Tag: Twitter (page 10 of 11)

How I got started… and the difference it’s made.

Karyn Romeis’ dissertation is going to be on “the use of social media on the professional practice of learning professionals”. She’s asked the edublogosphere for ‘testimonies’ – how we got started and the difference it’s made to our professional practice.

For what it’s worth, I’m going to chip in with my $0.02 as Karyn has often helped me before and has been a valued commenter, both here and on the now-defunct teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk.

The questions Karyn has asked are:

  1. How did you get started with social media?
  2. What was your introduction, and how did the journey unfold?
  3. What difference has it made in your professional practice?

I shall take the points, as they say, in turn:

1. How did you get started with social media?

Although I knew what a blog was before 2004 (they came up in Google search results, for one) I didn’t really start subscribing to RSS feeds, etc. before then. I read the early ‘big names’ in what was then a small edublogosphere – the likes of Will Richardson, Dave Warlick, Stephen Downes and Wesley Fryer.

After subscribing to a number of blogs, including educational ones, I started blogging myself in late 2005. My confidence had grown from commenting on a range of blogs and having created websites the old-fashioned way as a teenager. I set up my teaching-related blog on a sub-domain of the mrbelshaw.co.uk website I was using with students in my classroom. When I found myself off work for a sustained period due to stress I began to blog at teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk every day. Like so many in the early days, I saw the huge potential of Web 2.0 tools in the classroom, and genuinely believed they could revolutionise the way we deliver learning to young people.

Wikis came later. I still haven’t found a way to use them in the classroom in a truly collaborative way, but I’m willing to keep trying. I’ve dabbled with podcasting, but blogs are my main method of communication on the Internet. Blogs, wikis and podcasts were – and to many still are – the defining tools of Web 2.0. Indeed, it’s pretty much the title of Will Richardson’ book.

2. What was your introduction, and how did the journey unfold?

I’ve mentioned the first part of this question above, but the journey unfolded in the following way. First of all, I started getting comments on my blog. These actually came from ‘seminal bloggers’ – in some cases figures such as the luminaries mentioned above. This spurred me on. During my absence from school due to stress, blogging gave me a focus, positive feedback and, I believe, aided my recovery.

The numbers of subscribers to the RSS feed of my blog slowly grew from late 2005 until I stopped blogging there at the end of 2007. During this time, I witnessed a huge expansion in the size of the edublogosphere. Ordinary class teachers (like myself) started putting their heads above the parapet online. First, this was mainly in the USA, but gradually I became aware of those in International Schools, then in Australia, and finally in the UK. I’m of the opinion that we still haven’t got enough English bloggers – Scotland’s at least 10 times smaller, population-wise, yet they put us to shame in the edublogosphere!

I’ve cleared my RSS feed reader and started again from zero a couple of times now. I think it’s probably a useful thing to do at least once per year: it gives you a reason to go out looking for new content and angles that can motivate and inspire you.

Finally, Twitter has been somewhat of a revelation. I’ve had my account about a year and a half now. During that time I’ve made so many more connections than I could have done before. You can get answers to very specific questions almost in real-time, begin impromptu more formal discussions or simply get the latest ‘buzz’. I love it. 😀

3. What difference has it made in your professional practice?

I’ve always been a fairly inquisitive person (I chose to study Philosophy as an undergraduate) and never been scared to mix things up a bit. In fact, the reason I became a teacher was to play my part in reforming the system for the better. Being part of a global community of teachers, however, has given me confidence, the knowledge and, in some cases, the skills, to get my point across in my educational institution.

There is such a thing as the ‘wisdom of crowds’, but I think it’s probably more like the ‘wisdom of the network’. Twitter’s a wonderful example. Thinkers such as George Siemens have a theory to explain this – it’s called Connectivism. Learners are ‘nodes on a network’ and the network harbours a great amount of knowledge, on tap at almost any time.

In my interactions with students, it’s allowed me to ‘flatten the walls of the classroom’ – to use a Warlickian phrase. Although students could keep up with homework, etc. with mrbelshaw.co.uk 1.0, the advent of learning.mrbelshaw.co.uk saw the dawn of mrbelshaw.co.uk 2.0, including links to Web 2.0 apps (wikis, podcasts, YouTube video clips, and so on).

