The Long Strange Trip to my PLN

I’ve always thought of myself as a tech guy when it comes to the classroom.  I’ve been the guy other teachers looked to for everything from trouble shooting VCRs in the beginning to introducing Google Hangouts.  But I was doing a lot of work on my own searching for resources and learning through trial and error.  I was a long way from being a connected educator and, as Jeff Utecht suggests in Reach, figuring out how to get the resources to come to me.

It took a somewhat random series of events for me to actually understand the power of a PLN and begin to establish my own.  Let me take you back a couple of years…

In the beginning I used Twitter to read about sports, news and music.  I was mostly just a lurker. Then I got some replies from a couple of famousish people and started thinking there was some power behind it all.  And then, last year this happened

Screen Shot 2022-01-22 at 2.12.55 PM

(That’s Jimmy Conrad from the USMNT. He came and played in our staff pick up game)

That’s when I realised the power of connectivity and the limitless boundaries of the tool.  I talked a former member of the US World Cup squad into visiting my school.  Maybe there’s some potential here professionally as well.

I then increased my lurking (which is common enough that there is at least some data) to include a few educator chats like #satchat but still rarely chimed in on the conversations.  I just wasn’t sure what to say.  Then I stumbled onto #BFC530 one day during my planning and it took off from there.  It was more than a chat, it was a true community. I was greeted and welcomed each day.  All of a sudden I felt like I had not just a new set of resources, but a new set of friends. The resources that were being shared blew me away.  I mentioned wanting to try out an edCamp here in Ghana and I instantly had access to the entire catalog of planning documents for edCamp Denver.  I was becoming a part of a bigger picture that included teachers and students who already knew the power behind the internet and connected communities.

I enjoyed the sense of being connected and had found a group of like-minded educators to bounce ideas off of and share resources.   Now I wanted to connect with teachers who were working under similar conditions, in similar schools on the same continent.  So I did a little research, asked a couple of related-to-friends-through-Twitter connections, found a little support and became a truly active member of my PLN by starting my own Twitter Chat.

#AfricaEd Header 3#AfricaEd has a small group of educators from international schools across Africa that discuss educational topics every Tuesday and Thursday.  Its been a fantastic, challenging, growth experience.


  1. Jeff Utecht says:

    Love it! Love how everyone has a different story of how and when they found the power of PLNs.

    Love that #AfricaEd is taking off. What a powerful way to connect international educators across a continent that can be so isolating at times.


    1. Ryan Harwood says:

      Thanks Jeff. It is off to a good start. We’re a relatively small group, but we have some good conversations. I hope that it will continue to grow and that others are getting as much out of it as I am.


  2. Leah Bortolin says:

    #AfricaEd is great Ryan. I’ve been lurking on those chats (ha ha) for awhile now. It’s encouraging to hear your story.


    1. Ryan Harwood says:

      Thanks Leah. Its good to know we have some lurkers. Ha! Join in any time you please.


  3. Tanya LeClair says:

    I was just being a true Lurker on the Coetail blogs and I think it’s great that you have started #Africaed. I work in the Middle East and am just getting into the whole PLN thing. Until now I have used social media for mostly personal lurking (sounds weird but i’m comfortable with it), but this is giving me some inspiration. Good on you!


    1. Ryan Harwood says:

      Thanks Tanya. I have certainly done my own share of lurking, still do actually, and still getting used to using that term to refer to what I’m doing and being ok with it. Good luck developing your PLN and join in #AfricaEd if you like. There are a few other people working in the Middle East who join us from time to time.


  4. Brandon Hoover says:

    You’ve really found some excellent personal connections to the power of networking and PLNs, Ryan.

    I always tell those that I train or work with that it’s so much more interesting to get connected if you follow additional areas of interest as you have.

    There’s also power in the real-time ability to connect/engage/lurk. The other day there was a pretty strong earthquake in Manila at 4:30am. It literally woke me out of sleep. It didn’t make the news or TV, but when I grabbed my phone and pulled up Twitter, sure enough there were loads of reports from Filipinos about the event.


    1. Ryan Harwood says:

      I’ve found the same to be true here in Ghana. The power substation literally exploded last year (the whole sky turned blue, it was crazy) and the only info I could find was on Twitter. In Accra, if you don’t listen to the radio all day, and speak Twi, news can be hard to come by. Twitter, and to some extent Facebook, has been great for filling that gap.


      1. Ryan Lenz says:

        It’s good to hear other people have had false starts with PLN’s. Discovering TweetDeck and the idea of following hashtags has been transformative for me.

        By the way, Ryan, I am scared to ask what color the sky was before the power station blew up!?


      2. Ryan Harwood says:

        Yes. TweetDeck makes Twitter so much better. As for the sky, it was night time so it lit up the night sky to blue. I guess that is kind of a key element to the story.


  5. Bradley Evans says:

    Lurking really is an awkward term isn’t it? Its not exactly flattering if used in a different context, but as far as my online life goes, I’ve always been a lurker.

    Your stories are inspiring though, and not just because I coach soccer at my school and I’m jealous about your experience with Jimmy Conrad. I recently made my first foray into using a hashtag for some planning help(#sschat). I didn’t quite get what I was hoping for, but the power of hashtags is becoming more and more apparent. Thanks for sharing!


    1. Ryan Harwood says:

      Yeh, the Jimmy visit was pretty cool. I forgot to mention this part of it. It was a pretty fantastic day for me.


  6. Alexis Snider says:

    I’m also a comfortable lurker, which is how I first saw your post – through my Flipboard feed. Although I have been familiar with, and even joined a few PLNs in the past, I didn’t actively participate, and just like Jeff said in Reach, I grew disinterested in them.

    I think if the PLN is related to something you are passionate about, or something that is applicable to you, you’d be more likely to become an active member. Your story of #AfricaEd is certainly inspiring. I am also in the Middle East (Tanya), in Saudi Arabia and having a PLN geared towards other educators in Gulf region could be a great. Thanks for the inspiration!


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