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. : )

Network glue

A discussion I had recently keeps nagging at me.

I was speaking with someone, about how people like me work pretty tirelessly to provide useful information to educators through networks like Twitter. And I wasn’t just meaning me, I was referring to all of the key educators using Twitter to expand their knowledge base, but also the knowledge base of countless others. People who find good stuff and then pay it forward by tweeting or retweeting really useful links. These are people who don’t lurk in networks and feed off what others produce, they are altruistic in their intent and want to see others benefit from the good content out there that just might help to make us better educators.

The person I was speaking to responded that they didn’t need to do this, they knew who to ask for information.

My problem with this is that there is nothing altruistic in that. It’s almost a selfish act. It means that you become the holder of information, the gatekeeper, and only the favoured few gain from your wealth of knowledge.

I know it might be pretty naive of me to think like this, but I kind of like the idea that we’re all in this together, and sharing what we know with the many helps to make us all better. People who work like this in networks become the network glue; they facilitate connections for others and keep networks alive.

If we’re going to see our education workforce respond to our era, we need the network glue. It’s this sticky lot who will provide the foundation for the newcomer, reinforce the stayer, and educate the lurker. The stickier the better.

Want to get inspired – listen to Erica McWilliam

(This post exists on Storify, but it seems impossible to embed it here on this WordPress blog, so I’ve copied most of it here. To see it on Storify, follow the link.)

Below is my Twitter stream while I was listening to keynote speaker, Erica McWilliam, present at the SLAV conference here in Melbourne last Friday. The theme of the conference was ‘Creating collaborative learning spaces: Future school library scenarios’. Erica’s talk was entitled, The e-shift: What does it mean for 21st century literacy and learning?
Erica is a woman worth listening to – if you ever get the opportunity, leap at it.

So refreshing to hear a learned woman speak at a conference, given the fact that so many keynotes are delivered by men.

Lyn Hay, from Charles Sturt University, also presented a thought provoking presentation about the role of Teacher-Librarians and libraries as physical spaces as we move into an increasingly digital world. Lyn’s presentation has been uploaded to Slideshare and I’d encourage you to take a look at it.

On the day, there were very few of us using Twitter to push the ideas out to the wider world. In fact, most were taking notes using the pen and paper model. Hardly a laptop or iPad in sight. Maybe people were using their phones, but I didn’t see much of anything like that happening around me. In 2011, I’d expect a Teacher-Librarian audience to be wired up and sharing ideas in collaborative spaces. If we are to respond to the ideas presented by Erica, then we better see our profession rise to the challenges of our age. We need more networked Teacher-Librarians to model for our staff and students how we self direct our own learning, and how we can seek out opportunities to make the learning experiences in our schools today reflective of the connected era we are living in.

CPL workshop – all systems go!

A couple of years ago, I would speak at staff meetings and I could see eyes raising and people looking at one another with that, ‘here she goes again’, body language happening. Experiences like that have made me wary of staff presentations. In fact, I’m more comfortable presenting to a room of 200 strangers than I am with the people I work with on a day to day basis.

Yesterday I ran a whole day workshop at my school for Toorak College’s Continuous Professional Learning Seminar series, and the majority of participants were people I work with. I was more than a little anxious I have to admit. Firstly, it was a whole day, and that’s a whole lot more daunting than a one hour presentation, and secondly, I was putting my ideas out there to people who I found my most difficult audience.

Well, I’m pleased to say, my fears were unfounded. It was a really great day. I had plenty of content to keep the day humming along nicely; too much in fact. We were racing a bit towards the end! I’m pretty chuffed to know I can single-handedly lead a successful workshop, and hope I get the opportunity to do it again. Best of all, my audience was responsive and open. Open to ideas, open to thinking about social media as something that we need to explore in our classrooms. It was affirming for me. I feel so much more positive about enacting change in our classrooms and working cooperatively with staff who want to see how they can reinvent their practice to suit the times we are living in.

And that’s what’s made the change I think. The time we are living in. Social media is far more pervasive in our lives than it was three years ago. I joined Twitter three years ago; I was making connections and could see then the powerful communication device it was for sharing and learning. I’d speak about it in glowing (evangelical?) terms to people I worked with, and I could see they just didn’t understand. To them, it was a time waster, a place where people told one another what they’d eaten for breakfast.

Today, Twitter is mainstream. It’s referenced on news bulletins, popular morning TV news programs share reporters’ Twitter user names and they use hashtags to encourage online conversations around a topic. Yesterday, we talked at length about Twitter, and visited hashtag results pages for Libya and Christchurch, where we could see aggregated tweets giving us real time information. Some participants joined up, and I hope they make efforts to follow people and make connections that will inform their teaching practice. I know that every day Twitter takes me to places that extend my learning and I would never have located those places without its help.

It’s this pervasiveness of new media in our lives that made all the difference yesterday. Now it’s important to understand new technologies and people are ready to listen. To those of you reading this who have been immersed for some time and have felt discouraged in your schools, I think we are seeing the tide turning.  Social media is mainstream, and our skills are necessary. We can lead others and we need to do so.

Updated visual representation of Online Communities from xkcd

In the Northern Spring of 2007, Randall Munroe from xkcd created the following map to represent the real estate value of online communities;

Interestingly, they created a new one in October of this year that looks like this;

You can see the incredible demise of MySpace and the rise of Facebook, Farmville and Twitter in the recent incarnation. I don’t even know what Happy Farm is!! Visit The Green Eyed Monster’s blog where you can click on the same image and use the magnifier to look at it closely. It’s very interesting, and something to use with our students. It’s something they will be able to relate to I’m sure.

