Category Archives: Social media

Participatory learning a prerequisite to 21st century teaching?

This is the introductory section of an article I’m writing for Synergy, the publication of the School Library Association of Victoria.  I’m sharing this section before I consolidate the second, more practical, half of the article. Feedback, ideas and opposing viewpoints are welcome in the comments section of this post.

Photo source: Top Design Mag

Twitter and participatory learning – how relevant are they to teachers and students?

New technologies have created opportunities for participatory learning for students and new, connected ways for teachers to access professional development.  Some of these, such as blogs and wikis, are suitable as learning platforms for students of all ages. Twitter is one of the most powerful tools in terms of instant accessibility to huge numbers of people, but it is one of the most challenging to set up to work effectively. I would suggest that Twitter is a tool most suited to teachers and senior secondary or tertiary students.

The internet has changed the learning environment dramatically. As a result we have changed the way we think about information – how we locate it, how we organise it or remix it, and how we share it.  Wherever we are, whenever we want to, we can use our smartphones to find information because the internet has transformed our phones into powerful and mobile information devices. Furthermore, technological tools have changed how we think and how we interact. An example of this is the texting facility on mobile phones which has been adopted by young people as a dominant way of communicating, frequently replacing the speaking option. Technology does not merely add to existing ways of functioning – it changes our social practices.

Through social media we go a step further to connect to others in a new culture of communicating and learning. Our learning environment may be in a constant state of change but one factor is constant – the fact that learning is now participatory.

As educators, we should be constantly evaluating our teaching methods by asking ourselves what constitutes effective learning in the changing environment of our students and their futures – an environment driven by digital technologies and social media. We have the opportunity to think about innovative approaches to learning and teaching especially when our students’ learning can extend beyond the textbook and classroom.

How motivated we are, as educators, to find new and innovative approaches to teaching will depend on a range of factors – one of which is whether we realise and appreciate the potential of digital technologies for relational learning, for example, when we see opportunities in our daily lives for the connective potential of social media.  When we understand the value of social networks in our own lives, we will be able to translate this potential into the educational environment.

In a recent blog post, What’s in a selfie, Tom Whitby (2014) discusses the recent news about Ellen DeGeneres’ massively retweeted photo of a group of actors at the Oscars to highlight the power of social media, and to urge educators to harness this connective potential.

Well, if you watched the Academy Awards last week, you witnessed the global impact that social media has in the world. Ellen DeGeneres was able to take a picture of a group of actors that, in the first half hour of it being posted, was re-tweeted 700,000 times, which temporarily knocked Twitter off the Internet. It has now become the number one tweet of all time.

Whitby identifies the hashtag as a connective device used extensively by the entertainment and news industries. The hashtag is a simple way to connect users online to a person, event or information, providing an interactive experience for hashtag users. Whitby explains that social media affords a new opportunity for actors and fans to connect with each other in real life. He goes on to say that the news and entertainment industries are taking advantage of this new connection with the public by bombarding them with hashtags for interactive involvement. Finally he questions why educators have not realised the potential of social media in the educational context:

What does any of this have to do with education? The idea that social media gives us a platform to send out information and have people interact with it, or just digest it, would seem to be an idea that would be snapped up and embraced by educators. They are the very people who make a living trying to get folks to get information and interact with it, or just digest it.

According to Whitby, educators could potentially blow DeGeneres’ Twitter statistics right out of the water when you consider the wealth of resources they have to share:

Imagine if every teacher shared just one of their best sources with other educators, who in turn could tweet them out to the tune of 700,000 tweets in a half hour. Everyone would benefit. The idea here is to get educators familiar with the concept of connectedness and its possibilities, so that getting comfortable with social media itself becomes less of an obstacle.

Sharing information and resources is second nature to teacher librarians. Perhaps this is the reason why many of us have been early adopters of social bookmarking and social media, since our roles centre on curating and disseminating information in all its forms across the curriculum, and because these tools provide us with effective ways to connect to other educators and extend our networks. The new connective possibilities make collaborative practice amongst teachers easier than ever before.  Whitby is clear about the urgency of educators moving to a culture of sharing information using social media tools:

Social Media is here to stay. Its form may change, and certainly the applications we use will not remain the same, but the idea of openly exchanging information in whatever forms it is produced is not going away. As educators we can use it or lose it. If we don’t start to understand and use this technology soon, we will lose the opportunity to harness it, because we will be irrelevant. We don’t need social media to teach, as much as we need it to learn.

It is concerning when educators who do not use connective technologies in their private or professional lives turn their backs on innovative educational practices made possible using new technologies. We should not determine our professional practice according to our personal preferences; we must remember that we are educating our students for their future, and we owe it to them to be well versed in the participatory culture of social networks.

Examples of new participatory learning environments include social bookmarking tools such as Diigo and Delicious; online communities such as Facebook groups, Google+ groups and wikis; image based platforms such as Pinterest and Tumblr; magazine-like RSS tools such as Feedly and Flipboard; book-based online communities such as Goodreads, and many more. One of the most powerful social networks used in the field of education is Twitter.

Feeling at home in Twitter

Twitter is not the easiest of social media to understand – in fact it takes time and perseverance to reach the stage where you are convinced of its value.

While trawling back through my blog posts to ascertain how long it took me to feel at home in the Twitter network, I was surprised by how long I had indeed been a Twitter user, and realised that, while it was now second nature for me to tweet daily, it was some time before it began to make sense to me. My archived posts have captured my reactions and reflections which may otherwise have been forgotten.

On 7th November 2008 I wrote about my first impressions of Twitter :

Twitter I’ve only recently added to my online life (told you I was a latecomer), and I still feel like an outsider there, posting the odd tweet in the hope of being heard, of being accepted into a conversation. Mobile computing is not part of my diet yet, and that may change in the future if I reinvent my commitment to the latest technology.

Whereas prior to joining Twitter, my main form of communication and self expression was blogging, things were about to change:

I don’t have that mania for a daily post as perhaps I did in the past. I’ve allowed various social networking and microblogging outlets to soak up a range of smaller spontaneous thoughts.

The hardest part, for me, was to connect to a meaningful network, and that always requires initial hard work and staying power. A little like developing readership and comments for blogs. Once you do that, the rewards are apparent. Previously, I subscribed to a teacher librarian network, ‘oztl_net’, and that worked well for a time, but the advantages of Twitter are the global connection, the updated status which connects to the person in real time, the fantastic stream of links, the fluid conversation.

On 22 December 2008 I discovered the immediacy of Twitter for communicating breaking news:

The first thing Mike Wilson did after surviving the Continental Airlines 737 crash when his plane slid off the runway in Denver was use his mobile phone to update his Twitter community.

