Below find the chat logs from tonight’s first ever #edwhy and #edwhatif chats. Not a huge response the first time out (Okay, very small.), but that’s not a problem–I believe it will be worthwhile, because we need to question things in our field if anything is ever going to change for the better.
Besides, I’m a longtime blogger–I’m used to talking to myself! 🙂
For those who don’t wan’t to invest the full 9 minutes or so involved in listening to my latest podcast, here is my 5-step plan to growing a PLN using Twitter.
Get started. Sign up and get set up to use Twitter with whatever tool you like best. That might be using the Twitter website, a mobile app (I use Echofon at this time.), or a desktop app (e.g. Tweetdeck, Echofon, Hootsuite, Janetter, etc.). Use whatever you find best suits you and enables you to read or post quickly when you have a few minutes.
Learn those hashtags. Some great, general education related tags include #edchat, #education, #edtech, and #txed (particularly aimed at Texas educators).
Read. Search for posts with the specific tags you’re looking for, then read a few. You’ll quickly find someone talking about something that will interest you.
Respond. Talk back to them, and when you do, include their @username and the #hashtag for the conversation.
Follow. Click that button and start receiving regular tweets from folks talking about the things that matter to you. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how many immediately follow you back, especially if you post good questions and are willing to share.
If you will do these simple things, you will quickly have a burgeoning, online network of educators ready to engage in important conversations.
As an afterthought, a few other little tips came to mind. First, be sure to create a reasonably detailed description when you set up your account. That helps convince profile viewers that you are a professional worthy of following. Secondly, don’t “protect” your tweets. If other educators are window shopping for their own network, they need to see what types of information or questions you share in order to make an informed decision. If you’re primarily talking about teaching and learning, why would you not want someone reading it, anyway? Finally, reply. Unless you are Shaq, you will likely never have more followers than you can reasonably expect to respond to. If they’ve taken the time to address a tweet to you, it is discourteous not to respond. It’s not a conversation until more than one are talking, is it?
One of the most under-utilized aspects of the evolution of today’s Internet resources within the education field is its ability to empower teachers, administrators, and parents to create highly personalized, up to date opportunities for professional learning. Time and money restrictions have reduced the opportunities for those educators in many schools and districts to take days away from the classroom to sharpen their skills or learn of the latest research. As such, we have an increasing responsibility to take matters into our own hands. Fortunately, there are countless resources available today to educators who desire to grow in their knowledge and skills. Even more fortunately, these resources can be accessed for free and in forms that save precious instructional time, being available 24/7 to anyone with an Internet-connected device. The following are just a few tools that are available to get started.
Online journals. Journals are a valuable tool for professional learning, as they provide insights into what is happening in the educational research field. While many academic journals require often substantial subscription costs, the number and quality of free, online journals has grown substantially in recent years. For example, SAGE Education News offers free access to some of their most read journal articles. ASCD offers free online articles from their International Journal of Education Policy and Leadership. The Education Research Global Observatory has a great list of open access journals covering almost every aspect of education.
YouTube. Far from being solely the domain of talking dogs or tragic skateboarding mishaps, YouTube has thousands of educational videos that deal with current issues in the field or provide quick opportunities to learn new skills. Educational professional development companies, such as Simple K-12 (educational technology) or Kagan Professional Development (cooperative learning) have channels where educators can get a quick professional development session and free access to training that might incur significant costs if attended in person. Countless video tutorials are available to learn any technology tool or classroom skill imaginable, as well.
Podcasts. Podcasts are a great way to take professional learning on the road. In either audio or video formats, podcasts allow educators to learn about current trends and hear from some of the best leaders in our field via mobile devices, such as smart phones or tablet computers. This type of professional development has become a favorite of mine, as I can sneak in an episode on a trip between campuses or to the grocery store. A few good examples to get started include TEDTalks Education, Moving at the Speed of Creativity, Teaching With Smartboard, and the November Learning Podcast Series. All are free and available on iTunes.