Keeping in touch, the Words with Friends way.

I do love my iPhone. It’s changed the way I interact with the Web. I like the fact that I can easily check my work email and personal gmail accounts easily, and I can check in with Twitter via either the Tweetdeck or Twitter app. I can do a quick web search easily via my Google app (I prefer that to Safari) and I can check into this blog via the WordPress app. The Google Maps app has proved invaluable as I try and find my way around locations. Even though it’s slightly disconcerting knowing the satellites are tracking my every move, knowing that the blue circle has me heading in the right direction has given me peace of mind on many occasions. I can even check the developments happening with the Australian Curriculum via the new app released from ACARA. Sometimes I read downloads from Amazon using the Kindle app, and the other night I was watching the latest TED Talks when I was having trouble sleeping.

What I’m loving at the moment is an app called Words with Friends, which is a game of scrabble that can be played by people who’ve signed up to the site. It was introduced to me the other week by my friend Melanie who lives in New York. We had known each other online through our association with the international PLP cohort, and met when I was in New York in January this year. We shared some very fun times together and have remained in contact via Twitter and email. Melanie suggested that I download the Words with Friends app so that we could engage in a game of scrabble. Simple idea, but a lovely one. Because of our time zone difference, it’s not played at a frenetic pace, just once a day, but we can send messages to one another and know that we are doing something together, despite the physical distance that separates us.

I’m happy to let you know that Melanie is trouncing me right now, but I’m enjoying trying to figure out how to play my letters in the most strategic way possible. My competitive spirit and sheer desperation led to me search on Google for ‘scrabble help’. I discovered ‘Win every game‘, and it’s helped me score 40 points for my last move! Pssst… don’t tell Melanie!!

Finding the right Ning alternative – does it exist?

Image representing GROU.PS as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

Last week was extremely busy, and a combination of successes and failures. I’ve been grappling for awhile now with what to do as an alternative to Ning. We’ve paid for a few networks in the school to be mini networks, and that’s no headache at $20.00 for the year. A mini network enables you to have forums, blogs, to embed videos and pictures and to run this ad free. It suits the functions of the Yr 9 Ning we run, which is into it’s second year now, and other Nings that support our book club and our Sleepout for Schools effort. Another teacher runs a Ning that has pages and chat and her faculty has paid the $200.00 fee to sustain this for the year. As I’m sure you’ve gleaned if you read this blog regularly, I’m a big fan of Ning and its use as a virtual learning community in our school. I don’t object to having to pay the fees either; I think we’re going to see more Web based services begin to charge and I think our school communities will have to start budgeting for this, just like we do for placing books on library shelves or subscribing to databases.

Last year we ran a really successful Ning for a week long inquiry project at Year 8. That Ning contained groups and chat, and the students used these really productively throughout the course of that week to publicise what they were investigating and to collaborate and organise themselves. This last week saw the Inquiry week run again and we wanted to use Ning to support the students and encourage transparency with what they were doing. The issue for us was this; the project runs for one week of the year. Did we want to pay $200.00 for a Ning, a cost that was necessary if we wanted to encourage the formation of groups and utilise chat? Well, no, we didn’t.

So, I looked for alternatives. I set up a site using Grouply, but it wasn’t as intuitive as Ning and forum discussions didn’t seem to be highlighted on the front page, you had to move into a tab to see them. We wanted the students to see forum discussions front and centre when they reached the page. It also didn’t support any sort of chat feature so that made it limited in its use for us. A bit of a callout for suggestions on Twitter led me to Wall.fm, and it seemed I had found the answer.

Wall.fm lets you have forums, blogs, photos, videos and, importantly for our needs, groups and a wall where you can post comments. (a bit reminiscent of Facebook) There are only a handful of themes so you can’t go to town customising the look of the site, but it is functional. You can make it private or have it open. I set it up and it looked like it was going to do the job we needed it to do. I launched it with the kids on their first day of solid research and they were keen to get started. Frustratingly, we hit hiccups when a number of them were unable to validate their membership because the emails didn’t reach their inbox. It was hit and miss. Some kids were flying and forming groups and leaving comments, and others were locked out of the site. As a result, we didn’t have the dynamic virtual learning environment supporting this inquiry like we had last year. Pretty disappointing for all of us.

I sent a message through the site asking why it may be that we were having issues. I tried changing the email address at the back end of the site to see whether or not validation emails could then get through. No reply at all from the help desk at Wall fm. left me floundering really. If you can’t get support then that doesn’t bode well for a social network really.

Ning don’t look like they’re going to announce education packages that will make something that runs for a limited time frame affordable. So I’m once again looking for an adequate alternative that gives me what Ning Pro can do but at a reasonable price. If my project ran the full year and I needed groups and chat, then I don’t think $200.00 is a big ask. I’d happily fund it through a budget. But a short term project like the one we’ve run really doesn’t warrant the outlay.

So, the hunt continues. I’ve been recommended to try out Grou.ps, so I’m going to set up a trial space and see if I can make that workable. If anyone’s had any success with Ning alternatives, I’d love to hear about them. I spent time tonight uploading videos and photos to our Yr 9 English Ning, and I have to tell you, I just love the ease of uploading content and the look and feel of Ning. It just may be that I’m going to have to suck it up and pay the price!

The inquiry week for the students was a great success, even without the virtual environment. The students all immersed themselves in what they were doing and presented some impressive findings. Twitter came to the rescue for one group. That’s the happy tale I’ll relay in my next post. : )