A dedicated microblogger or …? Whatever he is, he has now made history as the first person to tweet a plane crash directly after an accident. Twitter might be the up and coming way to communicate after trauma. I think psychologists may eventually decide that sharing directly after a traumatic experience decreases shock or at least somehow alleviates stress.

On 6 March 2009 I recorded my discovery of live tweeting:

Earthquake in Melbourne: Twitter beats breaking news

Sitting on the couch earlier this evening, I felt a strange sensation of moving with the couch, as the bookshelf behind me creaked. Melbourne had experienced a light earthquake. Did it happen or did I imagine it? After a while I tweeted it in the form of a question, hoping to ascertain whether it really happened or not. Sure enough, Twitter exploded with tweets registering similar experiences.

Meanwhile, the TV was on, but no news about an earthquake. Look at ABC newsonline – nothing. Channel 7 Breaking News remained unbroken – just a repeat of the stories that had been broadcast several times already this evening.

Gradually, traditional news providers came on board. Channel 7 finally acknowledged the quake at 10.27 pm. Very slow, considering John Connell had already completed a post about the Melbourne quake from Scotland.

Here it is, and he has an image of the first 18 twitterers – I’m there on the right. I would have been quicker but my laptop was doing its usual slow-loading.

So what does all this have to do with education?

Where Twitter sits in education

The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (2008):

supports the focus on digital learning and identifies the creative and productive use of technology as an indicator of a successful learner (Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, 2008).

The world of digital learning beckons, with opportunities for teachers and students alike to benefit from the opportunities and capabilities a digital world offers. Embracing digital learning is not a choice for students or teachers to consider and adopt – it is the modus operandi; the way we do business.

I think I learn better using technology than just sitting in the classroom and being told what to do because it gives me more flexibility and responsibility. I’m in control of my own learning which enables me to learn how I best learn and get the most out of my learning experience.

International research shows that integrating digital technology into the learning environment can: improve students’ confidence levels, attitudes towards their own learning, behaviour and attendance, promote improved opportunities for students to learn through collaboration and conversation improve connections with the real world and provide access to global communities with expertise and perspectives that can enrich learning.’

Teachers must keep learning

However, it is not just students that need support in this age of digital learning. Some teachers are comfortable in the digital learning space while others are still working to integrate the use of technology into their daily language and behaviours. In an environment where the digital space moves rapidly, teachers are also learners.

Educators who participate in Twitter networks are well placed to support students in the use of relevant digital technologies because the Twitter community shares knowledge, resources and expert advice. Twitter bios often lead to professional blogs, wikis and other online platforms which openly share ideas and units of work.

Students of all ages can learn how to learn in online learning environments such as blogs and wikis, for example, but Twitter is probably more suited to older students. Alexander’s post (February 9) testifies that Twitter is a powerful tool which can be used by more senior students to create and customise their learning network, and that this tool connects learning to a broad network people, as well as individuals who share specific interests. In a fast changing world, we should be aware of how important it is for our students to learn how to learn, so that they are confident players in a changing world .  Unlike the passive consumption of information in the traditional teacher-centred classroom, students using Twitter become proactive in setting up and interacting with their customised networks.

Helen Haste (2009), visiting professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education, ‘claims that new technology tools are altering the ways students interact with the world. In a series of video segments, building on her four decades of research, Haste describes the 21st century student as a collaborative tool user who needs a new brand of competences to thrive within a changing environment.’

Two of the competences described by Haste are agency and responsibility, and finding and sustaining community. She points out that if students are encouraged to function as active agents interacting with their world, they will have to take responsibility for things, thus developing the confidence to deal with whatever comes their way.

She also talks about the competency of finding and sustaining community – managing friends, developing social skills, and managing online communities where they encounter a multiplicity of people, have to deal with strangers, and are involved in the multi-tasking of connecting and interacting. They recognise that they are part of a larger community, beyond their private world.

But how does the idea of students in charge of their learning and learning networks make us feel as educators? Are we also learning how to use social media to connect with a broad community, or do we feel uncomfortable with something which is foreign to us? How should we, as educators, react to evidence that our students are confident players in an arena we may not have stepped into, or in which we feel some uncertainty.

In a time of rapid and constant change, it is my opinion that there is one overriding prerequisite for an educator to thrive, and that is, to possess the mindset of a learner. But do we really need to be connected as educators? Couldn’t we leave that to our students – after all, they have been born into a world where technology is embedded into almost everything they do. Can’t they work it out without us, while we go on with the business of teaching?

I don’t think we can justify ignoring technologies we would rather not engage with. How can we justify turning our backs on the world outside the school walls? As Howard Rheingold (2014)says in his Social Media Literacies Syllabus: High School Level:

There is no doubt that ‘new individual and collaborative skills are emerging’ thanks to new connective technologies. As educators we should practise the use of these and assist students and other teachers to do the same.

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Social Media (Part 1) – guest post by Alexander Sheko

I asked my son, Alexander Sheko, (also known as Sasha) to write a post about how he uses social media for his academic and personal pursuits. He is currently in his second year of Master of Urban Planning at The University of Melbourne, and at the stage where his interest in mindful and pro-active involvement in urban and environmental issues have blended his studies, personal life and work. I have recommended the use of social media to him since his later years in secondary school, so it’s interesting for me to note that his use of Twitter and Facebook have taken off at a time when they could serve a real purpose in connecting him with experts/like-minded people and enabling him to organise and promote forums and events. As a teacher librarian with an interest in social media in education, this observation has confirmed for me that students will appreciate and use social media platforms when there is a real world significance – and this is often problematic in schools where the agenda is more about practising for life rather than experiencing life. If nothing else, I hope this post will help educators reflect on possibilities for real life connections made possible for our students using social media. 

Photo by Alexander Sheko

Social media – especially popular platforms such as Facebook and Twitter – are often characterised as frivolous time-wasters, manifestations of first-world banality and ennui. They are platforms on which to post cat pictures and selfies, the means of production by which we broadcast the minutiae of our lives to nobody in particular, craving likes, follows and other reassurances.

Certainly, they are often seen as counter to productivity, tools of procrastination. We might switch to another tab when a manager or (not so long ago, for me) a parent enters the room. Of course, there is more than a grain of truth in this perception. When attempting to focus on a set task or meet a deadline, it can be unhelpful to have the ping of a Facebook notification providing an excuse for distraction. And unless one is an academic in the field of communication analysing memes as “nuggets of cultural currency”, it is probably less than productive to spend hours looking at Doge, Dolan, Insanity Wolf and the such.

However, as with all tools, the utility of social media is determined by the user and the manner in which they are used. Contrary to the prejudices discussed above, tools such as Facebook and Twitter can be invaluable in finding information (and new sources thereof), sharing and discussing opinions, and making useful connections with others. Over the past year, having begun studying a postgraduate degree and exploring career opportunities, I have been able to use these tools to considerable benefit.

