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The Stream . . . did I miss something? May 8, 2010

Posted by IaninSheffield in CPD, Web 2.0.
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I often see @doctorjeff‘s Tweets; some I read and think, some make me smile, some just float by in the stream. One containing a link to a blog post passed by last night, but I left the link untouched.

Tweet fom @doctorjeff

A short while later @whatedsaid tweeted what a great post about Twitter @doctorjeff had just made.

Tweet from @whatedsaid

Because I know and respect what Edna has to say, I went back to @doctorjeff’s post. It was indeed an excellent post, and one I might have missed, but for the recommendation of someone in my PLE. Consequence? A new and firmer connection has been made in my network and therefore new opportunities for learning. Is this what connectivism is about?

1st Twittiversary February 20, 2010

Posted by IaninSheffield in Tools, Web 2.0.
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So it’s the first anniversary then . . . one year of Twitter!

1st birthday cake

1st Birthday Cake by nubobo, on Flickr

Time perhaps to take a brief look back down the road I’ve travelled?  I feel as though I’ve come quite a long way in that short time, but what have been the milestones, the sights?

I’ve tapped into a network of innovative, inspirational, informative educators from around the globe.  They’ve expanded my views about what’s possible immeasurably; they suggest new tools  & techniques, provide support and guidance . . . and often make me laugh.

I’ve been introduced to TeachMeets – the enthusiasm of the participants in these informal unconferences is infectious.  You can’t fail to be inspired and stimulated; you can even participate from afar.

I’ve found EdTechRoundUp – this group of educators gives up an hour on a Sunday evening each week to discuss edtech issues.  Never fail to be impressed with how thoughtful, considered and incisive these folks are.

My Delicious bookmarks have more than doubled to over 1500 as a result of pointers to new resources the network has provided

There is a downside to all this however, one that has manifest itself recently.  Part of what I do involves helping others with their ICT in school and part of that is acting as a channel through which interesting practice can be shared.  When I try to pass on some of the amazing ideas from people in my PLN, they’re not always received with the enthusiasm I might hope for and I’ve been wrestling with why this might be.  Obviously it could be the way I’m putting things across. It could be that the ideas aren’t appropriate for our circumstances.  It might be that I’m completely out of touch.  Then there’s the possibility that the people I’m trying to reach simply aren’t in a place where they want to (or need to?) hear that message.  The final element to consider is the people in my PLN – are they unusual individuals, forward-thinkers, at the bleeding edge, very different from the average ‘teacher-in-the-street?’  All organisations need people like this Rogers (2003) refers to them as the ‘Innovators’; they’re the ones who take us forward.

Diffusion of innovations

Diffusion of Innovations by Wesley Fryer, on Flickr

The tricky bit I’m finding at the moment is hanging on to the coat-tails of the innovators out there, whilst maintaining a bridge with colleagues in school.  Perhaps I shouldn’t even be trying?  Perhaps my strategy is misplaced? Perhaps there are other factors at play which I’ve yet to consider  – organisational, cultural, systemic?

I think I’ve some way to go yet to resolve this one, but if you have any insights I’d be delighted to hear them.  You’re reading this blog; you’re different!  You’re an innovator!  What do you think?

(Rogers, E.M., 2003. Diffusion of Innovations 5th ed., London: Simon and Schuster)

Suivre, folgen, seguire . . . or just plain follow? January 5, 2010

Posted by IaninSheffield in CPD, Inspiration.
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'Walk this way' by Mel B. (via Flickr). CC BY licence.

A colleague new to Twitter asked me earlier who would be good to follow.  I was about to fire off a few suggestions when it suddenly struck me that what appeared on the face of it to be a simple question, actually merited a more considered answer.  The quick and easy reply would be to say just follow anyone I follow . . . but how arrogant would that make me?  It presupposes that those people of interest to me would interest someone else . . . though to be fair, I’m constantly grateful for the stimulation and inspiration my PLN provides and I think they’re pretty damned hot!  But someone else might have different imperatives or want to pursue different interests, so how should I advise?

Well how about starting with Mashable’s Twitter Guide Book which includes an explanation of how to build a Twitter community?  Or  a visit to the Twitter4Teachers page which lists hundreds of educators on Twitter arranged into areas by subject and/or interest?  But perhaps these are better explored when someone is a little more comfortable with the way Twitter works and can begin to make more informed judgements.

