On TeachMeets, EduChats and Marketing

YOUR VOICE

Following from my earlier post, in which I grappled with the ethics around blogging about freebies, I wanted to start a broader discussion about the way our social and professional networks are being harnessed by marketers.

When I first entered the world of Teach Meets, and education Twitter discussions, I found them refreshing, fascinating and empowering. They seemed to me almost revolutionary in the way that they were giving practitioners voice. Instead of teachers being talked TO by ‘experts’, consultants and so on, here was a platform which elevated the voice of the practicing classroom teacher and brought their expertise to the fore.

We were hearing from each other and it seemed to me to fill a much needed void, while also bringing respect back to the profession. Collegial networks formed as teachers became aware of others working towards similar goals, whom they could learn from or team with. It was inspiring, it created support networks, it helped teachers build confidence in their own practice, and respect for the practice of others. No longer were we just recipients of other people’s wisdom. Our practice, our innovations, our stories were being shared and were of value.

Twitter chats were a fast paced, short form version of the same. Led by a moderator around a topic, teachers would share their insights, practices and resources. As with TeachMeets, we were sharing genuine experiences of what was working in our classrooms, gathering ideas, sharing resources and forming communities of practice.

But then the marketers arrived. The last 4 TeachMeets I organised had more product reps than teachers signing up to present. They jumped on the sign up forms as soon as they became available. I was thrown by this at first, not sure how to respond, but eventually settled on a policy that any TeachMeet I organised would be marketing free. Listening to commercials is not what TeachMeets are about, at least not to me. At a TeachMeet, I want to hear the stories of teachers not the pitches from sales reps, no matter how good their product.

Sponsership of an event is less black and white to me. Museums, tech companies and other organisations will sometimes provide free space for TeachMeets as part of their community outreach. On those occasions, it seems fair that the venue host give a brief overview of the services they make available for educators. An interesting venue, sometimes with catering included, provided in exchange for a five minute overview of their education services seems a pretty good deal. But how far should one go down that path, I wonder? My favourite venue for a TeachMeet will always be a pub. It’s relaxed and there’s beer. Many pubs provide space for free if its mid week and they know a group of teachers will be eating and drinking there.

Twitter chats also started to attract the marketers a year or so ago. Some with products to flog would join, they’d seem friendly at first, but then I’d notice they contributed little other than links to their product or websites. I felt very uneasy with this. It seemed our networks, formed by teachers for teachers, were being infiltrated by people who wanted to use the guise of professsional discussion to market their product. It was insincere.

A more honest approach to marketing seems to be the hashtag chats that have grown up around some books and tech products. The marketing agenda is clear from the tag used in every tweet. However, I choose not to participate in them. Back in the mid 80s coca-cola branded t-shirts were inexplicably popular for a short while. I wanted one and remember my father spluttering with disbelief that people would actually pay money for the privilege of advertising a product on their shirt. Perhaps that influenced the view I have now. I refuse to tweet in chats using a tag that provides free advertising for a profit making venture. That seems like exploitation to me, and I don’t wish to be a part of it.

Interestingly, when I’ve expressed these views on Twitter I’ve been fairly heavily censured. One commercial hashtag chat convenor spotted my conversation with a friend on the topic and accused me of having an ‘attitude problem’. I’ve been accused by others of being too negative, and that expressing these views is not a constructive or positive use of Twitter.

I found it strange that speaking out against the marketers provoked such a strong response. I speak for and against all sorts of things, but it’s only my tweets on marketing that seem to anger people. (Aside from one time when I happened to mention phonics while a lot of UK teachers were online) It’s odd, because my intention is actually one that is positive. I love TeachMeets and I love education Twitter networks. I speak up about this sort of thing because I hope, in my small way, to preserve what is great about both: that they elevate the voices and expertise of teachers and provide a space where they can be heard. That’s a rare thing, and I don’t want to see it disappear.

No Longer an Echo Chamber

"Like"

Last year, I felt frustrated at what seemed to be an echo chamber in my Twitter feed. There were plenty of people agreeing with ideas, a lot of retweets, but very little disagreement.

I wrote a post titled, “Can We All Please Agree to Disagree” which seemed to resonate with many people as it was shared continuously for quite some time and became my most popular post of 2014.