Finding information is perhaps the most basic way that these tools can be used. I often recommend Twitter to those reluctant to use it as a quick way to receive updates and notifications on topics of interest. For example, following a variety of news sources is a good way to get a large number of headlines and snippets of information that can be followed up (perhaps using a service such as Pocket to save articles for future reading), while following cafes and restaurants in the local area can provide updates on changes to menus or opening hours, special events, etc.

Of course, this one-way communication does not fully utilise the interactive nature of social media; however, it often does make use of social media’s networking effects. By following a particular journalist, politician, musician or writer, you are likely to see who they interact with and what information sources they use. You may also get useful recommendations from the social media platform along the lines of “people who liked X may also like Y”. This is a great way to expand your pool of information sources, providing a greater variety of perspectives.

For example, rather than only reading about sustainable transport (an interest and potential career path of mine) through local mainstream media sources such as The Age, Twitter has helped me find sources providing information and opinion from around the world, covering a more diverse range of topics and a broader set of perspectives. (For those interested, I often read The Atlantic Cities, Sustainable Cities Collective, Next City and Co.Exist, as well as blogs such as those of Mikael Colville-Andersen and Brent Toderian). Of course, whatever your interest or profession, finding and following a few key sources and active individuals will start a cascading network effect that will expose you to an increasing array of information and opinion sources.

I’ve talked mostly about Twitter so far, as I’ve found it the most useful platform for finding information in the ways I’ve discussed. Facebook can also be used for this purpose by following pages of organisations of interest (for example, I “like” the Public Transport Users Association page, which often posts articles and other updates on public transport issues in Melbourne). However, I find it is not as useful due to its more dominant use in socialising with people known in “real life” (friends and family). One aspect of Facebook that I do find quite useful, however, is group pages on particular topics that allow for sharing content and discussion.

For example, I often visit Urban Happiness, a group that was started by a professor from the faculty in which I am studying at the University of Melbourne. This is quite a successful group, with 650 members at time of writing, and frequent activity and interaction on urban-related topics, such as architecture, transport, placemaking, design, environment and policy. The group’s members include students (past and present), teaching staff and other interested people. Members are from a range of backgrounds (planning, architecture, landscape architecture, engineering) and include those employed or active in a variety of professions, sectors and locations. This diversity is incredibly useful in exposure to a broad range of information (when people post information that is relevant to their background or expertise), a variety of perspectives (when various people comment and provide their take on material posted by others) and a diverse pool of knowledge that can be accessed (for example, when posting a question to the group page).

I’ve published this despite the fact that it is only a portion of what Sasha had intended to write. When his life is less hectic, I hope to convince him to complete his post, or perhaps take part in an interview-style post. 

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Window to the real world: student reflection and evaluation of their blogging experience (year 9s)

Marc Chagall, The Window

My focus for peer observation (as part of my Professional Learning Practice)  is my collaboration with Nick Fairlie and his 2 Year 9 English classes. Nick asked if I could help him do something different with his students, we decided to try out Posterous as a blogging platform. Readers of previous posts will know that we created a main teachers’ blog which we used for instruction and writing prompts, and the 2 classes of students created their own blogs which we linked to the teachers’ blog.

Our aims for this project:

  • to provide a collaborative and open online platform for student in the hope that an authentic and peer  readership (beyond that of the teacher) would develop an authentic writing voice.
  • to increase student motivation through the dialogue in the commenting section of the blogs as well as through the ownership of the students’ own personalised blogs.
  • to create a community of thinkers and writers across 2 classes by linking all blogs to Nick’s blog
  • to motivate students’ writing through dialogue with a broader and global reading audience
  • to provide opportunity for personal dialogue with Australian authors (Isobelle Carmody and Michael Gerard Bauer)

After blogging with 2 year 9 English classes for a year, it was time to provide students with the opportunity to reflect on and evaluate their experiences. I wrote a post entitled ‘Reflect about your blogging experience’ with a broad range of questions but open response format.

The students responded honestly and thoughtfully. Their reflections were based on a retrospective analysis of their blogging experiences and addressed a wide range of aspects to result in rich analysis and valuable metacognition. In all cases, despite varying degrees of recorded satisfaction with the blogging tasks, students acknowledged an enriching experience including learning they didn’t expect but appreciated.

The mix of personal writing in a public space was challenging, and we expected this. I’ve observed that initial apprehension was replaced by the excitement of being read by an authentic audience including that of peers and also of those from the other side of the world. Students felt increasingly safer in the supported environment with specific guidelines for appropriate and positive online responses and interaction.

It’s interesting that such a competitive and mark-oriented cohort has taken the time to write so much and so well in their own time when nothing was assessed. The comments in the students’ final evaluative post attest to engagement due to factors outside the reward of marks. The community of thinkers and writers which developed allowed students to feel that their writing mattered, and that their personalisation of their space and style enhanced their sense of self. Many students identified the blogs as a highlight of the year’s English classes and hoped to continue blogging next year.

Certainly the experience further developed students’ tolerance of others’ ideas, and pushed them out of the comfort of their own views, often resulting in a wider reading to gain a greater context for their own writing. In some cases students initiated further involvement in online writing and reviewing spaces for their personal satisfaction.

Our aim in this project was explore the possibilities of writing as metacognition, providing opportunities for students to think deeply, question and write honestly – not what they thought the teacher would want to read but as a form of personal consciousness. We were aware of the confronting nature of these tasks but we are also convinced that the outcomes have been even more valuable than expected. Although we focused on metacognition above pure writing exercises, we realised that the writing improved in sophistocation and fluency as a result of the flow of ideas.

In conclusion, this has been a highly motivating and enjoyable experience for us as teachers, and the students’ reflections and evaluations also attest to their enjoyment of the experience. There is always room for improvement, and the students have provided us with ideas for a modified approach for next year. We have been continually impressed with the high quality of thinking and writing overall, as has the global community of readers who have attested to this in their numbers and positive comments.

What follows is a very lengthy detailed description of featured student responses linked to their full posts. (Readers can stop here if they’ve had enough).

In his post, Simon has eloquently expressed the transformative possibilities of an open community of writers enabled by blogging.

“This Posterous adventure has brought a new beginning to my use of the social network. Looking back at the few posts I’ve published to the world, I can see the journey I have taken, but it is not over yet. For all I know, I may not be what I know; there are still some things I haven’t explored. This experience is like one of an engaging classroom; you never want the bell to ring. I have planted precious seeds that are now fully grown evergreen trees. I have the motivation to express my ideas and about myself, even if it is in the blog form. I have discovered new ways to express my word art. I have explored a vast network of shared information. I have discussed controversial issues. I have expressed myself. And now I am here. Reading everyone else’s comments and posts was also a fully rewarding experience. I could grasp the perceptions of things from different angles. I could get more takes on a different item. I could get to know other people. Blogging was a different experience, but it still is an open gate full of opportunity and answers. That’s how amazing it can be. So thank you everyone for staying with me till the end of the year.”

