The reach of education blogging

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I appreciate how summer allows for moments of reflection about many things, including my social media use.  Regardless of how my roles and interests change, I need my social media experiences to matter and be personally relevant.

An article written recently by Peter DeWitt, Why social media matters, caught my attention.  I appreciated the first part about teenagers and their use of technology to socialize.  He spoke well to perceptions that may lead to misjudging their social media use.

Peter also covered blogging in this piece,

Blogging, which is another form of social media, has become one of the most important mediums in the public education movement. Educators, parents and students are able to provide their opinions of what is happening in their schools.

His statement about mainstream media and education departments also stood out for me,

Too often in mainstream media, or state education departments (as well as the USDOE) communication can be skewed to sell their ideas. It becomes a way to market their initiatives. The importance of individual voices, who also may have a bias, is that it gives the public the opportunity to see how all of these changes are affecting real students and real schools. Hopefully, bloggers help provide a much fuller picture to what is happening.

As I reflected on this, I realized that this is one of the main reasons I became motivated to use social media – to read and share blogs by educators and parents about education and schools.  It often frustrated me how education messaging was handled in and for the public.  I really believed that there must be important thoughts and messages that weren’t being heard or connecting.  As I started to explore and connect with others using social media, this became even clearer and truer for me.  I have enjoyed being connected to many individuals and sharing their thoughts and work as much as possible.  It gave me a lot of hope for education and motivated me to start my own blog.  But I have to admit there are many times when I wonder if education bloggers really are helping a fuller, real picture reach the public, as Peter referred to.  It can seem to require a lot of work – for the individual blogger and for a network or “tribe” of bloggers to support one another.  Is it enough to impact and integrate with mainstream media messages?  The media and government departments can promote their message so effortlessly and broad at times.  Is the pressure on a network of bloggers fair and realistic, even if valuable in so many ways amongst educators?  As I recognized in a reflection post last summer, not all educators are blogging about education and social change, but also to share resources and for professional development.  There may be risks for educators to blog about controversial issues and certain topics as John Spencer recently wrote about.

I see the value of connecting but “hierarchies” in social media networks may also impact messages and voice.  “Sharing” in social media is not always, or meant to be, reciprocal.  When I reflect on the impact of the “numbers” of social media it leaves me with some uncertainty in how all messages and individual voices reach and contribute to a fuller picture. How much is there a false sense that the messages and stories in blogs are being heard in the more public sphere?  Can we be sure about the reach at a more local level?

I am aware and often in awe of the impact of social media and blogs in education, but I have been thinking a lot about the responsibility and commitment required of bloggers to keep the messaging inclusive and consistent — by using social media, writing and reading blogs, commenting on and sharing other’s blogs, supporting new bloggers, etc.

Social media and blogging can matter in many different ways, but I am not as clear as to what makes a difference with the public.  This may speak to why it is so important to support bloggers who are trying to offset or inform mainstream media messaging.  As I was drafting this post, Tia Henriksen created and shared a great infographic on her blog.  Her post, “Supporting Social Media”, provides leadership ideas to support educators and schools using social media and blogs to share their work and stories.  This is important, but still requires time and interest of individuals.

The questions remain for me:  Do the messages and voices reach parents and the public, and does the public reach back?  Is it enough to impact change in education?  In an article by Tony Wagner about education change leaders, he mentions that,

Highly effective change leaders don’t merely preach these things to their teachers and parents, however. They engage them in adult learning about a changing world and how students learn best. They realize that the only way that change can be sustained is if the adults in the community also deeply understand the need for change, and so these leaders sponsor readings, talks by local experts, and discussions.

I am not always certain of the impact of all these strategies, but I know many individuals are passionate and committed to this balancing act of online communication and personal and public outreach.  Whether I continue to blog or not, I hope to continue to share the work of others and what I think might be of relevance to my network on Twitter and elsewhere.  We can’t always be sure what is being read, but I appreciate that there are education news writers and governance organizations who are using social media to listen, if not promoting blogs.

I welcome any further insights or assurances.

The Number Line

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During recent use of social media, I was reminded that some people still use and monitor their “Klout”, a social media metric, to inform them about their social media “influence”.  I can understand the need to determine if use of social media is worthwhile, but I have yet to use or look into this metric and data.  I have written a post about this previously.

