Interesting ways to use Twitter in the classroom

After a suggestion received, quite fittingly, from another Twitter user, Tom Barrett is weaving his magic again. This time, after getting educators to collaborate on ways in which Interactive Whiteboards, Google Earth, Google Docs, and Pocket Video Cameras can be used in education he’s turned his (and his network’s) sights on Twitter.

 

The problem(s) of 21st century literacy/ies

As most people reading this will already know, I’m studying towards an Ed.D. at the moment. My (tentative) thesis title is What does it mean to be โ€˜educatedโ€™ and โ€˜digitally literateโ€™? The impact of ICT and the knowledge society upon education in the 21st century.. You can find my thesis proposal here and bookmarks related to my studies here. My current thinking is that I’m just going to focus on the concept of what ‘literacy’ means in the 21st century as it’s a huge and confused (confusing?) field.

 

Top 25: The Best of Belshaw 2008

Version 2.0 of this blog (dougbelshaw.com) is now pretty much exactly a year old. It was a year ago that I decided to retire teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk and concentrate my energies here. During that time I’ve written some blog posts that have hit home with some people and some that haven’t. Here, in ranked order according to AideRSS, are the ones with the highest ‘PostRank’ – a ranking system that takes into account inbound links, tweets, delicious links, comments, etc. ๐Ÿ™‚

 

5 interesting web applications to mess around with when you’re bored over Christmas!

Since the beginning of this term I’ve run one session per week in my role as E-Learning Staff Tutor. The most common question after ‘How come you get so many free periods?’ is Where do you get all your e-learning ideas from?

I can finally reveal the answer. I get most of them from… Twitter!

It’s probably best to show Twitter in action rather than just try to explain it. It’s a bit like a hybrid of the best bits of Facebook and Here’s the message I sent to my Twitter network on Tuesday evening as I was leaving school at around 4pm:

And here’s the response I got by the time I’d got home and had a cup of coffee!

…and then later, when educators in other places around the world weren’t asleep:

Depending on the time of day and who’s in your Twitter network depends on where in the world you get your responses from. It’s like ‘microblogging’, crossed with text messaging (you’ve only got 140 characters) and a social network all rolled into one. You can share links, ideas and resources really quickly and easily. ๐Ÿ™‚

Here’s links, in alphabetical order, to the sites mentioned above. My top 5 are in bold, whilst those in red are those currently blocked by our school network. If you’re reading this and from somewhere else in the world, your mileage may vary… :-p

  • Animoto – an easy way to create high-quality and engaging videos using images and text
  • Backpack– an organizer (calendar, group discussion tools, etc.)for small businesses and organizations
  • blip.tv – a video sharing service designed for creators of user-generated content
  • Bloglines – an RSS feed reading application
  • Blogger/Blogspot – a blogging platform by Google
  • Delicious – online ‘social’ bookmarking
  • Diigo – online ‘social’ bookmarking with advanced features and groups
  • Dropbox – store, sync and share files online
  • Drop.io – privately share files up to 100MB online
  • Edublogs.org – a blogging platform dedicated to educational blogging
  • Edublogs.tv – online video sharing and embedding tool
  • Eduspaces – a social network and blogging platform for education
  • Elluminate – ‘elearning and collaboration solution’ (not free)
  • Evernote – ‘allows you to capture information (text, photos, etc.) and make it accessible from anywhere
  • Flickr – a photo-sharing website with Creative Commons-licensed content
  • GMail – an online email application from Google that provides lots of free storage
  • Google Calendar – a web-based calendar application that has RSS feeds and a reminder service
  • Google Docs – stores documents online and allows collaboration with others
  • Google Earth – a more powerul and 3D version of Google Maps (requires installation)
  • Google Maps – online mapping with advanced features
  • Google Reader – an RSS feed reading application
  • Google Scholar – search academic journals and articles
  • iGoogle – customizable home page (.com blocked at our school, .co.uk not!)
  • Kizoom – web-based ‘intelligent’ public transport alerter and organizer
  • Last.fm – a social network built around music that also recommends music based on your listening habits
  • MobileMe – online synchronization service for Apple users (not free)
  • Moodle – an Open-Source content management system based on constructivist principles (requires installation on a web server)
  • Ning – allows you to create your own social network very easily
  • Posterous – very simple and easy-to-use blogging platform
  • PBwiki – an easy-to-use wiki creation tool
  • Picnik – powerful online image-editing application
  • PingMe – a social and mobile interactive reminder service for getting things done
  • Remember The Milk – an online to-do list with advanced features
  • Second Life – a 3D ‘virtual world’ (requires software download)
  • SlideShare – upload and share presentations
  • Syncplicity – sync, store and share files online
  • TeacherTube – YouTube for educational videos
  • Toodledo – an online to-do list
  • Twitter – a micro social-networking tool
  • UStream – live video streaming and chat rooms
  • VoiceThread – allows comments around content such as videos, pictures and Powerpoints
  • Voki – make your own speaking avatar to embed in your blog, wiki or website
  • Wetpaint – a good-looking wiki creation tool
  • Wikispaces – a wiki creation tool
  • WordPress – a highly-configurable Open-Source blogging platform (requires installation on a web server)
  • Zoho Show – create collaborative, online Powerpoint-like presentations

