3 Developing your networks
Whether you’re looking to join a wider community, wanting to find out about best practice, interested in the latest developments in online education, or seeking to share successful techniques and technologies, you may find it valuable to connect with like-minded people by establishing and developing networks.
If you are interested in expanding your work-related networks, this can be done by joining an established community of practice (Krutka et al., 2014). Look around the internet for communities or ‘teaching groups’ (Heinrich, 2015) relating to your own particular niche of education – such as the level at which you teach, the subject you teach, any particular objectives with respect to online learning. It might take some searching to find a few communities that seem like a good fit for you. Join one or several of these and ‘lurk’ – observe the kinds of discussions that happen and decide if they are the sort of thing that would benefit you to ultimately take part in. One of these communities of practice may be the ideal starting point for establishing, or further developing your own research identity, skills and your sense of membership of a community.
For those working in education, there are several services that offer ways to find and connect with academics. One of the most widely used is the social networking site Academia.edu and ResearchGate.net, which have been set up to help academics and researchers engage with each other through sharing publications and facilitating communication. For those working in a school environment, EducatorsConnect.com might be a good place to start., which provides for all kinds of professionals and claims to be ‘the world’s largest professional network on the Internet’ (LinkedIn, 2017). For those working in higher education, more specialised academic-specific social networking services are also available, such as
Another useful way to make contact with like-minded people is to use a microblogging site such as Twitter (Carpenter and Krutka, 2014) or Weibo. These can be fast-flowing rivers of information, much of it irrelevant to you, and, much like crossing that fast-flowing river, if you do not go into it with a clear plan, you risk being swept away. So, when considering using a microblogging site to develop your network, you should follow these steps to ensure you maximise its usefulness to you:
Maximising usefuleness of microblogging
You'll need to identify the tasks you wish to perform:
- gathering information on a particular subject:
make a list of keywords or hashtags that you may wish to search for (hashtags can include phrases and acronyms, but always without spaces, for example #teachingonline, #OpenLearn or #cccotc18.
- following and learning from experts in a particular subject:
list the names of the experts you wish to search for.
- making connections with people in a similar position to yourself:
brainstorm how you might find those people – how will you search for them? You may need to combine some keywords or hashtags into a single search, to enable you to filter out information that is related but not precisely what you are looking for.
- sharing your own work:
identify precisely which items you would like to share, list some keywords and hashtags that might describe your work, and practise creating a short microblogging message of the correct length that describes your work succinctly.
There are of course other tasks you may wish to do as well, such as following particular celebrities or information sources unrelated to your work environment.
If you wish to use Twitter, these instructions could help you to maximise the benefits. If you wish to use a different tool, the principles of the instructions will remain valid, but you will need to alter the method and tools to suit your platform.
- Create an account (on Twitter, or your preferred microblogging site).
- Use your Twitter account to register with Tweetdeck. Tweetdeck is a very good way to make sense of the vast amount of information rushing by on Twitter, and helps you to arrange the information you need in easily managed columns.
- Use the search function in Tweetdeck to generate new columns relating to your keywords or hashtags of interest, or search for experts and follow them – all tweets from accounts that you follow will appear in your Home column in Tweetdeck, in chronological order.
- If you are looking for peers, first find and follow likely individuals – with any luck they will follow you back (it is good Twitter etiquette to follow individuals who follow you). Once you are familiar with one another’s tweets you could then suggest forming a List (a column in your Tweetdeck that gathers together the tweets from your selected individuals, and that others can subscribe to).
- If you want to share your own work, learn from how others do it, observe how they use their tweets, how they ask for feedback or for others to retweet them. You need to have built up a good number of followers before sharing your work, so that their retweets will exponentially increase your reach.
Activity 3 How do you share information with others?
Think about any networks and communities you already belong to (formal and informal). How do these communities share information? What tools do they use? How could they use other channels or media to improve that flow of information?
How could you increase your connections and reach? How might tools like Twitter, Weibo or other social networking sites help you?
Finally, think back to Activity 5 last week (your notes from that activity are displayed in the box below), and build upon your objectives by adding notes about how you might use networks and communities to help you achieve your online teaching objectives.
Again, keep your answers in a safe place, as you will revisit them.
This activity brings forward your plans for teaching online that you have been developing over the previous weeks of this course, and weaves into them your role as a networked teacher. It should help you to identify how you could utilise the networks available to you to inform and improve your online teaching.