A Tool to Add to Your Reflective Practices Toolkit: "Oh Life"

I've written before about the importance of reflective practice in professional development--the process of reflecting on your development as a professional and recording those thoughts somehow. The problem for most people is that getting in a regular practice of reflecting and recording can be difficult. Developing new habits can be hard, so having a tool to help you along can be invaluable.

So, via TechCrunch and Marianne Lenox, here's a new one to consider adding to your reflective practice arsenal-OhLife. The site pretty much says it all:

  Picture 10

It's an email-based journaling option that will remind you daily about posting with the added bonus of including a random entry you've posted previously. Your nightly email looks like this:


Some advantages for reflective practice:

  • Even if we hate it, we all still check email. Having a daily reminder to think about what you've learned that lands in your inbox each night seems like a good way to start developing the daily practice of reflection. 
  • The daily reminder comes at 8 p.m, so if you're a night person, it's a good time to do it immediately. If you're a morning person, it will be waiting for you when you get up.
  • The random reminder of previous posts can be a great spark to additional learning and reflection--I could see getting a reminder of where I'd been at in a project previously and being able to post on how far I've come. Or if I'd posted on a particular tool or idea but hadn't done anything else with it, the reminder might be enough to get something going again.
  • Posts are archived on the web for easy access from any computer and (presumably) your smart phone. They are also totally private, so you can keep this reflective practice journal just for yourself. 
Seems like a nice option for a learning/reflective practice journal, no?

Liveblogging Stephen Downes on PLEs at Brandon Hall

Stephen_downes_altc_4 PLE is a way of viewing learning on the web--we're not centered on one application.

Stephen's PLE:

  • Store photos (Flickr) and video (Google video)
  • Place to work collaboratively through Google docs.
  • Way to stay up to date (Google Reader)--My note--only 4-5 people in this group of about 40 who use RSS!!!
  • Way to save money on long-distance calls (Skype)
  • Knowing where he's staying before he gets there (Google Maps)
  • Way to draw (Gliffy)

What do PLEs mean for learners--A world full of free learning resources. Three major ways to view

  • Can think of them as a "thing" and "object"--books, content, etc.
  • Can think of them as "events"--class, lecture, etc.
  • Can think of them as flow--stresses experience and pattern recognition. This is how we should be thinking of them.

Living in a world of user-generated content. It's personal, opinionated. It's games, comics, photos, etc.

It's a network of interactions--people linking to, connecting to other people

It's immersive--learning follows you. Learning environment should always be available to you inside other environments.

New roles for students as creators of learning, for teachers as coaches and mentors and for the rest of as as teachers.

Because everyone is hyper-connected and can create create content, can do their work in an open and public way. This open way adds value. A welder videotapes himself welding--that creates live, dynamic learning resources for anyone in the world who is interested. Idea is that everyone, not a select set of trained people, becomes a teacher and a learner.

Web of user-generated content. More interesting than Wikipedia are the billions of pages of how to do things.

Your network becomes the filter--they are the ones who act as editors for you. Structure of web of interactions is what creates the filter. How we construct our web will determine how well we can filter.

Learning becomes a network phenomenon. Learning is immersion of yourself in a community of practice and web of interactions. Web is composed of people who are interested in the same things.

Issues--too much info, too many sources to scan, localization/personalization and relevance.

Network semantics--some kinds of networks are more reliable than others. Some can produce "cascade phenomenon" where everyone is doing the same thing (like spread of disease or a rumor).  If your network is too tightly joined so that everyone can be exposed quickly in a short number of hops, then something can spread very rapidly. Need a network that will slow down the propagation of ideas, that will create communities that give enough time for alternative ideas to spread too. This allows for both to have an equal chance of being represented in the network.

Principles of this kind of network are semantic principles--design of networks that are least likely to create cascade phenomenon but more likely to spread ideas. Right now we have too much connectivity.

