Thursday, November 19, 2009
I signed up for Twitter the first week of this course and began following people as outlined by Joanne, and of course picked a few people of my own to check out once and awhile. Just before I joined Twitter I had been watching one of the Late Night talk shows where Shaquille O'Neal had been a guest. He was talking about his Twitter experiences and all his followers, so I thought, what the heck I like basketball and I'm sure it would be pretty interesting following him. A short while later I learned I wasn't even following the real Shaq, which made me think how do we really know if we're following who we think are? Most likely these problems would only arise in the case of celebrity-type people, but who knows, if one was at an international library/ technology convention, the likes of Joyce Valenza and Will Richardson may be considered "celebrity."
I'll admit my first, well let's be honest, most of my experiences on Twitter have been riddled with frustration and anxiety. In the beginning I joined thinking this was just a place to let people know what you're doing, where you going, etc. and one of my friends said you have to write really short messages. So I thought, how hard could this be. I joined up, chose the look and feel of my page, added a picture of my Dad's race car (Opel - as we affectionately call her) and started checking out some of the people I was following. Well, that confident, god I'm gettin' good on this here computer feeling, quickly vanished and was replaced with, what the . . ., what are these symbols and abbreviations all about? And some of the things people were writing about - WHO CARES!! I really thought, as many people still do, what the heck is so appealing about Twitter?
BUT, I thought, I have to give this a chance, even if it is only to satisfy course requirements. My first tweet, really most of them, I'm sure also exuded the who cares factor. Knowing that a lot of the students at the high school were members of Twitter though, I knew it was something I needed to be aware of and try using. Throughout this course I have tried to visit Twitter as much as possible, although with each week's specific topics, working, and family life I know I haven't given it a fair shake. I do know more about it than any of my friends, family, or colleagues, but have not yet reaped the rewards of somebody like Mack Male. It wasn't until I started listening to the Mack Male Twitter session on Elluminate did I really start learning some things about Twitter. I really wished I had listened to it a lot earlier when Joanne first gave us the link, because I quickly learned what the # and @ symbols meant and also what bit.ly was. I now know what a Hash Tag is and why anything related to Edmonton is #yeg as that is what the airport code is (which I found out because during the elluminate session people were asking the SAME questions I was wondering!). Mack also gave three different ways to find out what a hash tag is: click on it or respond to someone to see what it's all about; visit "wthashtag.com to find out what they mean; or, simply search Google. Good ole' google!
Another aspect of Twitter that Male discussed that seemed to clarify things for me was the fact that Twitter is more for "real time" information. It's not a good resource for going back to find something, that he said, is why we blog - use Twitter to direct people to your blog. Makes sense! When he scrolled down on his Twitter page he showed how real time it really was, as down the whole length of his page the oldest reply was somewhere around "sent less than 30 seconds ago." I also learned that a "twoosh" is a perfect 140 character tweet, compared to the Nike Swoosh, and that a "tweetup" is an actual event that is set up for people on Twitter to meet face to face. So slowly my confusion and anxiety are morphing into feelings of less confusion and anxiety. I still do feel a little out of the loop sometimes when check out some of the people I am following who have been on twitter for awhile. There is still a lot of lingo, abbreviations and acronyms I am not familiar with, but that will just take time on my part for my exploration of the tool. Instead of a meaningless status update, I tried to post something of a little more interest, at least to me, in regards to my last few tweets. I wrote about our Animoto videos, a good resource I found at go2web20, and the fact that I made a "twoosh!" I mostly just wanted everyone to know that I knew what a "twoosh" was.
