Developing your own Personal Learning Network (PLN) #edtech

One of the best examples I’ve come across, when looking at how you can utilise social media to form and develop a personal learning network is from my friends Sue Beckingham (@suebecks) and David Walker (@drdjwalker). Their presentation at the TEL-themed SEDA Conference in 2011 on “Using social media to develop your own personal learning network” is one I have referred to before, but surprisingly never blogged about.

Time to put that right – here it is:

We need to think about social media and networks in a way that removes the actual ‘tool’ from the mindset and introduces an ‘ecology’, a system for “enabling a system of people, practices, values and technologies in a particular local environment” (Suter et al, 2005). By thinking in this way we can introduce a ‘reason’ and a ‘purpose’ to it’s use that is not tied to any platform or time, that is able to be flexible and engaging (and easier to understand) so it is more readily available and adopted. Read More …

A new PLN?

I’ve been fascinated by the ideas of a Personal Learning Network (PLN) for ages now, pretty much ever since I first heard about it.

Perhaps this is why Steve Wheeler’s (is that @timbuckteeth or @stevewheeler? But that’s another story) latest blog post made me think long and hard about it again. The images/slides below are from Joyce Seitzinger’s (@catspyjamasnz) “Professional Learning Environment (PLN) model” presented recently in Melbourne, Australia.

Click the images above to read Steve’s original post on the sildes, as presented by Joyce.

It is important to note that the tools listed in the ‘deisgn’ slide are not the recommended tools but rather an indication of what ‘could’ be used, and that you insert your own personal preferences for each segment.

So, what do you think … does it strike a chord for you like it did for me.

PS. here is my PLN that I ‘devised’ back in December 2009:

David Hopkins: PLN

Emergency Rations #EdTechRations

Emergency Rations #EdTechRationsTitleEmergency Rations #EdTechRations: What’s so important we can’t leave it at home?
Editor: David Hopkins
Word count: 50,000
eBook: £4.93 / $6.00 / €5.68
Paperback: £17.50 / $22.50 / €21.00
Publish date: March 2017
Available: Paper and Kindle editions are available March, 2017.

“What’s so important we can’t leave it at home?”

This book is a collection of 43 world leading teachers, academics, influencers, critics and practitioners who have answered the question “have you ever walked out the door to go to work, the shops, the gym, etc. and realised you’d forgotten to pick up your smartphone? And then turned around and gone right back for it?”

Have you ever got half-way to work and panicked about how you’d survive the day without the device (or devices) you rely on so heavily (your smartphone, tablet, USB stick, Moleskine notebook, PowerBar charger, etc.)? Do you have a device you don’t mind being without, for a short time, but others you just can’t bear to be apart from?

That is what I mean by ‘emergency rations’ – the stuff you have with you in your life (personal and/or professional) that you would make the effort to go back and get if you’d forgotten it.

A must for your bookshelf, #EdTechRations from leaders of the #edtech community Click To Tweet

What kit do we carry around with us, as teachers, academics, Learning Technologists, Instructional Designers, managers, administrators, thought leaders, change-agents, etc.? What eventualities do we perceive are going to come our way?

As our lives get more digital and our devices get more diverse and hungry for power, we need to stay connected, topped-up, plugged in or just simply want to prepare for that day when faced with our audience, standing at the lectern and panicking because there is a VGA input taunting you, reminding you that you forgot to ask “I’ll be presenting from my tablet … is that OK?”

Is it best summed up by Bill Thompson’s tweet?

In order to answer this I looked to my network for examples of what we use, like, dislike, discard, etc. on a daily or weekly basis. What do we use at/for work and what do we use for personal use – are there overlaps, are there differences? Do we embrace technology for work but shun it in our private life?

Bringing leaders in education together in one volume this book shows how the likes of Steve Wheeler, Eric Stoller, Sue Beckingham, Jackie Carter, Ryan Tracey, Stephen Heppell, Alec Couros, Jane Bozarth, Bryan Mather, Amy Burvall, Julian Stodd, Jane Secker, and more, encounter this question. This book looks behind the tweets, behind the professional veneer and asks the question:

“What is the technology you find yourself turning around and going home for if you forget it. What can’t leave at home or work, what do you feel naked without? (in your bag, in your pocket, wearable, etc.)?”

