The little things…

Neglected.

I believe that’s the word you’d use to describe this blog of late. Aside from the regular School’s out Friday posts (my saving grace, really), it’s been a barren wasteland for the last month or so. I shouldn’t beat myself up, because starting in a new position, even when it’s at the school you’ve taught at for years, is fraught with finding your feet and trying to establish credibility for yourself amongst your peers.

Me, I’m my own greatest critic. If I’m not moving mountains then I think I’m falling short. I’d love to say I’ve single handedly transformed peoples’ approaches to using technology in their classrooms within weeks, but you’d know I was lying. I’m trying hard not to beat myself up or place undue pressure on myself, but it’s proving difficult. What I have to do is tackle things in a systemised way, make some things a priority, and take heart from the fact that I’m doing what I can with the hours there are in a day.

A little thing I’ve done that I think might be a good start to building a learning community is to create a hashtag for our school and start curating Tweets in a Paper.li (it’s like a online newspaper). The hashtag is #tcplc (Toorak College Professional Learning Community) and the Paper.li created I send out in an email daily to staff. To help them determine if there’s anything there of import, I provide a brief summary of some of the posts/articles that have been curated. I’m very lucky to have a couple of other teachers at my school who are Twitter users, and they are helping with the curation. Hopefully we’ll start to see more teachers become aware of the wonderful professional learning opportunities available from the Twitter community and maybe, just maybe, some will sign up and become part of the curation process to benefit all of us.

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It’s a little thing, but it does take time and effort to curate those links. I’m an avid Twitter user (all my best learning happens or begins from there)  so it’s a great way to make that learning transfer to others who aren’t Twitter users.

Little things go on to become big things. I’ll try and keep this Chinese proverb in mind as the year unfolds,

“It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward.”

Are we learning from Lady Gaga and Troy Carter?

You don’t have to like her music, you don’t have to like her fashion sense, but you do have to have some admiration for the way she conducts business.

English: Lady Gaga performing on the Fame Ball...
English: Lady Gaga performing on the Fame Ball tour in Minneapolis, MN at the Fine Line Music Café. Remastered with Photoshop. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve long thought Lady Gaga is one switched on lady, and yesterday I read an article in Wired.CO.UK that proved it. Troy Carter, Lady Gaga’s manager, was the subject of an interview that described how he has made the most of social media to propel her career. Not only that, he is now in the process of creating a new social media platform called Backplane, that looks set to provide a community hub for the Little Monsters (Lady Gaga’s fans) and a means for her to bypass the record companies and sell her content directly through the platform. Here’s how his plans have been described in the Wired interview;

For several years, Carter has been plotting a digital disruption of the music business and, by extension, the whole entertainment industry. In addition to his offices in Los Angeles, which employ talent managers and communications and support staff, he has a team of nearly 20 engineers and executives in Palo Alto, working seven days a week developing something called the Backplane, a social-media platform that will allow celebrities to combine all the elements of their social-web presence.

Yes, that’s right. This platform is not just about Lady Gaga, it’s about the entertainment business in general, and plans are afoot to pull other celebrities and even sporting clubs in. Here’s more detail from the interview explaining their grand plans;

The Backplane aims to gather content and interaction into one hub, which could completely alter the economics of Hollywood: revenue that once flowed to corporations will flow to artists. “Up until this point, we’ve been data dumb,” Carter says. “If a kid goes and buys a CD at Best Buy, we have no idea who the person is, how many times they listen to it, or anything like that. But we’re building to the point where one day we’re going to have access to all of the data. There will be a time where we’ll be able to release music through the Backplane, where we’ll be able to release music videos through there, we’re going to be able to sell all our tickets through there. Over a period of time, we’ll be able to build that audience so they’ll know exactly where to come.”

As it stands now, many celebrities use a variety of tools to communicate via social media. Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and YouTube are all employed, but they are all separate entities. Backplane has stated their intention on their site;

The Backplane team is creating a new type of social corridor. We believe that audiences seek new and more meaningful ways to connect and engage with each other. Backplane fills a gap in the current social spectrum by empowering sharing and conversation that is effortless but not automatic.

Smart, huh? And look what they’re doing to enable discussion with fans across language barriers;

They needed a chat function. That was already in the works; the Backplane was using Google’s translation software so people from all over the world could chat in one language.