Semantic Principle--four elements

  • Each person who has a PLE is autonomous. Chooses own software, making own decisions, etc. (Stephen's PLE--gRSSHopper). Not just a place where you consume content--it's also where you create content. PLE aggregates and stores content so that the learner can create own content.
  • Diversity--Goes against our natural inclination. Typically we're told that "sameness" defines community and collaboration. Strength of network comes not from common identity but from diversity. People are defining own perspective and point of view and then communicating with everyone else. Then a perspective and knowledge emerges as a consequence of those conversations.
  • Connectedness--diversity must be connected and interactive. From web of interactions comes knowledge. Small pieces, loosely joined. The network has the knowledge, not necessarily any one individual.
  • Open--No barriers to joining the network. No division points, etc.

(My note--Wondering if this is way beyond a lot of the people in this room--do they know the individual tools enough to get the concepts?)

Stephen is noting that the different ways that people are organizing themselves online for the Connectivism course (i.e., Moodle, Second Life, Ning, etc.) are impacting the quality of the conversation. On Moodle, where things are very hierarchical, there are a few people dominating "conversation" and stifling most other ideas. Bloggers are more open, diverse, etc. (represent more of the semantic principles)--having more "productive" discussions. No one is dominating the conversation--everyone is heard, everyone has a voice. Stephen sees this as a function of the tool. I wonder if certain kinds of people aren't attracted to different kinds of tools. Which comes first? People selecting a certain tool that supports their behavior or people behaving according to how the tool operates?

PLE is a way for each person to have their own presence in the network--to be a node in the network. It means aggregating, networking, filtering and feeding forward the info to other connections in the network.

Key technologies:

  • Tagging--people choose how they will categorize info and the cumulative effect becomes a diverse, autonomous way of referring to the world.
  • AJAX--way for web page to "talk to server without having to reload itself." Works with JSON to create very tight connections.
  • REST (representational state transfer) way to associate a website with data. Key to mash-ups.
  • Open ID--can share data among different sites.

(My note--I spoke with a woman at lunch from Cisco who said she felt this all missed the mark, was too "big picture" and "academic" for her. I think people were more interested in how to construct and support PLEs, rather than delving into the underlying principles. They seemed to want more concrete information from a practitioner standpoint)

UPDATE--For more on personal learning environments (PLEs), check out this post.

10 Tips for Creating a Personal Learning Plan

Why_2 These are some notes I found in in one of the artist sketch pads I use to capture my off-line ideas (yes, I do work offline). They seem particularly appropriate to share in light of yesterday's post on being a "career untouchable.

Tips for Creating a Personal Learning Plan

1. Reflect on successes, challenges, etc., from the previous year. Also reflect on trends in your industry and/or occupation.

  • What strengths do you want to further develop?
  • What weaknesses do you want to mitigate?
  • What specific skills do you want to work on?

2. Brainstorm some learning goals for the next 6 months. Try using the BHAG approach to goal-setting.

3.  Ask yourself if these goals make you feel excited and energized. If they don't, keep working on them until they do.

4. Look at your list and ask yourself, "If I could only accomplish two things on this list, what would they be?" Put the rest on a "some day" list.

5. What mini goals do you want to set for yourself? Where do you want to be a week from now, a month from now, two months from now, at the end of your learning experience?

6. How do you want to learn? What resources are available to you? Can you connect with other people who are want to learn the same thing? Come up with a preliminary plan for pursuing your learning. Also give yourself permission to change that plan as you go through your project.

7. Set specific concrete tasks for yourself to accomplish every day.

8. Be sure to set aside time to accomplish those tasks. Consider your energy levels and use times of day where you're more alert and engaged. Learning shouldn't be relegated to when you're exhausted.

9. At least once a week review and reflect upon both what you've been learning and your learning plan. Document your reflections somehow--written in a blog post, record audio or video.

10. Use your reflections on your learning plan to change course if necessary. Have you found another topic you want to pursue? Are you finding that you're interest in your topic is waning? Do you need to change tactics? Refine your plan as you go.