In his post, Krishnak appreciated being able to read what his peers had written:

“Reading other blogs also allowed me to gain a perspective on the opinions of others. What others thought about and what others wrote about opened my eyes to new ideas. The interaction between fellow bloggers allowed us to expand on new ideas and thoughts about life, and also helped me to gain an insight to what people with a different background thought about the same topic.”

In his post, “jialew” reflected on how blogging improved his writing:

“Writing had always been one of my many dislikes, with the help of classmates I started to grow out of that shell and approach the task. By reading their posts I gained an insight of what they had put into their posts, and most importantly what their views of the world is like.”

He understood how difficult good quality commenting actually was:

“Commenting may look simple, but I found it very hard, especially commenting on the friends’ posts. Thinking about it rendered my thoughts and contention blank, I had no clue what to do.”

He appreciated the global connections –

“Being able to connect to people outside of a restricted classroom is interesting, especially when you think about the distance that that separates the writers and viewers.”

Technical problems are unavoidable. Students should be given the opportunity to become independent problem solvers, not to expect everything to work smoothly, and not to be afraid of experimenting with solutions. He faced technical issues and worked through them.

“ I had some unfortunate issues with the technology within Posterous, at times it would freeze and reload the page when I’m nearly finished. To solve these issues I either just ignored it or wrote a brief plan for the topic; soon I would find out that I would either go off track or become focused on an unintended subject.”

In his post, Ashley admitted that blogging ended up being a valuable experience for him.

“Blogging this year has been an interesting and rewarding activity and I will continue to blog. I always thought that blogging was a boring outdated activity but after experiencing it for myself it has changed my mind. I recommend that everyone should be blogging even if it’s only occasionally because it is such a unique and unmissable activity.”

He understood the value of recording his thinking in his blog writing –
“Many times I’ve said to myself, “what is the point of writing it down when I know in my head I think what I will”. While this is true to a point, it is also very wrong. I thought I could remember it all but as I grow the more I have to remember. I think it is the same logic as why we take photos. Sure, we can remember things we did in them but they can still be forgotten and can remain fresher on photos.”

Kobie (post here) appreciated the reflective and open nature of the writing prompts which offered a freedom that assessment tasks did not have. The blog writing was not assessed.

Having in a sense, a homework assignment revolved around writing what you feel, was pretty refreshing a different… better than any assessment tasks!
I approached the task initially enthusiastic, but wary: I thought it’d be more of a ‘write this and make sure you do it to these requirements’ task. Once I realized it was about free expression and thought, I became more comfortable with it.

He also had trouble with commenting –

Commenting was… to be honest, difficult. Mostly because it felt awkward; being told to comment on your classmates writing and critique it felt strange…

My reflection:
This response is understandable for a few reasons. Firstly, commenting is responding to others’ writing, and should ideally be a natural and voluntary thing. Young people use commenting in a conversational way without any particular structure, often using ‘text speak’, and not necessarily as constructive criticism. Commenting is a valuable aspect of written dialogue which needs practice. To make it easier for students, we could provide examples of rich, authentic commenting. Students already have a choice as to which students’ posts they respond to.

Eric Wong (post here)
had blogged before but enjoyed the wider audience and interaction of this blog much more.

“This was actually not my first blogging experience as I had a previous one in year 8 where i had to blog about my experiences and findings when doing an assignment therefore i was pretty comfortable about blogging. This was not as significant as it didn’t have many comments and views. Using posterous spaces is so much better because of the various topics i receive from my teachers and it actually makes me think deeply about my life as a Melbourne High student.”

He eventually understood the value of the online writing community:

I initially didn’t like the fact that i had this blog to myself but as time passed, i found out that this blog belonged to the world and especially my classmates.

Hanan (post here) was one of many students who identified the valuable aspect of freedom in the blogging format. He comments on the fact that initial discomfort with the new form of writing disappears with practice and is replaced by enjoyment.

“Blogging gives me the freedom and time to express my thoughts and past and present experiences. As I write more, I enjoy it more and become more comfortable with it.”

He understood the importance of exposure to differing viewpoints:

“You may agree or disagree with other bloggers, but this creates an interesting conversation on what is being discussed.”

William (post here) understood the value of the open writing platform enabling a community of writers:
“The fact that we can see other blogs means we can get a profound and meaningful view into the minds of the people we learn, forge deep relationships with and see every day”.

William expresses beautifully the transition from initial apprehension to embracing the blog as a place for ‘soul searching’ and heartfelt writing:

“When we first began writing our blogs, I felt slightly apprehensive. I almost felt as if it was meaningless; who in the right mind would read the ramblings of teenage boys? This was the first time I had ever ‘blogged’, and I just followed the instructions of my teacher and the actions of my peers. But as I typed, I found it wasn’t hard at all. It was almost as if I was releasing a burden from my mind onto virtual paper. It was in a sense, soul searching. As I wrote, I started examining myself; my desires, my hopes and actions. I started examining the world and its happenings closer than I had ever done before. I explored key fundamental issues with today’s society and myself.
The apprehensiveness disappeared almost instantly. I enjoy writing immensely and it was a natural process; it felt productive (since it was homework and I was improving my English skills at the same time) and somewhat enjoyable at the same time. If only all our homework was like this! The liberty and freedom to express your creativity and thoughts is my favourite part of blogging. I didn’t have to think of things to write; it just came to me as I wrote in a logical order”.

Unlike some students, who found the open-endedness of post prompts challenging, William embraced them:

“Best of all, it felt casual. We were told that there was no pressure, and we could write anything we wanted. This lack of restriction meant that anything I thought would immediately get written down.
I feel blogging has been an invaluable experience and it has been the most enjoyable type of homework we get for English.”

Hayden’s response (post here) is testament to the challenge of writing prompts which encouraged higher order thinking and pushed students’ thinking and writing to a high standard:

“I found that the hardest part of blogging was always to start. I could never consider a way to start my blogs without serious thinking.”

He appreciated the ability to share his writing and read his peers’ writing:

“ I also find that having an audience for my blogs compels me to review what I have written much more thoroughly to ensure that I did not make any typing mistakes. The most important thing about these blogs were that my classmates had to do the same task as I, allowing me to see their views on the same topic, how they expressed it and what was good about it, allowing me to mimic their techniques as well.”