That in itself was a little ironic, as I was asking for dissent but had generated more agreement, so it was refreshing to read George Couros’s reply to my post, offering a very different perspective on ‘Why We Need the Echo Chamber’.

But, you know how once you start thinking about something, or learn a new piece of information, you begin to notice it everywhere? (This is an interesting phenomenon known as the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenom) Well, from the day I wrote that post, I started to notice disagreements whenever I jumped on Twitter. The echo chamber was no where in sight. They weren’t negative or hostile exchanges. For the most part they were genuine explorations , with people offering new perspectives, challenging and digging deeper into ideas to increase learning from each other and expanding their understanding.

As much as I’d love to flatter myself and suggest that this sort of dialogue happened as a direct result of people reading my post, the more likely scenario is that it had always been occurring, but for some reason, I hadn’t been paying attention.

I really liked what Edna Sackson had to say in this post about the types of tweets that don’t add value to Twitter discussions. I’m not sure I agree with her on every point. For example, I quite like the updates my Twitter colleagues provide about their meals, their holidays and other things that are going on in their lives. It fleshes them out for me and has resulted in us finding some common interests outside of education which has led to the formation of some great friendships.

But she makes a really good point about adding value, and I find the tweets and blog comments that build on what others are saying, sometimes through challenge and disagreement definitely add value to the conversation.

The other day I posted some thoughts on awards for teachers, in which I expressed concerns about how they encourage a view of teaching as an individual endeavour, rather than recognising the collaborative effort that goes into educating children. I received several comments both on Twitter and on this website in response to that post, all of which added value. And I was particularly pleased to see that it had inspired Eddie Woo to write his own post in reply. Eddie offers another perspective, which I don’t disagree with, yet I still stand by the opinions I offered in the original post.

This cognitive dissonance that I’m now experiencing over the issue is spurring me on to deeper thinking and learning, just as it does in students. And that’s the great thing participating in the dialogue around education. We learn, we grow.

A Teacher’s Guide to Starting on Twitter

Networked Teacher Diagram - Update

Networked Teacher Diagram – Update (Photo credit: courosa)

There are many ways you can become a connected educator, but one of your most powerful tools for this is Twitter.

Starting out on Twitter can be overwhelming. How on earth do you start from having no followers, or just a handful of people you know to becoming a truly connected educator?

Here is what I’ve learned on my journey so far…

Twitter is not like Facebook.

Facebook is a social network. A typical Facebook user will be friends with a range of work colleagues, old university and  school friends, family members, team mates, and gradually that connections grow through the network of people you already know.

Twitter on the other hand is not a social network. It’s an information network. You form connections based on the information you share and are interested in. People don’t follow you because they want to be your friend, they follow you because they share an interest in the kinds of things you are sharing and talking about. Twitter will link you to far more people than Facebook will, due to hashtags, which I write about later in this article. It allows you to quickly connect with networked educators across the globe.

If you tweet about politics, as I sometimes do, then you will find yourself being followed by people who are interested in politics. If you tweet about education, then you’ll find yourself being followed by educators.

Be Purposeful.

If you are using Twitter to find a network of like-minded teachers, then keep it for that purpose. Unlike Facebook, there’s no need to tweet about what you ate for breakfast (unless of course you are hoping to find a network of like-minded breakfast enthusiasts).

It’s okay if strangers start following you. 

I’ve known a number of new Twitter uses who have been very worried when total strangers start following them. This is actually okay, in fact, it’s what Twitter is all about. You’re not going to expand your network if you just stick to people you know. Remember, Twitter is about sharing information, so they’re not following you to be your friend. They are probably following you because they think the information you are sharing may be interesting.

It’s okay if people stop following you.

I know other Twitter users who freak out when people stop following them. That’s okay too. If people choose to unfollow you, it’s their choice, and unless you know them well in real life, it’s unlikely to be personal.

There are also Twitter ‘bots’ who follow people automatically. People use software to scan Twitter for key words and may automatically start following you simply because you mentioned a word. This is often to advertise their own product and you can usually work out their purpose just by checking out their twitter feed. If you don’t follow back, they usually automatically stop following after a few days.

How to find people to follow.

