Category Archives: Twitter

Lessons From the Field: Using Social Media with My Students

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.

What Was I Thinking?

Yesterday was Sunday…a quiet Sunday and I was perusing Twitter. I discovered that Tom Barrett had started the #28daysofwriting challenge. Since I had had a blog post lingering in my brain for several days, it seemed like a good way to make posting it a priority. So, I posted and then tweeted that I was in on the challenge. I even signed the form.

Then, Monday rolled around and with it the usual Monday chores: a newsletter, online course checkins and feedback, a few extra issues that had come up and, did I mention, I was still sick with the hacking cough I have had since last week. It wasn’t until about 2 PM that I even thought about the challenge. And, I’ll admit, pretty quickly dismissed it with the thought that maybe before bed I could manage a couple minutes.

But then, there were the emails from Tom reminding me of my commitment. And, my tweet had been retweeted so lots more people had seen the commitment. I felt a little more committed with a community behind me. Now what?

I folded up the laptop and walked away for a bit. Took a cold pill to help silence the hack. Changed the sheets on the bed. Solved one of the extra issues that had come up. And then set the timer on my phone, opened up a new post, and started writing.

One of Tom’s suggestions for the challenge was to create a list of possible topics so that seemed like a good post idea. It will help you understand the kinds of things going on in my life and work that might make it onto the page in the next month:

Teaching: I am teaching A LOT this semester, from full blown college courses to shorter workshops. Most are online but I have taken on a face to face course for the first time in nearly three years and I am loving it! The course is a ftf version of an online course I teach for a different university and there are lots of possibilities for reflecting on the affordances and constraints of both formats. In addition, I incorporate a fair amount of social media in these courses in, I hope, meaningful ways. I’m working on a presentation for an online conference next week about how I do this and a blog entry or two will help flesh out that presentation.

Building Community: I retweeted Sylvia Duckworth’s graphic version of George Couros’s blog post about 8 things to look for in today’s class with the comment that I try to incorporate all 8 in the courses I teach for adults:

There are lots of opportunities for blog posts here in terms of reflecting on how I do this.

Stuff I Read: Yesterday’s post was a reading roundup of sorts, with short reflections on a couple articles that had caught my attention on Feedly. I’m making my students use Feedly this semester and they have had some good suggestions for new feeds. I’ve suggested they can use Feedly for their own writing fodder so I should be doing the same. In his challenge post, Tom writes about “not posting perfection,” a topic I addressed in the recent past myself. Twenty-eight minutes is enough time to get something in place but certainly not the epic post. Just enough time to think out loud, make a point, or share a sentiment. Reading and writing go hand in hand and I think I read more critically if I think I’m going to write about what I’ve read.

Finally, with just five minutes to go today, I’m wondering on the nature of writing blog posts. I have not been typing non stop for 28 minutes. I had to look up a couple links and copy the embed code for the tweet. Tom isn’t making a whole lot of restrictions so I’m including that bit of research and code into the writing process. Perhaps, as I dive deeper into the commitment, I shall have those links ready to go prior to setting the timer and “write” for the full time. But linking and embedding are indeed what make blog posts a bit different from journal entries as they tie the posts to the greater world, one of the original goals of the blogging platform. Linking and commenting were a way of making a community of writers who were also linking and commenting.

The last topic that has been floating around in my brain is about errant pigs as an analogy for those things we wish we could control but we can’t. I have a few real world errant pigs wandering around my farm right now. According to my husband, unlike the other pigs, they have no respect for the fence. That seems to me to be a pretty powerful idea for thinking about our students and ourselves. Where are the fences in our lives? And should we respect them? If we don’t, who is there with the stick to prod us back in?

A minute to go…I’m feeling good. A great thanks to Tom not just for the idea but the willingness to follow through and send those emails today. They helped, Tom. I’ve written and I’m pressing publish now. See you tomorrow!

From the Twitterverse: How to Be Less Distracted

I am sitting in the living room, laptop on lap with 10 tabs open in Chrome, American Masters program about Woody Guthrie on the television, husband streaming a local government meeting. One of the tabs is TweetDeck…it’s Tuesday and so the blog post is about something I find on Twitter. This article form Edudemic seemed perfect: How To Be Less Distracted by Technology.

It includes 25 suggestions for how to reduce distraction, many of which include technologies. Interestingly enough, TweetDeck is one suggestion as it helps make Twitter a more efficient time killer.

