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This guest post was written by Jo Hart who is passionate helping others to use technology with students.   This is post #6 in the “30 Days to a Whole New PLN” challenge!

Now you know what a PLN is, and you’ve started to build your PLN, we’re going to show you how to use a personalised homepage like iGoogle to minimize information overload.

Introduction

Once your PLN starts to “take off” you may well reach the stage where you are just getting “too much information”.

This certainly happened to me!

I started very slowly and deliberately avoided seeking to build a huge Twitter stream or follow masses of blogs. However it didn’t seem to be long before I was beginning to wonder how I could handle all the new “stuff” that I was finding out. The watershed for me was when I started Tweetdeck in the mornings and there were too many overnight tweets for them all to appear in the columns. Then I realised I was going to have to do something about managing not so much the tweets themselves but all of the other flows across my desktop that were resulting from an expanding PLN.

I was very lucky in that I already knew about a good tool for the job, having been introduced to iGoogle as a collection point for lots of inflows by Sue Waters (the Edublogger) at a project start-up workshop, long before I had ever heard of a PLN!

iGoogleDoYou

At that time I got an iGoogle page – played with it bit – but just couldn’t see how I would ever use it “for real”. So when I realised I was hitting the information overload point I dusted off my old iGoogle page extended and refurbished it as a central point – a Personal/Professional Learning Environment where I could collect incoming feeds and access all the parts of my PLN from one place.

Before I go any further I will say as I often do when writing posts – this is my personal “take” on the PLE hub that works for me.

I hope that, whether you choose to use iGoogle or find something else that works better for you, this post will help you to think about managing all that precious information and learning that comes from your PLN.

How to get going with iGoogle as a hub

1. If you already have an iGoogle page you might want to just sign in and skip the rest of this section. Getting an initial iGoogle page is really easy just go to the “Sign in” or “Get started” page.

FirstStepsResize

Creating the basic page really does take only about 30 seconds.

However that basic page will be the “Google take” on what you may like.

The next step is to delete some or all of the “gadgets” and add those of your own choice using “Add gadgets”.

You can also add more pages using “Add a Tab” (dropdown menu from your currently active Tab).

I have done this to make things easier to find as I hate scrolling down very long pages to reach the gadget that I want to use. You can personalise the look of each page in “iGoogle Settings” a drop down from the “gear” symbol in the top right of the screen.

AddingGadgetsResize

Once you have made changes you will at some point need to sign in or sign up in order to save the changes to your page.

2. Trying to get all my PLN strands to meet in one place was quite a big ask, to some extent because of the number of connections but also because of the different types of links and inputs that I wanted to draw together. I see all of these as an interconnected web that can’t really be represented in two dimensions.

PLEResize

This didn’t translate easily into a more linear structure that works on an iGoogle page. However this diagram really helped me get my head around how I could manage all the information inputs and also have other useful gadgets to help me keep track of my life and work. This diagram is a work in progress and will never be complete because my PLN is a dynamic constantly changing entity. Some of my strands don’t have a direct input in the form of feeds into iGoogle,  either because  there isn’t a gadget that enables it or because they themselves are not sufficiently dynamic to need very frequent updates. Where this occurs I have used links. The next addition to my diagram and to my iGoogle will be Google+ which I am currently exploring and hopefully as it is a Google product someone will build a gadget to allow it to feed in.

To transform my PLN inputs into something that I could access through iGoogle I split the strands into three main groups (I have minimised the gadgets in these pics) each of which has a separate page:

a) Things I like to access from my desk (calendar, to do, weather, translation and maps)

iGoogleHomeResize

b) Feeds (gadgets for RSS, Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and news)

iGoogleFeeds

This page is for me the heart of my PLE because all the “live stuff” comes straight here, and this is what mine looked like a few days ago!