If you are on Twitter to find other teachers to follow, you’ve probably been introduced to it by a teacher already using Twitter. If this is the case, ask that person to recommend people to you. If you are an Australian teacher, a good place to start is by going through this list of Australian educators on Twitter put together by Perth teacher, Sue Waters.

Rather than just following every name on that list, as it will become overwhelming, look at their bio’s. This way you’ll learn a little more about them. Also, have a look at their tweets. Are they tweeting about things you are interested in? Are they engaging with other people? Those are the two qualities I like to see in people I follow. Sometimes you’ll find someone who does nothing but self promotion on Twitter: ‘Read my blog’, ‘Check out my product’. I don’t mind a little self promotion, but if that’s the only way a person uses Twitter, I choose not to follow. I don’t like my feed being filled up with self promoting spam.

Twitter Chats

Another great way to find people to follow is by joining, or simply following the many Twitter chats that occur. Chats are discussions that take place on a particular day and time. Two of my favourite are #ozprimschchat and #teacherwellbeingchat.  To follow the chat, type the chat name, with the # at the beginning into the search field at the top of your Twitter page. This will bring up all the tweets for that discussion. You can either join in, or if you are just starting out, you might prefer to watch and learn. People who participate in chats are usually a good place to start if trying to form a network as they are active users who are interested in engaging and sharing ideas with others.  Here is a great list of Australian education Twitter chats and hashtags, and here is a list of global education chats.

Communities

You can also find communities of people on Twitter. Earlier this year, @poppyshel, @Liz_loveslife, @dbatty1 and I began a rotation curation Twitter account, @EduTweetOz which has a different Australian educator tweeting each week. We have built a community of nearly 2000 educators who are interested in learning and engaging with each other and participate in discussions throughout the week using the #edutweetoz tag. A lot of the people who participate in this are great to follow.

What to Tweet

It can be scary sending out those first Tweets, but eventually you will become comfortable in the medium and your own voice will emerge. I began by sharing any articles or blogs about teaching that I found interesting.  Another early strategy I used was to ‘retweet’ tweets by others that I liked.

Eventually I became confident enough to begin engaging with people, perhaps by asking a question of someone who had shared something interesting, or thanking them for it. Over time I became confident enough to join discussions, but it took me a long time as I’m a very shy person. I spent a months lurking, watching and learning how others interacted before I was ready to have a go myself. 

The importance of hashtags

Hashtags are really important if you are new to Twitter and trying to find or build a network. They are an amazingly simple, and very clever device that will amplify your tweet and send it out to potentially thousands of people.  Even if you have zero followers, a hashtag will allow your tweet to be found by others. By tagging a tweet #ozprimschchat, for example, it will be seen by anyone who participates in that chat and likes to follow that tag. For a list of commonly used hashtags, check out the links I included above for Australian education Twitter chats and Global education chats.

By the way, if  you see a hashtag on someone else’s tweet and click on it, Twitter will show you all the other tweets that have recently been sent using that tag.

For me, Twitter has caused an absolute explosion of professional learning and opportunities. I’ve learned about and begun using pedagogies I had never even heard of before, and I’ve connected with educators all over the world. I’ve found a great group of teachers who willingly share their practice, and a wonderful group of academics who keep me updated with their latest education research. I’ve made great friends with other teachers around Australia and the world, and have had opportunities open up to me which I never dreamed of. If you’re not using Twitter, I recommend you have a go, and if you are just starting out, I hope you stick with it. The rewards really are worth it.

For more tips, check out my 5 Tips for Teachers Getting Started on Twitter

Checking in on the journey towards C21 Learning

After spending the day at the Macquarie ICT Innovations Centre for the ‘Reimagining Learning’ event and reflecting on my own growth in this area, I’ve realised two things:

1. I’m doing pretty well as a  C21 learner.

2. I’ve got a long way to go before I’m a great C21 teacher.

The keynote speaker, Dr Alec Couros shared this great summary of 21st Century skills with us:

21st Century Readers/Writers Must…

  • Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
  • Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross culturally
  • Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes.
  • Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information.
  • Create, critique and analyse multimedia texts
  • Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by those complex environments

NCTE Framework for 21st Century Curriculum and Assessment (2007)

So how am I going against those standards both personally and as an educator?