The two suggestions that I need to practice are setting a limit on email checking and not opening up more than 3 or 4 tabs. I always have email open in a tab and watch the count, immediately clicking on the tab when the number changes. As for the tabs, I’m not sure how I end up with all those tabs…quick searches, clicking on Twitter, email and Facebook links, doing Google searches. I’ll look up to find 15 tabs open, some of them repeats. The article links to this great graphic from the Googley Gooeys, featuring five signs that you’ve opened too many tabs. All five signs apply to me, especially the ones about forgetting what you were doing in the first place and closing the important tab.

The suggestion for email is to only check it twice a day…I’m honestly not sure I could do that. If I were going to try, I feel like I should announce it since my colleagues have gotten used to often getting immediate responses from me, using email almost like chat.

Meanwhile, I can recommend the Woody Guthrie episode of American Masters




Surrounded by Community

I spent most of yesterday online with educators, exploring the meaning of community.  Several hours were spent in Elluminate as part of Powerful Learning Practice‘s ongoing professional development program.  From there, I moved to Second Life for VSTE’s weekly meeting where we explored educational groups.  We ended the evening with a snowball fight and, as you can see from the picture below, I dressed for the occasion.  (Always wanted to have wings!)


I just felt energized the whole day, having access to all these fellow travelers without having to leave my house!  We shared both professional and personally; we learned; we had fun. It was the kind of experience I would wish for learners of all ages.

Besides being reminded of the power of online community, I learned some specific content.  I was introduced to Google notebook, a tool I had not explored before.  I installed it and was eager to try it out this morning.  So, I logged into Twitter, knowing that someone would have a link to a good article to read.  Twitter has increasingly become a big part of my virtual learning community in a way that I could not have imagined when I first joined.  I was not disappointed this morning as Will Richardson had posted a link to a New Yorker article on teacher quality from Malcolm Gladwell.   My primary job right now is working with pre-service teachers and identifying good teachers is always a concern.

I read the article and, as Will suggested, skimmed the football stuff.  When I got to the first paragraph that was really about education, I discovered that it had already been highlighted by someone else, using Diigo.  I moused over to read the comment and discovered it had been made by Michael Scott, who I had just seen last week in Roanoke and who is a member of the VSTE Ning.  I took a break from reading to add Michael as a friend in Diigo.  The next highlight and comment came from Clay Burrell, a fellow Twitterer whose blog, Beyond School, is always thought provoking.  All I could think of is what a small world it was since, according to the Internet World Stats, there are nearly 1.5 billion people online these days.

I think the lesson here is that online is a real community, as real as the face to face community I enjoyed at last week’s conference in Roanoke.  It’s something my non-networked friends just don’t understand.  And it isn’t something that happened overnight either.  But it is part of my life now, and as I sit at my desk working alone from home on a rainy day, I feel the presence of that community.  Thanks to you all!

Community Made Visible

I tend to be a loner.  I like to do things on my own, including learning.  Given a choice, I would always choose to work alone on a project or learning activity.  I’m comfortable in my own company.  Working from home has only exacerbated that tendency.

But, yesterday, as I headed out to vote and then, later in the evening, as I waited for the election returns, I found I wanted to share with others besides just my husband and the dogs. And, happily, there was my online community.  Over the past year, I’ve made an effort to become a more active participant in that community, and last night, almost for the first time, I could really see that it at work, mostly through Twitter.  During the day, we exchanged voting stories, how long the lines were, how we felt about what we had done.  Many people posted pictures and videos.  Then, as the polls began to close, we gathered to share our anxieties, to celebrate the milestones, and, finally, to take a deep collective breath as we realize what had just happened in our country.

Looking back, I can’t point to a specific moment when I joined the community.  It’s been a gradual process, one that I suspect will continue.  One positive step I’m taking is to do more with this weblog by following along with Teach42’s 30 Days To Being a Better Blogger.  I’ve only gotten through the first challenge, to update my About page.  I was surprised to discover that it was woefully out of date, like from 2006.  My other plan is to do more reading and responding to others both as comments and as blog entries as a way of making connections.

Another step is going to do more with the Ning community I’ve chosen.  I’m a member of VSTEOnline.  This semester, I had my pre-service teachers sign up.  They’ve been doing a great job posting their ideas and questions and interacting both with each other and the other Ning members.  Sad to say, I haven’t done much except monitor their progress.  It’s time to make this community a priority.

It is easy to get distracted by multiple communities, something John Hendron recently wrote about, so I’m going to try to focus my energies.  I’ll still Twitter, of course, since I’m rapidly discovering how much I’ve come to rely on those little updates from my tweets, and just last night welcomed several more friends to my Twitter world.

Thanks to all of you who make up my learning network…some of you know who you are, others have no idea. (But I’ll be sending out a few thank you notes so you may find out soon.)  Together, we are living, learning, and growing together!