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Social Media in Education: Who is it REALLY About?

Who is it all about?
CC Image from camknows

Number of followers. Klout scores. Lists of “top” people to follow. Twitter grades. Likes. Branding. Edublog Awards. Bammy Awards. Blog hits.

Social media is filled with passionate educators that are trying to learn and grow together in a way that benefits their districts, schools, classrooms and students. My worry is that I am seeing some things that make me question if some people have altered their social media strategy to be less about sharing and learning stories of OTHERS to being more about sharing stories and ideas about THEM.  Getting attention feels good and can often distract from purpose so when you look at the list above, who are these scores/lists/ideas really about?

As someone who has used social media in education for almost 4 years (long time for some, not long for others), I have built up my personal learning network to a point in which truly makes my learning personal.  I have blogs in my reader that support and challenge my philosophies and I am always looking for new voices from whom I can learn.  I admire those that share stories of their staff and students and the impact that this is having on their education.  I admire those who take risks and share stories of vulnerability in order to help them grow.  I am, though, concerned about the sharing of only MY messages and the “I am right, you are wrong” discourse that I sometimes see in my feeds.  I have  been caught up in these zero-sum style debates and also learned from this; I have made many mistakes and continue to learn from my actions.  I am also concerned that we are having the same conversations over and over again through social media, conferences and unconferences but not really changing much in our practices.

I wonder the point at which social media becomes more about marketing the user than about the learning that can result from using it to connect with others..  We often hide behind the idea that “the intent is good and we are sharing good stories of education” when we participate and promote education and social media awards and “top” Twitter lists.  Do we really need these awards to share stories if social media is already about sharing good stories?  How many great narratives are missed and lost because people are only following the “top” tweeters and only using apps like Zite and Flipboard to read the “top” stories in education?  Do these edu-awards ceremonies create more of an echo chamber and an imbalance of power as those with large number of followers get more followers and a louder voice and those with fewer followers become more silenced? Most of us believe that collaboration is the key to driving education forward so when we set up these arbitrary competitions, what does this do to collaboration?  I see so many tweets and post questioning school/student grades, rankings, and awards and student grades, rankings, and awards… yet we also see people promoting these very same things about educators and stating that this is “good for education”.  How can it be bad when it is about students but good when it is about educators?

I worry about the edu-celebrities that have been created and the branding of people that results.  Tweets like “OMG, sitting next to ________ at ____EduConference – looking forward to great conversation” concern me.  I worry that we seek out those who are popular on Twitter rather than engaging those right beside us.  As Andrew Marcinek said to me:

…we can do great things with these social mediums, but instead, we’re competing against each other for some arbitrary glory.

I realize Andrew often says it like it is but his statement makes me reflect on my social media learning strategy.  I do not believe people intend to be competing with others for messages but if you watch with a critical eye, you can see examples of this on many occasions.

U understand the message is easier to spread with a high number of followers and viewers… but what if getting followers becomes the primary goal?  Much like how grades can take away from the focus on learning, number values on people using social media can take away from the meaningful professional learning dialogue that can occur.

Lately I have seen some people whom I respect start to “weed out” their networks by unfollowing 1000’s of people.  I understand the purpose of this as people want deeper connections with fewer people… but can you not have deeper connections without shutting out those who you once wanted to connect with? I rely on lists in Twitter as my home feed moves awfully quickly to keep up; having said this, I do check in on the home feed once in a while for new perspectives and stories. George Couros recently wrote about this trend and he threw out a great challenge to those unfollowing people in a comment,

If you really want to start fresh, why not just start a brand new twitter account? Those relationships you talk about are important and obviously a two way street so if they were important on the other end, wouldn’t they find you as well? If it not about followers and about connections only, would you be willing to start truly from scratch?

Some of my learning conversations happen through Direct Messages as I need  that one-on-one conversation.  I recently tried to do this with an individual but he/she had unfollowed me so I was not able to tap into his/her insights.  If stories and connections are truly important for education and learning, what message do we send when we shut out people from our networks?  You never know who will reach out or who you will learn from so it is important to keep these connections open.

While at a workshop on professional learning through social media, a fellow educator recently asked me – do you think people who use social media are too much about themselves? My initial response was “no” but upon further reflection and as our conversation continued we began to agree that there are some people that use social media to promote primarily themselves – THEIR blog, THEIR ideas, THEIR “brand” (and some make a great living doing this; their social media strategy is clear – to sell their message).  This conversation made me step back and look at how I am using social media. There is power in humility.  There are many people whom I follow that have grown to have a huge network but maintained humility while sharing important stories about ideas, students, parents, and educators. Here are some key questions I am asking myself:

  • Am I sharing ideas that keep students at the centre… or am I sharing MY ideas that keep ME at the centre?
  • Am I more drawn to those with high profiles or those with powerful stories to share?
  • How often do I get caught up in the attention that social media can bring?
  • Do my education philosophies align with my social media presence?  Do I walk the talk?
  • Am I taking what I learn through connecting with others and applying it to our school and students?