FeedsPageResize

c) Links – I have a several link gadgets. Enhanced bookmarks (those I want with one click), Google bookmarks (categorised), My delicious, and Visual bookmarks that I use for Diigo.

iGoogleLinksResize

I have three extra pages for personal interests that are not directly related to teaching and learning.

While iGoogle is not perfect as a PLN/PLE Hub it works well for me at the moment because I can get to everything I want from any computer with Internet access just by logging in to my iGoogle page.

Once you have created your page and added your gadgets the next challenge is of course to make sure that you use it. I go there first thing in the morning and that page then stays open until I shut down the computer and go to bed.

You can make iGoogle your Homepage.

However although I have done so on my laptop I haven’t done this on my home computer and can’t do so at work.

I did need to make a conscious effort to remember to log-in at first but it very soon became as much part of my computer start-up routine as opening my home or work email client.

Conclusion

iGoogle is not the only way I keep up with my PLN but it is a great summariser as it enables me to check everything out all in one place and then choose to move elsewhere to see more.

For example I use Tweetdeck for most of my Twitter interaction because you can just do so many things with it.

In contrast I keep up with blog posts and comments using the Google Reader gadget on iGoogle and almost never accessing Google Reader directly for my RSS feeds. I love this as I can scan a list of titles and authors rather than scrolling through all of the feed contents.

Your Challenge

Choose one or more challenge activities and complete it/them. Give yourself a deadline.  Leave a comment below (or even better write a blog post and link to it from the comment) about what you have done and how you think it will work / is working for you.

  1. Draw your own PLN/PLE web and share it with us
  2. If you already have an iGoogle page and are using it as a PLE ie a hub for your PLN please tell us about how it works for you.
  3. If you already have an iGoogle page but are not using it as a PLN hub then EITHER give it a try and tell us about what you have done and how you think it will work for you, OR tell us why you feel it isn’t the right solution for you
  4. If you already use a different strategy or hub to manage all that information then please tell us what you use / how you do it
  5. If you don’t have an iGoogle page or a way of managing the information flows from your PLN then give it a try:
    • Set up your page or pages
    • Find some gadgets that enable you to gather your PLN strands together
    • Tell us about one or more of the gadgets that you think will be most useful to you
  6. Use iGoogle for three weeks and then let us know:
    • How easy it was to remember to use it and develop the habit of logging in every time you start up your computer
    • Whether you have found it helpful in managing information flows
    • How you might make better use of it to manage information flows from your PLN

Happy PLN’ing we look forward to seeing your posts and comments 🙂

About the Author

Jo Hart is a lecturer in Literacy and Numeracy (with some IT) in the public Vocational Education and Training sector (TAFE) in Western Australia.  She has extensive experience working online with regional and remote students.

She is also the driving force behind the free weekly Edublogs Serendipity and Fine Focus online webinars.

38 Comments

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  1. A PLN is a wonderful thing – a great illustration here in that Mike has already answered your question. The degree of sharing and the access to quick responses that we all now have is fantastic!

  2. Thanks, Jo, for all the info! Just signed up for gmail and iGoogle!

  3. Hi Karen

    I have left a comment for you on your blogpost

    Jo

    • Hi Sarah

      Love your PLN web – bubble.us is really great for those sorts of diagrams I think.

      I have left a longer comment on your blogpost

      Jo

  4. Pingback: PLN Challenge #6: iGoogle & the PLN web | New School ELT

  5. Just a general comment to all of you who have responded so far to this challenge – in a word WOW!

    Fantastic responses – great learning happening! I have learned so much from your comments and posts. I just want to say thank you for your contributions to this challenge and for being part of my PLN. I think I follow all of you oin Twitter but if I don’t then nudge me @JoHart

    I am so looking forward to hearing/seeing how iGoogle and your PLNs in general continue to work and develop for you.

    I am also hoping that others will continue to pick up this challenbge and run with it as you have.