It’s also meant I could start really showing my colleagues that they could use the Internet quickly and easily to interact with students. Having to learn HTML or to use a program with a potentially difficult-to-use learning curve to get content online, was a barrier for most teachers. Now, it’s as easy (in most cases) as signing up for an account somewhere, typing/uploading stuff and then sharing the web address with students. It also gives you the chance, again in most cases, to get feedback.

I’ve been fortunate to begin my teaching career at a time when such revolutionary tools are available. It’s just a shame that they haven’t – yet – caused a learning revolution. I’m four years into my teaching career and very much looking forward to what comes next. Web 3.0 and the Semantic Web? 🙂

Image credits (all @Flickr):

dougbelshaw.com redesign

If you normally get content from dougbelshaw.com via the RSS feed or emails, you might want to stop by the actual site. I’ve given it a bit of a facelift:

Why did I do this? Well the reason I did it today is because I’ve been off work due to illness. I must have a bug or something as I feel rough. 🙁 The reason I decided to make it look the way it does is for the following reasons:

  • teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk had 3 columns and I found it helpful to be able to have two sidebars – more useful content near the top of the page!
  • It now features the avatar I use in most places online (a South Park character I created here)
  • My Twitter updates are now even more prominent. That’s significant as I spend a good deal of time interacting with people in my network. Now I just need a place to integrate the conversations, rather than just my side of them…

Please do feel free to give me some feedback on the redesign. I am aware, for instance, that it takes a while to load the page. Is that a big issue? :-s

Towards a forward-thinking Acceptable Use Policy for mobile devices

Enough is enough. I think it was Clay Burrell who (via Twitter) initially pointed me towards this quotation by Gandhi: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” Unhappily, teachers in many UK schools (and further afield) are forced into a kind of cognitive dissonance as a result of official mobile phone bans being flouted by almost every student in the school. In fact, it’s more than that. Teachers are made to feel guilty when they encourage students to use the technology they have for learning.

Andrew Field and I had a brief Twitter conversation about this situation recently. As a result, Andrew started a thread on the EffectiveICT.co.uk Forum to discuss the issue. I’d like to bring more people (i.e. YOU) into the discussion, especially if you’ve got any links to good and forward-thinking Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs)! 😀

A brief search for AUPs relating to mobile devices brings up the following problematical example:

Mobile phones must not be used during the college day, including break and lunchtimes. Phones must be switched off during the day. If any student is found using a mobile phone at any time during the college day it will be confiscated until the end of the day

Of course, one can see why this particular college, like many educational institutions, has gone down this road. They’re protecting their own back; it’s the reason why networks often blacklist sites that teachers want to use for perfectly sound pedagogical reasons.

But then, there’s the rub. As Andrew Field pointed out, if the Internet connection’s already filtered, why lock pupils out of wireless networks and the like when they’re using their own devices? He cites using an iPod touch for accessing online content through the wi-fi connection in his department. There’s no reason why I couldn’t do the same – give out the password to students.

A big stumbling block is insurance, I suppose. But then, I’m only supposing. What exactly is the legal situation? Surely if a student damages their mobile phone/MP3 player in school it’s covered by their parents’ home insurance in the same way it would be on their way to and from school? Andrew quotes the following from Halifax insurance:

Personal Belongings
For those items that are normally worn or carried in everyday day life Halifax Home Insurance offer Personal Belongings cover away from the home both in the UK and abroad. This cover complements their unlimited sum insured contents insurance* and provides cover for items such as jewellery, money, credit cards and mobile phones.**

* Inner limits apply to certain areas of contents cover, including; money restrictions, single article & high risk item limits and contents left in the open. High risk items are subject to a £2000 limit per item. Details are available within the policy and schedule.
** Aggregate limits of between £2,500 and £10,000 apply. Individual limits apply to mobile phones, money, credit cards and pedal cycles.

I wonder if there’s anyone reading this who has links with those in the industry who could give a definitive answer?