Full list of contributors to this unique insight into what leading and respected global educators think about their devices:

Steve Wheeler
David Hopkins
Ian Wilson
Jane Secker
Alec Couros
Sue Beckingham
Sarah Honeychurch
Sarah Knight
José Picardo
Julian Stodd
Nick Overton
Simon Lancaster
Jennifer Jones
Darcy Moore
Jane Bozarth
Stephen Heppell
Maha Bali
Julian Stodd
Sharon Tipton
Kevin Corbett
Joel Mills
Neil Withnell
Jackie Carter
Sam Illingworth
Geoff Barton
Cormac Cahill
Emma King
Eric Stoller
Steve Collis
Matt Lingard
Amy Burvall
Maren Deepwell
Chris Rowell
Bryan Mathers
Joyce Seitzinger
Helen Blunden
James Clay
Wayne Barry
Martin Hawksey
Linda Castañeda
Milena Bobeva
Alex Spiers
Ryan Tracey
Nitin Parmar

Quote/Reviews for #EdTechRations:

Rachel Challen (@RKChallen), Head of the LTSU, School of Arts & Humanities, Nottingham Trent University:

“This is a fabulous book – full of fascinating stories and images of the technology that heroes of the Educational  Technology world hold dear to their hearts.  The chapters show why the authors use what they use and the very obvious deep connection with their ‘self’. If you have ever suspected that technology has the power to add to a way of being then this book well and truly confirms it. Technology for communication, to take and curate notes and even technology to help you not lose the technology can all be found here. I’ve certainly found synergies with my own ‘emergency rations’, some surprises, and definitely some items to go on my own shopping list!
There is something for everyone in this book – enjoy.”

Teresa MacKinnon(@WarwickLanguage), Principal Teaching Fellow (e-learning), School of Modern Languages and Cultures, University of Warwick:

“Reviewing this book was like listening to the personal voices of many friends, most of whom I have met through the #EdTech community. Of course, they cannot live without certain technologies, apps and websites – that much was to be expected. What delighted me was the variety of approaches to their contributions, reflecting the different individuals within this connected community. The pragmatists who admit to relying on sensible shoes and stationery, the competitive types with their heart monitors and cycling accessories, the fashion victims, the style gurus, the lovers, the makers, the artists and poets…all have one thing in common. They thrive in the connections that come with the open web. This collection reveals that if you have a PLN you are unlikely to struggle in an emergency!”

Debbie Baff (@debbaff). Senior Academic Developer, Swansea University:

“What a great idea for a book. Packed full of hidden gems and sneaky peeks into people’s purses, bags and pockets. Not only does this highlight some brilliant uses for technology, each chapter also gives a really good flavour of the person behind the technology.  I found that I related to the various reasoning and logic for inclusion of stuff in people’s #EdTechRations lists. I was familiar with a lot of the gadgets and bits of tech but was also inspired to try some new stuff out. Maybe some of these new things (new to me at least) will be going on my list of #EdTechRations!  What I really liked as well was that you don’t lose sight of the human element amongst all of this technology and that for me is really important. Packed with fab information and really helpful tips about the devices, software and various bits of technological kit (both digital and analogue) that people love to take with them, this book is an absolute pleasure to read. It’s funny, inspiring and informative and is definitely going to be added to my #EdTEchRations of books that I can’t live without (see what I did there ?).”

Derek Moore (@weblearning), Educational Technology Consultant, Weblearning, South Africa:

“It’s been 10 years since my first Tweet. Since then I’ve met and followed dedicated and talented Ed Techies from all over the world. I’ve read musings on Blogger or WordPress, appreciated stunning Flickr and Instagram pics, subscribed to podcasts, laughed at their humour… but strangely never given a thought to the gear required by these prolific peeps as they #workaloud. The #EdTechRations book rectifies this production gap. David [Hopkins] has compiled an interesting backstory to all the kit and gear required to share their online activities. Some have reflected philosophically on how their gear both empowers & enslaves or explored how digital technologies contribute to their capacity. Others have illustrated what rations they have stuffed into their backpacks. Many are surprisingly cautious about new and shiny tech toys. Most have an IOS device. For those who’ve found and followed members of this tribe and retweeted, liked and shared their social publications and profiles, #EdTechRations gives a fascinating insight to the essential tech behind these Ed Techies.”

This book is available to download under a Creative Commons licence (BY-NC-SA 4.0). Further details on how Creative Commons license works on copyrighted materials has been written by Andrés Guadamuz: Publishing a commercial book with Creative Commons.


  • Please consider supporting the project, if you like this free copy, by purchasing a paperback copy for your bookshelf or for your Kindle. These are available from Amazon or CreateSpace (indie publisher), depending on which organisation you’d like to get their cut of the sale.
  • Word-of-mouth and your networks are also how this book and our work will gain a wider audience. Please share on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, your blog, etc. Send emails or private messages to your colleagues, managers, librarians, friends, groups, associations, etc. Let them know.
  • If you wish to share details of the book please link to this page, using this permanent URL – – and not to the file itself. This means the server can accurately track the number of downloads.


