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10 Ways to Build Your Personal Learning Network in Student Affairs

20602510_sDigital technologies are changing nearly every pocket of campus and academic life. Student Affairs administrators must evolve and respond, even altering how they structure their own learning environments.  Online tools may actual solve an ongoing problem in finding professional development funding each year.
In addition to seeking out formal learning through graduate preparation programs and professional development through professional associations, student affairs educators must take control of their own learning through nontraditional and many times online methods for life long education.
This is known as a Personal Learning Network (PLN), making up the connections that one seeks knowledge. Interaction and knowledge sharing are key components, in addition to intentionality.  Those placed in a PLN are connected with the intent that  learning will result.  Many times a positive byproduct is professional networking and personal community building.  The key to this equation is that the learner is central to creating this network and will also contributing content back and sharing throughout the PLN.
Applied to the Student Affairs profession, a graduate student up to a senior vice president can be both contributors of knowledge and developers of networks.  George Siemens and Stephen Downes (2009) referred to this as the theory of Connectivism.  This theory explains learning in a digital age, acknowledging that the learners can acquire knowledge on their own.  Further, despite not personally knowing people in their network or possibly ever meeting them in person, professional development and connections can develop.
Developing a PLN, options are everywhere.  To ensure your network is robust and diverse, it is important to look beyond Higher Education for engagement.  Siemens (2005) explained that making these connections between fields of study, views and ideas is a critical skill.  Look creatively into your own interests to seek blogs, websites and contacts.  Even one topic such as leadership or marketing can be presented in various forms based upon the industry.
Writing about all PLN options would be vast.  For the sake of length and focus, this post will only explore resources that I suggest in building personal learning networks within Student Affairs.  

1.  Twitter 

Twitter is a prime example of how a PLN can be fostered.   Despite only offering users 140 characters, mobile and computer access results in millions of tweets per day.  Because it is an open public community, Gruzd, Takheyev and Wellman (2011) believe Twitter is “a good case to understand how people integrate information and communication technologies to form new social connections collaboration and conversation” (p. 1313).
From weekly chats and conference hashtag backchannels, users can create an environment that meets their learning objectives and fosters a PLN.  A driving force to this interactive platform is called a hashtag, simply composed of the number symbol (#) followed directly by a word or phrase.  The Student Affairs Collective provides more information about #sachat at  Inside Higher Education provides a comprehensive twitter directory that lists relevant education hashtags.
Some of these include:

  • #sachat
  • #satech
  • #edtech
  • #digitaled
  • #edusocmedia
  • #Casesmc
  • #emchat
  • #fachat
  • #salead
  • #WLsalt
  • #sagrad
  • #sadoc
  • #sapro
  • #safit
  • #sareads
  • #advchat

The Twitter student affairs community is active, filled weekly with chats like #sachat and ongoing conversations followed by graduate students through #sagrad or #sadoc.  Research has begun to explore professional use of social media, such as through Twitter in developing your PLN.  Veletsianos (2011) explored higher education scholars activity on Twitter, seeing they share information based upon their research interests, content for class to students, asking for feedback from colleagues, and networking among their professions.  Further, they were establishing a clear brand as seen in their profile descriptions and other social networking sites they use.
Veletsianos conducted another study in 2013, asking what activities and practices arise when researchers and educators use social media.  This study found that even personal sharing was valuable in the academic community.  This was observed through Twitter, where author Veletsianos claims that “It appears that engagement with and sharing about issues unrelated to the profession is a value that is celebrated by this community” (2013, p. 646).  These two studies show the value added of integrating Twitter into building ones personal learning network.
Here is a quick list of chats that I join when I can:

  • #edtechchat     Mondays at 8pm EST
  • #satech               Tuesdays at 1pm EST
  • #sachat               Thursday at 1pm EST
  • #strategycar    Fridays at 3pm EST

I believe in the last few months a few new ongoing chats have popped up including:

  • #SLchat (Student Leaders)       Tuesdays 7pm EST
  • #sagrad (Graduate Students)  Friday February 7pm 1pm EST & Friday February 21st 1pm EST
  • #sadoc (Doctoral Students)     Monthly

2.  Facebook Groups
I enjoy Facebook groups because the sense of a personal and professional community, and the interaction is strong.  It also gives one an opportunity to find others on Facebook that have liked interests, but are not yet formally Facebook ‘friends.’  This also swings the other way, connecting with professionals whom you would choose not to include in your Facebook friend list.  The list below varies from professional to personal related content that could be of interest to a student affairs professional:

3.  LinkedIn Groups
I will admit, LinkedIn is not my go to on my PLN, however some of these groups are very active and could be very fruitful.   Just like a Facebook group, you do not have to be a direct connection with individuals in the group.  This could help in finding new contacts.

 4.  Google+ Communities
This is a growing resource in building your personal learning network.  Groups are popping up every day.   Here are a few communities that I am part of:

5.  YouTube
This is an area I feel that the student affairs profession could take on more aggressively, both in developing content, as well as expanding on current videos.  To get you started, I wrote a piece recommending 10 women to follow on YouTube.  In addition, here are two resources pumping out student affairs/higher education specific content:

6.  Student Affairs Bloggers | #SAwrites
I hope to support the momentum of blogging in the professional of Student Affairs.  I am curating a list on twitter here.  If you are not already on this list, I’d love to add you!  The list below is just a few of those listed on that growing Twitter list!  To give you an idea, here is a handful to start with:

If you are looking for higher education social media/tech related blogging these are my favorite go-to’s:

We need even more writers..  Content should not be withheld or produced until the next regional or national conference.  Also, any graduate or doctoral student should be blogging portions of their work!  It is already written, just make alterations to fit you audience.  Personally, I would also like to see more senior-level student affairs leaders blogging.
7.  Website Collaborations
Growing resources for PLNs are collaborative student affairs websites that have a collection contributors writing.  Created and managed by student affairs professionals themselves, a collaborative spirit fosters as these projects grow and take on addition contributors in guest posts, as well as co-management.  A few examples of these include:

8.  Other Social Media-like Platforms

9.  Organizing Online Content

10.  Keep exploring the concept of Personal Learning Networks with more examples and ideas below:

Remember, developing your personal learning network options are everywhere.  The key is you, seeking out sources that are meaningful to your learning. After exploring these specific student affairs ideas add to your list resources completely outside of higher education.
What is included in your Personal Learning Network for Student Affairs?  Please share in the comments below.  Lets keep learning and growing together!
Follow me on Twitter @josieahlquist
For all content cited on this post, explore {here} for all references used on this blog.

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About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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