There is much to learn from Troy Carter and his vision. This kind of entrepreneurial thinking needs to emanate from somewhere. Troy grew up in a rough neighbourhood in West Philadelphia and got some breaks that found him working with Will Smith. His willingness to do pretty much anything that was required led to other job opportunities. He even went bankrupt at one stage, but eventually found himself introduced to Lady Gaga. Me, I’d like to know more about his schooling. Was he introduced to creative thinking in the classrooms he occupied? Was he inspired by someone in his youth who saw something in him and encouraged this kind of willingness to take risks and think outside the square?

What are the implications of this new approach to shaping and growing a career for education? Plenty, in my book. We need to be exploring this new business model in our classrooms and make sure our students have a keen understanding of the benefits of utilising social media to create your brand and proactively develop employment opportunities. Schools themselves can learn plenty from this. How many are utilising the tools of social media to communicate with their communities and grow their brand in a positive, proactive fashion?

Take note too of the job industry driving this change. If you take a look at the jobs board on the Backplane site, you’ll see that coders are in hot demand. If we’re going to see the Web become the vehicle for dissemination of not only ideas, but content, then we’re going to need a skilled workforce to meet the demand that is sure to ensue. The Khan Academy are about to release an education portal that teaches Computer Science fundamentals through interactive drawing. But let’s not rely on the self motivated to fill the positions that will arise. Let’s open up kids’ eyes by teaching the elements of coding in our schools and educating them about the career prospects that await them if they choose to master it.

Another lesson here also for the book industry. Publishers, are you taking note? Because I bet authors are. We’ve already seen J.K Rowling begin to control her ownership and distribution of content with Pottermore. I’m guessing there are quite a few high profile authors, and low profile ones too, who would be interested in Backplane and the possibilities there for controlling their content and profit margins.

Changing times call for changing approaches across many sectors. Lady Gaga and the team behind her are people to watch. You can learn more about Troy Carter’s background and his approach to the music business by watching this Keynote interview from the Music Matters conference in June 2012.

He speaks my language.

Lean back 2.0 – new media demands new approaches

Andrew Rashbass, Chief Executive for The Economist Group, has shared a fabulous presentation called ‘Lean Back 2.0‘ to SlideShare. In it, he presents a case for what he calls ‘Lean Back Media’, a new age of media consumption typified by the way people use tablet devices for reading and browsing. His presentation makes a case for changes to the way The Economist Group approaches its business model, and it is required viewing and reading for any publishing company in the throes of rethinking their operation.

I’ve been using an iPad for 15 months, and it’s definitely changed my reading habits. I haven’t read a paper (dead tree) book for quite some time, and prefer instead to download titles to iBooks, or the Kindle app on my iPad. I haven’t moved to subscribing to journals through apps on my iPad as yet, because I find that quite a lot of longform journalism that interests me is shared through links on Twitter or through Zite, the personalised iPad magazine. Readership of  publications from The Economist Group would be in the higher demographics of our population I’m figuring, and their close analysis of the reading habits of their target group seems a very sensible approach to ensure they stay solvent in what are challenging times for newspaper and magazine publishers.

The real dilemma for newspaper and magazine publishers, is how they sustain profit given that the advertising model that was successful in print media does not translate in digital media. As Andrew notes in the slide below regarding advertising, “The Lean Back digital model is unproven and the transition will be treacherous.” The coming year or two will see who can come out still solvent, and quite possibly even thriving.

Andrew concludes his presentation with the big questions they ask themselves at The Economist Group. If you’re part of a media organisation today, hopefully you’re asking yourself similar questions and are planning for inevitable change. Interestingly, I think you can apply these questions to education. Look closely at them and see if you have any answers.

Thanks Andrew for a thought provoking presentation that goes a way towards envisaging what the future will look like for the publishing industry. Special thanks for opting to share through SlideShare, and making your company’s thinking processes available to people outside your organisation.

Sometimes, Twitter raises my stress levels

One thing I’ve noticed during this holiday break, is that increased access to Twitter is raising my stress levels.

Why, I hear you asking?

During the working week, my exposure to Twitter is infrequent. I read and share when I can, and that’s usually at the end of a working day. I just don’t have time to check in regularly at work, unless I’m seeking information to help us solve an issue. Holidays afford me the leisure of watching the stream more frequently throughout the day, but I’m noticing the obsessive hold it can have on you. What comes with the stream is the need to read more, to engage with the content, to think. I’m supposed to be relaxing, and instead my mind is racing as I think about the recent changes to Facebook and what that might mean for our students, the release of the Kindle Fire, Seth Godin’s thoughts about  the forever recession and the coming revolution, and just what on earth is Google Gravity?

