I’m doing a conference presentation next week for a mostly higher ed audience on how I use social media in my courses. I’m taking a “five tips” approach, and I’ll do a more extensive outline here later but for now, I’m just thinking out loud as I head into week four of the semester. I am teaching two sections of an ed tech for admins course in which I require students to participate in Twitter as part of a semester-long Professional Learning Network assignment.
It is highly scaffolded in terms of getting started: we review vocabulary, share ideas for who to follow, and brainstorm things we could do with Twitter.
There is no quantitative aspect to the assignment (ie, you must tweet five times a day). Instead, it is all qualitative: there are several reflections during the semester and then a report at the end about what and how you learned. I should also point out that they are also required to set up a Feedly account as well and they blog in class so Twitter isn’t their only foray into social media and PLNs.
I always have a few students who whine: they have managed to get this far in their professional lives without having to resort to Twitter. One student’s Twitter handle is something like “because I have to to graduate.” Others revive accounts they created as part of professional development or when they were in college. (Yes, my friends, some of them are THAT young.)
After a few weeks, it’s interesting to see the various paths the students take towards fulfilling the assignment. At least one student already had an active account (he tweets more than I do), so the list I created was initially all his tweets. It didn’t bother me as he provided some nice modeling as to what others might do. Now, the list is more diverse: students are sharing resources, commenting on articles, and just generally connecting. The “I’m doing this to graduate” students pops in now and then and posts a flurry of tweets and then is gone again. But they are good tweets and she is following some great people. Some begin taking on the world, replying and retweeting with the larger community. Others are still figuring it out and their tweets tend to be of the “I can’t believe I’m tweeting” variety.
There are a few that will need some prodding in the next week…I give them time to settle in and then send some gentle reminders that, while there isn’t a quantitative assignment, it will be hard to reflect qualitatively if you haven’t done anything. Plus, I can’t “see” lurking.
I know that many of them will abandon Twitter the moment the assignment is done. But each semester, at least a few continue to drop by. I’ll get the occasional DM with questions or get a mention when they post something they know I’d like. There is also the somewhat astonished post about how they didn’t realize all this was going on in Twitter! I love the small celebrations when one of their tweets get retweeted or favorited by someone outside our circle, maybe even someone famous.
And, it’s a great assignment for me, too. I tend to drift in and out of Twitter but each spring, when my students work on this assignment, I get more engaged as well. In stopping by to check on them, I always find something for myself and, in modeling engagement, I tend to tweet more myself. It helps connect us outside of class and lets them know that I value this assignment because I’m willing to be part of it myself.
This coming week, I’m asking them to be part of the #edchat tweetchat which means I’ll be there, too, and I’m really looking forward to it.
This notion of how to use social media seems to be getting some play. Marie Owens has some good ideas in Faculty Focus, and she links to an article by Laura Devaney about using social media in the classroom.
For me, the real objective of this assignment is to help my students connect to the larger world. Despite all, I think schools still tend to be isolated. And the principal can be the most isolated with little opportunity to connect to other instructional leaders during the school day. I want to help them see that they can break that isolation and be part of a larger network of learners. They must not forget about their own learning and development. This article from 2002 makes a nice foundational argument for my ultimate objective.
Meanwhile, if you are interested, here’s my list for the semester.
One of the roles I play in almost every project I work on is community builder. My goal is to help educators grab onto the power of the network for their own learning and sharing. It can be a hard sell sometimes: time is short and social networks can be messy. Creating, maintaining and getting the most out of a Twitter feed requires ongoing attention but if you are willing to make time, you will be rewarded.
It’s important to make sure our students know how to find and use community whether it’s Twitter or a discussion forum or a Facebook page. They aren’t going to learn everything in school. They are most certainly going to develop passions as they get older and need to know how to learn about those passions.
I’m a perfect example: I am developing a passion for baking. I always enjoyed baking but it wasn’t an essential part of my life. Recently, I have begun baking on a regular basis and learning more about the science and practice of baking, especially with whole grains. I spent more time deciding what was going into my bread basket and what cake I was baking for Thanksgiving than anything else. Turkey? You’re supposed to serve turkey? Have you tried the cornbread?
Much of the community I have revolves around King Arthur Flour. This is, in my mind, a business that gets community just right. Recipes, blogs, and forums are free and open to all. Certainly, the recipes mention KAF products but almost none of it is required and you can easily find substitutes in your grocery store. And they would like you to follow them and subscribe and all that.
