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I felt privileged to play active roles in SSI Enables 2016, an event held yesterday that was organised under the umbrella of the National Council of Social Services, Singapore.

Delivering my keynote at SSI Enables 2016.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Chan.

I was the keynote speaker on social media-enabled PLNs and a panel member on how to move a system forward.

I do not think I have ever walked away from a keynote and thought to myself that the session was perfect. I invariably look critically at my performance and wish I had used a better turn of phrase or had done something else.

However, I walked off the stage feeling very satisfied yesterday.

The audience gamingly got involved in the pre-keynote activities of taking part in a poll and completing a word cloud in AnswerGarden. During the keynote, the backchannel often scrolled faster than I could read.

During the panel session, the organisers took my advice to use a free tool, Dotstorming, to raise questions that could be voted up. The audience took to it like fish to water.

During the panel session, at lunch, and during my interaction with various people, I received reinforcement, validation, and positive comments. For example, I kept getting feedback from different people that they had never before experienced learning of that kind and quality. That was high praise indeed.

Social service meets social media-based learning

But all that time I thought I was just saying the ordinary:

  • The timeless competencies are learning, unlearning, and relearning.
  • All three are enabled by social media ‚ÄĒ particularly Twitter ‚ÄĒ in personal learning networks (PLNs).

This was a reminder that:

  • An old message can be a new one to someone else.
  • Keynotes can be interactive and involved if you design for learning, not for speaking.
  • Panel sessions can be less like a fishbowl and focused more on answering participants’ questions.

I still have some unfinished work even though the face-to-face component is over. While I have processed the questions in the backchannel, I have yet to analyse and answer the 50 or so questions that were raised in the poll. I will do this while I am away at a conference next week.

Every seminar I design and deliver has a few key messages. Here is one of them: If your only tool is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.

It might seem unusual to remind people of this since the seminar is an introduction to personal learning networks.

It might make sense if you realise that I am encouraging people to have more than one tool in their belt.

In the example above, the nail was actually a screw. A screw is threaded and needs to be rotated; it resists being forced straight down. The proper tool to use should have been a screwdriver. The hammer bludgeoned the screw and ruined both the screw and the wood.

I am telling my audience that blunt tools like lectures and training are the common default. However, this does not make them suitable for the professional development of people.

Some might need mentoring, coaching, or remediation. Others might need self-study, the opportunity to observe, or time to reflect. Bludgeon with a blunt tool and everybody loses.

If all goes according to plan, the auto-posting of this entry will coincide with the start of my hour-long seminar on social media-enabled PLNs.

Unlike my previous talks and seminars, I am dispensing with a backchannel. It is not that I no longer see its value. I have other activities for my participants.

I have created a simple companion Google Site to house all the components of the seminar. As with most events I design, I have included a bit more than is required and will leave items out depending on the need.

I normally create my slides from scratch by using large images and as few words as possible. I tell the stories and let my slides support them (not the other way around). I also provide just enough information for participants to teach themselves by linking to activities and reflection spaces.

This time, however, I have an audience that is very new to the concepts. There is a bit more text so that the slide deck can serve as a reference. To do this, I opted to use the Banquo template from Slides Carnival. Disclosure: I do not benefit in any way from mentioning Slides Carnival.

I was very impressed by the variety of slide layouts included in each template (see a few examples in my tweets below).

I have not had to create formal learning opportunities in the areas of social media and PLNs for a while (the last time was in 2012). These have been a passion of mine since I joined Twitter in 2007. But they have also been a “background” topic in that most people taught themselves these topics and I have been asked to facilitate learning of other topics.

I am glad that I can return to one of my roots and will cast some seeds today. I just hope that the soil is fertile and the conditions ripe for the picking.

Addendum: Here are a some takeaways from a sample of the participants. Click on the tweet below to see three screen grabs.

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NOW by mag3737, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  mag3737 

I agree with everything in this article except its title, Why Learning Through Social Networks Is The Future.

The gist of the article is that students benefit from forming their own personal learning networks just like teachers benefit from their professional learning networks.

Why title this as something to aspire to in the future instead of now? Kids are already leveraging on social media to get help with their homework. Personal learning networks are already happening without the knowledge or permission of teachers and administrators.

Looking to the future makes some people put things off. Now is the time to leverage on PLNs. Now is the time to add value by including the guidance, wisdom, and experience of teachers who care.

I love Twitter. I like it more than Facebook.

My Facebook account is like a passport that I use to establish who I am and to occasionally get me from one place to another. Twitter is my newspaper, information aggregator, bridge builder, mirror, magnifying glass, loud hailer, and more.

So I should be thrilled if someone shared YouTube video on teaching with Twitter, right? Not really.

Video source

I like the presenter’s suggestion that student Twitter users fall into three possible categories:

  • Followers: Consumers of information, e.g., celebrity tweets, instructor’s announcements
  • Participants: Those who interact with one another and the people they follow; in educational contexts, they might limit Twitter use to coursework
  • Collaborators: Part of a very rare breed that go beyond coursework and use Twitter for personal or professional development

I also like the wiki-based resource that the presenter shared, Twitter in Edu. There are lots of useful links in the Resources and Handouts sections.

I can think of several ways Twitter can be used in education. It can be used plainly for polling, backchannelling, curating resources, and writing 140-character reflections. It can be used more creatively to re-enact historical events or literary passages; to write novels, plays, and musicals; or to connect students with others in the real world.

