Apr 9, 2011

Creating an Alternative Education PLN

This past week I attended the Iowa Association of Alternative Education's annual state conference. Like every conference, a lot of information was presented and it is the job of all attendees to sort through the information to decide what is useful.  David Warlick (@dwarlick on Twitter) described 21st century literacy as a process that involves more than reading and writing--it is the process of asking questions and sorting through vast amounts of information. As a teacher, I am constantly bombarded with information, but the most valuable information doesn't come from websites, textbooks, or news stories; it comes from my colleagues!

Because there is so much value in networking with other alternative educators, our conference planned for one room to be dedicated to the sharing of ideas in a roundtable format. As an earlier post mentions, I am interested in starting up and Alternative Education PLN on Twitter, but I haven't had much luck in finding many alternative educators on Twitter! The IAAE conference was the perfect opportunity to help my colleagues learn the value of Twitter as a resource. There is no longer a need to wait until next year's conference to get new ideas about lesson plans, ask for feedback on strategies, or to ask questions about how other educators are doing things. We can do all of that and more instantly--on Twitter!

But how do I get my colleagues to learn about the power of Twitter? I tried to spread the word at the IAAE State Conference by facilitating the technology roundtable. Conference attendees came in and sat at laptops. They directed their own learning (much in the same way they teach their students!) and asked for help if they needed it. Below is the document I used to get them started. Please feel free to share it--comment if you want me to send you a link to the original Google Doc so that you can edit it for your own purposes. Spread the word to your Alternative Education colleagues...let's get an #AltEd PLN started!

PLN Resources for Alternative Educators
If you’re on Facebook, then you know how amazing it is to connect with old friends and chat with family members who live far away. What if you could have the same kinds of chats with colleagues in alternative education? Many alternative educators feel isolated. Many of us work in rural one-room school houses or in small schools with very few colleagues. Many of us love what we do, but don’t feel that we have colleagues nearby who really understand what our jobs are like. Through the Internet, we can join together! Here are some ways to start a Professional Learning Network (PLN) for Alternative Educators!
Some rights reserved by Brajeshwar from flickr

Twitter: twitter.com
Have brief chats, post links to news articles, and meet new colleagues on Twitter!

Hashtags for Alternative Educators on Twitter:
#AltEd #atrisk #edchat #education #IowaEd #IowaSchools #IAAE

Apps that make Twitter easy (on Android, iPhone, or computer):

tweetdeck: allows you to create a home column for your Twitter feed and additional columns with Twitter filters for specific hashtags (conversations). Also allows you to view your Facebook wall in the same app! www.tweetdeck.com/

HootSuite: like tweetdeck, HootSuite allows you to monitor multiple platforms and keywords at once. You can also schedule tweets to be posted at a later date and track your followers. hootsuite.com/

To post links, you’ll need a URL shortener. These services take long web addresses and shorten them so that they fit in a 140 character tweet! Here are some suggestions:

Need help? Check out Sue Waters’ helpful blogs at http://theedublogger.com/tag/twitter/  She has information about Twitter, how to set up a blog, and how to set up/use Skype in your classroom. Still stuck? You can DM (direct message) me on Twitter @jenmardunc, contact me on my blog jenmardunc.blogspot.com, or ask for my business card so that you can email me directly.  Be sure to use the #IAAE hashtag so that I know you are from the IAAE conference!

3 public sites for blogging
Blogger.com is Google’s blog engine
WordPress.com is favored by many (including our new Department of Education chief, Jason Glass! Visit his blog at http://educationelements.wordpress.com/about-jason-glass/)
Tumblr is another blog hosting platform

There are other blog platforms specifically for educators and their students
edublogs.org is specifically for educational purposes. It is a “safe” space for students to blog because only other students and teachers are a part of the blog system.

For help on how to start a blog, visit this WikiHow site  http://www.wikihow.com/Start-a-Blog
Need help deciding which blogging platform to use? See this comparison in Google Docs or type in this shortened version of the link http://bit.ly/gX7CTX

Examples of blogs

There are many, many more blogs! To find them, do a Google Blog Search by going to http://blogsearch.google.com

If you find some blogs you want to follow, you can usually do so in a few ways:
1. Use your Twitter handle to log in and follow (if the blog allows
2. Use your Google Account to log in and follow
3. Use an RSS feeder, like Google Reader. www.reader.google.com

You can set up Google Reader to “feed” you news stories from websites and blogs all over the world! News reader/feeder apps let you customize your own “newspaper” each day. Want to read about alternative education around the world? Search for the phrase “alternative education” in the Google Reader search page and subscribe to the feed. It will filter out every story with the phrase “alternative education” in it that is posted on the web. Then read away--on your computer or on your SmartPhone.
What does all of this look like in an alternative classroom? Here is the blog I created for use in my classroom this year. Feel free to visit and/or borrow anything on our blog: http://ndaltschool.blogspot.com  

Links to blogs created by alternative students are at the bottom of the page.


  1. What a great resource and idea. Have you ever used Twellow? www.twellow.com It's like the Yellow Pages for Twitter where you can search tweeps using key words.You are a dedicated educator. Love this. Where there's a will there's a way.

  2. I just clicked on Twellow and am sorting through the results of my search for "alternative education." I got 33 hits! I will sort through them and keep looking. My colleagues in IA have not been enthusiastic about Twitter, worry about privacy issues on FB, and are slow to accept the organizational blog I started instead of our quarterly newsletter. Someone just suggested we get them all on Google+ because it seems more straightforward. We'll see! I plan to keep presenting on how to use social media, and pushing for more professional interaction with colleagues from all over the world. Thanks for reading :)

  3. http://howtostartablog101.org is great alternative for the wikihow article. Hope that helps


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