Category Archives: social networking

Finding Community Through Books

One of the points I made during my talk with librarians was how books help create community, both face to face and online. When I moved to my current home, I tried to get involved in the town but a crazy work schedule kept me from really finding a place.

Now, my schedule is better, but I need an easy way to connect: no committee meetings or event planning. I found it at my local library. A real life book group that meets once a month. Finding time to read is no problem as I average about 75 books a year. We’ve read a few books I already owned and a few I probably would not have read. The latter were often pleasant surprises as I was sure they were the kinds of books I didn’t like.

My virtual community is, as I have written before, LibraryThing. It was started in August 2005 and I had an account by October 13, 2005. I was looking for the same thing the developer was: a way to catalog my books and reading. Now, almost 13 years later, LibraryThing has become my community as well. I belong to one group–75 Books a Year–where we share our reading and love for books even as we challenge each other to reach an annual milestone. As I have become increasingly frustrated with Facebook, I am finding myself spending more time on LT. As I told the librarians, Facebook seems to be about what divides us. LT is about what unites us.

Sometimes we can get lost in the crowd of social media where number of followers and posts and how many people you reached is more important than the quality of the connection. Moving to a smaller, more focused online community has helped me think more about quality.

 

Staging Stories

I’ll start by saying that I am not generally part of the Facebook police. I figure the medium just lends itself to the spreading of misinformation, and I have a limited amount of time and energy to keep people honest. I rarely pursue all the photos and factoids posted by friends.

But, for some reason, the photo of a little girl curled up asleep in the outline of a female figure with the caption indicating she was an Iraqi orphan longing for her mother seemed too heart wrenching to be true. It didn’t take me long to discover that the photo had, indeed, been staged by a professional photographer. The little girl is Iranian and a relative of the photographer who, on her flickr page, has similar photos.

The question asked by Annie at PhD in Parenting is important for all of us to consider: “Does it matter?” She comes down on the side of yes, and so do I. She writes:

I know that in this day and age of the Internet, and especially since I’ve been on the Internet for 22 years now, I should know not to take things at face value. But it grabbed me and then I felt betrayed that it was staged, but presented as photo journalism.

As Annie points out, there are plenty of sad stories of children in war zones. Why make up a story? Maybe because you can? And perhaps the original poster figured it would highlight a tragedy so its verity was not important. But, a quick look at the poster’s public Facebook profile shows a wide variety of posts from silly cats to find the panda so I’m not sure we can give him the benefit of the doubt. I would like to extend that benefit to my friend who shared it…she is a socially conscious individual who really does care about the world.

But, she is also a well-educated woman who should know better. I suspect if I called her on it, she would be apologetic but might also lean towards the side of bringing attention to children in war and be less concerned about what I see as a major digital citizenship problem. If you aren’t willing to check your sources before you post, what other questionable bits of information might you be passing along? Maybe nobody gets hurt…well, except for the photographer whose photo is under standard copyright and the next person who shares it only to find out it’s fake and, honestly, my friend whose reputation is now suspect at least in my mind. These are certainly minor hurts in a larger world of hurting children but scaled up they lead to the kinds of misinformation that make the web the dangerous echo chamber it has become.

 

Building Your PLN

A presentation for beginners to professional learning networks
Created for RPDIT 2015

 

Five Lessons, continued

In my previous post, I talked about two of the five lessons of using social media in my classroom. Today, I’m going to tackle lesson three: Integrate Tightly.

Of all five lessons, this is probably the most important, and it’s one I’ve learned over the past few years, particularly with the use of Diigo, the social bookmarking tool.

My goal with using Diigo was to provide a place for students to share resources related to course content. As someone immersed in the content myself, I made the assumption that my students would be equally immersed, spending time going beyond the readings and activities to tap into the wealth of resources on the Internet related to the ever changing field of educational technology. For the first semester or two, I did not make any quantitative assignment related to Diigo but asked them to share resources. As you might imagine, few got shared.

My next step was to make a quantitative assignment, asking students to share at least three resources related to the weekly topic. It worked a little better but had an inauthentic feel. Many students simply waited until the night before the end of the week and posted the first three sites that came up on a Google search. There was no annotation, interaction or discussion.

I had the most success when I tied Diigo use to specific assignments. For instance, in the early weeks of the course, students create a webpage related to the history of educational technology. Before they dive into the page, they research and share resources via Diigo. This use of Diigo seemed to make more sense to them and thus led to more activity.

