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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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)
b) Feeds (gadgets for RSS, Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and news)
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Draw your own PLN/PLE web and share it with us
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.