Of course I also watched the Twitter in Plain English video as I feel the simplicity of their information is always aimed directly at me! At the end of the video two other suggestions came up, like they always do, one being "Twitter Whore." Curiosity getting the best of me, I had to watch, thinking if it's REALLY inappropriate or too racey I can just turn it off. It was pretty funny! Basically making fun of how some people probably do use Twitter, a touch embellished, I'm sure, but it was quite comical. Obviously not something to be used in an educational setting, but I'll admit I did share it with my husband and a few friends. BUT, it did make me think, what if you were showing this at school and "Twitter Whore" automatically comes up as another recommended video? What would you do? I guess that is another good reason to have some sort of classroom blog or wiki so that you can embed good video's right into your classroom site. so you don't run into that problem. I also looked around the Twitter Wikipedia page as I thought that would be a good starting point for someone who really doesn't get it. I found Twitter is a place for not only posting status updates, but for spreading news, asking questions, and following people or topics of interest. Evan Williams, CEO of Twitter and part owner of Pyra Labs, Blogger, and Odeo (also invented the term "blogger"), stated, "What we have to do is deliver to people the best and freshest most relevant information possible. We think of Twitter as it's not a Social Network, but it's an information network. It tells people what they care about as it is happening in the world." Now, I know from following some of the people I've chosen to follow, that a lot of the information on Twitter is definitely not that "fresh" or "relevant." Like anything though, it is what you make it. If you choose to follow people with similar interests, chances are the information will be better and one won't be left wondering, "Who cares?"I was also pretty excited to find, during our last discussion assignment, that one of my resources also mentioned ways to use Twitter. Karen Bonanno's presentation on The Role of the 21st Century Librarian along with discussing other Social Networking tools, described uses of Twitter for the school and school library. She presented five ways to use Twitter by posting: (1) New resources notices, (2) School Library Events, (3) Alerts for Web Links, (4) Links to news and current affairs, and (5) Info to stay up to date professionally. My question is though, how do you get colleagues, staff and admin, to join Twitter? I guess you could make it mandatory, but from my experience, those situations don't often work out very well.
My thoughts regarding Twitter have definitely changed since the beginning of this course when I joined and started following people required for this course. I am certainly still exploring and learning new things all the time, but I do have a better appreciation for its purpose. It really just isn't about people telling others what they're eating for breakfast, it is more a space to share good information via links and URL's and keep up to date with current events.
Discussion of the Tool in Terms of Personal Learning
Of course I found many positive and educational uses for Twitter such as the American Red Cross exchanging minute to minute information about local disasters. People fleeing from floods and fires able to tweet their locations for loved ones. Also, a top story article from CBS news online that features a Principal from New Milford High School in New Jersey teaching students to tweet. Eric Sheringer states, "I can honestly say it's the most powerful learning tool that I've ever experienced in my education career." He feels there is nothing like it for sending out quick messages and getting immediate responses. Another teacher at his school uses Twitter to get help and resources from teachers around the globe.
Lee Kolbert's blog, A Geeky Momma's Blog, posted a discussion about, "Twitter in School's; What Does It REALLY Look Like?" I saw this post while checking my RSS feeds as well as a funny YouTube video, "Twitteleh" which depicts a Jewish man keeping his mother happy using Twitter.
Kolbert writes, "Twitter is the new black. Everyone is doing it! Well, everyone except, of course, our schools." She goes on to outline the obstacles facing those educators who do see the benefit of implementing technology into our classrooms: (1) How do you get Administrators on board?, (2) How do you get Parents on board?, (3) Content - how do you determine what you will tweet?, (4) Privacy - do you protect your updates? She gives a few suggestions for each point made and then she has created two spreadsheets that give information on School Districts using Twitter and Classroom Teachers using Twitter. These spreadsheets have, "since proven helpful to many educators as we all continue to argue for reasonable awareness as it relates to our school districts using Web 2.0 and social networking tools. " This blog post is definitely worth the read when debating the importance or uses of Twitter in education.
Another blog post I came across promoting the use of Twitter in education was an article written by David Zax in the October 2009 issue of ASEE Prism (American Society for Engineering Education) posted in Tomorrow's Professor Blog, called "Learning in 140 - Character Bites." Zax declares that, "Twitter can improve teacher-student communication, in and out of class." He writes about an Aerospace Engineering lecture-style class that half-way through allows the students to log onto to Twitter and write in their questions about that day's topics. The instructor then sifts through Tweets and by the end of the class discusses the most common question or issue raised. In the same article Zax talks about Gordon Snyder, Director for the National Centre for Information and Communications Technologies at Springfield Technical Community College in Massachusetts, and how he assigns his students "hashtags" to allow one another to easily find their tweets so students can keep tabs on each other's notes and thoughts. Snyder sees Twitter, "As a way to keep students engaged at school." Keeping students engaged - isn't that what we are trying to do as educators? I really do believe if we intend to keep our 21st century students engaged, we really do need to take a look at what we are teaching them and more importantly HOW we are teaching it to them.
