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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 packrati.us to make this link.

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


Video source

What does a Twitter PLN look like? Here is a snapshot of how I learnt about the video above.

My new knowledge does not lie just with me but in my connections with other connected people. It’s connectivism in action!

I used to remove some of my “followers” on Twitter. Now I block them ever since Twitter made changes to its site. It’s like culling crows.

Removing them reduces my follower count, but I do this because:

  1. Not all followers are authentic. Some are bots, some are spammers, some follow me thinking I am some other “ashley”.
  2. Some folks might refer to my list of followers for ideas on who else to follow. I do not want to mislead them. I only wish to share with a PLN of forward-thinking educators and other stakeholders who might push pedagogy.

Doing this takes a fair bit of effort. It is easy to process and consume large volumes of information everyday. It is much harder to curate, but I think that it’s worth the effort.

Here are the tools I have used for culling/blocking, in order of preference:

  1. Twitter.com site: once at your list of followers, it takes 2 clicks to block someone
  2. Tweetdeck in Chrome: 2 clicks to block, but occasionally suffers from API errors
  3. Twitbird Pro mobile app: It takes 3 taps to block
  4. Tweetdeck client: 2 clicks to block, but suffers from API errors
  5. Twitter app on iPad: It takes 4 or 5 taps to block
  6. Twitter app on iPhone: It takes 6 taps to block

I am stricken by the malaise that typically happens this time of year. (It’s something in the air, I tell ya!)

When I juxtapose blog entries like Why the iPad absolutely matters with Why Integrating MacBooks Into The School Curriculum Ain’t The Best Idea, I feel even worse. On one hand we have an energetic school principal with good ideas and experience with technology integration. On the other, we have a local school that tried 1:1 computing and seems to be failing (if we take that student blogger’s word for it).

I’ll take a byte out of Chris Dawson’s follow up to the principal’s guest posting and echo that a new edtech paradigm matters if technology is to be integrated meaningfully and effectively. But we are talking about systemic change and that takes time, money, buy-in and loads of effort.

That is not the only way to do things. Whole revolutions have started thanks to the efforts of individuals on the ground. The individuals in our case are teachers.

Teachers see both sides of the coin. They see what policymakers and administrators want; if they open their eyes, they also see what their students need. Most of the time teachers heed the call of the former group. But a few break out and focus on what is important.

[image source, used under CC licence]

These “rebellious” innovators see the third side of the coin, the side that goes all round and gives it depth. They change the way they teach to suit their learners and the times. They take advantage of relevant and powerful technologies. They do it in the face of blinder-wearing, pitchfork-bearing, 19th century steel-armoured opposition.

Well informed personal pedagogy matters. To deny this is to deny our learners what they need. Informed pedagogy gives teachers drive and makes teachers change way they teach, garner support and look for funding or collaborative opportunities.

Such teachers just do it even if they do not have immediate or local support. They find it internationally through personal learning networks (PLNs). If you are on Twitter, you might consider lists like:

Steve Wheeler shared a thought after having a pre-conference Tweetup:

Quote of the evening must go to Simon Finch (@simfin) who said something along the lines of: ‘On Twitter people I don’t know let me know about stuff that really interests me. On Facebook people I do know tell me stuff I don’t want to know about’. OK, it was a signature piece of hilarious wordplay from Simon, and it made us all laugh out loud. But it also shows up what some people see as a contrast between the frivolous nature of Facebook, and the way Twitter is becoming a serious professional networking tool.

I grinned. I, too, use Twitter more than I do Facebook (FB).

But I also see a flaw in Simon’s generalization. You can get as much garbage in Twitter as you can in Facebook.

[via brandingblog.com]

It is not so much about what the technology does for you as what you do with the technology. What a particular technology might do for you is termed its affordances. There are at least three aspects of affordances: technical, social, and in the case of education, pedagogical.

The technical affordances of Twitter include text inputs of up to 140 characters and embedding URLs linked to Websites, videos, photos, etc. You also get to choose who to follow and whether a follower gets to see your tweets.

The technical affordances of Facebook are greater. Amongst other things, you can post longer and richer messages on your wall, you can play online games and you can set up group spaces. Like Twitter, you can choose who to “friend” and the person you intend to follow decides whether or not to “friend” you back.

But the social and pedagogical use of the tool are what makes a real impact. Consider how a hammer is designed to drive nails into wood or a wall. But it can also be used to kill someone or shape a piece of art.

I know of teachers who want to use FB like an LMS. Pedagocially, they might be transferring the teacher-centred control, teacher-prepared resources and teacher-directed tasks of an LMS to FB.

I always ask these teachers why they want to do this if they already have an LMS in school. The standard reply is that their students are already on FB. I counter that the kids are intent on socializing in FB and that the teachers are not taking advantage of the social factor (when was the last time you socialized over PowerPoint?). They are also forgetting the distractions that FB brings. I then challenge them to design social forms of learning and/or build the distractions (e.g., games) into the learning process.

Twitter, by comparison, seems very limited. But I’d say that it provides less distraction because of its simplicity. That and the fact that the people I follow do not just answer Twitter’s original question “What are you doing?” or the current “What’s happening?” Instead, we focus more on answering the questions:

  • What do you want to know more about?
  • What did you learn?
  • What can you share?
  • What can you teach?

We have socially renegotiated what Twitter was designed to do.

By following just a few folks and reading the resources that come my way every day several times a day, I have established a personal learning network (PLN) like I have never experienced before. It is like attending several professional development sessions a day, all of which are rich and meaningful to me.


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