How ‘microblogging’ sites such as Twitter can be used in education

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This week we’re going to be looking at three tools. I’ve labelled them ‘microblogging’ tools, but that’s something of a misnomer as they’re all much more powerful than that. If you do actually just want something to quickly and easily get content onto the Internet, try Tumblr or Posterous.

With that disclaimer out of the way, the three tools we’re going to look at are:

They all have slightly different uses and focuses, but I believe that they can all be used successfully within educational environments. I’ll discuss each in turn, looking at the features specifically relevant to educators.

Twitter logo

Obstensibly, Twitter is a micro social networking utility designed to answer the question ‘What are you doing?’ In practice, it’s used for a multitude of other things, from news reporting to marriage proposals(!).

Educators have been using Twitter ever since it was launched to connect to one another and share ideas, resource and links. There’s an element of social networking in it, inevitably, but it’s very professionally-focused and a wonderfully powerful thing to tap into.

Just launching yourself into Twitter will leave you baffled and confused. The Twitter experience is only as good as your network, consisting of those who you ‘follow’ (track updates of) and those who ‘follow’ you. The best way to do this is organically. By that, I mean:

  1. Find someone you want to follow on Twitter (@dajbelshaw is a good start…)
  2. Check out that user’s network and read the mini-biographies.
  3. Follow the users who look like they are related to something you’re interested in!

In terms of interaction, there’s 3 basic ways of interacting on Twitter:

  • Sending a ‘normal’ message that goes out ‘as-is’ to your network.
  • Replying to someone (or bringing something to their attention) by including their username preceded by an @ sign – e.g. @dajbelshaw then message. This can still be viewed by everyone who’s following you.
  • Sending a direct message by entering d <username> – e.g. d dajbelshaw then message. This can only be seen by the person to whom you sent the message and they will receive an email informing them of what you have sent.

If you want some ideas for how to use Twitter in an educational setting, you could do a lot worse than checking out Laura Walker’s post entitled Nine great reasons why teachers should use Twitter. Although I’ve tried using it with students, it’s not something I’d recommend for the faint-hearted. Use one of the other tools below for that. I see Twitter as being like a giant, worldwide staff room or café. It’s great! 😀

Edmodo logo

Edmodo‘s just been upgraded to v2.0 and is an amazingly useful tool. The only reason I haven’t used it a lot more extensively is that it effectively replicates – for free – a lot of the features of very expensive, commercial Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs). For example, some of the features:

  • Set assignments for students (and attach files)
  • Manage classes
  • Share a calendar with fellow teachers and students
  • Interact in a safe and closed environment with students without sharing email addresses
  • Securely share learning resources
  • Grade students’ work

In their own words:

Edmodo provides a way for teachers and students to share notes, links, and files. Teachers have the ability to send alerts, events, and assignments to students. Edmodo also has a public component which allows teachers to post any privately shared item to a public timeline and RSS feed.

Although I haven’t used this with students yet, I know people who swear by it* and I’ve explored the features using test accounts. Certainly, if your school VLE isn’t up to scratch – or if you haven’t got one – you should definitely be checking out Edmodo!

* José Picardo has discussed Edmodo on a couple of occasions in Edmodo: microblogging for the classroom and Edmodo: What students think – both well worth a read! 🙂

Shout'Em logo

Shout’Em describes itself as a kind of roll-your-own micro social network:

Shout’Em is platform on which you can easily start co-branded microbloging social networking service. Something simple as Twitter or with more features like Pownce. It is up to you 🙂

Networks on Shout’Em are “lightweight social networks”. They have small set of features: microblogging, links and photo sharing, geo location sharing and mobile browser support.

I think Shout’Em is probably best suited for those who want something a bit more engaging than a forum for their students, but not anything as full-blown as Edmodo. Shout’Em enables you to have a private community, like Edmodo, and they’ve even entitled a blog post on their official blog The 15-Minute Guide to Microblogging in Education!

Check out their video to find out more:

ShoutEm Demo from vikot on Vimeo.

Do any of these ‘microblogging’ services fill a need? Have you tried any of them? What did you think?

 

Ways to find great resources and ideas for lessons

 

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Where do you get your lesson ideas from? Do you just follow the scheme of work? When you innovate what is the spark for your inspiration?

Do you sometimes struggle to find time to discover resources and wish there was somewhere you could go to prevent you from doing the lesson planning equivalent of rediscovering the wheel?

Where can I go other than search on Google?

Teachers in the UK are probably aware of the TESconnect Resource Hub. If you’re not, that’s a great place to start! Before the TES launched this, one of the main UK-based repositories for lesson plans and ideas was the Teacher Resource Exchange, run by the National Grid for Learning (NGfL).

Talking of the NGfL, they have regional hubs which can be found quickly by typing (for example) NGfL resources into your favourite search engine. 🙂

Learning from colleagues in other schools

Most school subjects have spawned forums on the Internet where teachers of those subjects can discuss ideas, resources and issues. I know of the ones for subjects I currently teach (or have in the past) For example, History teachers have the History Teachers’ Discussion Forum and historyshareforum.com, Geography teachers have Staffordshire Learning Net, and teachers of ICT have the EffectiveICT.co.uk Forum.*

Searching for the name of your subject plus the word ‘forum’ in a search engine should bring up some promising links. Alternatively, try the excellent Shambles.net. Links galore! 🙂

Digging deeper


What about if you want do something original or obscure, though? That’s when finding websites that previous visitors have marked as especially useful would help you on your quest. Enter social bookmarking services. There are many of these, but the two main ones are Delicious and Diigo. The former has been discussed on elearnr before, but in a slightly different context.

The idea behind social bookmarking sites is that instead of saving your ‘favourites’ or ‘bookmarks’ in the web browser of one computer, you store them in an account online. You can then ‘tag’ these with keywords and make them visible for others to see. These sites then, as you can imagine, become very useful as hotbeds of links to fantastically useful websites.

Have a go right now. Head over to Delicious and Diigo and type in the name of your subject followed by resources. Click to enlarge the images below which show the results I obtained when entering history resources!

Delicious search results - 'History resources' Diigo search results - 'History resources'

The ultimate targeted resource and lesson idea finder

All of the above are great ways of using the power of communities to help you find something, but what about if you need something very, very specific – and fast? Enter Twitter.

Twitter is a micro-blogging social network. It’s like text messaging meets Facebook in that you have 140-characters to send a message. Educators worldwide use it en masse to share good practice, ask questions and find fast answers. A future E-Learning Staff Session and elearnr blog post will tell you all you need to get you signed up and interacting. 🙂

What? You can’t wait? Head over to Twitter For Teachers to find out more!

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* My Twitter network directed me towards these additional forums:

** Thanks @mtechman for reminder of this excellent resource!

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Digital things upon which I *do* and *would* spend real cash.

I’m not a huge fan of spending money on software and digital services. There’s a couple of reasons for this. The first is that I’m an advocate of Open Source Software (see Open Source Schools, of which I’m part). As such, I believe that making software available free of charge – with the source code inspectable – makes for better software and communities built around the functionality the software provides. The second reason is that I tend to like to have something tangible as a result of any financial outlay.

 
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