It's critical to pursue learning that gets you really excited and energized, particularly when you won't have the "stick" of your boss or someone else requiring you to learn. That, to me, is one of the most important elements of a personal learning plan.

I also think it's important to try to be purposeful in learning. This is something I'm personally struggling with right now as I've fallen into a bit of a "let the learning wash over me" kind of pattern. I'm reading, I'm writing, I'm observing, I'm doing,  but I can't say it's to any particular purpose. That isn't to say that you always need a purpose. Sometimes your learning purpose evolves, rather than being too set at the beginning. But at a minimum I need to be thinking about more questions that I want answers to. Right now I'm letting what I'm reading set the agenda. I need to be clearer about my own questions and how what I'm experiencing leads me to new questions. That's ultimately what a learning plan is--defining for yourself the questions you want answers to and then pursuing learning that helps you both answer those questions and find new ones.

Flickr photo via e-magic

5 Questions to Ask Yourself If You Want to be a "Career Untouchable"

Off_limits_final I've always said there's no such thing as job security. Whether we realize it or not, most of us are essentially independent contractors, working at the whim of our customers, assured of employment only as long as we are able to add value in some way.

This weekend I started thinking about ways to become a "career untouchable."  That is, how do we position ourselves so that we are always providing value to our customers, whether they are an employer or some other kind of customer. I came up with 5 key questions that I think we need to ask ourselves and be able to answer yes to:

1. Am I doing work that I'm passionate about?

Usually this is the work we tend to throw ourselves into and that passion shows. People who are intrinsically motivated tend to far out-perform those who are motivated by external things, such as pay.

2. Am I doing work that plays to my strengths

There's the stuff that we can do, but it's not a strength, and then there's the stuff that we're REALLY good at. We are most likely to be adding value when we're doing work that plays to the things we're strongest in, rather than when we're doing work that isn't where our talents lie. Knowing what we're good at and building our skills to capitalize on those strengths will take us further than building a career on skills that we struggle to develop and maintain. Now Discover Your Strengths is a great resource for doing this.

3. Does my work involve one or more of Dan Pink's six key competencies?

Dan Pink, author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, argues that we've left the Information Age and moved into the Conceptual Age where the key to adding value is by utilizing 6 "right brain" competencies:

  • Design – Design--creating simple, elegant ways of doing things--is difficult to outsource or automate.
  • Story – The ability to construct a compelling narrative
  • Symphony – Seeing relationships between diverse and seemingly separate elements.
  • Empathy – The ability to truly understand where another person is coming from.
  • Play – Good salary and benefits are not enough to keep a team working with you. They must be able to enjoy and have fun at their work.
  • Meaning – Understanding and embracing that people are spiritual beings and when we help people find meaning we are adding value in ways that machines cannot.

(NOTE--You can download a great mindmap of Dan's book here)

4. Am I continually monitoring trends in my field and upgrading my skills to be ahead of the curve?

So many industries and occupations are being transformed by new technologies and new structures. These trends require us to adapt and acquire new skills. If we aren't on top of these trends and doing what we can to develop ourselves, we could easily be left behind. That's why we need to develop a PLE.

5. Have I set up a passive online marketing plan that includes an online portfolio and active management of my reputation
so that I'm communicating a positive personal brand?

To be a career untouchable, we need to keep our options open, both within our organizations and outside of them. We need to be aware of and communicating about our passions, our strengths, the ways we want to develop and add value. Tools like online portfolios, blogs and social networking profiles, (such as on LinkedIn) can help us keep our networks active and our talents out there. They help us establish our personal brands and maintain a positive professional reputation.

Answering yes to these questions suggests that you've positioned yourself well for your future. If you answer "no" to one or more of these, I think it might be time to do some career fine-tuning.

What do you think about these questions? Can you think of others we need to ask in order to make ourselves "untouchable"?

Slow Learning for Fast Times

In a world that's rapidly evolving and changing, I think there's a tendency to want to make our learning match the pace of change. There's a focus on activity and rapid development that intuitively seems to make sense, but that in the end may not actually prepare us well for this new place.

