Community Conversations and Personal Learning Networks

Simultaneously published at the ESRI Education Community Blog with thanks to Dr.  Tom Baker, Education Manager, ESRI Inc.

Many people working in the cross-disciplinary field of GIS education may have few co-workers in their organization that they can learn from, brainstorm ideas, or even just “talk shop”.  They may be looking for ways that they can keep up with the latest trends, opinions, and best practices.  A great way to do this is through social media, which allow you to become connected with others who share your interests, resulting in the building of a community around those interests.

The key to community building is to make direct, personal connections with those that have shared interests.  Traditionally, this was done by attending formal meetings and conferences.  However, social media, such as Twitter, have allowed quantum leaps to be made in finding and making these connections.  With searching and filtering, it is easy to quickly find people who share your professional interests.  Once you have found even a few people, by looking at who they follow, you can rapidly build a tightly focused list of people that share your interests.  Not only that, but you will be able to read their posts in real time, which is an amazing way to keep abreast of the latest topics and events.  What many people may not realize is that one of the real powers of Twitter is not the 140 character posts themselves, but the links that people share through their tweets.  When you follow a number of people with similar interests, you have access to their collective intellectual activity, where they share information that might be hard for you to find on your own, such as a blog post they found, or a press release, or a new article on something you may find useful.

While sharing links via Twitter is a powerful source of information that you might not otherwise find, engaging in actual conversations with those you follow is a powerful way to create personal connections that you might not otherwise have.  Twitter, and other social media (including writing comments on blogs), can provide immediate and informal access to people that you might not otherwise be able to meet.  The real benefits of social media come when you begin to share your own thoughts, and begin having conversations with others.  You may then find that some of these people will be attending events that you are also going to.  This can lead to the odd but amazing feeling you experience when you finally meet face to face with someone you have been following and interacting with virtually for months or even years.  While it may seem that social media might compete with, or even replace, face-to-face interactions, the actual effect is to make those interactions more likely, more frequent, and richer.  Membership in associations and attending regional meetings and national or international conferences become more rewarding when you know you will find people there you already “know” online.  By leveraging the power of social media, you can create one (or several) personalized communities around any interest.  This can be an effective way to become more connected to others in your field, which can improve your job performance and lead to a more enriching professional experience.

Useful links:

Esri Education Team on Twitter: http://esriurl.com/edtwitter

Esri GIS in Schools at Facebook:  http://facebook.com/schoolGIS