To do these things, the presenter outlined five strategies. I paraphrase them as follows:

  1. Make Twitter use compulsory by grading it
  2. Do not assume students know how to tweet effectively (provide training and set expectations)
  3. Provide opportunities for meaningful tweeting, e.g., getting ideas or resources, connecting with classmates
  4. Do not use Twitter just to disseminate information in a teacher-centred way
  5. Allow Twitter use to stew: Give it time and monitor it

But I think that it is best to learn with Twitter, not necessarily to teach with it. While Twitter use has increased among the student demographic, it is still not as popular as Facebook, and therein lies a barrier of use.

Twitter use can be enforced by holding a grade over students’ heads, but I doubt that the energy in such a use will ever get near that of personal learning networks that emerge naturally and over time.

I can sum my sentiment up in one tweet. I shared this a while ago in response to a question about training teachers to use social media.

I have been on Twitter for five years. It very quickly became part of my personal learning network (PLN), or as Richard Byrne would prefer to call it,  personal sharing network (PSN).

Before I learnt from my PLN, I had a ready answer if anyone asked me what I did. I told them WHAT I taught.

After learning from my PLN, I focus on WHO I teach instead. At our inaugural #edsg chat last month, I introduced myself this way:

This was not an attempt to be funny or glib. This was a realization of who I am and what I do. It was also an acknowledgement that I am still learning.

I am not the first to offer Twitter tips nor will I be the last. But I thought I should offer some tips, one educator to another.

What prompted this? A few educators new to Twitter found me online and via email, so I sent them some resources that I had archived in Delicious.

What really pushed me to write this was what I read yesterday at the Guardian:¬†Tweeting advice for Gwyneth Paltrow. In my haste, I read this as Tweeting advice from¬†Gwyneth Paltrow.¬†Thankfully the movie actress wasn’t actually adding “social media consultant” to her CV; it was just a journalist trying to make headlines.

There are lots of advice and tips for using Twitter for marketing, advertising, public relations and feedback, but there aren’t many focused on education. The following are some tips for the education professional who wants to establish a personal learning network (PLN).

1. Identify yourself
When you get a Twitter account, two things to do immediately are a) replace the generic egg profile picture Twitter gives you with a clear and decent picture of yourself, and b) describe yourself or your purpose for using Twitter in 160 characters or less.

Show yourself: Twitter is a social platform and other people want to attach a face to a Twitter handle.

Describe yourself: Doing this shows that you are serious about using Twitter and lets other users know who you are and whether you are worth following.

2. Don’t play the numbers game
I mention this in the context of your follower count (who follows you) or following count (who you follow). Companies and celebrities are all about high follower counts. Both want as many eyeballs and as much attention as they can get. They do not really care if a follower is a bot, a marketer or a pervert.

Quality trumps quantity. If you follow too many people, you get information overload. You might be followed by many, but do you know who they are? See the next two tips.

3. Follow wisely
Don’t follow everyone that Twitter recommends. Follow the folks you recognize or come recommended by someone you trust. Then look at who they follow.

The Twitter system might make some recommendations based on some social algorithm and this might be useful as a first cut. But it is people that decide who they want to be friends with, who they listen to or who they get married to. Apply the same principle on who to follow on Twitter.

4. Cull if needed
There are two ways of looking at this: Unfollowing someone and blocking followers.

Don’t feel bad about unfollowing someone. You might have followed someone by mistake or you might find their tweets irrelevant. Think of your Twitter stream as a customized newspaper or news programme. Unfollow so that you only get the sections of the paper or news that you want. This also helps reduce information overload.

I block some 20 to 30 followers a day. Why? First, my Twitter name is @ashley so I get followers thinking that I am someone else. I do not want to further mislead the already misled.

Second, I get followed by bots, marketers, spammers, etc. The more seasoned Twitter user might refer to my list of followers to see who else to follow, so it is my responsibility to keep out as much trash out as possible.

Third, I tend to block followers who have locked or private accounts. A Twitter-based PLN is about openness and sharing!

But I tend not to block those who are teachers or in the educational technology line.

5. Find your voice
It is OK to lurk and listen for a while. You learn the ropes and imbibe the culture of tweeting. But like blogging, tweeting is about finding your voice and sharing your passions.

Twitter used to ask “What are you doing?” This encouraged inane navel gazing. Now it asks “What is happening?” This cast one’s eye from one’s navel to perhaps someone else’s navel.

Many educators on Twitter use it as a PLN. To contribute, you could consider answering these questions:

  • What did you find?
  • What did you learn?
  • What can you teach the rest?

Share inspiring YouTube videos, informative SlideShares or thought-provoking readings.

6. Consume critically, then tweet or retweet

Before you tweet or retweet a resource, make sure that you have read, listened or watched it. Others are relying on your recommendation.

Where the resource is not your own, retweet (RT) someone else’s recommendation. This not only gives credit where it is due, it also amplifies to your PLN what is emerging or important.

7. Monitor or converse with #hashtags 

This Google Doc contains a list of education-related hashtags that you can monitor. You can read and participate in conversations with educators all over the world. Locally, please use #edsg to contribute.

I have one more tip that is optional but highly recommended. Link your Twitter account with a social bookmarking service like Delicious or Diigo. This will help you automatically archive and curate all the wonderful resources and ideas you discover on Twitter. I recommend to make this link.

What other tips might be useful for educators who want to take charge of their own professional development?

Click to see all the nominees!

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