Becta provide some reasonably helpful (general) advice on the subject, stating that an AUP should not stand alone, but instead be part of a ‘safe ICT learning environment’, including:

  • an infrastructure of whole-school awareness, designated responsibilities, policies and procedures
  • an effective range of technological tools
  • a comprehensive internet safety education programme for the whole school community.

I agree. Unhelpfully, they state that there “are many sample acceptable use policies available, both online and via local authorities, which schools can use as a basis for their own policies” – but then fail to link to any. 🙁

To their credit, however, they have a PDF document from 2006 on E-safety which could provide an excellent platform to spark a discussion within your school. It covers everything from the potential dangers of online access, to the responsibilities for those with various (already extant) roles within the organization. It’s focus, nevertheless, is on prevention of abuse rather than enabling and opening-up as much as possible!

Diagrams are powerful tools when trying to effect change. This one, from the PDF mentioned above, demonstrates a sound (if slightly conservative) process. As technologies change, so must AUPs and, most importantly, the whole organization’s response. ICT lessons, as many teachers of the subject have realised, cannot simply be focused on learning how to use Microsoft Office and the like. They need to prepare students for the 21st century online world.

We need to create responsible users of the Internet and mobile devices. Yes, there are risks. Yes, there might be financial and other costs to the school. But isn’t it worth it in the long run? 🙂

Update:

Liz Kolb replied to this post via Twitter providing a handy link to some AUPs:

I’ve started using Twitter with my pupils…

Twitter birdMy Year 11 (15-16 year old) History groups – the ones who blog, can use a wiki (until Wikispaces became unavailable/unusable through the school network), use Google Apps for Education and on occasion submit YouTube videos instead of essays are now Twittering.

It’s about time: I’ve been talking about doing this for over a year now, and even suggested 3 different ways Twitter could be used in the classroom. So, over at my new (Google Sites-powered) Y11 History revision wiki I’ve shown my pupils (in great detail) how to go about signing up for their own Twitter accounts.

Usually, Twitter’s a fairly open-ended thing, with each user as a node on a (potentially) huge network. ‘The network’ is actually a series of larger and smaller sub-networks which are linked together by ‘bridge’ users. A little like a large wireless network, in fact. :-p

Twitter network (image credit)

But that’s not how I wanted to use Twitter with my students. Not yet, anyway. I had intended to use the promising-looking Edmodo but, after discussions with Jeff O’Hara discovered it wouldn’t be ready until after my Year 11s go on study leave. I need a closed network, at least at first. At the moment – and during this trial period whilst they’re revising for examinations – I want something like the situation exemplified by this image that I included in that blog post last year:

Twitter - Scenario 1

So far, each group has spent one lesson in the ICT suite making sure their @mrbelshaw.co.uk Google Apps for Education accounts work, getting acquainted with the new revision wiki and signing up for Twitter. The test posts from myself to their mobile devices go ahead this week and we shall hopefully iron out any problems next week.

Issues so far:

  • I wanted to have a separate Twitter account for each group. However, as I can only link my mobile phone to one Twitter account this was not a good solution. I’ve therefore been forced to have one account that will be used with both groups.
  • Putting +44 in front of their mobile numbers and missing off the zero caused some problems, even amongst the more able and digitally-literrate pupils who read all my instructions!
  • Network connection issues and Javascript error messages due to school-based problems.

Hopefully this will tie in with a Becta/Historical Association-funded project of which I’m an associate member. More on that and how my pupils get on with Twitter next week! 😀

Is Twitter bad for you?

I have to confess that, at first, I couldn’t see the point of Twitter. Since then, however, I’ve become somewhat of a convert, getting in touch with many people I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Lately, however, Ive had cause to re-evaluate my use of the service. I’ve been prompted to write this post by three things, the most recent of which was one of Doug Noon’s comments on my last post:

I’ve avoided Twitter because I don’t want to be *that* connected. I know that it might be “useful” on some level, but so would joining clubs, taking classes, reading great books, working for non-profit civic organizations, and spending time with family. Everyone should set their own priorities, and define some limits.

