Photo on Flickr by Paul Falardeu
Back in 2008 I believed that everyone who had a website was a demi-god. I read a lot of blogs, but it never crossed my mind that I, a mere mortal, should leave a comment. I was a member of a couple of forums, but I lurked. I didn't know I was lurking, I thought keeping silent was the right thing to do since I didn't 'know' anyone and no one had invited me there anyway.
Then in one of the forums where I lurked I saw an ad for Electronic Village Online. There were about a dozen workshops, but the one that caught my eye was called Becoming a Webhead. It read:
"Webheads in Action is a five-year-old community of practice of language teachers worldwide, coordinated by Vance Stevens. We explore Web communication tools and share the best ways of using them in our teaching practices, engage with students in virtual classes, collaborate on projects, and participate in conferences as audience and presenters. This collaboration takes place online, as we are all geographically apart. Would you like to become one of us?"
That last sentence sounded promising. Me becoming a part of an online community! I wanted that. I also wanted my own website, a place where I could share resources and links with my students. Maybe these Webheads could teach me how to create one.
In the introduction to the course they used a lot of words that were unknown to me: synchronous, asynchronous, wiki, podcast... As I was filling in the form to join the workshop, they asked me about the Web 2.0 tools that I had used. Now, what was Web 2.0? It was obviously something I was supposed to know about, so how could I ask? I would just show how ignorant I was. Googling "Web 2.0" never crossed my mind. My mind didn't work like that back then. So, I thought I would just join the group and keep quiet.
If you have ever had any contact with the Webheads, then you'll know that keeping quiet is not an option. I was greeted warmly and pulled into the conversation immediately. The forum was bustling with activity. There were quite a few people who were as ignorant as I was. I decided to learn or perish. I ended up sitting in front of my computer for six hours and loving every moment of it. By the end of the workshop I had my own wiki, my own blog (this one) and I had even created a podcast. After the workshop was finished, I joined the Webheads in Action forum. I belonged.
For at least a year all members of my PLN (Personal Learning Network) came from the Webhead forum. Things changed very gradually. The Webheads had me join Twitter and I met more people there. In January 2009 I read about Sue Waters' 31 Day Blogging Challenge on Twitter. I joined and I met some great new people. In April the same year I joined Problogger's 31DBBB challenge. By that time I knew for sure that my main online activity was going to be blogging so I joined every blogging challenge I could find. I still do that. Challenges give me something to write about and I always meet new people during the challenge. During the 31DBBB I met Karenne Sylvester who soon started BELTFree, a community of TEFL bloggers. Together with the Webheads, BELTFree bloggers became a very important part of my PLN. Although the BELTFree Ning is no longer bustling with activity, the ties have remained. We tweet together and read each other's blogs.
Photo on Flickr by Domiriel
How big is my PLN? I honestly have no idea. There are times when I feel I am all alone online. Then there are times I feel almost overwhelmed. But one thing I do know - they are out there all the time. They can help me find that killer warmer I need, they can teach me how to use that new application everyone is talking about, they can show me a thousand new ways to tell a story or teach some grammar. And if I have a problem or a question to ask, there will always be someone out there to help me.