I’ve been following Vicki Davis a leader in the use of technology for education for quite a while now and recently I bought myself copy of her excellent collaborative work Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds: Move to Global Collaboration One Step at a Time. I’ve been puttering around with some of her ideas but due to a combination of factors I haven’t really taken the plunge into really giving them a go. Now that I have the book in my hands, I want to get serious about implementing the various technologies and more importantly, deeper pedagogical point of view into my teaching.
The first step I’ve taken has been in rebuilding my Personal Learning Network or PLN. I’m using a variety of means for this. First of all, I have started BETA: Bandung English Teachers Association in the hope that through working together with the thousands of English teachers in my city we can share our classroom skills to deliver far more professional education at a much lower cost than by hiring education and technology ‘experts’. It’s a slow process, but hopefully one that will accelerate as I make more local teaching contacts.
I’ve started re-engaging with and expanding my PLN on Twitter as well as implementing an account for classroom usage. This means I now have three Twitter accounts to cut down on what some followers would consider to be spam. This is an important note for anyone using this technology to consider. I follow tweachers because I want to talk about education, I don’t want to hear too much about your personal life in that feed, although a little bit is okay. If I like you enough, I’ll follow your personal account with mine, likewise my friends don’t want to hear about the latest conference or how to use a new gadget in the classroom. I manage these accounts using a combination of apps on my phone and a multi-account interface on my PC. Just having these accounts is not enough, learning how to maximise the benefits of Twitter is one of the real secrets to its success as a learning and teaching tool.
It’s important to find and follow a core group of high quality Tweachers. I started with my lecturers from university, particularly Miriam Tanti and then Vicki. From there I looked at who they were retweeting the most and checked them out. Often the ones with the highest number of followers are quality and focused tweachers. So I followed them too.
One thing I didn’t really consider until recently was using the power of hastags to find good tweachers. So now I am gathering a list of good education related hashtags, some are general, some are tech specific and others are subject specific. Good starting ones are #edchat and #ntchat. It’s important to follow conference tags as well like the awesome #learning2 just last weekend, these conference feeds are some of the most content dense and topic focused. For example, there are links to the resources that other tweachers are talking about as well as blog posts and discussions about the presentations.
Lastly (for now) is the use of lists. For #learning2, a list of attendees was created (by @learning2) which it is possible to follow just like an individual account. If the list is good, with just one click you have tapped into a whole new network of tweachers. Don’t just use the hashtags to find people to follow, use them to participate in relevant conversations and broadcast your own tweets and retweets beyond your own list of followers. This can result in professionally useful and enjoyable new friendships as well as discussions with people that you don’t and may never follow.
Then of course there’s blogging. Blogging goes far beyond writing your own posts. Something that may be far too challenging at the beginning. A better starting point for most of us is to set up a series of RSS feeds in a reader that you like. I use Google Reader and am following only five or six blogs at the moment. The process is very simple so don’t feel alienated by doing something that is quite technical at its heart, but is actually well designed for people with low levels of technological literacy.
In Google Reader, which I open by pressing on the Reader tab in the “More” list at the top of my Gmail. This opens up the Reader tab with me already signed in, so the sign up process is seamless. Once inside, press the subscribe button on the top left and simply add the URLs of blogs you like. These appear in the list below and to the left. The user interface is intuitive and easy to use. Over time, I expect this number to increase, but I will also remove some of them because my interests diverge too much or simply because the author isn’t focused enough on what I like to read about for me to follow everything they write.
Make a plan to read the best looking posts in your reader feed for fifteen minutes, three times a week and to comment on at least three of them. Commenting is an important function of blogging that should not be under estimated. It gives the blogger crucial feedback about the relevance of their posts even if all you said was “thank you, I want to use your ideas”. It also gives the blogger the thanks that we as teachers so often don’t get. Once you start your own blog, signing your comments with your blog URL can lead to valuable comments from other bloggers, either your peers or from leaders in the field. That feedback is very valuable and something that will help you become a much better teacher.
I can’t claim any credit for the core ideas in this post, they come from a wide network of teachers especially Vicki and her co-author fellow Aussie Julie Lindsay. Most of the insights however are my own, learned through observing what I was doing and what the results were as I started implementing these strategies.
In my next post I will talk more about my experience of using Twitter as a teaching tool and what I learned from it.
Handy blogging tip: either draft in whole or save your posts to a word processor (or even just your clipboard) before pressing send. Web forms (which is essentially what most Web 2.0 technologies are) are extremely vulnerable to losing your data if the connection to the server drops off during the publication process. This can result in a lot of needless frustration and redrafting. Avoid it through good work process habits.