Twitter. While certainly filled with mundane or simply entertaining content, Twitter remains a powerful resources for connecting to other practitioners in our field. A good way to get started is by creating an account and following educators who are recognized as excellent sources of educational information. Lists of good educators to follow are here, here, and here (Word doc–also includes some great tips). Once following, get in the mix and participate in the conversations being held and don’t hesitate to ask questions. Learn how to use hashtags (e.g. #edchat, #edtech, #edreform) to help you filter through topics to find just what you need.
Free online newsletters. Numerous examples of these exist. You just find the sign up link and set your preferences, and updates are emailed to you daily, weekly, or monthly. Currently, I use SmartBrief to get updates on EdTech and ASCD. eSchool News is another I subscribe to that gives updates on issues and research in education. Tech & Learning has been a long-time resource, with blog posts, how-to articles, and more in the field of educational technology. Edudemic has articles covering a wide range of educational issues, technology, and more from kindergarten through university level.
We held our convocation last week, which focused on 21st century teaching and learning. Aside from some complaints about the length (We have been spoiled by getting released by 11:00 for a leisurely lunch in the past–this year’s went closer to noon.), I’ve heard numerous positive comments about the subject matter and productive discussions about how to turn the vision into reality. I am very optimistic that more and more students and teachers will be engaging in authentic, relevant, technology-rich classrooms this year.
I had a role in convocation this year for the first time. I was called to a planning meeting a week before the event and asked to assist. My task included creating a video with students/teachers talking about 21st century learning they had engaged in during the past year, creating a short Polleverywhere quiz about technology and society, and finding a few folks to connect to via Skype to demonstrate how educating our students is a global matter. While this was quite a set of tasks to accomplish in a week (one when students were still out on vacation), it was interesting and amazing that the last, the Skype connection, was probably the easiest. I simply reached out to educators who I had initially come to know via Twitter, asked them to share how students in their parts of the planet were learning 21st century skills, and set up the times to connect. We connected to Jeff Utecht in Bangkok, Thailand, and Sue Waters in Perth, Australia. Both were amazing (despite technical issues on my side–never fails).
Reflect on this for a moment! These are educators I have had the distinct privilege of meeting in person, but only after establishing a relationship through Twitter and Edublogs (Sue is THE go-to person at Edublogs.). A decade ago, I essentially collaborated only with the teacher next door, and my professional acquaintances were primarily limited to the educators in my building. As recently as 4 or 5 years ago, I would have not known either Sue or Jeff if I bumped into them on the street. Now, they are not only people whose ideas and insight I value, but who I can call upon on short notice and have them share their great minds with our educators, despite being separated by thousands of miles! This is the power of today’s technologies. It isn’t about electronic textbooks, interactive whiteboards, iPods, or any other device. It’s about the connections, the relationships, and the collaborations that are possible. It is about viewing the education of our students as a collaborative effort involving the entire global education community, not the teacher isolated in his room. I know I am a better educator because of my relationships with Jeff, Sue, and the hundreds of other dedicated educators I’ve connected with through Twitter, blogs, social networks, and other technologies.
If you are an educator who has never attempted to use any of these technologies, or one who has tried but not persevered, I cannot encourage you enough to jump in and begin to get connected. Twitter is a fantastic place to start, and there are numerous catalogs of educators to begin building your community (e.g. Twitter4teachers). All it takes is finding a few similar teachers to follow, engaging them in conversation, and sharing your thoughts, questions, and ideas. Blogs, education social networks on sites such as Ning are also fantastic tools for building collegial relationships.
Teaching is a noble call that suffers when we practice in isolation and flourishes when we work together, and at no time in history have we had the tools we do today that allow us to work together for the good of our children. When we take the time to learn and embrace these tools, we grow as professionals–I can testify to that wholeheartedly.
Thanks to all who participated in my sessions/workshop today at the area TCEA conference. As promised, here are the links to the resources that were shared and a few more. Let me know if I can provide anything else! Also, if you attended either my own session on Voicethread or another on the tool, please add your implementation ideas to the Voicethread Wallwisher wall below. Thanks again!
Workshop: Collaborative Storytelling with Voicethread