Friday, January 25, 2013

Love That Twitter

I can remember a few years ago when I first signed up for Twitter after hearing the buzz. I signed up -- I mean why wouldn't I? -- but I didn't get it. I couldn't see what the big deal was about. I found a few people to follow, but moved on, back to Facebook.

Now, I couldn't imagine getting on the computer without spending the bulk of that time on Twitter. What started as a fascination has warped into a ritual. I love everything about Twitter. The brevity, the freedom, and the conversations. What still troubles me is the Twitter site itself. It's still one column. There are settings to personalize the service, but it's still this single column of tweets. There are more dimensions to Twitter.

Tweetdeck Dashboard
I really fell in love with Twitter when I discovered Tweetdeck ( As Prof. Hartman says, it's a great tool. I set up my columns and tailor the experience to fit my needs and wants. I set up one column that combines my Twitter and Facebook feeds (Tweetdeck is no substitute for the Facebook site, by the way); one column with all of my notifications; and two or three columns with search terms. Using hashtags (the pound sign in front of the search term) is a great way to get in on pertinent conversations. Sometimes it takes a while to discover the best hashtag, but I like to use #edchat and #edtech as search columns. Anyone that includes that hashtag in their tweet shows up in the search. This keeps me up to date with what my peers are saying about education and technology. I have recently added a column #metc13 so I can follow happenings at the Midwestern Education Technology Conference in St. Charles next month. During the conference, presenters will use this hashtag to elicit responses and strike up conversations during and after their presentations. And once you've found like-minded tweeters, then you can really begin to add follows and followers. Cool, cool, cool.

There is also a 'list' feature to Twitter, which I'm just getting into. You can group those you follow into lists that make it easier to find who you want to read. Personally, it hasn't been that important, since I could sort my tweets into searches.

Facebook has its place, especially when it comes to family and friends. But for colleagues or peers, nothing beats Twitter.

When I'm on my android phone, I also use Tweetdeck. It's fabulous; and my favorite mobile app. I've also discovered Scope. I like it too, because it also incorporates Instagram (another service I really like) into the feed. Scope is not quite as reliable, however. I can use other apps like Engadget, which features edtech news, and easily share what I like with Twitter. Along with new Web 2.0 sites like Facebook and Twitter, the exciting element of the web for me is the ability to share between sites and apps so easily. It makes it easy to find information and share it with your peers quickly.

It's amazing how far this technology has come in just a few years. I heard somebody mention the other day that the first iPad is only about four years old. Now our society is completely addicted to tablets. It's all moving so fast, it can be hard to keep up. That's why collaboration between educators and tech experts is so important.

P.S. I'm sorry everyone, I can't believe I forgot to include my twitter name: @lategrad

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Creating Networks

For those of you that may not be familiar with my blog, I like to float around in the middle somewhere, between those that think technology is overrated and has no place in the classroom, and those that think computers and the Internet is the answer to everything. I am a lover of modern technology, but I also believe there are other things we can do in the classroom that are still worthwhile. My observation is that many of today's educational leaders are pushing a computerized agenda down our throats. My instincts tell me we need to remember that technology comes in many forms; that not every old idea is a bad idea; and that personal relationships are still the best kind of relationships.

What I often worry about is the desire to get students "plugged in" while they are at school. Sounds pretty cool, until one considers that that's pretty much what they're doing all the time when they're not at school. Sometimes I think school can provide an escape from the fast-paced, short-attention-span world that children grow up in. At least for some parts of the day, for goodness sake! Some students need that break, whether they know it or not.

But this doesn't excuse the school district that thinks modern technology is just some "fad," or not worth the money it would take to effect that kind of change. We must channel every dollar we have toward providing our students with modern, real-world tools. By this I don't necessarily mean computers, nor any specific device. I have heard about districts buying iPads for their students. Although I can see some value in that, I wonder what will happen next year when the iPads you just bought are already obsolete. Just because something is popular or cool doesn't mean it's the right investment. I once heard someone much wiser than me say: "Date the device. Marry the skill."

Three things about the beginning of our PLN book that I thought were particularly interesting (I am enjoying the book very much so far): Being a former newspaper reporter/editor, I could really relate to the authors' narrative about how newspapers failed to revolutionize their product when they had the chance (p. 4). Instead, they tried to tweak it, believing their business model was still sound. Many students today probably don't even know of a time when newspapers were relevant. As is obvious today, newspapers failed to fully adapt; and their demise is legendary -- and nearly complete. I got out just in time; although I still miss it. More than accurate, the example parallels how many school districts see their "business model." The Blockbuster example (p. 6) was also insightful and relevant. I wonder when school districts will finally see the writing on the wall.

The authors make two statements that are related, in my opinion, and very useful, later in the introduction (p. 7). They say that many teachers, especially younger ones, are probably pretty good at using the Internet and social networks, but they don't necessarily understand how meaningful these types of networks can be for his/her classroom. Just a couple paragraphs later, the authors state that students are already embracing the "building blocks" of the most incredible learning tool ever invented, but they don't realize it. These are two things educators should focus on: helping teachers understand the tools that are available; and showing students how their favorite social tools can dynamically change the way they learn and understand their world.

I was beginning to get a little worried about the authors' focus only on adding technology and enlarging the students' role in the learning process. It's a worthwhile idea, but where do the teachers fit in? Should we just fire them? They just get in the way anyway, right? Fortunately, the authors make their feelings clear in a positive way, on p. 19, saying "if you think we're sketching a vision of students sitting in front of computers working through self-paced curricula and interacting with a teacher only on occasion, you're way, way off." The authors add they simply see the potential for "meaningful, experiential, constructivist learning" to occur in online interactions, just as there can be in face-to-face meetings. "It's the melding of the two that will shape our schools in the 21st Century."

Yes. Thank you. That's exactly the balanced attitude that I believe in.