    @Jabiz – I have really enjoyed your blog and also look forward to discovering where our differences lie. By the way, did you ever finish Freedom? I’ve still got a little way to go, but I definitely want to discuss it when I finish.

    @John – Among all the things I have read in the past year or so, your writings have resonated within me the most. Your blog (and books) has connected with the teacher in me much the way Blue Like Jazz connected with the disciple in me. Honestly, I felt a little like your cyber-stalker until Jabiz recently took up the role. :0) Someday, I plan to make it to Phoenix, and then, I hope we will be able to meet and talk teaching, family, and faith.

  5. hadleyjf

    Philip,
    I truly believe that we, with Jabiz and John, are heading in the right direction. As we deepen our relationships, we will be challenged and encouraged to grow in ways that don’t happen with casual interactions. I am looking forward to the journey online, and hopefully in person this summer!

    Happy Thanksgiving!