This post is not meant to be critical of any individuals but more to encourage more of us to use a critical eye on how we use social media in education.  We need to question the events and initiatives that may hinder the meaningful dialogue that can occur through social media.  As Alec Couros wrote:

Education needs role models who demonstrate that complex problems are solved by cooperative networks of creative & passionate individuals

Are we REALLY working to use these cooperative networks to solve problems that benefit students… or is it about something else?  I have been caught up in the attention before; I have been caught up in the numbers – but I continue to learn from these mistakes.  For me, social media is about professional relationships that connect and share stories from many different voices; then applying these stories/ideas to enhance my professional/personal life as to ultimately benefit our students.  We need to be careful not to get caught up in the awards, lists, and numbers so we do not contribute to the hierarchy of connected voices in education.  If we focus only on the strong voices in social media, we may unintentionally marginalize people and risk missing so many important stories.

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56 Responses to Social Media in Education: Who is it REALLY About?

  1. Carolyn Durley says:

    You have such depth in your ability to tap into the topic of the moment with both wisdom and sincerity.
    I see this topic 2 ways.
    When I first showed up on Twitter, I could not believe the amount of self promotion that went on, I was almost embarrassed by it. But as time went on..I saw something else mixed in with the blatant self promotion and it was pride and celebration for small but significant steps in work being done in schools. This is something I don’t see within school cultures; teachers standing up and saying “Look at what I have done!” Celebrate with me!”. Undoubtedly some blatant self promotion gets mixed in with pure ego stroking, but I think maybe that is what we need more of with teachers? Teachers to be proud, feel valued and feel ready to self promote….how they are working hard and are making incredible changes for our children. I know it is a fine line between just the right amount and over the top, and sometimes, the self promotion is out of hand, but maybe we need to go a bit this way, to create a more open and transparent culture where teachers can openly share what they do without fear of being tagged “a keener” as is sometimes the case now.

    But the unfollowing thing, can’t figure that one out at all.

    Great post! You rock Chris!

    • Chris Wejr says:

      Hey Carolyn – yes, we definitely need to promote the great things happening in our schools and classrooms. I guess I struggle when the strategy is to only share their ideas and posts and rarely share others’. I promote my blog (about 3 tweets each time I write a post) but I also work hard to share the stories that I believe move education in the direction we need to go (that is why I share your posts – with some ego stroking ;-)). That fine line is the key… and I guess I am worried that with all the focus on the top followers, etc – voices will be lost. Thanks for adding to the dialogue and I look forward to learning with you Saturday at Edcamp Leadership!

    • Al Smith says:

      Yes Carolyn I see your observations too. When did keener become a bad thing? 2008? 911? I also think ppl need to be encouraged to engage at some level by EDUC leaders, including mentors, without the notion that someone is watching or hiding an agenda. Our union strife has not helped but neither has leaders who refuse to explore their own online PLN in any meaningful way. The leaders who do model ( like Wejr) provide sustenance to an often cynical and barren realm too often attacked and not supported. I suspect ‘Keeners’ like yourself would not be innovative without a network that grows beyond your own faculty lounge.

    • John T. Spencer (@johntspencer) says:

      Chris, you know my feeling about awards, Klout, branding. I would rather see someone tell me a story than sell me a story in their blogs and on Twitter. But it’s more than that. The reason the quantified metrics bother me is that they make me feel lousy. Someone e-mailed me and said, “I thought your blog was pretty influential until I saw that your page rank is only a four.” Similarly, it was hard to hear that yet again I’m not even in the running on Edublog Awards. It feels a bit like 8th grade all over again and I’m on the bench.

      And yet . . .

      My PLN is a community. I don’t brand. I make up ridiculous hash tags. I tweet about food and sports and all kinds of things that you’re not supposed to tweet about. I blog when I feel like it (which is probably too often) and then disappear once or twice a year and take a digital sabbatical.

      However, this isn’t my source of income. This is my play space. I’m not doing a ton of conference gigs. I’m not selling lots of books. I’m not trying to make a name for myself.

      • Chris Wejr says:

        Hey John – I guess what you are saying is that we need to be reflective and transparent on our purpose of our social media? Although I have said this before – your vulnerability and transparency inspires me to be better both online and offline. Thanks again.

