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Who says that you cannot learn from tweets?

While some might seem to concentrate bile in 140 characters, the edu-Twitterverse distills wisdoms. Here are just two that I bookmarked recently.

Teaching is a social process, but that does not make it based on wishy-washy feel good ideas. Effective pedagogy is based on rigorous research and reflective practice.

Teaching Is about digging deep to figure out what is best for learners and how to improve learning. It is not about teaching the way you were taught and with your blinders on.

Twitter is sometimes described as a stream of consciousness. I wondered if streams of unconsciousness might exist.

They do and I was upset when I saw one. It was like watching an unconscious loved one slip further into a coma.

Stream of unconsciousness -- Twitter ads in #edsg.

One stream of unconsciousness looked like this. It was an unbroken string of tweeted ads. Some might argue that the tweets were calls for proposals. So are unsolicited calls to your home or messages to your phone asking you to sell your flat. They are ads by another name. 

All that said, the organisers have every right to advertise an education conference. So I wondered why this bugged me.

On reflection, I realised that this was like what one other hashtagged channel did before it became a cesspool of vendor ads and shameless self-promotion. This is not edu-tweeting.

#edsg used to be a good example of edu-tweeting. Even after the regular chats went away, individuals would share useful or thought-provoking articles or they would ‘live’ tweet at education events. Doing these required careful thought and effort, unlike the bot-generated and auto “curated” tweets.

Imagine subscribing to an exciting and informative YouTube channel only for that channel to feature only shoutouts and ads. That is what #edsg threatens to become (some might say it is already there).

The good thing about both YouTube and Twitter is that I can unsubscribe or block what I do not wish to see. But that is not enough for me.

As a lifelong educator, I do not wish to see a learning space filled with white elephant boards displaying their company names. I do not like seeing an online space used without care.

I realise that my perspective is not shared by all. I choose to treat an online space like a physical and public one. It is shared and I choose to respect that space.

I can only hope that once the deadline in the ad is past, the ad tweets trickle to a mere drip or stop entirely. But the damage might already be done if the regulars do not return with recruits to share openly, wisely, and generously.

Twitter is just now experimenting with 280-character tweets instead of 140-character ones. Stephen Colbert saw the humour in doing this and tweeted:

The Twitterati will have more room to express itself. But this also gives hate groups and hateful individuals room to do disproportionately more damage.

The increase is also not sustainable. When 280 characters is not enough, is Twitter going to increase the quota again? It might cite its research on the numbers game and say no. But does it have research on the hate and vitriol that some individuals or groups receive regularly?

When these individuals or groups report these incidents, they are largely ignored or swept under the carpet. What data does it have on how often this happens?


Video source

When Twitter defended Trump’s veiled tweeted threat to destroy North Korea, what data did it use to call the tweet newsworthy? It probably played the numbers game (views, favourites, retweets) instead of considering what was ethical.

It is easier to increase the tweet character limit and to cite tweet counts. These implementations are lines of code and a superficial analysis away. It is more difficult to do what is right.

Doing what is right means drawing a line on the ground and not crossing it. What is right or wrong may change with time and context, but the need to keep drawing those lines does not. People need to know where you stand.

Local social media lit up last week after a performer from Henry Park Primary School showed the middle finger on national TV.

The aftermath was no different. As expected, the boy was given a talking to and he was remorseful.

The Twitter reaction thread was easy enough to analyse. For simplicity, the reactions fell into three main camps: Tweets that lauded the boy as a “national hero”, people who blamed anyone or anything other than the child, and all other reactions, e.g., leave the child alone.

These are the types of responses that give Twitter and other social media platforms a bad name. This is a pity given how educators worldwide have embraced Twitter as a medium for connecting and unPD.

Such blasé and negative responses were common even before Trump’s tweets became the new normal. Why?

There is the usually cited reason of facelessness. Online there is no one to literally look in the eye and subsequently face judgement. This encourages the mild to become be bold, and the already bold to troll.

There is a brutal honesty to such tweets because social niceties are sacrificed in favour of raw reaction. What people might not realise is that being on social media requires even more social awareness and skills in a faceless environment.

If conversations like these were conducted in-person, we might label them moronic. Our faces and reactions serve as mirrors so that discussants can gauge their own behaviour. Perhaps, somewhat ironically, the lack of physical presence holds up a mirror bigger and clearer about our lack of social nous.

Talks are the least effectiveness way to effect change, but they are a necessary evil because people still organise them and the talks can have extensive reach.

But when I conduct talks, seminars, or keynotes, I ensure that I interact with my audience richly in a few ways.

Why do this? Most speakers will use an “e” word like engagement or even entertainment. I do not play these games because I know my participants are smarter than to fall for that.

I use tools to interact so that my audience (listeners) become participants (thinkers, doers). I do not wish to merely engage, I want to participants to take ownership of learning and responsibility of action.

Beth Kanter shared some ideas last week. I am weighing in on my own and I suggest free tools combined with basic principles of educational psychology.

BACKCHANNEL
A backchannel is an online space for participants to comment, discuss, and ask questions while I am speaking or after I have asked them to consider an issue.

My favourite backchannel tools are Twitter and TodaysMeet.

Twitter is great when an organiser already has one or more event #hashtags that participants can use. This presumes that a sizeable number of participants already use Twitter or are willing to get on it quickly.

Twitter backchannel.

TodaysMeet is better when participants have not committed to any particular platform. If they can text or SMS, then can use TodaysMeet.

With my own free TodaysMeet account, I can create an online text-based interaction space and define how long it will be open for. I then invite participants to it by sharing the access URL. (Pro tip: Create a custom URL with bit.ly and a QR code with this generator.)