John Spencer recently wrote a post about the “the dangers in quantifying relationships” within social media connecting.   He discussed his own struggle with what to make of the “numbers” aspect of social media and wondered about the effects on his students.

It’s not hard to get caught up in the numbers and statistics.  It would be understandable if one stopped using social media platforms if they felt that the feedback in terms of “stats”, “hits”, “likes”, and shares were on a lower scale, especially if others are publicly reporting or displaying their own standings within these networks.  My own “stats” quite likely would suggest that what I do is not worthwhile, but I do what I do regardless.

On John’s post, a few commenters provided some honest, candid remarks related to their experiences as newer participants with social media.  I encourage you to read the post and comments in full.  Vivian provided a good reminder, “With the Internet, we can have these mini celebrity worlds but they never existed on such a huge scale, before the Internet. Since we’re digital immigrants, we should know better as we can still remember a time when it wasn’t like that.”  Fred Galang admitted, “Not going to lie – I too look at numbers.  As a media teacher I should know better. As a human being, it was expected”, but goes on to affirm, “Impact and influence you ask? I don’t need it from Twitter”.  Both commenters and others shared further good thoughts as well.

Our day-to-day, “real” lives can be a lot about performance measures, ranking and rating.  Many experiences cannot be validated at all, or are validated by others.  If we as adults are attracted by the validation that social media experience or “influence” can provide, are we aware of how this may also be affecting our youth who use these social online spaces?

I know John had some plans to provide his students with related forum questions.  He has shared some of the feedback from his students here in “Facebook is not a Front Porch”.

I have overheard my own children comparing their ‘likes’ on statuses and photos.  Yet their personalities and comfort with posting online differ and they learn from each other through this and from our family discussions.  One good guiding question that I find helpful is, “How much are you trying to BE interesting vs. interested in others?”.  That idea came from a post that Chris Wejr wrote in reflection about his social media use.

I think reflection is often needed on this, for ourselves and our kids.  Are we influencing with numbers?  How are we influenced by numbers?  What does influence even mean online?  I don’t want to participate, write, follow, interact, etc., FOR the numbers or “Klout”.  I think a high score or thousands of followers, or worrying about my “brand” would only overwhelm and pressure me.  I believe it would affect my writing and interactions with others.  I know it can be difficult to find the appropriate “line” of sharing ideas to connect, learn and grow vs. sharing in self-promotion.  I can understand others who want the numbers for information because they use these spaces for different things and various professional and business purposes, but I don’t think this is the purpose of a personal learning network (PLN).  If I don’t get an answer to a question or an interaction for what I toss out there to a smaller network and following, I can live with that.  I wish Twitter didn’t post our number of tweets and followers – there is no context in those numbers alone.  Quantity simply does not mean quality, especially with social media….unless I am missing something?

Now, back to thinking, reflecting, and sharing about education 🙂

Leading Learning and Networking to Learn

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As I dipped into the Twitter stream today, I seemed to have caught a theme in just a few short minutes!

If you are ever having some reservations or questions about the purpose of a Personal Learning Network, “PLN”, there are plenty of good reads to guide with this.  I wrote a post with my own questions and thoughts some time ago.  What I found interesting today was how a few posts seem to relate and mesh so well, if not speak to where things are at currently with online learning networks in education and to what lies ahead.

First I read about, “It’s time to create school systems that learn”, by Paul Ash, Superintendent.  His message really speaks to a shift in supporting learning and key roles in education.

Then, “Hacking Your Professional Development“.  Andrew Campbell, a teacher, pulled together a great compilation that captures the possibilities of a PLN and other learning opportunities that educators are taking part in and have readily available to them.

And then next, some related and relevant insight from a principal, Cale Birk, “How Do You Value Networking?”.  His post nicely brings in the consideration of students to this networked way of learning.  A lot to reflect on from his post in regards to both student and educator networks and connected learning.

And one last post regarding the purpose and next steps for PLN’s, Tom Whitby asks, “When is Innovation Old News?”.

I hope these posts help bring together some thoughts and plans for next steps for you, as they did for me.  Thanks for reading my quick collection!

How do parent labels help?

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Since starting to use Twitter to engage in education conversations I have connected with numerous individuals who give of their time, offer suggestions, participate in twitter chats, and blog to support positive conversations and relationships between parents and teachers.  I believe I have done my share as well – in conversations, on this blog and on other online sites.  In a recent post of mine, it felt a bit like pouring my heart out about the topic and I also provided some resources that I thought would help understanding and practices to support conversations between educators and parents.  Other bloggers in my network also blog about meeting parents where they are, listening to them, and adjusting approaches for their own school community (many are linked in my posts).

