Naming and Taming your Network

Happy New Year! Time goes by so quickly, and it is difficult to believe that this new blog of mine is now a year old!

I began this blog with the idea that I would use it to capture my reflections and learning while researching, as I commenced an Education Doctorate full time. A year on, I have articulated to a PhD, successfully passed the Confirmation stage of my study, and am now steadily working towards the part of the project that excites me the most – data collection.

One of the tools I will be using for data collection is a PLN Map. You may recall that my research is investigating teachers’ experience of professional learning through online personal learning networks (PLN). Therefore, it makes sense that I ask my participants to visualise their PLN, to provide another way of expressing their understanding of how the network works for them (what they think about it), how they grow, maintain and respond to and beyond their network (their actions) and how interaction and learning through the network makes them feel (their affective experience).

I’ve blogged a little about this before; when I wrote about different ways of describing these networks: PLE or PLN or LMS or OLN and when I reflected on who I am online Digital Me: My Identity Online for ONL161. I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the past few days reading and thinking about the process of mapping one’s PLN, and have come to the conclusion that how our PLN exists can be captured in many different ways.

As I explained in my post on PLEs vs PLNs, while many use these terms interchangeably, it is my interpretation that the PLE is the environment or the landscape in which the PLN exists. However, without the PLE, the PLN could not exist; just as a tree cannot exist without the environment in which it grows. Therefore, in my visualisation, I have combined both tools and connections. I did not wish to identify individual participants, and so I have focused on the areas of learning that I strategically focus on and how I generally use the different tools within the network. Of course, the amazing thing about a PLN is the serendipity and creativity it allows – and so of course I learn about far more than just the topics in my map, and use the tools in many ways other than what I have here. I also use many, many different tools – not just the major ones I have included.

As my research is qualitative, my map is a visualisation – a representation rather than a quantitative networking diagram. It’s about my gut understandings of what my PLN is about. It’s hard to capture; if I had the skills, I’d rather depict it as a 3D animation, always moving, changing and flowing.

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What I hope to learn from viewing others’ PLN maps is not just details about the types of tools they use, the topics they learn about and the ways that they learn from within and beyond the network – but also how different people visualise their PLN. We all understand the experience of this ‘virtual’ learning in different ways, and as it has no physical existence, the way that we visualise and create it within our own mental space may give insightful clues as to how we learn, why we might choose to learn in this way and what makes it different (or similar) to other learning experiences and opportunities.

I’d also like to share some other insights I had into my own online learning which I discovered while creating this map. One of the tools I use the most to interact with my PLN is Twitter. Using Twitter’s own analytics and apps such as Mentionmapp and Tweepsmap I was able to get a pretty good picture of who my Twitter network is and the content of my tweets.

First, I visited my Twitter analytics page – simply sign into your Twitter account, and then go to to see an astonishing array of data; everything from your most popular tweet in the last 30 days to the estimated incomes and preferred TV genres of your followers; an eye opening insight into just how much data these companies gather on everything about us.

A capture of one page from my analytics information on Twitter.


I then requested an archive of my tweets. As I have been using Twitter since 2007, I thought this process would take a couple of days, but in about 20 minutes I received an email with a spreadsheet attached which listed everything I’ve tweeted over the past ten years. Reading back through was an interesting journey through history, but also highlighted the topics that have stayed important to me – even that far back I was tweeting about my PLN!! I took all of these tweets and ran them through a word cloud generator, and here are the results:

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You can see from the words that jump out that I am a big fan of learning and teacher librarians! I can also see a number of conference hashtags (not surprising, as I tweet A LOT when I am at conferences) and quite a few positive words such as awesome, cool, share, thanks and love. I really like this tag cloud. Over ten years,  I can see that I have cultivated a body of tweets that I believe represents who I would like to be, professionally and personally. It is part of an online portfolio that I am proud to share.


Another great discover was through my interactions with the awesome co-founder of Mentionmapp, who discussed with me how the app provides insights into who you have recently interacted with, and, in turn, who they have recently tweeted with.  This is a moving and interactive map, which allows you to see the tweets and profiles of the people mentioned. Very useful for extending your network further!

I explored the geographic locations of my followers using Tweepsmap – which reflects where I have made connections, and was surprised by  just how widely my network is spread:

Finally, for a bit of fun, I explored Tweetails – which gives interesting analytics data as well as whimsical evaluations such as their special nonsensical Twitter roleplaying parlance, which finds me to be a Level 6 Elder Tweet Vampire. More useful information below:

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So exploring and visualising your PLN can lead to interesting insights. What do you do with all of this information?
This is part of network literacy, the post I have been planning on writing for some time, and which I hope to address in the coming weeks.

Until then, I’d love to hear your thoughts – is visualising your PLN something you would find useful? Do you use any great tools to capture this fascinating information? Please share in the comments.

2 thoughts on “Naming and Taming your Network”

  1. Great post! It would certainly be interesting to see how my PLN has changed and evolved over time, since starting out in the library and information science profession over 7 years ago. I would have to take the time to go through the analytics. Your demonstration of different tools are very helpful, thanks!

    1. Thanks Alisa! My PLN has definitely changed over the years in reflection of my changing roles and interests…but some themes have always stayed constant. It’s v.interesting 🙂

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