Maybe it’s because I’d found what I thought was a kind of balance in my life in recent times, that this imbalance seems to make my heart and mind race.

I know the answer. Tune out. Check in at set times. Don’t constantly watch the stream. All things I’ve told myself before, but I think I need reminding…

How many networks can a regular person maintain?

I think I fall into the category of regular person.

Married, two kids, full time job.

So, as a regular person, just how many social networks can I maintain?

In my case, not many. In fact, I’d say I can only really manage one effectively.

At the moment, the network I maintain is Twitter. Aside from this blog, it’s where I share my thinking and try and spread what I learn to others. It’s where I learn from others. It’s where I spend quite a bit of time, much to the chagrin of my family on more than the odd occasion. And it’s not what I’d describe as a social network, I use it for professional learning. (but really, the lines are blurring there – professional is becoming social. Let’s face it, I spend quite a bit of time there.)

So, when Google announced their new social network, Google+, I wasn’t exactly jumping up and down with excitement. When Google Buzz was announced, I was super keen to get on the bus. But the gloss of the new has worn off. I don’t have a Google+ invite, and nor do I want one just yet. I’m happy for everyone else to figure out how it works (thanks Doug Peterson : )), and save me all the time and commitment I’d need to put into working out the kinks. If I find a large number of my network moving to the space, then I expect I’ll move there too. It’s the nature of networks; you move to where the people you interact with are.

I don’t know how I’ll manage if Twitter and Google+ co-exist and they both are significant. I really can’t afford to spend any more time online. If I do, then I think my husband will seriously consider shutting down internet access to our home. If they integrate, then I stand a chance.

What about you? Are you able to successfully maintain more than one social/professional network? Did Google+ fill you with elation, or dread?

School’s out Friday

I love this University Professor’s Halloween joke with his class, and I agree with the comment appearing under this video on YouTube,

“…if every teacher was like you there will be better students. Continue like that, maybe that will inspire other teacher’s. And im sure students also learn better with fun.”

I think humour plays such an important part in teaching. Sure, we’ve all got important messages and information to impart to our students, but sharing a laugh and teaching them how important this ingredient is to a healthy life should be part of that too. I shared plenty of laughs with our Year 7 students this week as they worked on their inquiry project. Together, we tackled the joys of using technology as we converted files and sought out ways to fix problems we were encountering. Laughing along the way, and not getting disgruntled as we hit roadblocks, made the learning so much more enjoyable.

I had to laugh to myself when I sent out a tweet asking for help about a filetype I was attempting to convert. Alec Couras replied informing me that a WMPL file was a project file and not a rendered movie file. There lay the solution to our problem, and there I was looking foolish on Twitter! I figure you just have to accept that no question is a dumb question, so I dutifully thanked Alec for his help. What’s truly wonderful about this is that I could have tried sorting that issue for a lengthy period of time, but instead, I went to my network for help. It came within a minute or two from Canada. As Alec pointed out after I’d thanked him,

So there you have it, republicans, reason to retain the monarchy!!

I’m the subject of John Larkin’s Friday Follow interview this week. If you feel so inclined, take a visit to John’s site and see what I have to say about social media and education. I’d like to thank John for inviting me to participate. He is one of the gentleman on Twitter. Someone I’ve never met face to face, but whose online demeanor makes me feel like we would get on.

I don’t have much planned for the weekend ahead, but I’m figuring that’s a good thing. Just happy right now to go where the flow takes me.

Enjoy whatever comes your way.  : )

Helping students with current issues research

One of the things I really do appreciate in my school is the willingness of our English teachers to recognise the skill set of Teacher-Librarians. Over the last few weeks my staff and I have worked closely with Year 11 and 12 teachers and students, and have shared information about how best to utilise Library online resources and the internet to help them with research on a current issue for VCE Oral Presentations.

Today I ran a session with our Yr 10 students to help them begin a persuasive essay task. We covered similar ground to that run through with the Year 11 and 12 students in recent weeks, and I’m hoping it will hold them in good stead as they tackle the research needed to formulate a strong argument for a persuasive essay. I thought I’d run through some of the things I covered, and hope some of you out there might find it useful.