He understood the value of learning with and from his classmates:

“ I feel as though all of this was simply a program where we, the students, improve each other’s abilities without the assistance of a teacher. “

He appreciated being able to personalise his blog space:
“The fact that I could customize my wall meant that I was able to feel much comfortable with viewing my space and writing the blogs to my heart’s content”.

Simon (post here) understood the value of the global audience:
“ I think it’s great that we are writing for the world, and knowing that you are really makes you go that extra mile to make it the best.”

Tony (post here) solved his problem of writers’ block by broadening his reading and expanding his exposure to different ideas. This kind of independence and initative is undoubtedly valuable:

“When I started blogging on posterous, I felt the challenges of writing. My first blog was tedious and I couldn’t think of nothing to write about. I didn’t have developed ideas. The hardest part about blogging is thinking what to write which will impress the global audience. As a result, I began to read the newspaper daily to accumulate some fresh ideas. The editorial section was full of sophisticated ideas that I could not fully comprehend. As you read more and more, you take more in and begin to realise there are different ideas, elements and aspects you have not even thought about.”

He suggested that his writing had improved due to his reading audience:
“I am fully aware that my writing has changed over the course of my posting experience. My ideas, sentence structure and fluency have improved drastically, ameliorating my overall writing. I believe it is because I have to put lots of effort to come up with these deep thoughts.  It is important to have an audience for my writing because they can critique my work. They can help me find the flaws of my piece of work and improve it, make it unblemished.”

Tony’s blogging experience has led him to explore other online writing opportunities:
“Due to the fact I like blogging quite a lot, I have started writing blogs and comprehensive guides for several websites such as maplewiki and basilmarket. I write on them because I use to play the game MapleStory and I found it quite enjoyable. I want to help out new players in the best way possible. I already have about 24,000 views on my guides.I am going to continue blogging as a hobby. Thank you Mr Fairlie and Ms. Sheko for introducing this to me.”

This is an example of how an initial understanding of blogging satisfaction can lead to the initiation of further, authentic writing outside school. In this case the student has chosen to write for personal satisfaction, identifying an area of expertise and sharing this with a global audience. The student has gone beyond the confines of writing for assessment only.

Michael (post here) gave an honest and poetic evaluation of the value of his peers’ blog posts:

“As you scroll down the countless posts of the two classes of year 9, you will inevitably find shards of preciousness — sometimes golden dust; other times, fool’s gold.
But, undeniably, the thing that gives away the shine of a man is the title of his blog.
You really do dig deep with blogs.”

Patrick (post here) appreciated the development of quality writing through the posts, and acknowledged an improvement:
This was the first time I had made a blog which is why in the beginning of my Posterous space, my posts were short and had little content for pondering. As time goes by and as I practise, my posts get longer and contains a far better quality of content up until now although there had been some variations. This made me to believe that creating a blog could actually supplement and even improve my English writing skills.

We had no trouble with inappropriate comments, as Patrick stated:
“Fortunately there was no cases of trolling or cyber bullying which is unlikely due to the nature of my audience.”

Alan (post here) identified the peer and global audience responsible for the improvement and enhancement of writing skills and broadening of perspective:

“Through the blogging my writing has changed. Ideas are easier to put into words and I now have a different perspective on topics. I feel it is important to be able to read other people’s blogs so that you can gain another perspective on the topic an it is also important to be able to comment and ask questions so that you can fully understand what they are saying. It is also important to comment with overseas people so that we can get an even wider view on the topic. Overseas commentator also made the blogging experience more enjoyable as you felt your views were being read by more people. Through blogging I was able to get a better understanding of myself and others.”

Vinh (post here) was honest in his evaluation of the blogging experience. Blogging opened up experiences he would not normally seek out:

“A blog, in its core, is basically a part of your mind. Just typed out, and shared with the world. I don’t see myself in the future as being the artsy, blog-keeping type but i think this years experience has opened me up to a whole new side to the internet, which I would never have bothered to explore.”

Writing to a public audience was challenging to Vinh:
“I don’t really like putting myself and my thoughts up for public judgement. Even if its anonymous. In a way, you could call me quote introverted, i like keeping things to myself.”

He found writing fluency of ideas challenging, especially since English is his second language. The example of metacognition here is worth noting:

“At first, I had quite a bit of difficulty making my writing fluid and connecting ideas effectively, just because I was, literally, translating my thoughts as i wrote them down. The way I think also made this harder as I tend to think in chunks of ideas, rather than words or single ideas. Sometimes these chunks all link together nicely and so i write fluently and quickly. Other times i get stuck. Having these chunks in Vietnamese also doesn’t help the block.”

Blogging has opened up a new world for Nathan (post here):

“Blogging hasn’t changed my style of writing, but it has reignited my passion to do some recreational reading and writing. I now realise that the world of literature and writing is endless and I should never be empty of ideas if I have the right determination and will.”

Lachie (post here) appreciated the value of having an authentic audience for writing:
“It was also a great experience to have such a diverse audience to write for. Writing without an audience is pointless. You may as well be talking to a wall. Nobody hears your opinions, your beliefs if you have no audience.”

He summed up the value of a global audience nicely:

“Having people from Finland and America or any other country viewing and commenting on my work is truly a great privilege and honor. However, with this comes a greater responsibility to only write appropriate comments and pieces. These connections made me feel as if my writing actually meant something, that people enjoy my writing”.

He gained a valuable insight into his peers through their writing.  Herein lies the value of sharing writing with peers.
“The insight that I have gained from blogging is that there is more to people than meets the eye. That is, that you cant judge people from their exterior but what its on the inside that you should judge and that counts.”

Andrew (post here) commented that the quality of writing follows the sophistocation of thoughts expressed:
“The insight that I have gained from blogging is that there is more to people than meets the eye. That is, that you can’t judge people from their exterior but what its on the inside that you should judge and that counts”.

He offered some insights into how writing prompts could be more engaging to students:

“For one, I feel as though the topics were too abstract, and too different from student life. Having debates about school curriculums, education systems and subjects, sounds slightly more appealing than having broad, abstract ideas, that don’t really relate too much. Though I enjoyed it, I believe having debates on things that we can relate to, would be better. The ideas can still be abstract and broad; just more relatable to education, or student life.”

“xiangxxu” (post here) identified the personal space of the blog and audience as affirming:

“Having a blog that i can control and customise as i please made me feel responsible and important, as i can do as i please on the blog and it was up to me to control what i would like to express, thus making me feel responsible. Also it made me felt important as narcissistic this may sound, but i felt more valued as a person when i have people from around the globe able to read my thoughts on multiple issues.”