One of the most recent versions of Google Slides lets you invite questions from the audience. The URL for participants to submit questions appears at the top of your slides and they can vote up the best questions. (Read my review of Google Slides audience tool.)

Audience Tool URL as overlay.

This is not quite a backchannel because it is not designed for chatter. It favours focused queries. This tool might be better for less adventurous participants who are not used to switching quickly between tasks.

Whatever the backchannel tool, its use must be guided by sound educational principles. You might want to provide participants with a space to be heard immediately instead of waiting till the end, or you want to monitor their thoughts, sense their doubts, or get feedback.

VISUALISATIONS
The visualisations I am referring to are not images and videos. These are show-and-tell elements which are attempts to engage, but have little to do with interacting with participants.

My most common strategy of participative visualisation is to incorporate data collecting and collating tools like Google Forms and AnswerGarden.

Both these tools require user inputs that can be visualised. For example, I could ask the room which major phone platform they are on: Android, iOS, other in a Google Form.

The data they provide is collated in a Google Sheet and can be visualised in a pie chart or bar graph. The relative proportions are more obvious to see than asking the participants to raise their hands.

There are many tools that do what Google Forms and Sheets do, possibly a bit quicker and slicker. But these normally come at a premium. The GSuite is free.

One way to visualise a group’s grasp of concepts is to use a word cloud. For example, I am fond of asking participants what they consider the most important 21st century competencies.

AnswerGarden word cloud.

I invite them to share words or short phrases in an AnswerGarden in brainstorming mode. The most commonly cited concepts appear large while the less common ones become small.

The purpose of such illustrations is not just to leverage on the fact that we are visual creatures and the visuals make an immediate impact. I want participants to get involved in real time and this helps also me illustrate how the technology enables more current forms of learning and work.

TOPIC CHOICE AND FOCUS
One of the worst things I could do as a speaker is talk about something that the audience has no interest in. As it is, some or most of the people there might be present as an obligation and not by choice. So I try to find out what they might want to learn.

I often use Google Forms to find out beforehand and present the popular suggested topics in the form of a chart.

With smaller seminars, I might use Dotstorming to determine which direction to take midway through the event. I ask participants to suggest areas to explore and they vote on topics each others topics.

Dotstorming is similar to Padlet in that users input ideas on online stickies. However, Dotstorming allows me to let them vote on the best ideas and arrange the notes by popularity.

Dotstorming example.

The idea here is to give the participant a say in what gets covered or uncovered. It is about providing and fulfilling user choice instead of focusing on a potentially irrelevant curriculum or plan.

QUIZZING
My perennial favourite for quick-quizzing participants is Flubaroo, an add-on to Google Forms for auto-grading quizzes as well as providing feedback and answers to my learners.

Google Forms has since upped its game to offer quiz-like functions, but it still lags behind the leader, Flubaroo in some ways. This site provides a detailed breakdown of a Forms quiz vs a Flubaroo one.

Quiz is coming!

The point of quizzing is not just to keep participants on their toes. Some might be driven by such a challenge, but all benefit from evaluating themselves in terms of learning. The results can also be an indicator of how much my talk was understood.

REFLECTION AND TAKEAWAYS
I am fond of using Padlet and Google Forms for pitstops and one-minute papers.

Pitstops are pauses in my sessions for participants to collect their thoughts and think of questions. They are an opportunity for them to see if they can link the negotiated outcomes with their current state of learning, and to see where they still need to go.
 

 
A takeaway or “dabao” (in local vernacular) is a terminal activity in which I ask participants to tell me their biggest learning outcome from the session.

In both I find that there is an even mix of planned and unplanned learning outcomes. This is a good thing because the internalisation and ownership of learning is important, not just the blind reception of information.

TO INFINITY AND BEYOND
I do not only like to connect with participants before and during a talk, but also after it. I do so a few ways.

I leave my social media information in one of the final slides.

Contact me.

If I use a backchannel, participants can contact me indefinitely on Twitter and up to several days or weeks after on TodaysMeet.

I also use my blog to reflect on the events and to answer questions I might not have been able to address during the session.

 
A few times every week I get harassed, pleaded with, bribed, cajoled, threatened, insert-thesaurus-word-here. All because I was an early adopter of Twitter in 2007.

I can probably count on just one hand the number of people who have been polite about asking for my Twitter handle.

Twitter reminds me that I signed up in early 2007, but I posted my first tweet only in October that same year.

Since then I have tweeted regularly and fended off the curious, lazy, greedy, aggressive, etc. coveters of my handle.

But Twitter will not verify my account because I am not a brand or famous Ashley. Surely the labour of love over the last decade is worth that acknowledgement.

Once in a blue moon I check the stats that Twitter maintains for my account. Every time I do that I say, “That’s typical!”

I shared these two tweets recently:

This were the returns as of yesterday.

The numbers indicate the tweet views. To keep the screenshot readable, I cropped out the engagements which were 37 and 16 respectively.

What is typical is that I can share something on education and it will walk on stubby legs, if at all. But when I share something that rides on popularity or celebrity, it takes long strides.

That seems typical of reactions on Twitter. That is also sad given that I prefer to tweet as an educator about education. Such action and content is not as “sexy” and it cannot compete with entertainment. It should not.

However, blaming the nature of the tweets and their linked content is focusing on the symptoms. A deeper fault is likely mine and yours. It is mine for not cultivating a bigger following of passionate educators who will share and retweet. It is yours for not knowing what the rules of the game are and which to break.


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