But, the community is offered for free. It is a warm, welcoming place. Not everyone is always happy: they complain about recipes that didn’t work or meet their expectations. Complaints are always addressed by a KAF moderator sometimes with suggestions but other times just to let them know they’ve been heard.
The true meaning of a professional learning community was defined in this very enthusiastic and heart warming comment left on the recipe for Light Spice Cookies.
I am new to baking. I have been cooking since college, but only started baking about a month ago – so far only cookies, though this weekend I am going to branch out and bake a cake for my husband’s birthday. If it doesn’t turn out, well, there is always ice cream…. 🙂 Anyway, the first batch of cookies I made was a disaster and the 2nd batch only so-so. Then I found your website, and since then… every time I make cookies, people rave and want the recipe and request a few to take home and then their husbands email me asking for some and… I only make the recipes that have 4 or 5 stars and I read all the comments and your tips so I can learn from others and so far that has worked really well for me. As someone who is new to this, access to a community is a huge blessing. Anyway, these particular cookies (light spice) are my Mom’s FAVORITES. She told her best friend she never realized what a great baker her daughter was! My Mom loves these cookies, and so now I make sure she always has enough so she can have one with her afternoon tea. The one modification I made to the recipe – I added a small amount (1/4 teaspoon) of ground cardamom and I add an extra 1/2 teaspoon of both the ginger and the cinnamon.
There are three threads woven together her: She recognizes that the community has helped her grow. She demonstrates her ability to use the community to full advantage by being sure to read all the comments of the four- and five-starred recipes. And, she feels confident in her abilities to share her knowledge with the community by describing how she changed the spices.
Next time someone asks you why they need a professional learning community, point them to this comment.
Fall has arrived. Mike Thayer welcomes it in this lovely, provocative piece. I am welcoming it by making changes in my routines, at least one of which has been with me since 2000. And after just a day or two, not surprisingly, I am struggling a bit. The ultimate goal of the change is to become more active in my professional learning network by reading and writing publicly. There are some secondary personal goals as well but, for now, this is the one on which I am focusing.
The routine I am giving up was called Morning Pages and was an idea I borrowed from Julia Cameron. Three hand written pages first thing every morning. For nearly 14 years. I have piles of spiral bound notebooks tucked into boxes and bookshelves. These pages got me through some tough times, saw me through the transition from public school teacher to ed tech professional developer and, more recently, to part-time farmer. But I’ve had a sense for some time that they have run their course, served their purpose and now were often nothing more than an extended to do list, less about hopes and dreams and more about finances and dirty dishes.
Meanwhile, smart people were having even smarter conversations on the web, and I was missing them because once I finished the pages each morning, the world was waiting: dog walks, pig feeding, email, meetings, course checkins, reports, and so forth. The stuff of life that left me tired at the end of the day with little energy for sorting through social media for gems, reading longer articles and then facing the blank blog page to analyze and synthesize. Lately, I have ended up in Minecraft, building a house, exploring the terrain and learning to build things. It was fun but not getting me any closer to professional learning. I talk the talk of PLN to the educators I work with but I wasn’t walking the walk.
So, the plan is to do these things first the way I used to do the pages. Of any habit I have ever adopted, the pages stuck. I love writing by hand, I love journaling, and the pages were a way to come into the world slowly, pushing back the work and the stresses for just a little while. I am a fan of routines as they help us organize our lives but I also understand how they can become crutches. My pages helped me believe that I was writing even though they never saw public scrutiny.
I’m still not sure about this new habit. Honestly, yesterday I plunged right into work after only a few minutes of browsing Hootsuite and Feedly. I never even considered writing a blog entry. This morning obviously went a bit better. It is a chilly morning here at the farm, and Mike’s ode to Autumn inspired me to do my own reflection on change and the difficulties it can present. I am putting first things first, making sure my personal priorities don’t get lost in the daily fray.
It isn’t going to be easy…despite my ultimate success this morning, I somehow blanked on my user name for the blog and retrieving it meant ending up in email. I’ll admit to answering one or two. I am wondering about doing this work on a different device reserved strictly for reading and writing rather than working. Break the habits associated with the MacBook Air.
Plus, Tim Stahmer includes me on his blog roll and I want to live up to his expectations 😉