The second was an incoming link to one of my posts over at teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk about the potential of using Twitter in the classroom. They didn’t like the idea, although the way they tried to link together ‘facts’ to build an argument was woeful:

Nearly one million people use Twitter. That is almost negligible for a US website but guess how many people work in IT in California? Nearly a million. So how many “normal” people do you think use Twitter?

Erm, I don’t think they’re one and the same group of people. But anyway, they continue:

When was the last time anyone normal (i.e. not people who get paid to look at these things) did anything (that did not  involved a dancing seal or laughing baby) as a result of Twitter or Digg or Second Life – or even to a slightly lesser extent Facebook or FriendFeed or MySpace?

They may have a point about preaching to the choir here. But I suppose this post is to do with business and the (monetary) value of getting involved social networking and Web 2.0 as a whole. Perhaps more damning is my all-time favourite blogger, Kathy Sierra (much missed after the debacle last year) who showed us the dangers of The Asymptotic Twitter Curve:

The idea behind Kathy’s worries about the use of Twitter stems from a book by the wonderfully unpronounceable Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi entitled Flow. It’s a book I’ve been threatening to read for around 5 years now! The state of ‘flow’ is, unsurprisingly, a highly productive state in which an individual is ‘in the zone’. Kathy argues that this is almost impossible when you’ve got constant interruptions and distractions. Twitter’s certainly one for putting you off the task in hand.

So what I’ve begun to do, following the example of someone I read recently (but have now forgotten where) is to have two modes of working. The first is best described as outwards-facing, the second inwards-facing. When I’m in the former mode, I’m available on Skype, Twitterific automatically refreshes my friends’ tweets every 3 minutes, and I’m available on Google Talk via GMail. I’m using all four of my virtual desktops via OSX Leopard’s ‘Spaces’ feature and I’m moving around flitting from this to that. Effectively, I’m in ‘networked’ mode.

On the other hand, when I’m in the latter, inwards-facing mode, I’m working minimalistically: I’m invisible on Skype, Google Talk is closed, Twitterific is closed down, and I’m working with – at most – 2/3 tabs in Firefox. Almost everything I do is created and stored online these days, so usually it will be Google Docs and a couple of other websites for reference. I find this, coupled with the right kind of music, to be much more conducive to a state of flow than the ‘networked’ method of working. 😀

What do you think? Is Twitter a bad thing? How do you use it?

Edmodo: Twitter for education?

Edmodo

TechCrunch gives the heads-up on Edmodo, a free ‘communication platform for education’ currently in private beta that seems to be aiming to be Twitter for education. As you can (just) see in the screenshot above, calendar functions are included and everything is a little more… private.

I first discussed using Twitter in the classroom around a year ago. Although I still haven’t got around to it, I can’t see any reason why not… 😀

PS  If you’ve been on a different planet for the last year or so and don’t know what Twitter is, check this out.

EdTechRoundup: Episode 2

EdTechRoundupThe second EdTechRoundup podcast is now edited and available for your listening pleasure. This time around we have the smooth sounds of John Johnston and Tom Barrett caressing your ear canals. They begin with Voices of the World, Tumblr and Ning as well as the ManyVoices Twitter writing project. The main section of the show then goes on to sharing a Google Spreadsheet in class and using a digital camera for video blogging. Good work guys! 🙂

7 ways to improve your productivity as a teacher

I’m fairly productive. Not outstandingly so, but reasonably. I try to pick up tips for improving my outputs from websites such as Lifehacker, amongst others. What follows is a brief rundown of seven tips for being more productive as a teacher. 😀

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Reflections on BETT 2008

Further to my previous posts this week, I’ve been at BETT 2008 this week. I don’t like it on other edublogs when people endlessly bang on about conferences/events I haven’t been able to attend, so this will be my last post on it – I promise! 🙂

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BETT 2008

I’m going to be at BETT 2008 today (Friday) and Saturday. I’m not going to ‘live blog’ it as I find it irritating when other people do that. I will, however, post my reflections on my return. If you want to keep up with what I’m doing whilst I’m there, you could always subscribe to my Twitter tweets. 😀

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