Ending this section on a funny note (as I like to do), my brother-in-law sent me an email with the song, "Tweeting On A Jet Plane" attached about some pilots who somehow missed an airport in Minnesota by 150 miles. Sung to the tune of John Denver's "Leaving on a Jetplane" it is pretty funny.
Discussion of the Tool in Terms of Professional Learning
The very first reason in the Nine Reasons to Twitter in Schools, trailfire Joanne posted for us was, "Together we’re better: Twitter can be like a virtual staffroom where teachers can access in seconds a stream of links, ideas, opinions, and resources from a hand-picked selection of global professionals." Collaboration is a big buzz word around here in our district as of late, not sure about other districts, but in SD #73 there seems to be an increase in the time allotted for subject teachers to come together to discuss what is and what is not working. And not only teaching staff, administrators, and student support workers are collaborating as well. So the idea that perhaps colleagues could be connected in seconds to discuss concerns and issues regarding students sounds like a pretty efficient way to do that. Of course the most obvious obstacle would be to persuade people to first join Twitter, then to take the time to learn how to really use it.
Above this post is yet another embedded YouTube (as you can see I absolutely believe YouTube has an educational value) video, "The Twitter Experiment." Dr. Monica Rankin from the University of Texas at Dallas talks about Twitter and how she implements it in her History class. Her main reason for using it is that it allows her to pull more people into her discussion in the limited 50 minute time-frame for her session. All entries are displayed on a screen at the front of the classroom throughout the session for the class to discuss and probe further. Some students were also interviewed to get their take on using Twitter in class. One compared a traditional lecture without using Twitter to the fact that maybe only three students would feel comfortable participating in the discussion. Using Twitter you can have more than thirty students making points or asking questions, allowing those who may not contribute orally to share their thoughts and ideas. Another student stated that he used it as a study aide, where he could go back and look at the significant terms that were tweeted that day. Rankin also saw an increase in class discussion as students could use their computers or cell phones to participate. I can't even imagine how excited students would be at our high school if they were ALLOWED to use their cell phones in class. As it is now, if they get caught using them in class, they get them taken away for the day. Rankin mentioned that the 140 character limit can be a concern, but it also forces the students to narrow their focus and really think about their "central point," removing any irrelevant information. She also talked about a period of time when she was away, she was still able to participate in class conversations via Twitter. The interview ends with a comment I feel pretty much sums up how implementing anything new into education feels, not just technology, "I'm going to have to come to grips with the fact that it's going to be messy, but messy doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be bad."
Will I be using Twitter at school anytime soon? Probably not, but that doesn't mean I do not see the educational value that Twitter can have in the classroom or library setting settings. Most of the examples I found of teachers using Twitter in the classroom were taking place at the high school or college/university level. Personally I will probably be trying to implement other Web 2.0 tools initially, as I know more about them at this point, and feel more confident teaching them to others. The 100 Tips, Tools, & Resources for Librarians on Twitter post from the Lone Wolf Librarian Blog, lists many useful ideas and links to websites, blogs, and wikis for using in Twitter libraries and classrooms. The information is classified into the following categories:
1. Resources for Learning Twitter
2. Ways to Use Twitter in the Library
3. Library Talk About Twitter
4. Librarians Twittering
5. Tools to Enhance Your Twittering (ie. Tweetdeck and bit.ly)
6. Educational Twitter Tools (ie. QuoteURL, TwitPic, and OutwitMe)
7. Find Twitter Applications
8. Advice to Help Improve Your Twitter Experience
For me personally, some of the suggestions from this site I see myself using Twitter in the library would be: posting new book arrivals, posting Library events, staying in touch with other librarians, and sending alerts when material is available for patrons or if material is overdue. In the end I don't think it matters in what order educators try implementing Web 2.0 within their classroom, just that they start doing it. If we want to stay afloat in this digital abyss of the 21st Century world of technology, we as educators, have to keep abreast of the tools themselves and the way students are using them. Are you gonna swim or sink??