Remember, with collaborative applications you have to give a little to get a little for it to be really useful. Try out Twitter over the holiday period. Merry Christmas!

PS Twitter’s best used with a dedicated program rather than the web interface. I recommend the wonderful TweetDeck, available for Windows, Mac OSX and Linux. ๐Ÿ™‚

 

Productivity, Organization & #tweetmeet

I’ve spent this afternoon and early evening at a ‘tweetmeet’. These are also known as ‘tweetups’ and are when people who have previously only met, or usually communicate, through the microblogging service Twitter meet up face-to-face. I’d actually met all of the people from the small tweetmeet we had today in Nottingham.* :-p

Such ‘unorganized’ meetings of people – TeachMeet is a similar, slightly more structured example – are the subject of this blog post. What prompted my thinking about organization was part of the discussion we had, foolowed up by listening to a Radio 4 podcast on the way home called Thinking Allowed. I suggest that you listen to it right now!

The whole point of organizations is to achieve something. These may be set in stone and known by all participants in the organizations, or there may be many (and possibly conflicting) objectives framed by participants. All organizations, therefore, have different degrees of productivity, both globally (as an organization) and, depending on their size, on a more micro-scale.

I say this because we discussed at the tweetmeet – which was itself a kind of exemplar – the concept of an ‘unconference’. This is defined by Wikipedia (as I write, anyway…) as ‘a facilitated, participant-driven conference centered around a theme or purpose.’ Our purpose, I suppose, was to discuss things face-to-face that we’d previously discussed online, and to get to know each other a little better. Then, on the way home, listening the Thinking Allowed podcast (above) it got me thinking more generally about organizational structures.

Michael Thompson, author of Organising and Disorganising, talked about going on a expedition to climb the South face of Mount Everest. He explained how there were two separate groups – ‘Team A’ and ‘Team B’ – with the leader and middle managers (as it were) in the former group and the rest in the latter. He explained how this rigid hierarchical structure led to those in Team B, despite being experienced and highly-motivated mountaineers, adopting a chaotic, somewhat anti-organizational structure.

The important thing, however, was that order in fact came out of this structure; order that depended on those involved. This is the thing that is missing in organizational planning these days: the role of individuality. Because, actually, someone who fulfils a role in an organization cannot simply be swapped-out for another person. The whole organizational structure depends on the talents, personality and individual attributes of that person. Change one part of the organization and the whole thing shifts. It may be a small amount in some cases – imperceptible to some – but a rearrangement and alteration does take place.