So, I’ve heard a little recently about Slack. I’ve heard it’s good for improving communications between and within teams. I’ve heard it’s cut down on the amount of unnecessary or unwanted communications. I’ve also heard that, unless everyone embraces it then it will complicate your working practices and be a huge mistake.

So. what is Slack, and could/should we use it? Slack is ‘team communication for the 21st century‘, or a tool (not an app, although there is an app, and web client, and website) to make you ‘less busy’. Using channels, messages, files, integration with other online systems, etc. this has the potential to de-clutter your working practices, enable a cleaner workflow .. all the stuff that surely we could do with our current systems if we worked at it and used them effectively and efficiently?

So, I ask again. Why Slack? Is this just another tool that, if used badly or half-heartedly, has the potential to make even more of a mess of where we are, than we’ve already made in getting here? Is it that one wonder-tool that we’ve been waiting for to kick us into gear to streamline our efforts, to remove unwanted distractions, and to efficiently work collaboratively?

You know what? I have no idea.

Here are some resources I’ve found, and have found interesting. See what you think:

And these less-than complementary articles too are still worth reading, trying to find a balance in the slack-or-not debate:

Read More …

Networks – establishing and maintaining them

So, how would you provide an insight into creating and maintaining a professional network, in 140 characters? This was a challenge I took up from David Walker this morning.


Actually, once I included Twitter handles of David, Sue, and Sheila, I only had 108 characters left. This is what I said:


Replies both David and I received include, from Sheila MacNeill, “the more you give the more you will receive” and  a PLN “takes time to cultivate but pays huge dividends as a forum for sharing/Q&As” from Sue Beckingham.

I’ve written previously on networks, and how they work for me:

Many of us are aware of our networks and the impact we/they have on others. For some, like me, the network has grown out of no real plan or long-term goal. For others it’s been carefully managed and nurtured to be what it is. Whichever your approach it is fair to say our respected networks are important to us, both personally and professionally. Therefore we must care for it, and how others see us through it, in order to maintain our position in other peoples network. If we don’t do we end up being removed from networks and getting ‘black flagged’ or a bad reputation?

What would you say, to David or anyone else, about how your PLN, your learning network?

Image source: Kristina Alexanderson (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Don’t give it to me unless I can customise it

My first car was a 1993 Rover Mini Cooper 1.3i, in British Racing Green (obviously). I bought it second hand in ’97 from John Cooper Garages (JCG) in West Sussex, and the legendary John Cooper himself handed my the keys (and made my mum a cup of tea while I did the paperwork).

Like so many people who own a Mini it didn’t stay ‘standard’ for very long, as I read through the Mini magazines on the kinds of things I could do to personalise the car. I went to Mini events, like the London-to-Brighton Mini Run and the 40th anniversary party at Silverstone, and looked over the show cars and private cars that were parked up, as well as the stands and auto-jumble traders. I bought the whole set of JCG brushed aluminium door furniture (window winders, door pulls, etc.) and chrome accessories (bling!), as well as doing more mechanical upgrades like vented discs and four-pot calliper for both front and read brakes, and a full-length straight-through (manifold to rear ‘box) DTM-style exhaust system (ooh, that was awesome!).

This was the start of my love affair with tinkering and messing with anything that’s standard to make it personal for what and how I like it.  Read More …

Does your avatar matter?

We all have an avatar on our social network accounts. Some of us took a while before changing the default, others selected one and have stuck to it over the years. But what does your avatar say about you?

For many this was what people remember me on Twitter for, despite the fact he wasn’t my first avatar:

David Hopkins

Remember him?

I used him for about 3 years, and was happy. Scrolling through the status updates made it easy to see and identify tweets or links or shares coming from myself. At the time he was useful as few people used illustrations, favouring more social and personal photos. He was used everywhere, except LinkedIn. For LinkedIn I used a (slightly) more professional, but stylised, B&W photo.

I fought against changing it for quite a long while, against all the posts and articles suggesting I was unprofessional or lacking in integrity or ability to be trusted for not having a ‘proper’ avatar. He is/was my brand, and it was how people knew me and how I’d grown my PLN. I was all too aware of how it could be viewed, and how it could affect how others viewed me, but I am more interested in people judging me for my actions or ability to do my job than how my avatar looked or what shirt I wear. Judge me by my posts, tweets, and what I share, not my avatar or shirts or car I drive.