  2. George Couros says:

    Hey Chris,

    Really interesting post and you share some great stuff and two quotes from the Couros family which I think is an education first :P

    I think that there can be both elements of what you are talking about, not an either/or. I do love that I have a voice now and can share what I do or what is happening in schools. You would not be doing Identity Day if it wasn’t for me sharing what was happening at my school (by other people who had created and lead this initiative; I was just the messenger). But I also think that there is also this importance to connect with educators to support one another. I do follow many people as I never know who can inspire me with a thought, or an idea, and some of the most amazing people I have met at a conferences aren’t as comfortable to share on social networks. They do great things and I actually encourage them to be more active because their great ideas that come from them SHOULD be shared. In that case, it is about them and them sharing what they do.

    I wrote my post and comments not because I can determine what others do, but I think that is important to offer differing perspectives. Many were influenced by some of the “unfollow” posts and they started some great conversations and I hope that I was able to start a few myself about the opposite approach.

    We are all educators and there is so much we can learn from other people whether they have 1 or 1 million followers. One of the reasons I started Connected Principals was to open up the “admin” perspective so that all people saw that principals were a part of the team, not on an opposite side. Here is oen of the “Guiding Principles” from the site that was created with those that first came on:

    ” We can do more together than we can alone. Opportunities need to be created for distributed leadership within our school for all staff; as administrators we need to ensure we build upon the strengths of our staff. We must ensure that we are working together as an educator community to continue to move education forward.”

    I think that I have the same approach in the way that I use Twitter. We can do more together than we can alone.

    But we still have to share those ideas and sometimes it has to be about what “we” do as individuals or else the conversation would not start in the first place.

    Does that make sense or am I rambling too much?

    Thanks for your perspective on this topic. I always enjoy reading your posts.

    • Chris Wejr says:

      Yes, I hear you. As Carolyn mentioned, it is that fine line of balancing the sharing of our own ideas/stories and those from others. I see most doing this very well and I truly appreciate it… but I see some trends (that cause me some concern) in which people are viewed as “more important” to follow than others. Some of my favourite tweeters have “only” a few hundred followers and would never be given an edu-award nor would they be listed as a top person to follow (mostly because they are either new or do not tweet much). Thanks for your push to seek to continue to seek out those with great stories and encourage them to share.

  3. Glen Thielmann says:

    Edu-celebrities.. there’s a concept! Luckily for every educator blowing their horn on SM or trying to get booked for a speaking engagement, there is one more who are sincere (fighting the innate narcissism of SM and aiming for interdependence), and there are 8 more that don’t use it at all, so the celebrity notion is certainly contained within a particular audience. I’m not sure what your district is like, but we have probably around 10-15% of our educators (tchr, P/VP, sr staff, others) with any kind of established interactive web presence. I know of only one blog among our district’s 60 admin, and 2 among sr admin, one of which has blocked comments. etc. etc. We have maybe 120 out of 1100 educators on twitter, about half of which are active, and most teacher websites do not go beyond info page. Maybe we should be glad for the “converts” first and then work on beating the narcissism out with humour and low-level hazing.

    The part about SM in Ed that I like is how it can flatten the organization a bit. I might not be able to talk with my superintendent or principal about this or that, but if I want a BC leadership perspective on a systemic issue there are plenty to find on SM, folks who will actually get back to me when I ask questions. For example, I had a short but useful exchange with Jeff Hopkins over the last few days about core competencies… a topic that just gets puzzled looks in my district, but something he has thought a lot about as he schemes out his new school.

    I think, like every other tech, we have to keep pushing through the unproductive uses and model what we want to see in others. Looking at how students use twitter provides a reference. They (and we) are drawn to it because it extends one’s identity into a public space, allows us to push identity boundaries with very little risk upfront, and allows for affirmation of our actions or the odd pat on the back (to compensate for the lack of financial incentives to be excellent in public education). The dual echoic/communal nature of SM can be very negative and very positive. It can reinforce mob mentality and prejudices, or it can provide accountability and formative feedback which is so illusive in our system.

    • Chris Wejr says:

      Thanks for adding these thoughts, Glen – the more I read your tweets and comments, the more I start to appreciate your cynical (yet reflective) humour. I think your last paragraph nailed it… we need to model what we want to see in others. It is so easy to get caught up in the “likes” and “followers” of social media that we can be drawn to the wrong thing. Within your message, I sense that we also need to be careful not to be too critical of those of us figuring out our way in SM. Thanks again for adding to the conversation.