    Jo

  6. Well, I added a new post, but I changed my theme to a two-column format and now most of my images in most of my posts are gone. Whoa. That’s a bummer. So, I’m taking a break. Hopefully if and when you you check out

    http://whatelse.edublogs.org

    the site will work. I’m just going to walk the dog. It was a fun reflection and a day-long task to create iGoogle with all my PLN links. G’Day.

  7. Great post. Hadn’t thought about the access issue–funny as that was a hot topic with my teenagers use of Facebook. Put the rest of my comments on my blog at http://baeten5.edublogs.org

    • Hi baeten5

      Yes the accessing acs can be a problem – I think permitting access inadvertently is one of the main sources of Twitter spam, particularly those sneaky DMs trying to get us to click links.

      I have responded to your other comments on your blog post.

      Jo

  8. First attempt at re-arranged iGoogle Tabbed pages posted at http://mikebetts.edublogs.org/
    I will definately continue to user iGoogle and I am pretty sure it will evlive many more times.

    • Hi Mike

      I have left a comment on your post. I totally agree with you about continuing to evolve, mine changes all the time.

      Jo

  9. Hi Jo,

    Thanks for posting this – lots of great ideas here!

    I’ve put social media on the back burner for a while over summer, but & I may pick up on one of the challenge activities when term starts again over here in September.

    One site that I use already which I think is worth a look in relation to challenge activity 4, is Scoop.it.

    I’ve been using Scoop.it for curating interesting articles for a while now, and find that it works very well for me. I blogged about it a couple of months back on my Edtech blog, if anyone is interested in checking it out:

    Scoop.it – Curate Online Resources

    Sue

    • Hi Sue

      I just realised that I somehow missed responding to your comment earlier.

      One of the great things with the challenges is that you can just pick up and do them anytime 🙂

      Thank you for the link, Scoop.it looks like a good way to give students a group of related readings on a topic.

      Hope you have a good break – it seems a long time until our summer break in December!

      Jo

    • Hi Theresa

      I am so pleased that this challenge is generating lots of discussion and activity.

      Your PLN web looks great! I like https://bubbl.us too and use it for planning online course structures etc.

      I have left a proper comment on your post.

      Jo

  10. Pingback: PLN Challenge #6 iGoogle-PLE Hub | CSRN Technology

  11. Jo and all,
    I agree with most of you when I say I’ve had my iGoogle account for six months and haven’t done anything with it except initially choosing some gadgets. Now, I am going to give it three weeks, like you suggest, Jo. I had fun added links, feeds, and my desktop like yours.

    I have an important question that I wonder if anyone can help me with. In the past, I have not been adding the gadgets, add-on programs, and webpages that ask to access my information. I have been in a habit of saying no and getting out of the process when they ask for access to Facebook and others. They say they will send tweets for me, post on my wall, etc.

    Does anyone have any reassurance for me that they are OK? Should we be cautious? How do we decide which gadgets are safe to use? I would like to add Flickr and Twitter to my iGoogle, but when I started to add those gadgets I get a warning from Flickr and Twitter sort of like, “Are you sure you want to do this???”

    Thanks to anyone who can shed light on this for me!
    Denise

    • Hi Denise

      Great that you plan to try the three week idea – I hope it either works for you or gives you ideas about other solutions.

      Brilliant question about the allowing access issue. I’m sure this is one that could start a very complex discussion!

      I will share my personal view and also tell you what I do to try and keep my accounts as secure as I can.

      In my opinion we do indeed need to be cautious. However having said that if we want to send updates to our various networks other than directly via their websites we need to allow some degree of permission to the tools we use to do this. For example in addition to my iGoogle gadgets I use TweetDeck and sometimes HootSuite for Twitter, I also update Facebook occasionally through Tweetdeck, and I use SnapTu on my phone. Yes the gadgets will update to your Twitter etc acs but if they have “secure” (in so far as any log-in is secure) log-ins then that is very little different from updating directly to the ac itself.

