Over the past few weeks I’ve been reflecting on the connections I make in a digital world. The main purpose for the reflection was to fulfil a MIS assessment on Online Personal Learning Networks [OPLN] in Dr. Michael Stephens Fall 2012 Transformative Learning & Technology Literacies class. I think that Richardson and Mancabelli’s description of an OPLN as a unique learning environment where ‘we learn what we want or need to learn using the vast resources and people online’ is fitting (2011, p.3). This method of informal learning complements traditional learning and helps us to function better in all aspects of our daily life: at home with family and at work.
What excited me most about creating an OPLN was that I had to figure out what information I needed and where this was going to come from. This was a personal journey that only I could take; I set the direction and the path to follow. I also had to think about how I would curate what I found. Organising the information into one space or place had its benefits: ease of curation, portability and accessibility spring to mind immediately. The end result is more than simply an assessment; it is a practical tool that I can use throughout my career as an academic librarian.
Diving head first into the ocean of information that is ‘the internet’ works for some folk, though I needed something more structured or defined to begin with. As my OPLN was unique to me, I asked myself two questions:
- What are my current information needs both professionally and with my studies?
- With whom, what or where do I need to connect to help me address these needs?
I used the first question to form my goals statement highlighting my main information needs for both groups as below:
Professionally, in my role as a teaching librarian at a New Zealand University, it was important for me to keep informed about:
- Teaching methods/styles that promote information literacy
- Changes affecting the NZ University and academic library environment
- The use of social media tools within the academic library environment
- Professional development opportunities for librarians/information professionals
- Mentors and role models within the library or information profession environment
- Maori information resources and Maori world view
With my studies, and particularly in relation to my research project, it was important for me to keep informed about:
- Trends in digital and emerging technologies both globally and within New Zealand
- Trends in educational learning methods and styles
In categorising my main information needs, the scope of my resources falls broadly into the following four areas:
- Pedagogy (21st century learning, participatory learning)
- Technologies (mobile and emerging)
- Relationships (social media, professional development, mentorship, NZ University and library environments)
- Themes (information literacy, M?ori-focused resources)
Having defined my resources, the next step was to start collecting relevant information. I needed a discovery tool and, though I hadn’t quite realised at the time, I had been using one religiously for the past few months.
My discovery tool of choice: Twitter
It still amuses me, even now, that the majority of information resources that appear on my OPLN were sourced from one tool: Twitter. Yes, Twitter. This would be my answer to the ‘who, what, and where’ question I raised earlier.
I had created a Twitter account in 2009 and my activity between then and mid-2012 consisted of a whopping 40-ish tweets. In hindsight, my use of Twitter and my knowledge of its capabilities were pretty, well, pitiful. In the early stages of the LIBR 281-14 programme, each student was encouraged to create a Twitter account (if they didn’t already have one) and use it as part of the class engagement. We were encouraged to share links to relevant or interesting articles, webpages, and anything else we could find. Within two months of starting the programme, I had tweeted more times than in the previous 3 years! I am thankful we were encouraged to use Twitter as an information discovery tool. It wasn’t until I began putting my OPLN together that I truly understood its value in my personal learning.
What I love most about Twitter is its ability to filter information*. On the suggestion of a work colleague I monitored twitter feeds using first, Tweetdeck, and then secondly, Hootsuite (I actually preferred the first as the interface was more to my liking even though they look similar). Once I found people to follow, and by people I mean librarians, fellow MIS students and educators, I started to get a ‘feel’ for how information is best dispersed through this platform. For me, Twitter is like an index to the internet and is a simple way to conduct an environmental scan on a topic of interest with, dare I say it, minimal effort on my part. Naturally, I had to read any tweets and click through links for myself to see if the information suited my needs. The hard part though, finding the information in the first place, was done by those I followed: brilliant individuals passionate about their interests and wanting to share them with the world.
Interestingly, since using Twitter I’ve noticed it is used in more and more places. I used it myself as an engagement tool within my presentation slides at the LIANZA 2012 Conference. This morning I followed live ‘tweets’ from attendees at the Ascilite2012 Conference in Wellington, New Zealand (about 190km away) using the hashtag search: #ascilite2012. When my classmates post useful links I can find these by searching #transtech. Just moments ago I received this tweet as I was writing:
The link took me to another Ascilite2012 attendee’s collection of notes on ‘Web 2.0 Pedagogy: Mobile Social Media’ and included a number of links to related websites and educator blogs – wow! While it would be great to attend this conference in person, Twitter is definitely my ‘next best thing’.
Going back to the point at hand – I now have my information sources. The next step was to find a tool for curation.
My curation tool of choice: Netvibes
I tossed around the idea of two curation tools: Symbaloo and Netvibes.
I learned about Symbaloo from a classmate’s blog and I was really impressed with the look and feel it had. I experimented with the design online and whilst the interface looked great, I already had an idea of how I wanted my OPLN to look. In my mind it would look similar in format to Tweetdeck but would need to encapsulate all types of information, preferably as live feeds. As luck would have it, Netvibes was mentioned in another classmate’s blog so I gave that a try. I haven’t looked back since.
There are many of wonderful features in Netvibes. First of all, it’s free. Second, it provides enough functionality (for me at least) to successfully curate the types of information sources I wanted to share: websites, blogs, twitter feeds and follows (no surprises there!), videos and links to journal and newspaper articles.
Netvibes allows you to curate your own private and public dashboards and I expect my public OPLN will continually evolve around my topics of interest at any given time. For the new librarian or information professional, the power of connected learning through the development and curation of your own OPLN is empowering. You won’t know what you don’t know until you come across it and an OPLN can help you find things you didn’t even realise you were interested in.
In the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, I am thankful to Dr. Michael Stephens, to my LIBR 281-14 classmates, and to the many individuals who have participated in my online personal learning network.
*IMHO educators and librarians are the best at collecting, filtering and disseminating valuable information in 140 characters or less.
Richardson, W., & Mancabelli, R. (2011). Personal learning networks: Using the power of connections to transform education. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press
Tracy Maniapoto is an Information Services Librarian at Massey University Library in Palmerston North, New Zealand and a distance student studying towards her MIS at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Tracy’s interests include mobile technologies, academic libraries and utilising Twitter to grow her PLN! You can follow her on Twitter @libr4ry_girl