Friday, November 13, 2009
Facebook was really the only Social Networking Site I was familiar with and apart of at the beginning of this course. I became a member of Facebook roughly 3 years ago at the gentle prompting of a few of my high school friends. "It's like having a high school reunion online," one of the proclaimed. And it really was. For the first few months it was amazing catching up with people I hadn't seen or talked to since we graduated in 1989. The opportunity to find out where classmates were located and view photos of them and their families was quite exciting. Where is the first place most people go when you first visit someone's profile? I always check out the "View Photos of . . ." the person initially before I explore their profile further.
Reflecting on the process of learning about Facebook, I remember feeling pretty excited about the fact I could reconnect with my old friends and also stay in touch with family members across Canada. The actual Facebook application was very user-friendly to sign up for and create my profile page. It was simple to download and share photos and albums and share and talk about your favorite music and books. I do remember going back to my personal information page and removing some of the information I had initially added. After adding some family photos and albums of my kids I realized that perhaps I shouldn't have revealed quite so much about us and where we lived.
There were moments of frustration sifting through the myriad of Facebook applications that were constantly recommended by Facebook and other friends. I think we all have that one friend that forwards everything from hugs to quizzes to I Think You're Hot (so inappropriate!). That is the one aspect of Facebook that still drives me a little crazy - I thought of removing the one high school friend that continues to send me all this stuff, but I think that would probably be considered a big NO-NO on the Electric Friendship Generator's list of do not's. Steve Abram's YouTube video, "Facebook Manners and You" listed five DONT'S of Facebook etiquette in a fabulous, funny way. This would be an excellent resource to use with Middle and High School students to remind them to: not change relationship status before talking to boy/girl friend; not post embarassing photos; be discreet when posting messages on your wall; not steal other peoples' friends; and, not start hate groups. Interestingly, when I showed this video to some senior high school students in the library the other day, one of the girls stated, "Oh my god, I have done all of those things!" Another girl suggested that I show this to the leadership students and perhaps they could use it in some way to create awareness of Facebook manners with the entire student body through some sort of activity or something. I really do think it would be an effective way to show students what could happen if they were to use Facebook as a form of bullying or space to try and hurt somebody. Also, teachers will enjoy it for the humour and the old-fashioned way in which it was produced.
When I began the process of applying for Graduate studies in this department last summer, I came across a Ning created by Jennifer Branch for Canadian 21st Century Teacher Librarian's. I decided to join this Ning as I thought it would probably be an excellent resource and place to ask questions or find information pertaining to this and future courses. If I am being honest I haven't visited this Ning as often as I visit Facebook - I am not even on Facebook as often as I should be. Most likely because I have been devoting most of my time each week to the specific topics we are covering in our course.
If I take a look at where I am now compared to where I was three years ago when I first joined Facebook, I consider myself to have gained quite a bit more confidence and knowledge regarding Social Network Sites. I didn't even know what a SNS was until I joined Jennifer's Ning, because I didn't know what a Ning was! Checking out the Ning website I finally started making some connections and realized that Facebook, Twitter, and Nings were all sort of the same thing. For all the flack these online spaces take, usually from older generations, they are fairly amazing places to reconnect, collaborate, plan, and share photos, videos and other multimedia projects.
Discussion of the Tool in Terms of Personal Learning
From the view of being part of a social group, without the Facebook application "Class Creator," my 20 year high school reunion would have been extremely harder to organize. I would say that Facebook itself allowed us to locate more than half of the grads by accessing friends of friends. There were three of us that were the main organizers and created the actual "Summerland Secondary Class of '89" site through Class Creator. Not only were we able to locate grads using this application, we could regularly update details regarding the dates, times and places of all the events and also set up links for registration, payment, and accomodation. One of my admin jobs was to collect the money and arrange for the caterer. I had an existing PayPal account that I easily switched over to a business account to allow people to pay their fees online. I received only a handful of cheques, the majority choosing to submit payment via the PayPal link.