      1) Check out the gadget as far as possible (website of developer, a search for issues)
      2) I make sure I know how I can revoke the gadget’s access to a network I am permitting a gadget to read or, more importantly, to write to.
      3) I try to be aware of the possiblity of unauthorised access and so to notice anything odd
      4) Take care that I don’t inadvertently choose “stay logged in” or let Windows remember passwords on computers used by others ie at work or on my laptop or phone

      Some of the networks where I have allowed access from gadgets also have a degree of security included in the way they work:

      1) Twitter requires OAuth so that when you sign in to the gadgets you actually do so via your Twitter ac so you don’t enter your password into the gadget itself.
      2) Facebook tells me when there is a login to my account from an unrecognised computer/mobile device

      I’m sure there are other security measures I should be taking and I hope others will join the conversation and share theirs. For me it is a balance between making it so hard to use my networks that I can’t be bothered and retaining a reasonable level of security. Ultimately it comes down to a judgement call for each of us as individuals and in my view the more discussion and debate we have then the better we are able to make an informed decision.

      Jo

      • Wow, thanks for your thoughtful response. I like your reminder that we need to find a balance between convenience and security. Keeping our online world so locked up it becomes unwieldy isn’t effective, but the people who say “Oh, I use the same password for everything” make me shudder.

        Thanks, again, Jo!
        Denise

    • Hi Christy

      I have left a comment about your post on your blog. I love your iGoogle header!

      Jo

  12. Pingback: Information Overload « Berryart's Blog

    • Great to see your post Kathryn. I have left a comment on there for you 🙂

  13. Hi Jo,
    Thank you for the helpful post. I also set up an igoogle account about a year ago and have just started using it this summer based on all the suggestions about google reader and google docs. I have slowly added new gadgets. I love the idea of creating different pages!! I tried to do that but could not figure out how to add a new page. Any help with that would be great.
    THANKS,
    Lisa Stoll

    • Hi Lisa,
      Glad to here you are trying out iGoogle, stick at ti it is well worth it. You can add a new tab by clicking on the arrow next to the name of the current TAB (Home if you only have one and have not renamed it) and select ‘add a tab’ from the list.

      regards

      Mike

      • Hey Mike

        Thank you for answering Lisa’s question. One of the best things about a PLN is all the sharing and helping and getting such quick responses. This is especially so when our PLNs are truly global because there is always someone awake somewhere in the world! 🙂

        Jo

    • Great Lisa,

      A PLN is a wonderful thing – a great illustration here in that Mike has already answered your question. The degree of sharing and the access to quick responses that we all now have is fantastic!

      Looking forward to hearing how the pages work for you.

      Jo

  14. Great Tracey!

    Looking forward to hearing how it goes.

    Interesting how often we all set something up and then it just “sits there” until we need it. I often try something out, can’t quite see how to use it and then come back to it (often much later) and find it incredibly useful.

    Jo

  15. Jo Hart & Edublogs,

    Thanks so very much for this well written challenge! Once upon a time I had created an iGoogle page, but had done nothing with it. I set it up last night and am rather happy to have everything on site.

    I also set up a separate iGoogle for my Google Apps account since it is behind my school district’s domain.

    I’ll come back and let you know my progress. This has been most helpful!

    Kind regards,
    Tracy Watanabe

  16. Hi Jo,

    great post, and I am fullfilling an ambition to be first to post a comment on a challenge!
    I have had iGoogle for a while and use it mainly to see my google reader feeds and today have added the twitter gadget. I have also played around with a few gadgets but not seriously. I like the eway you have set up tabs each with a different focus so that your pages do not get too big. I think I will blog about how mine is now and consider how I can change it for the better.

      • Thank you for the comment Mike! I have taken a look at your post. I wish I could write such neat and succinct posts – I always seem to end up rambling. I left you comment. I am looking forward to your post about how your extra tabs and gadgets go.

        Jo