Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Twitter for Your Personal Learning

It's important to reflect on the implementation of professional development. Are the participants using the tools you're showing them weeks after the session? If not, why?

In the past few months I've had only a couple of workshops on Introduction to Twitter. However weeks after the meetings, many of the workshop participants don't seem to be using twitter. In the meantime I continue to hear about the power of Twitter as a learning tool for teachers and students and its possible impact on education. And I personally get great ideas EVERY DAY from twitter. So what's the deal?

I know there are a lot of factors to explain this, and I know teachers are very busy (and sometimes just need the tech credit :). And sometimes they just don't feel they have time to implement a new technology mid-semester. But with holidays around the corner, I'm going to encourage many of the educators to take a second look at Twitter. And I've reflected on a few reasons for the lack of use as well as a bit of advice for teachers who are interested in trying it out.

Why some educators might not be using Twitter (even after what I'm sure was an enlightening workshop:)?
  • Time - Twitter is sometimes difficult to master in a hour or even 90-minute workshop. I can give examples and testimonials of how great it is, but until teachers can see the benefit and build a network and receive great info - it can be hard to see. Twitter takes time. I followed about eight people for about a month before I felt I really got into it. And it takes time to maintain and update. However, once I started to receive lots of great ideas and resources from others (more on this below), the time I now save has been well worth the initial investment.
  • Misperceptions - I wish Twitter did not have "What are you doing?" at the top of the page because often the updates don't reflect that. Sure, there are some who use it as an opportunity to share what they're doing, but many of updates can be used to spread important ideas, information and resources. I get seven or eight sites every day with great information from Twitter. Information I would have spent much more time searching to find in Google or sites I wouldn't have know to look for. Unfortunately, for some workshop participants Twitter can sound very trivial, and although they'll politely pay attention and accept the tech credit, at the end of the day it's easy to dismiss as another fad in social networking. So don't limit Twitter to just a "social" network, instead think of it a "learning" network.
  • Following too many and/or the wrong people- Twitter is what you make it. And who follows you is not as important as who you follow. But it takes time to create a group to follow who will give relevant information. Following celebrities sounds fun, and I'm sure Oprah is a super person, but she might not give me the info. I'm looking for. I've seen too many teachers start off following all the suggested celebrities. While that might sound fun, it's probably not the best way to build a personal learning network. Twitter lists (a relatively new feature) make it much easier to locate groups worth following, but you may want to start slow with a handful of users and add more when as you get use to it.
  • Resistance to another social networking platform - In a few trainings I've heard, "This is like updating Facebook." And while the process is similar and you'll find those who integrated the two, I think a main difference is the audience (and this is a point to caution educators on). Facebook updates are mostly going out to a controlled group of "friends" while Twitter is a broadcast in a commons. There are some who "protect their tweets" limiting those who can see their updates, but this also limits those who you interact with. Be aware of the difference, if you choose to use both. Twitter can be the learning tool you use, while Facebook (or sites like it) can remain your social networking tool.
  • Too Much "Pulling" not Enough "Pushing" - For some of us who remember web 1.0 it can be hard to move beyond the web as a place to read and pull information and move into the web 2.0 model of the contributing and pushing of information. I suspect some educators are using Twitter to read updates but maybe not post updates themselves. Although there is nothing wrong with this, they aren't benefiting from the "network" part of this tool. I'm not saying constantly "push" because there are Twitter users I've "unfollowed" just because I couldn't keep up with the constant flurry of updates. But pushing out info, answering questions or participating in Twitter groups is part of what makes the learning in Twitter so powerful.
  • How am I going to use this in my class? - Twitter can be a powerful tool for learning more and connecting with other teachers, but if you want details about its use in classroom, there is evidence that students can use microblogging for learning too. The grade level will dictate the needed level of teacher supervision, but there are platforms like Edmodo that are available for use with students. Students can also benefit from the ability to quickly share information in a networked setting. But like a lot of technology, the teacher needs to become familiar with the technology before feeling comfortable using with students.
So give it a try (or another try)and see how much you can benefit from being part of a personal learning network using Twitter.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Few Ideas for Blogging

Lately, I've spent a lot of time talking "blogging" with teachers. Blogging is a great way to engage students and can be used in some fashion with all students. Classrooms without a lot of technology hardware can blog and collect a digital portfolio of students writing, while also teaching some valuable Internet safety lessons. Many teachers are interested in blogging but wonder if this might be one more thing to maintain and manage throughout the day. Blogs can be used in a lot of ways to help teachers work smarter not harder.

And sometimes everyone just needs a few ideas for getting started. And while there are many ideas for classroom blogging on the Internet, I'd like to throw out some advice and a few easy ways I've seen teachers in our district blogging with students.
  • Keep it simple and ask a simple open-ended question. Remember blogging is not meant to create a lot more written work for the teacher. Post a question and let the kids respond. Some of the best blogs I've seen used with students are less about the post and more about the comments/responses from the students.
  • Use pictures. Marlo presented Image Journaling as part of our session for NCTIES last year, and it was brilliant in its simplicity. Post a picture (observing copyright) and have the students respond to a question involving the image. Great for descriptive writing, prediction strategies, summarizing etc...
  • Use multimedia. With the popularity of hand-held video cameras (like the Flipcamera) teachers can easily upload lessons and group performance videos to their blogs. This is a great way to showcase some of the events in your classroom, while allowing students to create digital content. Please note large videos can be much harder to upload into a blog.
  • Showcase student work. Let the blog be a digital bulletin board for displaying student work. Pictures can be scanned in and student writing can be posted, giving students a chance to show off what they've done in class with a potentially global audience.
It does take some effort in getting started, but the majority of teachers I've spoken with who have blogged with their students over the course of a year really seem to think the blog has helped. Try it and I think you'll agree.