Nancy White has a great slideshow, Thinking About Slow Community (via Beth Kanter), that she blogs more about herehere and here. It's about the value in "slow, small and under-funded" communities (especially online) that got me thinking about the value in "slow learning," particularly in a time when so much of learning is about the communities we form and in which we participate.

Picture_3In this slide, imagine replacing the word "community" with "learning." Isn't this what we need? Learning that:

  • Creates time for connection and relationship (especially since so much of learning is now social, less about content and more about knowing from whom to get information).
  • That stops and notices what is actually happening in the moment. This is the essence of reflection and being a reflective practitioner. It's what Tony Karrer has talked about knowledge workers needing to be able to do in order to change and adapt their practices.
  • Takes time for reflection and self-awareness, both individually and within the larger community context.
  • Not too future-focused because the future is unpredictable.
  • Looks backward to learn from mistakes and successes.

To adequately engage in this kind of learning, though, we need to slow things down some. It feels to me like there's a frenetic pace going on, particularly online, where there's a tendency to chase the next big thing. We leapfrog from idea to idea without necessarily tying things together or really reflecting on where we've been or where we're going.

I think that professional development of the digital variety, using our personal learning environments and networks, has great promise and opportunity. At the same time, our activities online can easily become a focus on activity for its own sake, rather than a path to real learning. We can get so caught up in building an extensive network that we lose sight of the best ways to engage with that network.

We may also forget to really engage with ourselves and our own ideas as we spend so much time reading and reacting to others, we can easily forget who we are and what we believe. We end up engaging in a sort of "group-think" that we're moving too quickly to realize.  This post by Mike Caulfield perfectly captures that dilemma:

What worries me about the modern world is not that amateurs are taking over. It’s that the amateurs might be so soaked in the conventional wisdom of a discipline from a very early point that they won’t bring those needed misreadings to the table that have always fueled progress in the past. That without the silence in between, the conversation will become less varied and meaningful.

Amid all our connectedness and activity, we need to also seek out the silences and the slow times during which our ideas can percolate. Says Nancy,

In the rush to colonize the possibility of community on the internet, with its characteristic speed and fleetness of metaphorical foot, we may have lost sight of the fact that some many of our most precious communities are slow, small and underfunded.

What kind of magic is this? What should we be paying attention to?

Is it time for a “slow community” movement? What would that look like to you? More importantly, how would it make your world a better place?

And I'll add to that--is it time for some slow learning? What would that look like? How might it better serve our purposes?

Social Media and Learning

Picture_1_2 From the slideshow by Neil Perkins, What's Next in Media, via Beth Kanter.

Replace Neil's title with this-Learning 2.0: Workplace Learning Professionals Take on a Broader Role and the word "audience" with "learners" and I think this slide sums up a lot of how social media changes what we do. This is a sort of elaboration on my earlier thoughts about instructional designers and trainers as digital curators that breaks it down into some more discrete kinds of roles.

I would add another role, though--Network weaver. Who you know is now as important--if not more important--than what you know. In a connected world, it's all about finding and making the right kinds of connections and as learning professionals, I think that helping learners weave these connections becomes an important aspect of our jobs. Yes, we still help people find the right content, but we also need to create the environment that helps people find each other and build effective personal learning networks.


Here's another slide from Neil's presentation. Replace the column headers with "Learning 1.0" and "Learning 2.0" and the word "consumer" with "learner," and I think this sums up how the learning space is changing thanks to social media.

It seems to me that when we incorporate social media into learning, the values inherent in that media are going to force us to change our pedagogies. For example, inherent to social media is that space is defined by the learner and the learner is in control. If social media becomes a true part of the learning equation (as is increasingly the case for many people), this means learners creating PLEs and defining their own learning plans and objectives. I suspect that the more we use social media in other areas of life and work, the more it's going to shape our expectations about how we participate in learning. If we're used to participating in two-way conversations and being able to influence our environments, how content will we be to participate in "Learning 1.0" where we're expected to just sit back and absorb what we're being told?

