Tag Archives: 28daysofwriting

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.

Lots of (Virtual) Learning Going On

Much of my time in the last three days have been spent in synchronous virtual learning experiences including a webinar and two day long virtual conferences. These events took advantage of two different platforms: Adobe Connect and Avaya Live Engage. Adobe Connect is a high end video conferencing tool while Avaya is a 3D virtual environment. Both events were put on by experienced users of the platforms who had taken care to train presenters and do the necessary audio and video testing. There were still a few glitches. I lost audio during my presentation using Engage, probably because I had to move the laptop during the session in order to plug in. Warning: Engage EATS your battery seemingly to the tune of 1% per minute, and about half way through I had more minutes left than battery life. It was easy enough to log out and back in but there were a few frustrating minutes where they couldn’t hear me and I couldn’t hear them. Similar things happened during the virtual conference in Adobe. We got off the script in one session and sharing a YouTube video dealt a death blow to the presenter’s audio. Having a presenter back channel helps to get messages to the presenter when things are going wrong. But, the presenter has to be aware of that back channel and be checking it.

For presenters, the interfaces can be challenging. In a face to face environment, you use audience cues for questions or interaction. A hand waving in the air is a little more attention getting than a hand icon beside a name in a presenter list. Keeping track of both audience text chat and back challenge chat adds to the stress.

Engage more closely replicated a live, face to face session. Our avatars were together and, if I was more experienced with the interface, I could have punctuated remarks with hand gestures. Audience members could raise their hands to ask questions or make comments. Even though I knew we were all sitting behind screens, I had a much better sense of presence than with Adobe Connect. Certainly presenters in Adobe Connect can turn their webcams on but that just heightens the sense of being in different places and I find myself wondering about the environments behind them: are they in their offices? their homes? What books are on the shelf? Avatars offer the sense of being in the same “physical” space.

I don’t think I have a preference for either system. I am much more familiar and comfortable with Adobe Connect having served as a host for many webinars. I like the interface that allows for multiple windows so I can be following the text chat along with the presentation. Because the text chat in Engage was more buried, it wasn’t used as much. But, the audio was fairly simple to use, and the room was set up with audience mics so everyone could easily hear the conversation between the presenter and attendees.

The same was true for Adobe as well. Having been with the platform for a long time, I’ve seen audio evolve to the point where almost anyone can easily grab the microphone and talk once they’ve been given the appropriate rights. No more tin cans or ugly feedback.

Maybe computer mics are just generally easier to use as well. In the Adobe sessions, we could easily hold conversations as part of the networking sessions. Some people were still more comfortable just typing and that was OK, too. Multiple ways to communicate open up the learning for audience participation. The presenters who had the most success with chat were those who invited the participants to type something specific in the chat room, such as where they were from or their experiences with a particular technology.

That last thought starts getting at my next blog entry: tips for making virtual sessions more engaging. The sessions in both environments tended to be typical lecture-style presentations with attention focused on the presenter. There are ways to include interactivity that can help pull the audience into the subject matter more effectively so they aren’t, as I was in some cases, simply listening while multitasking in another window.

Getting Back In the Saddle

Two days have gone by without a 28 days of writing post. I could just walk away but my goal isn’t necessarily to blog every day, but get in a blogging habit. So, this is my chance to try again.

Dean Shareski’s blogging anniversary post was kind of what prompted me not to quit. He has a great clip from Seth Godin about the act of blogging that’s worth a view. Like Dean, I am writing for myself, a place to reflect, to clarify, to understand. I don’t completely ignore the audience since it is a public piece of writing and I try to make some wider connections to help them do their own thinking.

So, what happened the last two days? I could say “life” but the bigger problem is not having a routine for the blogging. It goes on the to do list but since it doesn’t have to be done, it tends to get pushed to the edges of the day and by 8:30 PM at night, I’m tired and uninspired. I would find myself listlessly surfing Feedly to find something to write about besides reading and books, the topic of several of the recent posts.*

Two lessons here:

1. Routines are important for me and blogging needs to find its place. Mornings seem to be the best time for me. And, I really want to be commenting on other blog posts so that will also be the time to great the day via social media and Feedly. It’s a bit ironic: I only recently gave up my morning pages habit of more than a decade. The long form stream of consciousness writing had grown stale. So, it should be easy to replace that with a blog entry. But, I’ve gotten used to doing other things, mostly reading or piddling on the Internet.

2. I need to get more serious about developing a parking lot for ideas. I have saved a few articles to Evernote but am thinking that a few minutes in the afternoon to just brainstorm things that have happened that day that might be worthy of comment along with emails or articles that have come my way would help prime the pump for the morning sessions so I can get right to the writing without heading out to the network for ideas.

I don’t think I’m going to try to get caught up. Just get started on the routine: I’m blogging in the morning and then this afternoon, I’ll curl up with Feedly and Twitter and think about tomorrow.

*I don’t think those posts are bad but they aren’t really the focus of this blog, which is supposed to be more about education and technology. I blog about my reading at my personal blog.





Magic Portals

The first Harry Potter movie is playing on television this evening, and Harry has just walked through the portal into Diagon Alley for the first time. I can remember where I was when I read the book, a recommendation from my nephew. It was a thick book, but after a few pages of reading, the thickness was comforting, assuring me that I was in for a good read. We were on vacation, and I stole moments when I could, laying across the bed, sprawled in a lounge chair, riding in the back seat of the car, savoring the story of the boy who lived.

I didn’t have to worry about taking a test, or writing in my journal, or participating in book club. I knew I was have a wonderful conversation with my nephew when I saw him next but for now, it was the reading that took center stage. I stepped through the magic portal into Diagon Alley with Harry and never looked back.

As a younger girl, I loved The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, another book with a magic portal. My bedroom in our house had a closet that reached far into the eaves. I was sure if I just crawled a little further, I would find myself in a new world that lay beyond the back of the closet. It was not to be, of course, but perhaps books were my magic portals.

I’m surrounded by books in my farmhouse library, some that have been with me for a lifetime. I can trace the timeline of my life, the arc of my education, as I browse the shelves. Like Harry Potter, I can remember where I was when I read many of them, which class I was taking or where I was living. There’s a trip across the state with The Da Vinci Code, its short choppy chapters marking the miles. It took Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings to get me across the United States.

The former owner of the house was also a book person. He owned a great collection of what I think of as dime novels, the small format paperbacks that were popular when I was young. They line a top shelf and I’m determined to read through some of them. He was evidently fascinated by contemporary science, and there are books that live just on the edge of my memories, books about genetics and computers at a time when they still seemed like magic portals.

I’ve got a running list of books to read for now, but I’m exploring the challenges at LibraryThing. I’ve done two of them already in 2015–books by British and Australian writers–and had enjoyable reads of The Remains of the Day and Gould’s Book of Fish, both of which have been lurking for some time.  I finished some great books the last time I dove into reading gamification.