Monday, June 22, 2015

8 Digital Tools to Enhance Your PLN

Every connected educator needs to find tools to help with search, content delivery, communication, and digital curation. I regularly experiment with different tools to improve my work flow and help me get the most out of my personal learning network (PLN).

The basic foundation of my PLN is Twitter, and so these tools are companions to Twitter and help me get the most out of it. They also help me contribute better content, because I want to learn from my PLN, but I also want to add value and share content that needs to be shared.

Here are 10 tips for leveraging the power of personal and professional learning!

1. Twitter advanced search--Instead of performing a normal Google search, I will often use Twitter to search for information on a particular topic. Google dominates search, and its advanced search features are impressive. But I also really like advanced Twitter search. It has a variety of operators from which to query, and you don't even have to be logged in to Twitter to use it.

Search by Words. In the advanced Twitter search interface, it is possible to be drill-down more precisely to get the results you really desire.

Search by People. I love to search by user. We all have go-to people on Twitter that we really value for the content they contribute. Advanced search allows you to combine your keyword search with a query to specify from, to, or mentioning a specific user account. It's awesome!

Search by Place. I don't use this much, but you can search Tweets that are near a specific location. Dates. This feature is helpful if you know approximately the time-frame of Tweets you are seeking. Other. I don't use these operators much either, but I can see how including retweets might be particularly valuable.

2. Cybraryman search--Here is another alternative to Google search. If you are not already familiar with Jerry Blumengarten, aka Cybraryman, you should be. He is definitely one to follow on Twitter, and he has also cataloged an extensive set of pages on education topics. When I want to see what Jerry has on a subject, I will actually do a Google search, but I will include "Cybraryman" as a search term. For instance, I was looking for information on Project Based learning, so I searched "Cybraryman PBL."

The pages are designed for functionality and simplicity, but they are packed with great links to articles and "mavens," people on Twitter who have demonstrated expertise on a particular topic.

3. Prismatic--Prismatic is a social news app available for Android and iOS. It creates a feed of relevant articles on topics of interest based on categories selected by the user, what you like to read, and your interests on Facebook and Twitter. It is similar to Flipboard or Zite, if you are familiar with those apps. This type of reader app is a must in my opinion. There is just no way to follow all of the blogs or websites that are generating content that might be relevant to me as an educator. Prismatic helps find the best articles, based on my previous reading and my reported interests. It's not perfect, and I might consider trying Flipboard again, but I do often find great articles using it.

4. Nuzzel--Nuzzel is another terrific app for Android and iOS. It also has a great web interface, but I use it mainly on my iPhone. Like Prismatic, Nuzzel is a social-news reader. However, it finds articles for you to read based on what your friends on Facebook or Twitter are sharing. The most popular articles are listed at the top of the feed. This tool makes it very easy for me to monitor the articles being shared by my connections on Twitter. I'm sure it works great on Facebook too, but I didn't even connect my Facebook account since Twitter is the center of my PLN activity.

5. Evernote--Evernote is an incredible tool to store just about any information you want to revisit at a later time. I use Evernote to archive webpages, articles, Tweets, and just about any other information that I want to save. If I want to send something to Evernote, I simply email the link or Tweet to my Evernote upload address. If you go to tools>account info in Evernote, it will list the email address for adding to your notes. Anything you send to the email will be saved in Evernote. From there, the tool is fully searchable and sortable. You can tag posts, or place them is different notebooks. I rely mainly on search to help me find resources I've saved previously.

6. Buffer--I use Buffer to schedule Tweets. While I often tweet ideas immediately when they come to mind, I usually also schedule some posts throughout the day. I want to maintain some presence in my PLN. I've also used Hootsuite and TweetDeck as scheduling tools. You can even cross-post, so one bit of content is shared across multiple social networks. For instance, you could schedule a single post that would go to Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn or others. The one problem with Buffer for power users is that there is a limit to how many Tweets you can schedule. Without upgrading to a paid account, you are limited to 10 scheduled Tweets in your Buffer.

7. TweekDeck--The main purpose I use TweetDeck is for participating in Twitter chats. Chats can be overwhelming when the Tweet-flow is really fast. But TweetDeck helps to manage that. You still don't want to try to read every Tweet as you participate. The great thing about TweetDeck is the ability to sort Twitter feeds into columns that can all be viewed on the same screen. Ashley Hurley (@ashleyhhurley) did a great video on how to use TweetDeck. A complete listing of available education Twitter chats is available here: Cybraryman Twitter Chat Schedule.

8. Twitter Lists--As your PLN grows, your main Twitter stream may be overwhelming to read. You may want to focus in on the Tweets of fewer people that you follow. This is where Twitter lists come to the rescue. I have developed several lists and subscribe to a few others. This method allows me to narrow my stream and increase the chances that I will find content that is helpful and that interests me. I would like to further work on the organization of some of my lists this summer if I get the chance.

8. Twitter lists

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