This helps to explain why organizations seemingly consisting of brilliant minds that should be amazingly productive and innovative fail to be so. An effective organizational structure is one that removes barriers and enables individuals within an organization to reach his or her potential. This, of course, cannot be at the expense of another, otherwise it is a futile exercise. One such way of going about organization, therefore, is to unorganize things, to mix things up a little.

So I’d encourage you, as Tom did me today, to once you’ve attended an unconference, to think about organizing (or un-organizing…) one of your own. You can’t really state in advance the specific things you’re likely to learn, but that’s part of the fun! I’ll leave you with a couple of things. The first is a Twitter message from @hrheingold which sums up in a far more eloquent way than I could ever manage the benefits of letting a little (controlled) chaos into organization:

The second is a link I came across, shared by Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher), whilst writing this post. It’s called 8 Tips on How to Run Your Own UnConference. I hope that and this post change your thinking a bit and encourage you to think a little differently about organization, or the lack of it, and how it could impact the productivity of any organization of which you are part! ๐Ÿ˜€

* I knew Lisa Stevens originally from last year’s TeachMeet at BETT, Jose Picardo from an Open Source Schools event, and Tom Barrett from some work we did for a Becta-funded project into Web 2.0 in the classroom at Nottingham University a few months back. The reason it says #tweetmeet in the title is because on Twitter you can add tags by prefacing words with hash symbols. These then can be tracked by websites such as Twemes.com. You can see this in action on the front page of the tweetmeet.eu website!

Image credits: iPhone Matrix App -MoPhaic & Podcamp West, both from Flickr

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3 reasons I’m against the Edublog Awards

Last year on my previous blog, teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk, I wrote a very short ‘microblog’ post entitled Please don’t vote for this blog! about the Edublog Awards. It, erm, caused some debate – some of which could be put in the category heated.

It’s time for the Edublogs Awards again, and I still haven’t changed my stance. I’m totally against them, for reasons I shall explain. I wasn’t going to say anything as people who I like and respect such as Tom Barrett and Josรฉ Picardo are stoked to be nominated, but I really must give my $0.02…

1. They foster competition instead of collaboration and co-operation

Just as when you’re teaching a course that has an exam at the end of it you teach differently to those purely assessed by coursework, so the Edublog Awards can influence blogging. Although I’ve blogged before about making sure you don’t get ‘unfollowed on Twitter’ and offered tips on how to retain RSS subscribers, this is slightly different. The point of those posts was to make sure that people offering a different view of education continue to get their voices heard. The Edublog Awards are a popularity contest that pit blog author against blog author instead of striving to a common goal ๐Ÿ™

2. They’re promoted by people who have vested interests

I’ve met and think I get on with Josie Fraser reasonably well (education and social media consultant). I’ve heard that James Farmer (Edublogs.org owner) is a great guy. However, both of them do this kind of thing for a living. I’m certainly not saying that they set up and continue to run the awards purely for financial and self-centred reasons. But it’s a consideration.

When I’ve made points like this before, people have said that bloggers deserve a thank-you, a well done and a slap on the back. Yes. They do. That’s what comments, tip jars (like Dave Warlick’s Starbucks one) and blogging about what you’ve learned via that person are for. Awards are divisive.

“I smell sour grapes,” say others. Not so. In fact, one of my blogs (the now non-existent edte.ch) was nominated in the category ‘best resource-sharing blog’, even though it did nothing of the sort! What’s worse, people actually voted for it. I was shocked.

Still others may say that it’s a good way to find out about new blogs or ones that have escaped their attention. So are Technorati, Google Blog Search, the ‘recommendation’ feature in Google Reader, and – shock horror! – people actually just blogging about other people and their blogs that they find useful or interesting. There’s no need for an award, or series of awards, just so that people can discover new or different content. The Internet is already good at connecting people and for searches…

3. It’s very easy to rig them

Just as ‘Teacher of the Year’ awards are won by good teachers but not necessarily the best in their field, so the Edublog Awards reflect the nature the process. What happens when a teacher is nominated as ‘Teacher of the Year’? Everyone even remotely related to their school or family is urged to vote for them.