1. Echo online – newspaper indexes and media issues outlines.
This is a truly invaluable resource for Victorian students. A Victorian school subscription to the Echo Education Services site is $355.00. In my opinion, it’s the best $355.00 we spend all year. I’m not sure if other States use it too, but the work done here in the media issues outlines part of the database is extraordinary. The lady who does the work is a VCE English teacher, and she trawls the daily newspapers looking for what might be the current issues that a VCE English student would want to explore for their oral presentation or language analysis task. When she’s identified an issue, she puts together an outline that includes background information, arguments for, arguments against and further implications. She also provides pages of web links and documents and links to the newspaper articles she has used to provide her outlines of whatever the issue in question is. It’s incredibly helpful, particularly for those students who just can’t figure out how you would go about analysing an issue. It gives them an entry point and the confidence they need to explore the source material to form conclusions for themselves.

The other part of this database is the newspaper index. Students can enter their search term and results are provided for relevant articles published in our daily papers. These results aren’t hyperlinked; the students would either have to source the original print copy or search a newspaper database to find the article. I point my students to Newsbank.

2. Newsbank This is a database where students can search Australian newspapers. They have to be conscious of the search terms they use, and often need to refine their search to pull in the content they need. One of the disadvantages of the site is that it provides the text of the articles only. None of the pictorial detail that often accompanies a newspaper article is available, and the text can look pretty dry to a 15 year old. We made a decision this year to stop archiving 6 months of back issues of newspapers, largely because we have noticed a decline in the demand for use, the fact that it involves a large amount of dedicated staff time doing this work, and the understanding that our move into a new building meant we were looking towards the future of collection development rather than what we could see as a process from the past. For this reason, we have subscribed to digital archives (true to print eg: as they appear in the printed version of the paper) of daily newspapers.

3. Digital subscriptions to newspapers (true to print eg: as they appear in the printed version of the paper). We have a 5 user concurrent subscription to ‘The Age’ archive and a license for 50 users to access the ‘Herald-Sun‘ and ‘The Australian‘. They come at considerable cost, and it’s not easy for students to get access. We have to share the common user name and password to all staff and students for the 5 user concurrent license to ‘The Age’. This means 5 users at a time can access the site and another user will have to wait until someone logs out to get access. With the 50 user license for the Herald Sun, we have to register individual emails to each license. This means we have had to use staff emails, and we share these with students with the common password so they can get access. It isn’t ideal. I don’t think our newspaper industry has really got their act together at this stage to accomodate the needs of schools. As more schools take up options like this I’m hoping they will come up with a more user friendly method to gain access.

4. The Age Education Resource Centre  Every week, in its Monday edition, The Age publishes ‘Issues in the News‘. They analyse a current issue and write their copy for a secondary school audience. It’s a great resource, and contains links to source material used to compile their summation. You can access their archive of issues they have covered

5. Google News – One of the reasons many of our students are not accessing print newspapers is because they are searching for newspaper content online through Google. I always find it interesting that students are surprised to realise a search engine like Google has many parts, and they need to look to the toolbar at the top of the screen to find these options. They seem to have eyes only for the search box in the centre of the screen! We’ve been introducing our students to Google News and showing them that they can search for newspaper articles from other countries to assist them in gaining perspectives from other cultures. We’ve also focused on the advanced search function and showing students how they can narrow a search using some of the parameters there.

6. Google Realtime search I suspect many people are unaware of Google’s Realtime search option. You can use Realtime search to do exactly what it says – search in real time. What you are accessing are Twitter feeds about the search term you’ve entered. The great thing about Twitter is that many people are sharing links about topics that are issues in the news. It’s there where you will find up to date (real time!) coverage of an event. For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, it can be the most invaluable source of information. If you don’t have an account and a network of fabulous contacts, then this is a good option for trying to find out what people are saying and sharing about topics of interest to you. Try it for yourself and see what I mean.

 

7. TED: ideas worth spreading Many of our students are required to put together oral presentations for their English course of study. I’ve read many times that speaking in public is one of the highest ranked fears of many people. You can often tell that as you watch some students sweat it out beforehand and stumble through oral presentations. They need to see people speaking in front of audiences and take note of effective techniques that can hold the interest of a group of people. The TED site is the perfect vehicle for getting students to analyse what makes for an effective presentation. The bonus is, the talks are so interesting and inspiring, they are bound to learn many other things in the process. I used the start of Eli Pariser’s talk about the ‘filter bubble’ and it certainly sparked a lot of interest. Students are concerned about what big corporations like Google are doing with their data, and many students asked how his name was spelt so they could watch this presentation in full after class.

I’m happy to report, this presentation was met with a round of applause from the students, on more than one occasion. Issues research can be daunting for many a student, and they value being shown a way forward. If you have other resources you use that you find helpful for student use, please leave a comment and extend the learning for all of us. : )