To return to the original question for a moment, essentially I was being asked for my recommendations . . . if someone asked me what music I might recommend, I suppose my first question would be ‘what do you like?’ (already covered that), but I wouldn’t then say ‘go and have a look at what’s on iTunes.’  No, I’d offer a few alternatives that I liked, trying to be as eclectic as possible. So the criteria I’m going to use are as follows:

  • People from different phases of education – primary, secondary, tertiary and beyond
  • People who are prolific Tweeters and some who Tweet less often
  • People from different countries – it’s good to get a different perspective

And here’s my list, in no particular order and sticking to a hopefully manageable dozen:

@simonhaughton, @dajbelshaw, @josepicardo, @timbuckteeth, @maggiev, @zaidlearn, @c4lpt, @lasic, @mwclarkson, @grumbledook, @digitalmaverick, @lisibo, @courosa.

(And the only reason @tombarrett is not on the list is because I know he’s already being followed) . . . but I could just as easily produce another dozen or another.  It’s just like recommending music – once you start, you could go on and on and on.

How would you have answered the same question?  What would your criteria have been?

My place . . . or yours? November 1, 2009

Posted by IaninSheffield in research, TELIC.
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Have recently been discussing a paper for my Master’s course called ‘Rethinking the Virtual’ by Nicholas Burbules.  In it he contends that virtual spaces can be transformed into virtual places which have greater significance and familiarity, and that this is achieved through immersion in the environment.   This is clearly related to the way we think about learning environments and more particularly those mediated by the Internet.

Twitter logo

from Matt Hamm on Flickr

Being a bear of little brain, I invariably find theoretical papers hard work.  As I try to get to grips with the concepts, I often search for touchstones in the real world, templates I can drop over my thinking to see if they fit the theory.  And that’s when I thought about Twitter.  Twitter has become the hub of my professional learning network and as an online environment might constitute what Burbules refers to as ‘the virtual.’

The first element in contributing to ‘the virtual’ are four factors which together provide a sense of immersion in the environment – interest, involvement, imagination and interaction.  Taking each in turn, Twitter clearly holds my interest – it is sufficiently complex and captivating for me to return to it on a regular and frequent basis (this is confirmed by Java et al, 2007).  I’m certainly involved in the experience – it matters to me; I get a great deal from it in terms of resources, insights, links to further information, and I care about the contributions I make and how they are viewed.  (I was mortified when I got suckered by the recent Mafia game scam and how I was perceived as a result).  My imagination is constantly stimulated in different ways, from thinking about the people in my network from the little snippets of life stories which are scattered around, to the ‘what if’ questions which arise when I’m stimulated by a particular post.  Twitter provides so many ways to interact with the environment, starting with the simple act of making your first Tweet then replying to the Tweets of others and providing the option of filtering or searching for information through the use of the hashtag.  Although Twitter for me is a professional and not social networking tool and the Tweets that really matter are those that help me develop professionally, when the people I have chosen to follow answer that fundamental Twitter question “What am I doing,” it only enhances the sense of immersion, paints a richer picture and gives me a reason to care.

Burbules goes on discuss the notion of virtual space and time and that an online environment becomes a ‘space,’ a place people choose to occupy, interact with others and do things together – Twitter clearly facilitates this.  The time aspect is interesting in that whilst Twitter can be a synchronous space enabling communication and activity in real time, the time for those involved can be very different – one may have just got up whilst the other is about to go to bed.  Asynchronous communication is also possible . . . in fact a group of people collaborating on an activity might include some using the space synchronously and others using it asynchronously.

From the outset, Twitter has developed from a space into a ‘place,’ as Burbules would have it.  i.e.  a space which the users have appropriated for themselves (Mischaud, 2007).  The whole environment, given the number of users (25 million by the end of 2009?), is vast and given the nature of the way it works, somewhat transient – it is perhaps these reasons why a common reaction for the first experience is ‘I don’t get it.’  But then people make the space a place by following people they find interesting; they in effect create maps which allow them to navigate the environment.  They also change the architecture to suit their favoured mode of interaction, perhaps using a mobile to device to send and receive Tweets or by using an interface like Tweetdeck or linking with other services like TwitPic or Facebook.   So whilst Twitter provides the space for all these people to occupy, each creates his or her own place within it.