I know I am not alone in avoiding generalizing and the labelling of parents.  It was disheartening to see an article like this posted to a teachers’ resource site.  I recognize that it is not the first article of its kind that has circulated to help understand parents (there is another one linked in the comments).  I can understand that parents can be difficult to work with, but then people can be difficult to work with.  Is there value in such articles that provide “personality types” or labels of parents – both moms and dads in this one.  The comments are mixed on the article, so maybe I am missing something.  Maybe it is reassuring or meant as humour.  But does labelling or classifying types really help the conversations and relationships with parents and the support of children?  How do parents feel when they see this kind of resource?

It is all about the “@” too.

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I am often surprised by the continuing confusion about the “@” on Twitter.  There have been a few times when I have mentioned to someone in my Twitter network about the limitation of beginning a tweet with an @”name”.  I mentioned it when it seemed clear that it was not their intention to reply only to that person, but they just happened to use the person’s Twitter handle at the beginning of the tweet.  However, Twitter treats it as a reply.

I agree with many who write about it being “all about the hashtag” in terms of good conversation and connecting people and topics, but I also feel strongly about the value of “@ convos” on Twitter.  I have been catching quite a few posts regarding following/unfollowing and how that affects networks and connections on Twitter.  I think these are helpful discussions as we still continue to sort all this out and reflect on how to use social media in valuable and personally relevant ways.  What I do continue to hear and read is the importance of conversations and replies between people that also allow others to join in.  So I have decided to post in support of the “@” and transparent, open conversations, and to help those who often ask, “What is with the . in front of people’s tweets?” 🙂

It is quite simple, but still somewhat confusing:

The . in front of the @ allows all of your followers to see the tweet, whether it is meant as a “reply to” or simply a mention of someone’s Twitter handle beginning the tweet.  Only “@” in front or at the beginning of a tweet would only allow mutual followers of yourself and @”name” to see the tweet.   (It is also important to know that your replies are not private to those you “@” and could be seen by common followers, or if somone views your profile page directly.)  Using the .  in front changes it from a reply to a regular public tweet and allows anyone to join the conversation or comment on what you have tweeted.  (Someone can also retweet a direct reply for all their followers to see or to join the conversation).

This may still sound as clear as mud, and I was happy to see this older link tweeted just today explaining this change on Twitter.  It also provides some helpful examples regarding this. And now I have it all handy… in the name of conversation 🙂

If anyone else can explain it clearer, please add.

(special thanks to Doug Peterson (@dougpete) for discussion and resources relating to this)

Technology Resistant

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It is not hard to catch the concerns in my Twitter feed regarding the lack of technology and social media use by teachers and in classrooms.  There are often many points and issues to consider and I don’t claim to know and understand all of them.  The statements on blog posts and in comments reveal the diversity, if not polarization, of positions and thoughts in this area.

Consider these posts by Scott McLeod (@mcleod), for example, and the comments generated:

What are educator’s professional obligations to learn from social media channels?

Holding Back Our Children

And this report on social media’s role in education.

Also, I found the chart that Keith Rispin (@Keithrispin) provided at the end of this post very helpful, although he admits it may be somewhat simplistic.

The more I read the more I am often confused about what to support.  As a parent, I could choose not to worry about this, especially since parents are often looked upon as the barrier for change in this area.  Andrew Campbell (@acampbell99), a teacher and parent, posed a good question in a tweet recently, “If parents were demanding #edtech would that speed change?”  I don’t believe so.  I think it would have to be a collective response and collaboration of stakeholders to really affect speed of change (in education standards :)).  I could be wrong though certainly.

I may be “old-fashioned”, but I continue to look for reassurance around these points and questions:

  • Is the technology use or device developmentally appropriate for children/students?  E.g. Do young children really need the tools that connect globally? Would we introduce needless anxiety through exposure to situations or issues beyond their homes and community which they are not ready for and don’t need to be ready for?
  • How does the use of the technology/device or social media enhance a learning experience or opportunities compared to not using it? How are the outcomes different?
  • Arguments need to convince me that it is good for learning, not just because it makes teaching easier or more interesting (which could be addressed other ways), or that it “motivates” students.
  • As children/students experience and access more technology, what will they not experience?  And how will we know that it is okay?  Who will take responsibility if we miss something essential?