1. Develop proficiency with the tools of technology.

I’m really pleased with my personal progress against this standard. In the past two years I’ve taught myself to use Twitter, to blog and to use social bookmarking and curation tools such as Pinterest and ScoopIt. I’ve recently started podcasting and I suppose its only a matter of time before I move into some sort of animation or video creation. I’m also very comfortable with using Google Apps for personal and collaborative projects

However, when it comes to teaching students these tools, I’ve made some progress but tend to drop the ball a lot. Last year I had my students blogging, but this year we haven’t really gotten around to it. This year I started a class blog but haven’t kept it up.  Last year I had a class Twitter account, but this year it all seemed too hard. While I use collaborative tools such as Google Apps, it’s never occurred to me to use them with my students (though that might change when Apps for Education are launched in DEC schools).

2. Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross culturally

Once again, I’m pleased with how I’m going in this area. Thanks to Twitter, and my the DEC network on Yammer, I’ve built a huge personal learning network of teachers, some whom I’ve never met, others who have become good friends. We pose questions and solve problems collaboratively. Twitter chats are awesome for this. We share resources to help each other out, and through these connections I’m now collaborating on two major projects: EduTweetOz and Teachers Education Review.

While I’m certainly collecting great ideas for teaching through the relationships I’ve built on Twitter and Yammer, I haven’t succeeded in providing opportunities for my students to do the same. Last year my class connected with some other classes around the world through our blogs, however I didn’t find that this facilitated any real relationships or collaboration. The only real purpose was to provide a sense of connectedness and a real audience for their writing.

3. Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes.

I think I’m doing pretty well here. I’m constantly engaged in designing and sharing information. My blog, my Twitter and my podcast are all about creating and sharing information with others.

While social media gives us so many platforms to do this easily, I haven’t considered any opportunities for my students to share information with a global community.  But when I think about it, it doesn’t really sound too hard. Our Science teacher does a great job at this. Check out the website her Year 4 students created.

4. Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information.

I seem to have developed this skill over time. I’m now pretty good at scanning my feeds to find the information I want, and using tools like TweetDeck to manage my Twitter feed, Flipboard and Zite to manage the blogs and other feeds that I like to follow.

However in the classroom I’m just busy trying to teach my 7 and 8-year-old students to read and comprehend basic texts. I have absolutely no idea how I would teach them to manage streams of information. But perhaps, at this stage of their schooling and development, they don’t need that skill.

5. Create, critique and analyse multimedia texts

I like to think I do this well,  although there is still much more I could learn. After all, I’ve not really ventured far into video and film creation yet. I  think that I can analyse these texts critically, but perhaps others would disagree.

While I have had students creating some multimedia texts, I tend to manage much of this process for them. Our lessons are more prescriptive than creative. Part of this is simply because the age group I teach are still acquiring basic ICT skills. I’ve given them the most creative freedom with a program called Scratch, which allows them to code their own computer games. I actually have no idea how to use the software, but we had it on our school computers so I encouraged them to experiment and create their own games and animations. They’ve had a great time doing it.

The critique and analysis of multimedia texts is an area I’m unfamiliar with teaching, and to be honest, a little intimidated by. Our new NSW English Syllabus, to be implemented next year, has a good framework for this. I hope it helps me to incorporate that more in class.

6. Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by those complex environments

I think I’m tracking fairly well against this both personally and as a teacher. I always endeavour to use  attributions correctly and usually search Creative Commons for any images I might need. I teach my students to do the same. We also talk frequently about etiquette for commenting on blogs, and I use the class blog as an opportunity for students to learn and practice these skills.

Conclusions:

While I’ve come along way as a 21st century learner, I’m lagging a long way behind this when it comes to teaching those skills to my students. I’ve made some progress, but there’s much more I can and should be doing.  I think the new NSW Syllabi  that are aligned with the Australian Curriculum will help, because these 21st Century skills are embedded throughout them.

I’ve realised that I’m augmenting my curriculum with these skills and opportunities, rather than transforming it. I think that’s why its been so easy to drop the ball when things get busy. They haven’t been an essential part of my program, so they are often the first thing to go.

The SAMR model provides a good framework for transforming teaching.

SAMR: Puentedura, R. R., Ph.D., SAMR model.

SAMR: Puentedura, R. R., Ph.D., SAMR model.