I know as a matter of fact of teachers nominated in previous years who have encouraged every student they teach to go home and vote for their blog (as the school has a single IP address). I’ve seen blog posts pratically begging readers to vote for a blog.

In the end it comes down to who wants it the most. And I don’t want it at all. Comments and thank-you’s on this blog and Twitter are reward enough. It’s a shame that’s not the case for others in the edublogosphere. :-p

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The very best of teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk

A couple of private messages and a comment on a previous post on this blog made me realise something the other day. Here I am assuming that readers of dougbelshaw.com are aware that I blogged for two years solely on teaching and education-related stuff at teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk. It would appear that this is not the case. And why should it be? After all, I make very little mention of it here.

So what follows is a roundup of what you missed between 2005 and the end of 2007. Hope you find something useful! ๐Ÿ˜€

According to the Most Popular Posts plugin still installed at teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk, the most visited posts are (in order) :

  1. How to write an application letter for a teaching-related job
  2. Online Storage
  3. I can’t teach properly
  4. 20 Ideas: Getting students to use their mobile phones as learning tools
  5. Interesting Desktop Backgrounds
  6. 10 Top Behaviour Management Tips
  7. WikiMapia.org
  8. 8 things that irritate me with edublogs
  9. Weekly Roundup (3 September 2006) – 1 – Theory
  10. Using Twitter with your students

There’s a few posts in there – numbers 2, 5 and 7, for example – that are there because of general Internet searches unrelated to education. Most of the rest in this list gained some traction due to being referenced on one or more sites with a larger number of readers! :-p

My all-time Top 10

1. The kind of school in which I want to workโ€ฆ

I referenced this post recently. In it, I attempt to explain the type of education system and school I want to be a part of. I compare teachers to being like ‘lifeguards’. Creating the graphics for this post and coming up with the metaphor helped clarify my thinking a great deal!

2. I canโ€™t teach properly

I spend a lot of my time frustrated in life, but I’ve learned to live with it. In this post, I poured out this frustration in a way that seemed to strike a chord with quite a few other educators (judging by the comments!).

3. 5 reasons why I love teaching

Despite being frequently frustrated, I do actually love teaching. Most of the time, it doesn’t even feel like a job. Before we had Ben a couple of years ago, I would frequently tell Hannah (my wife) that I’d do it for free! That’s obviously changed a bit now that I have dependents, but the actual interfacing with young people, their enthusiasm and lack of fear to ask questions, is so refreshing. ๐Ÿ™‚

4. 1 year on… How has blogging affected my life as a teacher?

I started blogging in 2005 after having read the blogs of other educators for a good while and commenting on them. My blogging regularly – usually every day – began when I was off work at my previous school due to stress. Connecting with educators worldwide made such a difference, and 2006 ended up being a great year. ๐Ÿ˜€

5. Infectious Learning: Teachers as Lifelong Learners

I’m a firm believer in teachers being allowed the time to be learners too. In fact, I think it’s essential to prevent stagnation. This post was sparked from an exchange during an interview in which the Head of a school I shall not name stated he was ‘somewhat suspicious’ that I’d remained in full-time education (when I did my MA in Modern History) ‘longer than I had needed to’. The post outlines four reasons why teachers need to be effective learners.

6. Digital Natives, Mountain Men and Pioneers

During 2006 I became increasingly tired of seeing both in blog posts and ‘academic’ research the terms ‘digital immigrant’ and ‘digital native’. This post was a follow-up to an earlier post in which I called the dichotomy a false one and suggested an alternative.