As I read the concerns about both parent and teacher resistance to technology and social media use in schools/classrooms, I wonder if it is really understood what assurances are needed.  Are the assurances that will build confidence and support similar or different for “resistant” parents and teachers?  Are parents and teachers comfortable enough to share these thoughts?

I invite any thoughts:  Is there an “it” or a “why” that you need to hear to better embrace and support the use of technology and social media in classrooms and/or for professional/personal learning?  Thank you for reading my thoughts.

Hope… to Action

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In two years from now I will no longer be a “parent in the system”. This will add up to a span of 17 years!  I can’t say there weren’t days when I wondered about homeschooling (there were no private school options for us to consider).  We committed to the public education system and set about making the best of it. I knew it wouldn’t be perfect.  It wasn’t always easy to advocate and stand behind our family values, but I felt it was important to model respectful advocacy with and for my children when appropriate.

As a parent, I didn’t always need to know full details of my children’s learning, what their marks were, or what the curriculum covered.  I did want to trust that they were learning and being inspired to learn, and being respected for the learners they are.  I did appreciate it when my questions about the how and why of learning were welcomed and addressed.

While many of the education conversations often centre on the integration of technology and funding issues, I continue with my hopes for changes in other areas as well, such as: Assessment/grading; the use of rewards/punishments; the process allowed for learning, homework, and parent/community inclusion.  Most of all, I hope for learning environments that are humanistic and caring, not just for children, but for staff too.

I believe that good changes will only come by people, for people, and with people (roles may be irrelevant).  When I am no longer an involved parent ‘in’ the system, I hope to still care about public education. These recent years of being more connected online with educators and parents have given me much hope.  I am counting on many in my network/PLN, now and ahead.  I am also still counting on myself to continue to find what I can do.

While I take time to think on my “what” ahead, I would like to share some posts that have encouraged me recently.  I appreciate that these educators and parents have shared their hopes and the work that they are doing in similar areas that I mentioned.  It is also great to see the invitation to others to the conversations and actions.  I may have created my own hopeful echo chamber on Twitter, but I hope readers of my blog who are not on Twitter at all or as much will also welcome this sharing.  Comments are welcome here always, or on the following blogs:

Moving Forward, Together by Brian Harrison @bharrisonp

Some of my parenting wishes for this year by Chris Kennedy @chrkennedy

Creating the Conditions: Student Discipline by Chris Wejr @ChrisWejr

How Necessary is Homework? Join the Discussion by Patrick Larkin @patrickmlarkin, feat. John Spencer’s A Week Without Homework Challenge @Johntspencer

“Cynics and critics.. making the news, creating a scene; Destiny lies in the fools who refuse to give up on a dream..”  (Lyric from Melanie Safka’s, “Smile”)  🙂

The Purpose of Personal Learning Networks

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I recognize that a lot has been written about PLNs and echo chambers already, but some recent dialogue on Twitter got me thinking lately…

My blog posts are often inspired by what comes my way from the people I follow on Twitter and what they share – be it from blog posts, news links, or thoughts tweeted.  I also learn and reflect a lot from comments from others on blog posts and in the twitter conversations, whether I am participating directly or not.  As people share their thoughts and experiences from their contexts, I can learn and reflect about my own context, decisions, and actions.  Twitter and other social media platforms also create spaces for meetings of the minds.  I see agreement and disagreement, as well as many ideas challenged and debated in the online spaces where I participate.  I am also a member of a moderating team of an online education forum and I find the interaction and participation online intriguing.

Sometimes I worry about the time I commit to online interaction, but I really am there because of people.  I think we continue to always learn from and with one another – whether in person or online.  If we can keep clear about our purpose in that, I think online connections have a huge potential to enhance learning from others, as well as awareness of the things we want to be more aware of in order to grow personally and professionally.

Is my online network my “PLN”?  I don’t know – I am not sure there is a consistent definition of such.  Purposes for such networks may vary and change from individual to individual and over time.  Do I feel like I am in an echo chamber or too much group think online?  Sometimes, but mostly not.  Do I converse more with like-minded people?  Yes, probably often.  I don’t think we could be motivated to interact online if we didn’t find this – just as we do in many face to face situations.  Online spaces may allow us more control to block out opposing voices, but the significance of that may depend on what purpose we use these spaces for.

