the challenge of writing a blog is figuring out what you care enough about to
write on it regularly.
Expose your passions. So what do you
care about enough to want to share it?
We ask our students to identify and
follow their passions, and we must ask
ourselves the same thing. Just as it is
hard work for them, it is for us. It is
critical, however, that we do this work,
because as we look into ourselves and
share our ideas, we actively engage in
our community. In small towns and
villages, everyone knows not only
your name, but also your family history, your preference in ice cream, as
well as every success and challenge
of your life. We cannot build digital
communities without being willing to
expose some of ourselves to the people with whom we want to connect.
As educators, especially ones who
are teaching our students to express
themselves in a digital world, we need
to do it ourselves. We need to understand the worries that people will not
like our ideas or might write mean
comments on our blog. We have to
experience it to be able to guide our
students through it.
Meet your tweeps at conferences. The
first place I met my Twitter friends or
people whose blogs I had been reading
was at Educon, a conference held in
Philadelphia each January. Trying to
connect living people with the photos
that I carried in my head was discon-
certing and awkward. Sometimes a
person smiled at me across a crowded
room, and I smiled back, trying franti-
cally to put at least a Twitter name to
the smiling face. Sometimes I could,
but even then the conversation—as
soon as it moved past, “So are you
hadleyjf?”—often was different from
any other I have ever had. Here was
someone who I felt I “knew” from
reading tweets or her blog, someone
connected to me. But at the begin-
ning of the conversation, I had no idea
what his voice sounded like or what
her favorite beverage was. Did he
have children? Had she traveled far to
come? Those moments passed quickly,
however, usually with laughter, and the
sense of community deepened. People
I interacted with only in cyberspace be-
gan to take on personalities and depth.
Face-to-face conferences, big and
small, allow us to meet the members
of our village. Make it a goal to attend
one. If you can’t find a global online
conference, Elluminate hosts several
where you can learn and share with
others. Watch for them on Twitter.
Try videoconferencing. Skype is another
tool for building and deepening PLN
connections. At one point, I asked for
help on Twitter with a school project,
and responses came from around the
world. One of the most influential connections for my students was when a female Buddhist priest from Japan Skyped
into my classroom. I had learned of her
from Barbara Sakamoto (@barbsaka)
who had eagerly offered her help for my
Japan unit. Sakamoto not only introduced me to Victoria Yoshimura, but
she also sent Japanese treats to my class
so that my students could experience
some of the food of Japan.
Yoshimura is a British woman who
married a Buddhist priest and then
studied to become one herself. She lives
in a very remote village in the moun-
tains of Japan. I emailed the students’
questions to her and connected on
Skype to prepare for the call. On the
morning of the call, which was 9 p.m.
for her, the students eagerly and re-
spectfully listened and talked with her.
While they might be growing up in a
digital world, the impact of a conversa-
tion with a woman who is living a very
different life from them was not lost.
They were in awe of her work and her
willingness to share with them. Saka-
moto and Yoshimura, because of their
responses to my need, left the realm of
flat photos on a Twitter screen and be-
came true friends and colleagues.
Find “friends” on Facebook. It used to
be that Twitter was for professional
connections and Facebook was for
personal relationships, but it has
become impossible to keep that delineation as I meet and learn with the
members of my PLN. They are my colleagues, and many are becoming my
friends. On Facebook, I learn about
their daily lives.
While the internet allows us to easily connect with people from around
the world, we remain deeply social
creatures, unwilling to simply be flat
type on a computer screen. We want
to build connections that deepen and
enrich all of our lives. We are a village,
working together to survive and flourish in this new digital age.
It’s not just about being online; it’s
about meeting people who will become your friends. It’s about taking
the time to have coffee with them, listen to their triumphs, and share your
challenges. Digital tools are just that:
tools to help with the building. We are
the ones who build the village.
—Hadley J. Ferguson teaches middle school
history at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy in
Philadelphia, USA, and advises the student digital gaming club. She is a Teaching with Primary
Sources mentor adviser for the Library of Congress. Her blog is Middle School Matrix at www.