When we started the BYOD4L (Bring Your Own Device for Learning, January 2014) course I wanted people to actually see me this time, not an illustration, on the course and in the tweet-chats. So, for the duration of the BYOD4L course I changed my Twitter avatar to the same as my LinkedIn one (for no other reason than I liked it):

David Hopkins

But then I realised that I didn’t need or want to hide behind an illustration any more. I kept this avatar for Twitter, and started to update my other social channels to use this one too (SlideShare, Klout,, Google+, etc. After a few months I wanted something a little less obscure and something a little more professional, so I tweaked it and started using this one:

David Hopkins

Same image, but actually showing me, not half of me!

Then, Christmas 2014 I made one final change. It was originally a selfie I took and messed around with in different Apps for colour, blur, etc., but I ended up liking it … and it’s stuck for the last 6 months:

avatar festive

Note: I’ve not mentioned Facebook or avatars that I’ve used. There’s a good reason, I don’t use Facebook for work or my professional activity. I have used many different avatars that often reflect where I’ve been or people I’ve met, as well as using pics of one or both of my boys. I keep my Facebook account separate to my other online activities, this is part of how I choose to use social networks.

For those of you interested, this was my first ever avatar!Muppet

So … what does your avatar say about you? Or, what makes a good avatar?

  • Real photo vs illustration / cartoon: Obviously I’d ignored this advice for many years, and i don’t think it harmed my online persona, but I have had more positive activity and engagements since showing people who I really am.
  • Show yourself: Again I didn’t do this very well, as one avatar only showed half of me, not my full face. It’s also worth noting to avoid obscure angles or facing away from the camera, or looking too far away.
  • Smile? Do avatars of people smiling make you want to find out more about them, or not? Does it matter? Some reports say a smile is better, but it depends on whether you’re a comfortable smiler (I’m not, too many chins!) or a slight smile (see above) is enough.
  • Colour? Does colour matter, are B&W avatars OK? I like the B&W look, it doesn’t bother me, but for some it’s not ‘right’ or ‘professional’ enough.
  • Staged vs natural: I have never liked staged, stock photos, anywhere. While they may suit the contact details on a website, they look out of place on social networks (note, these are social channels, the staged photos are more corporate, and this is why I tend to ignore shares or tweets from corporate looking accounts.
  • Consistency: If you use different channels then help your followers out by using the same avatar across them all. It’s not always possible to use the same account name or handle, which can make finding people difficult, but if the avatar is the same, it’s so much easier!
  • New avatars: Avoid changing your avatar too often, if at all. You’re in the process of building your brand, your outwardly-facing image of yourself (whether it’s as a teacher, cyclist, author, coffee-drinker, etc.) is what people will start to relate to. Change it too often and your audience, your PLN, have to learn how to see your avatar in a crowded twitter-stream all over again!

Quite frankly, does it actually matter? If you’re happy with yourself and how you ‘appear’ online, then surely you choose your avatar to match you.

What about you, what do you look for in people’s avatars?

Image source: Chris Christian (CC BY-SA 2.0)

What makes a good online learning experience?

Is it possible to define the qualities of what makes a good online learning experience, or a good MOOC? Is there a check list we could have pinned to the wall which we could use as we design and build our courses?

Here’s a few items I think the list needs, feel free to add your own ideas in the comments field below:

Presentation: Is the student able to relate to the subject and the presenter / educator? This is not always easy as the platform (Blackboard, Moodle, FutureLearn, Udacity, etc.) often controls how the materials are ‘presented’. Even with these constraints you do have options on designing your materials and laying them out in ways which make them easy to navigate or interact with.  Read More …

How Twitter can be used for informal personal learning?

I joined Twitter in January 2008 and in the last 6 years, 4 months, and 7 days since my first tweet I have made or posted nearly 33,000 tweets! As I highlighted in my post from last year I have found Twitter the single most important source of information, events, research, back-channel, inspiration, and motivation I have ever come across.

Of course it’s not actually Twitter that does this; it’s the individuals I have connected with in those 6 year, from all corners of this wonderful world and from all walks of life and cultures. These people, who I’ve built my Personal Learning Network (PLN) around, have made me laugh, cry, think, reflect, criticise, critique, avoid, seek out, and generally strive to know more about myself.

The great thing is that you/they had no idea they were doing it, or even part of it. That’s because that’s what I use Twitter for. You might use Twitter for something else; running buddies, charity auctions, account complaints, celebrity stalking, coffee-shop cake comparisons. We each have our own version of the same system that offers our own unique answers or destinations.  Read More …