Less confident students have acknowledged a development of confidence in writing, as well as the value of being able to read others’ posts. “Flaming ball of doom” (post here) reflects honestly on his shaky beginnings:

“I was reluctant at first as I wondered why would anyone want to read what I had to say? Then I realized nobody was forced to read it and the people who did would hopefully like it. When I began to write my first post I was slighty nervous but excited and as I kept writing I stopped being nervous. My readers’ comments on my posts helped me a lot as it allowed me to see how others interpreted my posts and I had to answer some tough questions.”

Vincent (post here) loved the opportunity for dialogue with the Finnish students:

“Having the ability to communicate with Finnish students provided a wonderful knowledge and insight into the way they live.”

Andrew (post here) valued the authentic audience:

“Of course, without an audience, writing would be somewhat pointless. Nobody hears what we have to say, our opinions, our beliefs are just ignored”.

In his post, Sasank described his initial apprehension about sharing his thoughts with a public audience online, and admitted being reassured by the secure and supported blogging space:

“Before this year, i had never blogged as i was protective of my privacy. I was afraid of entering a new world, where i would be sharing things very personal to strangers. HOwever, as the year has gone by, i have developed a confidence in myself and others, as my views have been accepted and constructively commented on”.

His observations underlined the importance of giving students the opportunity to learn constructive feedback and tolerance of others’ opinions:

“ I had to comment on things which i did not agree to, and i still had to be ‘nice’.”

It was interesting to read that the blogging tasks set for homework were experienced differently to other homework:

“It also provided a great diversion from other homework, and basically just gave me some time to myself.”

He admitted that this experience had given him new confidence in his own ideas and writing:

“Again, it gave me more confidence and i came to know what others thought about my style of writing.”

Ilan (post here) acknowledges that a good blog post takes much thinking, time and rigorous editing.

“At the start blogging was a bit of a challenge. I had all of these ideas in my head, most were absolutely terrible, a couple I could form into a semi reasonable post but there is a big difference between half thought out ideas and a well written posterous post. The problem was transferring a thought front my head onto the page and making it make sense.”

The open and personal nature of post prompts allowed students to express their thoughts in a way unrelated to curriculum, and students were able to focus on refining their writing to best express their ideas:

“This didn’t only help get the ideas out, it also helped refine them and make them more logical and understandable.”

Brendan (post here) was initially sceptical about using social media for serious writing but he was soon convinced otherwise:

“At first I was skeptical because I thought it would be just another Facebook however the passages written by my fellow students were not stupid and useless such as ‘I’m bored’.”
If you’ve read to the bottom of this page, I hope you appreciate as much as I do the value of students’ reflection and evaluation of their blogging experiences, using Posterous spaces to create a community of thinkers and readers. Nick and I have found the experience extremely rewarding, and we’ve learned as much from the students as they have from us. I hope to continue to provide deep learning opportunities using social media next year.

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Seeing things in a new way. Suddenly we are all librarians

Photo source thanks to John

Much has been said about Pinterest. Has it? I’m sure it has. Like other forms of social media, you can always find a broad range in terms of quality. It’s so easy to use and it looks great.  In case you haven’t checked it out, Pinterest allows you to easily ‘pin’ pictures (and videos) to a board. Unlike Scoop.it, you can collect any number of boards which can be named and renamed, and which look great at a glance. So easy to find stuff. Of course, I have too many boards but, hey – many people have even more. But wait! there’s more. As with any form of social media, the best part is finding people and following them, repinning what they’ve collected, and finding more awesome people and resources by looking through whom they follow. But a word of warning – it’s addictive. I mean seriously addictive, particularly if you have a weakness for the visual as I do. Do not, do not, start browsing late at night because you might not get much sleep.

Social media platforms like Scoop.it and Pinterest have given a new look to the curation of resources. Visual layouts are engaging and easy to scan for what you need. The key word is sharing – love it! As a teacher librarian, I’m a finder of sorts, and so these networks are invaluable for me. And enjoyable. My job is to fossick and mine for the jewels amongst an overabundance of mediocre or irrelevant resources, and Pinterest makes it easy to do that.

No longer can librarians boast about their classification skills. So many people are willingly spending enormous amounts of time finding, selecting and classifying images and videos into Pinterest boards for the picking.

Recently I’ve been focusing on images to support the teaching and learning of the Visual Arts, and more specifically, VCE Visual Communication Design. I’ve spent an obscene amount of time doing this so, as a form of justification, I’d like to share these with you. Eventually my goal is to nicely embed these into a Libguide or two but in the meantime I’ll share the links. I’ve chosen people who are experts in the Visual Arts. Some of these are teachers but most work within the field.  My selections are only some of what these people have shared.

Toshio Miyake (graphic designer)
Kent Loven

Marc Sublet (graphic designer)

U Soma (design, branding, communication)

Marcus Hay (Director of Creativity, Styling and Interiors)

Steven Vandenplas (graphic designer)

Dubbu (design, film, collage)

Seeke (illustration, typography, art)

silja p (designer)

Hege Vestbo Saetre (design)

Chris Dangtran (design, typography, photography, products)

Ben Serbutt (designer, art director, illustrator, typography)

Ya-Ting Maggie Kuo (design, infographics, typography)

Johnson Yung (mixed media, abstract, photography, animation)

Joao Henriques (typography, design, packaging, infographics)

(collage, photography, design)

Masayuki Nakazawa (director of photography, Tokyo)

Maja Moden (Swedish illustrator)

Folkert Hengeveld (Creative Director at Amsterdam based design firm Formlab)

DOMO-A (graphic design, typography)

Rhian Edwards (graphic design)

Jorge Heilbron (design)

Kazuya Arakawa (graphic design, typography)

Ale casinelli (graphic design)

Zachi Diner (designer)

Frederic Chollet (photography)

Silja p (designer)

Emma Fexeus (designer)

Design Boom – home of design, architecture and art culture

Sayuri Maeda (graphic design)

Galen Lowe (graphic design, architecture, photography)

Robert Melotte (Urban Photographer. Architecture and photography, abstraction of graphic architecture. Melbourne-based)

Maria Rufus (graphic design)

Fernando Baeza Ponsoda (architecture)

Archibald Woo (architect)

Griffen Lim (graphics, architecture, interiors) Melbourne-based

Fosco Lucarelli (architecture, design)

MoMA Design Store

Ryutaro Kishi (graphic design, product design, fashion, photography, typography)

Architizer (everything architecture and design)

Arslog (Contemporary Art, Science, Technology)

Emanuela Marcu (a bit of everything)

Astrid Trobro (art director and web designer)

Paul Waltz (architect, sustainable initiatives)

Ginny Christensen (Director of Digital Arts, California)

Sylvie Wibaut (illustration, photography, graphics, furniture)

Janna Gougeon  (Line, pattern, symmetry)

Doris Cook (photography, mixed media, illustration, diagrams, graphic design, street art and more)

Lelle Laflamme

David Schultz (creative director)

Natalie Lowry (graphic design student)

Art teachers on Pinterest –

Donald Peters

Patricia Schappler (drawing in different media, printmaking and so many more)

Youtube on the Arts (Pinterest board)

Some of the design styles I’ve been looking for (so many people have these categories)

Art Deco
More Art Deco

Art Nouveau

Digital art

Typography by Japanese art director and graphic designer “c ktnon”

There are so many more resources on Pinterest to inspire, and to support teaching and learning in different areas. Here are my Diigo bookmarks for a start, but go ahead and search for your own area of interest.