I’ve one term left with my class. I wonder how far we’ll move on our journey.

Link

Take a stand against the public denigration of teachers

I wrote this post for Edutweetoz.org in response to an awful article denigrating early childhood teacher by columnist Judith Sloan. In it I explain why I believe teacher bashing is used as a political tool by those who don’t want to properly fund public education.

 

Edutweetoz

Yesterday, like many others, I was appalled to read a blog by Judith Sloan in which she attacked Early Childhood Teachers, calling them ‘dim witted’ graduates from ‘second rate’ universities. If you missed it, you can read her post here.

 

Now people write all sorts of unreasonable things on blogs, and usually I would ignore it, writing it off as an ignorant, uninformed rant.

However, Judith Sloan is a person with enormous influence in Australia. Check out her bio.  She also writes a column for the Australian Newspaper, allowing her views to have considerable reach.

Meanwhile, the early childhood teachers that she attacked in her article, have only a limited ability to have their voice heard.

There is an enormous power imbalance here, and Judith Sloan is abusing her position of greater influence to denigrate an entire profession.

At Edutweetoz we want to correct that imbalance and give…

View original post 398 more words

Advice for New Teachers – You Are Not Alone

This poignant ad from NSW Teachers Federation is about a teacher’s first day.

There’s one week to go until the school year begins in NSW. Students will move into new grades and classes. Kindergarten students will begin their school journey. Hundreds of new teachers will start teaching their own classes for the first time.

It’s an exciting but overwhelming time.

There is so much to learn, to be responsible for and to do.

This is the first in a series of posts that I hope will help teachers who are getting started on their careers. It won’t be just my advice: I have some awesome guest bloggers lined up,  each of whom bring a unique perspective.

To keep up with the  series,  you might like to subscribe using the link on the sidebar.

The most important piece of advice I want to give you right from the start is this:

You are not alone

Teaching is rewarding and meaningful work. It is fun, creative and challenging. But it is also incredibly difficult at times.

When you start, you have to get your head around the curriculum requirements for your students and how to cater for their individual learning needs. You’ll need to write a program, develop units of work and find resources to make these programs happen.

You have to learn to manage your class and deal with the different behaviour, emotional and social issues that go along with it. There are routines to figure out, and organisational issues, like where to house all those resources and how to deal with the deluge of paperwork that will inundate you from day one.

You will have to learn how to build positive relationships not only with your students, but with their parents and your colleagues. There will some difficult people and  conversations.

But you don’t have to face or figure out any of this by yourself. Your colleagues are either going through the same thing with you, or have been there before. Don’t be afraid to talk with them about what you are going through.

It is a stressful role at times, and it’s our colleagues who get us through. No one expects you to know everything and be able to do everything on the first day. In fact, no one expects that after twenty years. We are continually learning and developing as teachers no matter what stage of our career we are in.

So take up opportunities to build a support network with your colleagues.

If you work in a small school, or are finding it difficult to build a support network within your own school, you still don’t have to be isolated.

Networks for New Teachers

There are several supportive networks you can be a part of.

Join Twitter and start following other teachers – you’ll find a very engaged, friendly and supportive community there who will happily offer help, share ideas and discuss issues.

If you are working for  NSW DEC you can also join the Yammer network – sign up using your DEC email address but replace the letters DET with TAFE. Yammer is a private social network. Just post a question and you will usually find several people willing to answer. People are also very generous in sharing programs and resources.

Join your union. Unions work hard to support their members, so find out what services your one offers new teachers. If you are a NSW Public School Teacher, you can join the NSW Teachers Federation. Here is a link to some of their resources for new teachers.

For those who love to read

It’s time for #Summerbookclub!

It’s summer holidays in Australia and New Zealand, a perfect time to catch up on some of that professional reading we were too tired and busy to do during term time.

#Summerbookclub is for educators who want to share and discuss what they are learning with others. There will be a Twitter chat starting this Sunday at 9pm EST (GMT +11) and there is also a wiki for those who can’t make the chat or want to extend the discussion.

For more information check out the edsummerbookclub wiki.

You might also like to join  me at  TeacherReads – a group on Goodreads  for educators who want to share and discuss what they are reading, and get recommendations from others.  Anyone is welcome to join and to invite others.