  4. Janet Abercrombie says:

    Very thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I think you’re right that some have veered away from developing a PLN and have moved into other areas of focus.

    Also, what may be viewed as self-promotion may be done with good intentions. Examples:

    Some bloggers actively promote curriculum materials they have developed and posted on the Teachers Pay Teachers site or that they have self-published. Those types of blogs are not my proverbial cup of tea to read – but I respect that they are posting curriculum materials to share. Yes, they could share those materials for free but, given the time and energy they have given to sharpening up the materials, I wish them the best on supplementing their incomes.

    It is clear that some bloggers have used blogging to build a career for themselves outside of the classroom. Then the question becomes, “Do the materials they develop contribute to improvement of teaching and learning?” Some do and some don’t.

    A final reason some may appear to self promote comes down to a feeling I had as a new blogger/tweep (and sometimes as a semi-new blogger): The education social media scene can sometimes feel a bit cliquish. You want people to notice you because you genuinely want to be part of the conversations. You follow people and respond to queries, but don’t get followed back. I don’t think it is intentional – I just think that many PLNs form tight relationships and they don’t notice the wee ones :).

    Just some things to consider…

    • Chris Wejr says:

      Janet, you raise some very important points. I think my post, in hindsight, seems opposed to any self-promotion. People who follow me on Twitter know that I promote my stuff (blog, slideshare, images) – you might have even got here through that. But what I see happening is a few people losing sight of that balance between sharing “their” stuff and others’ stuff. The big concern for me is the voices that are getting lost in the top lists and edu awards. When I began using social media, there were not a ton of educators so the network was rather small but close. Now, with so many educators on Twitter, people feel they are helping by creating awards shows and lists of people to follow. What this does is create a bit of a standard list that people follow without really knowing if there is a good reason (I know this may be a starting point for many) – when I offer sessions on Twitter, people often ask, “who do I follow?” – I tell them I cannot answer that but direct them to a few hashtags to seek out people. Again, I know these awards, lists, scores are all done with good intent but I really feel it takes away from the personal aspect of a personal learning network.

      • Janet Abercrombie says:

        Ever have comments or posts you wish you could re-do? The one above is one of those.

        Please know that I’ve never considered any of your posts or tweets as self-promotion. The leadership items you post are hugely helpful and worth continued promotion.

        You’re right about the Edublog awards – I can probably predict the winners. Your ideas in this post align with David Truss’s last post: most of the nominations I read are without explanation.

        So then the question becomes: How do find and engage with the “diamonds in the rough” blogs that get less attention?

        How can we encourage those bloggers to continue growing and contributing to the education field?

        I chose to nominate some bloggers for the Edublog awards. While many are little-known blogs that will have a hard time winning, I want to use the nomination post to thank those who have influenced my thinking. Sometimes a pingback is all it takes to encourage a blogger.

        I’m also realizing that educators join social networks like Twitter for different reasons. When I followed Dean Shareski, I appreciated his follow-up video explaining that most posts were social (but some pertained to education). Honesty is good. Others join for specifically professional purposes. That’s okay too.

        I suppose engagement in social media is about getting to know others, sharing expertise, and encouraging one another as we do some of the hardest work that exists.

        • Chris Wejr says:

          I guess maybe I am not as opposed to the nomination process as the announcement of a “winner”. I think it is important to share the work of others and be more focused on being “interested” than being “interesting” (Jim Collins).

      • Janet Abercrombie says:

        Hey Chris,
        Thought you might be interested on this post that I found. While not education-specific, it discusses Twilebrities:


  5. Diana Williams says:

    Hi Chris,
    Thanks for this post, it certainly helps me to understand some of the complex facets of Twitter. I have been “on Twitter” for a few months, so it is all pretty new to me. At first I was trying to understand the rules/etiquette and found it rather frustrating to find that there really isn’t a set of ground rules from which to operate. It kind of leads you to make your own meaning, which can be good and bad. I use Twitter to catch a glimpse of what is trending in education by looking at blog posts that people tweet. I have found many blogs that I have added to my reader and it has greatly increased my knowledge base for teaching.

    The downfall that I have found is that some of the relationships are very shallow and only move in one direction. Perhaps that is because it’s pretty hard to grow a fledgling relationship in 140 characters, or perhaps it really is that some people are using Twitter for self promotion. I now understand that aspect of twitter but when I first started tweeting I had an occasion where someone that I thought I connected with in person didn’t follow me back, even though I sent this person my twitter handle and blog via e-mail. I was hurt and disappointed-a tough lesson to learn.