What do you think? Am I off-base or do these things make sense? How do you think social media is shaping learning?

UPDATE--Beth Kanter reminded me of a whole post with resources she did on effective online network weaving.

Using Del.icio.us to Create an Easy, Always Updated Online Portfolio

A few days ago, I was checking out Nine Notable Uses for Social Bookmarking (read the article--there's stuff there you probably haven't considered before) and I was struck by number 6--build an online portfolio.

I personally believe that having an online portfolio is a critical work literacy skill and an important part of an overall online identity management strategy. So back in April I ran a webinar on using free online tools to create an online portfolio. At that time I was focused on creating a very structured, "beautiful"  product, so I covered how to use wikis and blogs to construct a portfolio. However, the problem with that approach is that it requires a lot of work to continually update your portfolio, which means that you're less likely to do it. What you need is a way to easily and quickly add items to your portfolio that fits into work processes you already have set up.

What's intriguing about using social bookmarks (in my case, del.icio.us) to create an online portfolio is that it makes it much easier for me to update on a regular basis. As I create items online--wikis for a training, handouts, blog posts I want to share, Slideshare presentations, etc.--I can simply tag them with "michelemartinportfolio" and they'll automatically show up in my "portfolio" without me having to go through any extra steps of posting them to a wiki or a blog. Since I have del.icio.us integrated into my Firefox browser, all I have to do is right-click on the item, add a note describing it in the Notes section, and then tag it with my portfolio tag. Voila--my portfolio is updated!

Here's how it looks (I need to add more items though):


A couple of other comments on this:

  • When you create a tag, you can also write a 1000 character description of your tag. That's how I created the description of my portfolio that you see at the top.
  • The del.icio.us feature that shows how many other people saved the item acts as a kind of "recommendation" system. Presumably the more people who bookmarked it, the more valuable it is. If I have a lot of items that many people have bookmarked, this indicates that I'm providing some level of quality.
  • If people sign up for the RSS feed to this tag, they can automatically be notified when I add new items to my portfolio. Think about how this could work in a work or classroom environment--you could have staff or students create portfolios by setting up their personal portfolio tag. You could then sign up to their tag feeds and receive automatic updates when items were added. Much easier way to keep track of things.

Although this isn't the prettiest portfolio in the world, I think it might be one of those "good enough" solutions that could have a lot of applications, both at work and for learning. For example, I could see creating an organizational portfolio using the same concept--that's the basic idea behind this "purpose-built" del.icio.us page from Shift Communications. You could also do this on a department or unit level. I'm sure there are other applications for this idea, too.

UPDATE--Here are more detailed written instructions for creating an e-portfolio with del.icio.us.

So what do you think? If you had a del.icio.us portfolio, would you be more likely to update it? And do you think there's value to having something like this?

Ninging It

Conversation Jen of @injenuity is feeling frustrated with Ning:

It pains me to say this, but I am no longer a fan of Ning for community building. It has been a year since I created my first site, a network for moms that has grown to 200 plus members, but I have no time to maintain. The network I created for faculty at my campus plugs along, but isn’t functioning the way a social network naturally should. I feel like my members are trapped! It’s no better than an LMS. . . .

People are distributed everywhere, yet all accessible from anywhere I have connectivity. We don’t need to congregate on a single platform. Everyone knows where to find me. The tool doesn’t matter. We can use whatever tools we like, as long as we take the time to learn more about the people in our network and how best to communicate with them.

Since I'm in the process of considering Ning for some other projects and have had my own experiences with running Ning communities, this got me thinking about when/if Ning is a good idea. What occurred to me is that maybe Ning is better as a sort of "gateway" tool for those who are relatively new to social media, rather than for connecting with those who are more experienced in using Web 2.0 tools.