If one sets up a PLN for specific resource sharing within shared and similar roles, a diverse network may not be as essential.  If one sets up a PLN to be a part of conversations for influencing change and practice, the collision with diverse voices and perspectives may be more essential.  But there is no perfect formula to this.  A deliberate attempt has to be made.  Sometimes I think we could create an echo chamber without realizing it.  Time constraints can lead us to create groups and lists organized in different ways or we follow certain threads of conversations  eg. a hashtag on Twitter.  We may follow and/or be a part of a diverse network, but not have time to read all that is shared, or what they share from their networks, which may also be diverse.  We may also be reluctant to share forward some viewpoints or topics for different reasons.  We may also worry about sharing too much (either content of our own or of others).  I appreciated a tweet by Marco Campana (@marcopolis) recently as he was signing off, “Remember, sharing is caring.”

It can also become easy to question and wonder where these online conversations and connections lead us, or what difference it makes.  Not everyone will experience the same interactions or be able to sustain them in the same way.  But opportunities are always possible when efforts are made.  Unless one actually participates in a committed way, it may be hard to understand what is being reciprocated.  It can seem like a few opinions get shared, and a few ideas get challenged and hashed around or reacted to – so then what?  What is the value?

I recognize and relate to the frequent concerns about echo chambers and the possible lack of diverse voices in networks, or shortcomings in how we interact with networks.  But I think it is important that we are sharing perspectives and raising voices in new ways, as well as connecting with those in decision-making roles that was not possible in the past.  Whether this is good, bad or pointless, it does mean something, if not many things.  Is participation in online forums and with social media allowing us to be included in what we have always wanted to be included in?  And lastly, are walls coming down, or new ones being built with online interaction?

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The Value of Connecting

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While we use social media to participate in conversations and sharing, the questions of value and worth often come up.  There are certainly many metrics, site stats, and scores to monitor if one desires to have some quantifiable data regarding social media influence or interactions.

But if it is the idea that we are developing a personal learning network (PLN), should the question of value be more of a personal thing?  What one values about connecting with social media may be an individual thing.  One may value a “lurker” kind of participation and another may value an active exchange with others.  Some share links, some tweet in conversations, or share a variety of things, or all of the above.

One’s view of the value of time spent may also be affected by how they have added and connected in building their network.  There are many lists and suggestions circulating on Twitter with recommendations of who to follow. Building of a network may also be a more personally driven process.  I think we may need to let people find their way a bit too.  I think we need to be gentle about how we nudge others to use social media for connected learning.  I worry that too much “should” and “must” advice about whom to follow and connect with, as well as what and how to share could easily be detrimental to one finding what they will value and find meaningful in connecting with social media.  Relationships and connections can take time – confidence and trust in the medium can as well.

I just learned that August is connected educator month.  I am not sure about all that it means, but I thought that a recent tweet from a teacher, Andrew Campbell (@acampbell99), was timely and relevant,

“To encourage educators to be connected we have to be prepared to meet them where they are”.

I try to keep this in mind when I nudge adults, parents and educators to try social media to build a network, but I know it is easy to forget.  I know that I am thankful for how I was nudged by a few of my online mentors, but everyone can have their own unique path in how they begin and build to connect online.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/aphrodite/66231929/”>~Aphrodite</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photo pin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>

In the name of correlation…

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I enjoy reading the many articles about the health benefits of drinking various beverages such as tea, coffee, red wine, etc.  It may be difficult to always “extract” the various variables in such studies, and as we know, correlation doesn’t necessarily prove a causal relationship or “cause and effect” with any two variables measured.  I often wonder if it is not just the actual ingredients of such liquids, but also the personal action and time taken to have a brew or cuppa that is beneficial to health.  Is it really because one takes the time to relax, or that the beverage time forces one to relax, reflect….clear the mind maybe….even if just for a few minutes each day?  A “smell the flowers” kind of thing?

The updates, consultations, and issues in education seem on-going in Ontario this summer (and likely elsewhere too), not to mention the correlation studies 🙂 .  I am extremely appreciative of those who have been keeping the conversations going as well as sharing the news links and updates through social media.  So here’s to well-being and enjoying a favourite beverage in your favourite summer spot too!  July is almost through…savour it, “bottle it”, breathe.  I will try to take my own advice too!

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/alvarolopez/383932562/”>alvarolg</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photo pin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>

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