Ironically, at the same time my Dad was on the committee to organize his 45th high school reunion. They combined three years of graduates (1963-1965) and organized the entire event through word of mouth, telephone, advertisements in local newspapers and some email. I offered to help him set up some sort of online communication site, which he politely declined! I can't imagine how much more work it would have been to organize our reunion without the use of a Social Networking Site and online payment system. This is a prime example of the generational digital divide that I have read about numerous times in various articles. My Dad could not believe that I trusted the PayPay website with my personal banking information, "Identify theft is real," he reminded me.
The social implications of Facebook for myself and my family have been positive as well. Through the Family Link Application I have been able to stay in touch with my immediate and extended family. It's pretty amazing to have that opportunity to connect and communicate with family one doesn't get the chance to see regularly. It's an easy way to share photos, videos, and now for me, things like VoiceThread, Wordle, and Animoto creations with family members. Try as I might, I still cannot convince mine or my husband's parents to join us on Facebook.
Is there any negative social implications regarding Facebook? Personally I can think of only one. When I first joined the Facebook network I really wasn't aware of what it entailed. I received many friend requests from family, friends, AND students. At that time I did not have enough foresight or knowledge about this space to ignore the friend requests from students. Not that I post inappropriate photos or information about myself or family, but now I wish I had never opened up that avenue. I do not accept any further friend requests from students and I do get some flack for it when I am at the high school. "How come you're friends with her, but not with me?" Even now I'm not sure how to handle this - do I remove all students from my Friend's list with a generic 'Sorry'? Is that good Facebook etiquette? Theoretically Facebook does not allow people under the age of 14 to join and do try and remove children if they are "underage." The first student that requested me as a friend 3 years ago is presently only in grade 8 - she would have been 10 years old at that time! Her both know she was and remains on Facebook to this day. Stephen Abram discusses a new important literacy, "Online Social Literacy" in his Pipeline Column, Scaffolding the New Social Literacies (Jan 2007). I know it is expected of educators to promote online ethics and safety awareness, but it cannot fall solely to the teachers. Parents MUST take a proactive role in supporting their child's online social literacy at home. Abram notes, "For all intents and purposes they (SNS) are only as safe as the user has the awareness and skills to make good judgements." I really do not believe a 10 year old has the ability to judge what he/she should be saying or posting in an online environment.
Abram mentions Webkinz in his column, as a social networking site for children, "playground pushers of social networking crack." GUILTY! My daughter loved Webkinz, she looked from them everywhere anytime we were out shopping. She does not go on the website anymore, but she used to love going on creating rooms, playing games, and, yes, sending messages to her friends who were also on Webkinz. It does make me feel a bit better that her and her little brother continue to play with the actual stuffed animals we purchased. Abram makes a very interesting, relevant point and asks, "By creating safe places where you need letters from your teacher or parents to get online, or protect kids by narrowing the rules, can kids ever develop the critical thinking about their identity and privacy that will be essential for success in their future?" He believes we need to begin teaching kids at earlier ages how to handle privacy and personal information issues. His idea: When we are teaching kids in grades K-8 about themselves, community, and the world then, "at each stage we define what level of awareness they need to have online for each of these stages." What a smart idea - if somehow we could get it written into the curriculum. I really do believe we are falsely protecting our students by not allowing them online at school, they will as Abram declares, "just take it underground." He concludes, "Smart schools will offer more balanced view points and information. Our society expects it." I think we as educators could learn a lot from what Stephen Abram has to offer with regards to promoting self-awareness of privacy and safety issues with our students when they are online.
Discussion of the Tool in Terms of Professional Learning
The number one action I would take if I had all-controlling power over the three schools in Chase would be to remove the ban on student access to Facebook (and YouTube). The amount of time and energy teachers spend disciplining students for being on these sites, I think, instead, what are some of the educational ways we could be using SNS with them? It doesn't matter how often we bust them during the school day, they will continue to access these sites somewhere, somehow. They know how to open multiple tabs and keep them hidden from unsuspecting teachers. As soon as the teacher begins rotating around between students, they quickly switch to the appropriate screen. Honestly, when I am called in to cover library blocks at the high school (as they have no qualified librarian anymore) I allow kids to be on Facebook or YouTube for the first or last ten minutes of the block, as it prevents me from policing them the entire time. Obviously they know if I catch them on or doing anything inappropriate they do lose their privileges and so far I have only had to suspend one student from using these websites. I wonder how often teachers check their personal emails throughout the day - and during class time? Well, social networking sites are now how students "check their mail." Kids really do not email anymore, they text, chat on Facebook and MySpace. I find I have fewer problems with students sneaking on and if they do access something appropriate I can block their online access for that day.