Concerned about copyright and Pinterest’s terms of service? Here is an article I posted earlier. Who is still unhappy with Pinterest’s terms of service? I’d be interested in hearing from you.

I’ve shared my Pinterest boards before but here they are again.

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Facebook is like chairs – and bridges, dance floors, door bells?

A first for Facebook – its first advertising campaign. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced:

For the first time in our history, we’ve made a brand video to express what our place is on this earth. We believe that the need to open up and connect is what makes us human. It’s what brings us together. It’s what brings meaning to our lives.

How do you like it? The point of Facebook is not the technology but the connections between people, global connections. Absolutely agree with that.

“Chairs, doorbells, airplanes, bridges – these are things people use to get together so they can open up and connect about ideas and other things.”

Okay. Starting with a chair is quite clever; a chair (or seat) is one of the simplest cross cultural symbols and has existed for centuries.

“Dance floors, basketball, a great nation. A great nation is something people build so they can have a place where they belong.

So now Facebook is getting a teeny bit ambitious perhaps. Or are they, considering their place in world populations? Here’s an infographic comparing Facebook’s population with that of the most populated countries in 2010.

Here’s an updated one showing Facebook’s population in a different context.

“The universe – it is vast and dark and makes us wonder if we’re alone. the reason we make these things is to remind ourselves that we are not.”

Facebook – really? Suddenly you are the answer to the world’s ontological questions? Get real, please.

Mashable posted its reaction to the video:

Mashable editor-in-chief Lance Ulanoff previously pointed out what he thinks is wrong with the ad: confusing analogies, absence of technology and a plethora of vagueness that spoils an otherwise beautifully shot commercial. “It was created to celebrate the social media platform’s 1 billion active monthly users and my takeaway is that Facebook is an empty chair,” he says.

And then spoofed the Facebook ad with this image –

I don’t know about that one either. It leaves me luke warm.

Don’t get me wrong – I use Facebook a lot. Despite the frustrating, intrusive and changeable nature of its dealings with users, it’s still one of the most effective ways to communicate both personally and professionally. Connections are great – it’s what you make of them. As a teacher, you have a love-hate relationship with Facebook. It’s unwise to befriend students but, knowing they’re there, it’s the place to set up groups that students will inhabit – because they’re already switched on. Most of the time.

Good try, Facebook. Maybe you should get some user feedback for your ads before you decide on the best one.

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“Trial by social media worry in case of Jill’s Meagher’s death” – Social media and the law

Jill Meagher’s recent disappearance and death has touched many people. How do we know? Because social media has been a platform for the sharing of news and emotional comments from an enormous number of people. Not only family and friends shared Jill’s photo on Facebook, it seems the shock of Jill’s disappearance and fear for her life has touched many others, and they have been publicly expressing their reactions. The Facebook page set up to find Jill currently has over 83,000 likes.

There’s no denying that social media – in particular, Facebook and Twitter – have been harnessed by people who believe that dissemination of information through these media will reach the widest audience – and hopefully make a difference to the life of Jill Meagher. Sadly, although this journalism from the ground has allegedly aided the search for Jill, and led to the arrest of Adrian Ernest Bayley, the outcome has been tragic, and people have continued to use social media for their outpouring of sadness and condolences to Jill’s family and friends. Now the Facebook and Twitter updates point to the possibility of interference with the legal proceedings if people continue to use social media as a platform for anger and accusation.

“Overnight, the sentiment was very much of grief and sadness and now this morning, anger is starting creep into what is being shared and re-shared.”

With that anger comes responsibility to social media users, who become content publishers when they post. That may require a knowledge of media law.

Thomas Meagher, Jill’s husband, today urged people to consider what they posted on Twitter and Facebook.

“While I appreciate all the support, I would just like to mention that negative comments on social media may hurt legal proceedings so please be mindful of that.”

This message has been tweeted by the Victorian Police and others today. Julie Posetti is one of these people.

Julie is a prominent journalist and journalism academic, and is currently writing a PhD dissertation on The Twitterisation of Journalism, examining social media’s transformation of professional journalism. In today’s article in The Age she explains the issues associated with public commentary about the case and the accused.

“In this particular case, it would be awful to think about the potential consequences including an incapacity to prosecute somebody because of trial by social media, for example,” said Ms Posetti, who is writing a PhD on Twitter’s role in journalism.

“We all are very familiar with the term trial by media and it’s a real problem, but we also now need to be aware of the potential implications of trial by social media.

“Practically, [and speaking] generically, as soon as a person is arrested, we need to stop talking about what we think we know about that individual because there is a risk that his or her defence lawyers could argue that there’s no possibility for a fair trial in this country for the person who’s accused, because so much information has been published.

I’m ignorant about social media laws – do we have clear and current laws in Australia relating to social media? A quick Google search led to audio and transcript of an ABC Radio National “Law Report” episode with guests Mark Pearson, Professor of Journalism at Bond University, and Julie Posetti.

Photo by Jeffery Turner on Flickr

The transcript of this episode can be read here. We should read this to our students as we discuss the whole new area of legal implications associated with the issue of personal and public blending through social media. We need to inform ourselves about these issues, and schools should be focusing more urgently on these matters as social media becomes the way the world works, not just kids on Facebook – although that needs to be dealt with too – but the way news is shared, the way businesses are run, the way projects are created and managed, the way people collaborate globally with today’s technical possibilities. Why would we put aside important curriculum to discuss social media in our classrooms? Well, as Mark Pearson says in the ABC interview,

And only last year we had a British gentleman who posted a witty tweet, or what he thought was a witty tweet, about blowing up an airport, and he was just expressing it as satire, he said, because he was frustrated that snow had stopped flights from this particular airport, but unfortunately national security and police agencies don’t always have a sense of humour, and they certainly didn’t in that case, and his house was raided, he was arrested, he was charged with national security offence and he finished up being released, of course, but he suffered a whole lot through the process and spent some time in the big house, at least temporarily, as a result of it. Something none of us need in our lives.