After you've spent some time functioning with social media, like Jen, you begin to figure out where your contacts are and you'll "meet them" at their blogs, on Twitter, through their del.icio.us tags, etc. Having to go to a single destination like Ning feels limiting and useless because at that point, you've tended to develop a more fluid, connected notion of what it means to network with people online. But as I've said before, we're the exceptions. I think we're a particular kind of user who's comfortable with the more distributed nature of connection online and we've become unconsciously competent in working those networks. For us, our single point of contact is through our RSS feeds, not through a particular website.

This isn't true for most people, though. Power RSS users are still a decided minority and reality is, a LOT of people want and need a single location for accessing information and conversations that interest them. Most people do not have a blog, so the blog function in Ning is a way to help people get started with the idea in a safe environment, surrounded by people who share their interests. Many people don't get the idea of social bookmarking or tagging, so being able to share videos, etc. and tag them in Ning is another way to practice new skills.

Yes, I believe that the tools that exist outside of Ning for these purposes are superior to running them within a Ning community. But the reality is, Ning can also be a good set of "training wheels" for helping people try out some things before they are set loose into the wider Web 2.0 world. For beginners, they can be a great way to get a sense of the possibilities of social media within some kind of bounded arena before launching themselves into signing up with Blogger or getting a Twitter account. I think that this may be one of the reasons that Classroom 2.0 is so active--beside the fact that it's now large enough for the 1% rule to mean there are a ton of people participating, it's also filled with people who are beginning to get their feet wet with social media.

This isn't to say that I don't see issues with running a Ning community. Jen is right when she says that they can require a lot of facilitation, especially in the beginning stages. I also think that they may work best for time-limited purposes (such as planning for a face-to-face event or to facilitate a class) or when the focus is broad enough to invite a range of active participants. They can also work, I think, when used in combination with more traditional tools, like email, to help ease the transition and drive traffic to the site.

I haven't given up on Ning, but I definitely see its limitations. One of those, I think, is that it's probably better suited for "newbies."

What do you think? Are you with Jen in thinking Ning is too limited or do you think that there are times when Ning is the right tool?

Flickr photo via eye2eye.

Announcing the Launch of the Work Literacy Network

Work_literacy_logo Building on my ongoing interest in understanding what it means to be "literate" in the 21st century, as well as my exploration of professional development and personal learning environments using social media tools, I'm pleased to announce a new project I'm working on with Tony Karrer--Work Literacy.

Work Literacy is a network of individuals, companies and organizations who are interested in learning, defining, mentoring, teaching and consulting on the frameworks, skills, methods and tools of modern knowledge work. It's a result of our recognition that knowledge work in the 21st century not only has us using new tools like blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, etc., it's also demanding that we develop new skills to make the most effective use of those tools. What it takes to be a great knowledge worker seems to change almost daily, so we need structures, frameworks and supports that can help us make sense of everything that's coming at us.

We're purposely keeping things loose with Work Literacy as we see the network and its work evolving over time. What we hope to do is generate discussion and ideas that will help us think about what it means to be a literate knowledge worker and the best ways to support and build work literacy for all knowledge workers.  Some very cool and knowledgeable people are already involved, but we want to expand the network to hear from as many individuals, organizations and sectors as possible. If you're involved in knowledge work, then Work Literacy is something for you to check out.

Some ways to Participate:

  • Subscribe
    • RSS Feed for the Work Literacy Blog
    • RSS Feed for an aggregation of related content.
    • You can subscribe by email using the entries in the sidebar to either of these feeds.
  • Point us to resources using the Del.icio.us tag: WorkLiteracy
  • Comment
  • Blog your thoughts.  When you blog, include the term workliteracy or better yet a link to www.workliteracy.com and we’ll do our best to aggregate these posts for access by the community.

I'd also love to hear your thoughts on what kinds of questions and issues we should be discussing and addressing through the network. What skills do you think literate knowledge workers need? What resources would you want to be able to access? What do you think we could be doing to support companies, organizations and individuals in developing work literacy skills for the 21st century? Drop me a line in comments or better yet, head on over to Work Literacy and leave a comment here.