7. Do textbooks hamper 21st-century learning?

This post was in response to a call by Wes Fryer for a moratorium on the purchase of new textbooks. Others, such as Stephen Downes and Vicki Davis had joined in the debate. I looked at the ins-and-outs of textbook usage, adding that I managed to burn myself out during my first year and-a-bit of teaching by seeing textbooks as evil things that should be avoided. A blended approach is a much better option… ๐Ÿ™‚

8. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teachers

There’s nothing like a good-old ‘list’ post! This one goes through, unsurprisingly, the seven ‘habits’ I believe teachers I would class as ‘effective’ and – dare I say it – inspirational teachers possess.

9. Homework-casting using del.icio.us

I don’t think I would have included this post in my Top 10 was it not for a conversation during last week’s EdTechRoundup FlashMeeting. I suggested a couple of years ago a possible method for automatic resource-delivery to students via RSS of homework/coursework materials. Theoretically, you should be able to deliver any type of file via RSS – not just audio, video and PDFs. Unfortunately, I’m still not aware of any program that allows the automatic downloading of any type of file enclosed in the RSS feed. ๐Ÿ™

10. Yearly Roundup – The 20 best edublog posts of 2006

I used to really enjoy doing my weekly, monthly and yearly roundups of the edublogosphere. There’s two reasons why I can’t do that any more. First, I have less time these days – what with my son, working for educational publishers in my ‘spare’ time, and an additional role in school. Second, the edublogosphere has (happily) expanded greatly in the last couple of years. It’s just impossible to keep up… ๐Ÿ˜‰

What are YOUR favourite posts on your blog(s)?

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3 ways to prevent being ‘unfollowed’ on Twitter

Some people reading the title of this blog post may claim not to be bothered when they’re ‘unfollowed’ on Twitter, FriendFeed, etc.ย  I don’t believe them.*ย  ๐Ÿ˜‰

Most people on Twitter also have a blog. The reason you have a blog rather than write in a personal diary is to share your ideas with the world. You’d like to influence others in some way.

As a result, whether you like it or not, if you’ve got a blog you’re in the marketing business. You are (potentially) a global micro-brand.

All this sounds a bit business-like, especially for an educator with a professed aim to change the education system for the better. But, as I have blogged about recently, our ideas gaining acceptance is one way to achieve a sort of immortality. And if we do want to change the education system, we need to influence as many people as possible! ๐Ÿ˜€

So yes, you do need to be concerned when people ‘unfollow’ you on Twitter. One or two may not be a problem, but if there’s somewhat of an exodus, it means that they’re not getting what they thought you’d be delivering. Let’s see how we can make sure that state of affairs doesn’t obtain…

1. Speak in full sentences

When I teach lessons that involve students answering questions, I stress the importance of making sure they don’t start their answer to a question with ‘because’, and that they explain the context. Otherwise, when they come to revise, they won’t ‘get it’. Similarly with Twitter, you’re not just having a conversation with another individual – people who are following you are also listening. Don’t say ‘it’ – say what you mean and link to what you’re talking about (if relevant) – and in every tweet involved.

2. ‘Direct message’ people more

Just because someone’s used an @ reply to you (e.g. @dajbelshaw: my interesting message) doesn’t mean you have to do likewise to them. If what you’re going to say is unlikely to interest others apart from that individual, send them a direct message. Just be sure to double-check that you’re following them as well, otherwise it could be slightly embarrassing. I talk from experience… ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

3. Don’t binge-tweet

I use FriendFeed as well as Twitter. FriendFeed summarises when someone sends more than one tweet in quick succession. Yesterday, someone I follow posted 25 messages in quick succession. When you’re following hundreds of people, that’s too much to handle. Be focused.

I’m always very aware that my tweets are one of the first things you see when you visit dougbelshaw.com. That means I try to keep the most recent tweet fairly interesting and relevant to both Twitter followers and visitors to my site. If I post a reply which may be useful to others but fairly geeky, I try to follow it up quickly with something of greater relevance.

These ideas may not work for everyone, but they work for me. What do you use Twitter for? What are your tips for using it?

* This post came about after a discussion about a new service called Qwitter that emails you when someone stops following you on Twitter.

(Image by Mykl Roventine @ Flickr)

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