The implications of social media are vast and serious, but the access to the new form of ‘journalism’ is there for anyone with a phone or internet access. If teachers are uncomfortable in this new and always changing arena, then all the more reason to learn together. It’s not a fad, it’s not going to go away.

Mark Pearson explains social media law:

The basic laws are pretty much the same as they applied to journalists and media organisations in the past. So, your fundamental law of defamation, contempt, confidentiality, all of these areas, you know, the core law is still the same, it’s just that some circumstances have changed with new media and social media.

It’s so easy to post that short, quick post without thinking, and without education our young people are more likely to get into trouble. When are schools going to integrate digital citizenship into the curriculum, along with other literacies? How are we going to prepare for this as teachers?

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Patterns of behaviour, rather than skill sets, lead to opportunities

Point Lonsdale rockpools – photo by Alexander Sheko

A while ago I was asked to contribute an article to FYI. The brief was – describe your journey to becoming a Google Certified Teacher.

I’ve had a lot of trouble writing this article, and I’ve edited many drafts before finally submitting something with which I am half pleased. It’s frustrating writing a print article for many reasons. You can’t hyperlink which means you have to explain everything in greater detail and include a set of links at the end. You wonder who your readers will be, and you know you won’t get any feedback.

And so, since this is the platform I feel comfortable to use for self-expression and sharing, I’ve copied my article into a post and hope to hear from some of you. Do you feel the same way about social media and networking or do you feel differently? Your feedback is always valuable to me.

How I became a Google Certified Teacher (Journey to becoming a Google Certified Teacher)
“We sat at brightly google-coloured tables and, shortly after breakfast, were treated to Google Educators giving us an overview of the enormous range of Google tools: Search (web, specialised, multimedia, language, custom), Google Apps Education edition, Docs, Sites, Calendar, Blogger,Books, Scholar, News, Blog Search, Alerts, Maps, Earth, Gmail, Chat, Talk,Mobile, and more. Added to these sessions, some of our 55 strong cohort had offered to present Inspiring Ideas. We were treated to Google Spreadsheets (Pat Wagner), Sites for student e-portolios (Joe Donahue), creating an augmented reality school tour (Chris Betcher), e-portfolios using Blogger and Apps (Rob Clarke), using Blogger and Video Chat for minimally invasive education (Tara Taylor-Jorgensen), and an inside view of Google Apps for Education in a school (Dorothy Burt).  At 6pm, in the last session: reflection and review, we shared our ‘Aha’ moments for the day with our group, and at 6.30pm we were treated to a lovely celebratory dinner.”This is how I described in a blog post my experience at the Google Academy in April 2011

It was a once in a lifetime opportunity which connected me not only to experienced Google educators but also to a fantastic cohort of passionate, innovative people who are now part of my learning network.

Opportunities seem to present themselves out of the blue when in fact they don’t. You have to be somewhere in order to see the opportunities. Those who attended the one and a half days of professional development and became Google Certified Teachers had already been connecting and sharing online through blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Diigo, Delicious and other social media. Of course there are many people out there who are doing the same and deserved to join the GCT cohort but weren’t chosen and the reason for this I leave up to the gods.

I look back to see a pattern of behaviour rather than a set of skills which led me to discovering the Google Teacher Academy opportunity – I am a learner, and technology and social media are my enablers.

“Participants were selected based on their professional experience, their passion for teaching and learning, and their successful use of technology in school settings.”

I think when we say ‘teaching and learning’ we should stop and think about the learning part of that dynamic partnership which makes us good educators. Yes, it’s about students’ learning, but more importantly, it’s about our own learning and our continued learning.

We can’t successfully teach our students if we are still the learners we were when we completed our teaching degree. To keep up with the world of our students and the future world of their work we need to immerse ourselves in the technology which enables today’s learning. But not technology for technology’s sake.

Howard Rheingold said (in Robert Heyden’s blog post)
that learning should be learner-centred, social and peer-to-peer and networked. He said that
“students are going to live and work socially and yet the methods and the literature of social learning are not being used.”

We teach most effectively when we experience something for ourselves. It’s not good enough to push aside the technology which makes us feel uncomfortable or decide we have no time to participate in social media. We don’t need to do more, we should just do things differently.

Social media is a great enabler. Once I started blogging I connected to people with similar roles and interests, expanding my ‘friendship’ and ‘colleague’ base, but I also followed people with varied interests and expertise, as well as those who challenged me with diverse viewpoints. Technology allows us to transcend barriers of location, culture, age, class, race, gender, and educational level. How wonderful to connect with and learn from keynoters and change agents like Will Richardson, Howard Rheingold and Joyce Valenza.

Social media is an equalizer. It democratizes people. I admire Howard Rheingold and his writings but I am unlikely to see him in person. I can, however, read what he’s written, see what he’s reading, follow what he’s thinking, discover who he’s talking to – on Twitter, Delicious and Google+.    I have the opportunity to communicate with great minds and forward thinkers. My opinion is heard – it counts; people respond and relationships are formed. If I don’t know how to do something, I ask and receive help. Social media reduces isolation and frustration and quickly answers questions, solves problems.

So, if opportunities such as GTA are a result of specific patterns of behaviour, what does this routine look like?
,
Every morning before school I check Facebook (which is blocked at school) and pull out news and resources which come to me once I’ve followed organisations. These include VicPLN, Australia e-series, Facing IT, iCentre, Internet Public Library, Maths TV, National Gallery of Victoria, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Folger Shakespeare Library, Smithsonian Libraries, Tate, The Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas, Virtual Museum of Canada, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and many more. This works like an RSS feed for me, but it’s only one of many. I also read a wide range of blogs in Google Reader, discover what others are reading in my Diigo and Delicious communities, and interact with my Twitter and Google+ networks. If this seems like too much, it’s worth noting that I have the choice to do these things selectively.

If I were to give advice for building meaningful online networks I would say:
Don’t just find, but also explore for serendipitous encounters;
Start with one type of network (eg Twitter, RSS, etc) and closely follow a few people, engaging in conversation and discovering people in their networks;
Don’t just use Google – search Diigo, Delicious, Vodpod to find expertise in areas that interest you;
Share generously what you find and create, encourage and support, respond to and ask engaging questions;
Revise your networks regularly to keep them relevant and vibrant;
Share what you do as well as your reflections and evaluations;
Be real – even online people can detect superficial or insincere interaction.

Admittedly, the global curricular focus of teacher librarians is one of the reasons that we are amongst the best participators in social media, and the teachers’ focus on content delivery and assessment can be a deterrent. Nevertheless, I make a considerable effort to model and demonstrate the fruits of social networking with the hope of inspiring others.

As Howard Rheingold says of this type of connected learning (which applies to us as well as students)

“It’s the unpredictable synergy that can happen when a group of strangers assembles online to learn together.”

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