How I Got Started with Social Media

California_dreamin0 Karyn Romeis is wondering how people got started with social media and what it's meant to their professional practice. This is part of her dissertation, which she is actually writing on a wiki--a strategy I think is pretty interesting. So here's my story. . .

I've been online since 1995, participating initially in email listservs and forums. I also dabbled in teaching classes with what we, at the time, called a "virtual office"--a website we set up where people could download class documents, listen to "podcasts" (although they weren't called that then) and discuss issues in forums.

  In October 2004, I became deeply immersed in creating art. (The illustrations here are mine--you can see I was a little angsty then).  I spent a lot of time online looking for techniques and resources and in that process, stumbled upon several artists' blogs. These intrigued me, so I got myself a Blogger blog and started sharing my own art online.

Through that process I got comfortable with the conventions of posting, commenting on other blogs, etc. It was a "no-risk" environment because I blogged anonymously and I was blogging in an area of personal interest, not in the professional realm. I felt little pressure to "produce" daily posts, in part because my posts were based on whether or not I had art to post, which tended to happen in spurts.

Interestingly, I was not at all intimidated by the technology. I had glitches and frustrations, but they were problems to solve, not barriers, and in some ways they drew me in more deeply. I also didn't do a lot of reading about blogging, so what I was learning was through trial and error, without measuring myself against some yardstick of how to run a blog or how it should perform. This was probably a good thing because I felt no pressure and could see each thing I learned about what to do on my blog as a little personal triumph that I'd figured out myself. 

As I continued to blog, my posts began to evolve. I went from simple uploads of art with a commentary on what media I used and the circumstances under which I produced a piece into more contemplative posts on the nature of creativity and how to handle dry spells (which should sound familiar to readers of The Bamboo Project). Blogging became not only a way to share art, but also to reflect on the artistic process.Driven_3 

Fast forward to Summer 2006 when I started The Bamboo Project. Initially I ran the blog with a friend, but eventually I took it over myself. I think one of the first places I landed when I started blogging professionally was at Beth Kanter's blog. This immersed me immediately into a whole new world of Web 2.0 technologies. Within a few weeks, I was into RSS, tagging and all things social media. Within a few months, I had started my first wiki and was blogging almost daily.

I think the next evolution in social media and my professional practice occurred when I wrote about my PLE in April 2007 and began exploring the whole issue of personal learning environments. That's when I first started to get more deliberate about using social media for learning.

Things went to the next level with my participation in the 31 Days to Building a Better Blog Challenge. This was my first major learning experiment. It also connected me to a world-wide community of bloggers from a variety of niches that I've continued to build upon and learn from in ways I never imagined when I first started blogging in 2004. Part of what has happened is that their comments and posts have pushed me to continue to examine my own professional development and practice on a regular basis. When I run out of questions to ask or things to think about, I can always count on my network to push me along.

How0_2I can't even begin to describe how this process has transformed my professional practice. Through it I've met amazing people who have wonderful ideas. But in some ways even more importantly, social media has made me far more reflective and deliberate about ongoing learning. Having a blog has encouraged me to write daily. To do that, I've had to read and research more and interact with the ideas that I'm encountering in order to write my posts. I've become more aware of what I do and why I do it and better at articulating those things for myself and for others.

Social media has made me more experimental, too. I make up projects for myself or join what's going on with other people. I play around with new tools and processes to see how they might work in a number of different settings. I've always been a learner, but I think that social media has made me be a more deliberate learner. Instead of just reading a book or magazine article, I actually interact with what I'm reading and seeing--writing posts, commenting on other people's posts, and creating various projects that allow me to further explore aspects of my profession and various ideas that emerge.

At this point, I can't imagine NOT using social media. Although I burn out from time to time, the benefits far outweigh the problems. Social media has become an integral part of how I do my work and has made me a far better practitioner and thinker in the process.

So that's my story. . . what's yours?