Mi Casa es Su Casa

by rosefirerising on Flickr

On that basis then, I think Burbules probably would classify Twitter as ‘the virtual.’  For me it’s just a constant source of inspiration, advice and encouragement – it’s my place . . . but mi casa, su casa!

Further reading:

Courtenay Honeycutt, S.C.H., 1899. Beyond Microblogging: Conversation and Collaboration via Twitter. Available at: http://www.computer.org/portal/web/csdl/doi/10.1109/HICSS.2009.602 [Accessed November 1, 2009].

Java, A. et al., 2007. Why we twitter: understanding microblogging usage and communities. In Proceedings of the 9th WebKDD and 1st SNA-KDD 2007 workshop on Web mining and social network analysis.  San Jose, California: ACM, pp. 56-65. Available at: http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1348556 [Accessed November 1, 2009].

Levy, S., 2009. Mob Rule! How Users Took Over Twitter. Wired, (November 2009). Available at: http://www.wired.com/magazine/2009/10/ff_twitter [Accessed November 1, 2009].

Mischaud, E., 2007. Twitter: Expressions of the Whole Self – An investigation into user appropriation of a web-based communications platform. LSE – MEDIA@LSE. Available at: http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/media@lse/mediaWorkingPapers/MScDissertationSeries/Mishaud_Final.pdf [Accessed November 1, 2009].

Sometimes, Twit happens October 20, 2009

Posted by IaninSheffield in CPD, Tools.
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Following on from my previous post, I thought it was time to broach a subject I’ve been skirting for a while – how powerful social networking tools can be for teachers’ professional development . . . especially those like my colleague, who maybe isolated in small departments or small schools.  So why haven’t I tackled social networking tools earlier?  Well actually I have . . . but it has to be said, not with the greatest success!

My Delicious homepage

My Delicious homepage

My starting point was with a group of departmental reps., one from  each of the curriculum areas.  We meet once a term to open channels of communication and share interesting practice.  I began with Delicious, a social bookmarking tool I’ve found to be incredibly powerful and easy to use.  We all save links thought I, and given how easy it is to share those online, have anytime access no matter what computer you’re working at, this was going to be an easy sell.  Errr, no.  When I followed up a few weeks later to check on how the group was progressing, I had failed to account for one small factor.  Actually most of the folks don’t save links in a systemmatic way – if they find a resource theywant to pass on to a class, they embed the link with the other support materials they’re providing or . . .  and this one really foxed me . . . they just Googled for the resource they were after, in much the same way they did when they first found it!  I’d made the schoolboy error of thinking what was to me a blindingly obvious more efficient and effective way of working, was only so because of the way I work and the way I see things.

Source: Matt Hamm on Flickr

Source: Matt Hamm on Flickr

So I was a bit reticent about getting burn’t again . . . but hey, it goes with the territory, so it was time to dip the toe back in the water.  This time the prompt was to offer possible ways that isolated teachers can access a wider support network using social networking tools i.e. start up their professional learning network.  My weapon of choice – Twitter, another tool which has been a revelation to me and one I’d now find it hard to live without.  Back to the same group of ICT Reps then and slowly, slowly . . . let’s begin by looking at how a carefully chosen community in Twitter can begin to provide a wonderful support network.  With the ‘lack of time’ reaction likely to raise its head as it invariably does, I was careful to explain how this is a stream into which we can dip, as and when we choose.  It’s a bit like Pooh Sticks – you lean over the bridge and watch the flow go by.  Occasionally there’s not much of interest, sometimes a few twigs and sticks and leaves which you just watch float past, but often there are intriguing little paper boats that catch your eye. So you pick one out and check it a little more carefully; it might have an interesting message on – they’re the ‘keepers.’  When you’re a little more comfortable, you might start dropping your boats into the flow for others to find downstream.

OK so that metaphor’s perhaps reached its elastic limit, but it was worth a shot and we’ll see whether folks follow it up.  But sometimes it’s the unexpected that really provides the reward and that came from a colleague in the English department, who wasn’t entirely convinced that Twitter might be able to help, but did spot that it would provide a really interesting opportunity for students to examine the ‘writing for a purpose and specific audience’ element of the curriculum. She’d seen the different ways that Tweeps express themselves through their Tweets, how they’re economical with language, the methods they use to squeeze their messages into the 140 characters and how you have to ‘tune in’ slightly to understand the flow.  If for no other reason than that discovery by one colleague, the session was worth it.