This semester, however, I have changed the sharing piece of the assignment. I am teaching two versions of the course for two different universities. I wanted a place where they could share but also experience opportunities for discussion and collaboration that go beyond Diigo. So, I set up a Google Plus community and have substituted it for the various places where I had used Diigo in the past.

I continue to use Diigo but as an optional tool. I kept the groups from the last time I taught the course and offer students the opportunity to join. A few will use it to share; mostly, I use it to post additional resources. It has become a great repository of course-related resources, my 21st century bibliography.

In addition to Google Plus, I’m using Twitter and Feedly. These are both part of my Professional Learning Network assignment. My goal is for them to make connections with the larger community of school leaders with the hope that it will continue even past the course. Learning from my lesson with Diigo, I realized I needed to make these tools an integral part of the course, so crafted a semester long assignment around them. Students are asked to reflect on their progress several times over the course of the class; at the end, they create a multimedia report about what they learned. The assignment does not have any quantitative component, which can be difficult for students, but I try to provide as much support as possible and that will be the topic of tomorrow’s post.

Five Lessons from the Field: Using Social Media for Community Building

As I mentioned, yesterday I did a presentation as part of FantasTECH, a virtual conference offered by JR Reynolds Community College. They use the AvayaLive Engage platform, an easy-to-use virtual environment. It was fun to be part of a new environment for teaching and learning and am hoping to have a chance to explore further before next year’s conference. While it was easy to access, I know I didn’t get to really dig into the platform to figure out how to make it more interactive.

My presentation was focused on using social media in the higher ed classroom and I used the “five lessons” approach as a way to organize my thoughts. I have the sense that nothing I said was all that earth shattering but I hope I gave people a way to think about integrating social media in their courses in meaningful ways. For today, I’m covering Lessons One and Two: Consider Goals and Align Carefully.

Consider Goals and Align Carefully: If we feel pushed into using social media because “all the young people are doing it”, we are making a mistake. Just as with any resource, activity or project we use in our courses, we need to know WHY we are using and how it supports our learning goals and objectives.* For instance, in my ed tech for admins courses, one strong objective is to help my students connect to the larger world of education–that great big PLN in cyberspace–through Twitter, Feedly and Google Plus. The objective is tied to the ISTE Standards for Administrators, specifically Standard 3: Excellence in Professional Practice:

Educational Administrators promote an environment of professional learning and innovation that empowers educators to enhance student learning through the infusion of contemporary technologies and digital resources.

a. Allocate time, resources, and access to ensure ongoing professional growth in technology fluency and integration

b. Facilitate and participate in learning communities that stimulate, nurture and support administrators, faculty, and staff in the study and use of technology

c. Promote and model effective communication and collaboration among stakeholders using digital age tools

d. Stay abreast of educational research and emerging trends regarding effective use of technology and encourage evaluation of new technologies for their potential to improve student learning

I have a myriad of tools I could choose from to fulfill this goal, but I stick with what I see as the Big Three: Twitter, Feedly and Google Plus. I hope that, by giving my students the time and excuse they need to dig into the tools, I get them “hooked” so they continue on in the future. I haven’t done any follow up surveys to see if that was the case although I do see the occasional former student posting in my Twitter feed. What I really hope is that, once they take on leadership roles, they consider opening the time to their faculty as well as a way to provide access to just-in-time, individualized professional development.

But I don’t use those three tools in every class. For instance, this fall, I’m planning to use Pinterest as part of my instructional design course. With a very visual component, I think having students “pin” links to resources and, even more importantly, example both good and bad, would be a really powerful part of the collaboration. Even though they work on their own projects, they form a design team for the class. So, I have dual goals: use the platform to support the team but also create a gallery of instructional design that might help spark their own creativity.

I can only make these kinds of decisions after I have considered the goals. Then, I choose the best tools to meet those goals. Part of the reason I use Feedly AND Twitter is that Feedly helps connect students to current events and commentary that can then be great Twitter fodder. They can share their thoughts in the Tweet rather than just retweeting other links and resources.

Tomorrow’s Lesson: Integrate Tightly
I’ll describe my professional learning assignment and also discuss why I made Diigo optional.

*I know some teachers use social media as a course communications tool (ie, test and homework reminders) but I’m thinking specifically about how to use social as a learning tool that integrates with the content of the course.