I found an article online, "The Facebook Classroom: 25 Facebook Apps That Are Perfect for Online Education (May 2008). There are tools for students, teachers, administrators and everyone from sharing books to math formulas to getting help with homework and creating videos for students. I printed this and posted it in the staff room at the high school. It will be interesting to hear what kind of feedback I get from teachers.
Michael Blanding's article, "Social Networking: Thanks for the Add. Now Help Me With My Homework" from our Trailfire focussed on a study by Christine Greehow that social networking sites like Facebook may, "have more educational potential than you might think." Her questions, "Can we harness this interest and passion in their online lives for education purposes?" led me to further investigate an article by Greenhow and Robelia (August 2009), "Old Communication, New Literacies: SNS as Social Learning Resources." It is quite long (31 pages) but a very good resource examining the role of MySpace in the lives of 11 high school students. In their paper they argue, "that adult-driven discourses ought to consider not just 'academic' literacies but also young people's 'non-academic' communicative literacies typically practiced outside of school as part of their overall development of new literacies." They do believe that students do need background knowledge and understanding of print material, what was termed '21st century skills', but they they also require exposure to online literacies as well.
Greenhow and Robelia's data regarding the impact of SNS on social learning resulted in 3 important ways that SNS in fact supported student social learning: (1) Validation and appreciation of creative work, (2) Peer alumni support, and (3) School-task related support. The majority of teachers I work with would not entertain the idea that Facebook could provide any educational value. Perhaps presenting the data from this study would be a starting point to initiate that dialogue. The authors do concede that there is much more study needed in this area.
Previously in this post I mentioned that perhaps the best way to ensure students success for the future is providing a good balance of traditional literacies (print material, 3 R's) along with online reading and writing interactions. My previous course, Inquiry Learning, provided insight into the constructivist theory, building new ideas and information from past experiences and existing background knowledge. This should ultimately be the goal for educators today: building upon our students existing knowledge gained through traditional literacies, adding new knowledge and forming social online literacies. Greenhow, in her doctoral thesis, From Blackboard to Browser, "found that the teachers who were most effective in integrating the Internet into the classroom were those who subscribed to constructivism." Blanding's suggestion to use SNS "as supplements to the formal in-class learning, building upon the spontaneous sharing that students are already doing," would be a reasonable way to integrate these networks into the classroom for teachers or teacher-librarians. There are a few applications from the 25 Facebook Apps link mentioned previously, that could also be easily incorporated within the classroom. The Flashcards application allows students to create flash cards to help them study on Facebook and Get Homework Help lets students get connected with tutors and other students than can help with homework and assignments. And those are only 2 of them, there are many more for students and educators.
Greenhow and Robelia's study describes two student-driven social media publications located within Facebook, HotDish and MN Daily. These are sites with social and technical aspects that "encourage, content, creation, sharing, and play." HotDish shares environmental science new, knowledge, ideas and activism, while MN Daily concentrates on college community news and alumni.
Based on this post, one can see that I have focussed almost solely on the benefits of the educational value of Facebook integration in the classroom. Why fight the masses? As Doug Johnson said at the Tech It Up! conference, something like, it's going to be much easier for teachers to adjust how we teach than to have students change they way they learn. Irregardless, there are still going to those educators who only consider Facebook as having a negative impact on student education. I can imagine questions such as, "How do we monitor them?" "What if they are posting inappropriate information, photos or videos?" "What will their parents think?" Perhaps one way to encourage reluctant users and show them the benefits of SNS would be to provide them with reliable resources, studies and practical Professional Development sessions to show them how to use these applications with their students.