    So when I stopped taking it all so seriously I found that Twitter can be a place to have fun, crack a few jokes and also develop professionally. I will continue to make my own meaning as time progresses, but I really think you hit the nail on the head when you stated;

    “For me, social media is about professional relationships that connect and share stories from many different voices; then applying these stories/ideas to enhance my professional/personal life as to ultimately benefit our students.”

    I have found that the people I follow on Twitter aren’t really “real” until you meet them in person. I am grateful that my fantastic admin suggested that we attend your presentation at SFU this past summer as the connections that were made that day have been significant to how I teach in my classroom and how I lead in my school.

    I look forward to sharing our stories of Identity Day and reflecting on how we can build the ID day project in our schools to best meet the needs of our students.

    Thanks again for your post and your blog! All the best,

    • Chris Wejr says:

      Diana – you are a perfect example of a voice that can be missed if we rely mostly on lists and awards to determine who we hear. In the short time we have “known” each other (particularly in the past few weeks), I have learned and been inspired by the classroom stories you are sharing. Your posts that end up in my reader help our school, particularly me as I learn more about the Daily 5.

      There is no one way to “do SM” and I like that you have realized the lighter side of Twitter too. I can get too caught up in the seriousness of it all. :-P

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  8. @g3moStone says:

    “Edu-celebrities” – so true!

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  10. Jabiz Raisdana says:

    I think like any social space–the Social Web, PLN whatever we call it, takes time to understand. Like any culture people use and abuse it in a variety of ways. Some people want to sell books, get gigs at conferences, while others want to find like minded educators and share ideas. We are in it together and people’s intentions can be hard to decipher.

    I am not sure either person is right or wrong. Like any party, you learn who to speak to and who to walk away from. You learn when to let the blow-hard, blow hard and when to sit in the corner and talk to the quiet guy who happens to be amazing. I agree that the “big names” can flatten what can be a much more diverse and engaging online community, but back to the party anonly it does feel nice to meet people you respect and build relationships with them.

    I didn’t really begin to understand the power of my network until I stopped worring about who I should follow and began to follow the people that organically began to grow around me. I found my corner of the party and start to talk to people who also showed up.

    Like all relationships, some of my connections have strengthened while others have faded away. I think it is natural to want to be noticed and liked and appreciated. It feels good to share your ideas, your work and have people tell you that you matter and you inspire. The key is once you have established a foothold to remind yourself to stay true to what got you here in the first place.

    I will admit that I self-promote much of my work. I write to be read and it feels good to have people respond. Not because I need the attention, (although I probably do) but because it helps spread my ideas about life, identity, social media, education, art etc….

    Okay, I am rambling now. Let me respond in a Tweet size chunk:

    If “fame” is the reason you came to the party, than you may end up talking but no one is listening. Find you space, be honest and true to your work and you will find your people.

    • Chris Wejr says:

      Jabiz, you have summed up your thoughts beautifully (much like your photography on instagram). I love this: “I didn’t really begin to understand the power of my network until I stopped worring about who I should follow and began to follow the people that organically began to grow around me.”

      I love the focus on the organic nature of relationships through social media. Well said.

  11. Sheila Stewart says:

    I think we are still figuring out many things regarding participation in social media, as Jabiz has mentioned.

    When I starting catching posts about the “unfollowing” decisions, I reflected about what it meant in regards to social media itself, what it said for the person’s social media use/strategy, and about the ‘why’ of being connected.

    I started to use social media because of, and for education conversations and issues. I think that many use it because they care and also want to have a voice – in education and other areas that they care about. How one starts and continues to go about it varies and may also depend on how much voice one has in their local/physical context, as well as one’s role and who they want to connect and converse/learn with. Much will be very unpredictable and unexpected as well.

    While the purpose may be about students and school and/or community improvement, it is also about having a voice in the conversations. Lately I have wondered about how much the efforts to do so are the same and different in social media and in real life contexts. I think that the awards, top lists, and other things that you mentioned that highlight participation in social media and blogging and get promoted regularly do end up creating similar experiences that happen in our physical contexts and communities — Some people will get heard over others, and many will not get heard at all or will stop contributing ideas. Does all that kind of acknowledgement increase other online behaviours and interactions that are difficult to understand?

    Really, zite and such apps help catch the popular posts? Does that speak to the pressures of participation and “standing” in a PLN? I already click less on those associated links as it is, and I wasn’t sure why.

    I have to admit there are days that I miss being a quiet lurker reading and following 20 people. I have enjoyed a more active experience in connecting, participating and sharing, but I know I am approaching a change in how I use social media (I doubt it means I will unfollow everyone though). I think we are always changing, growing and adjusting and it is important for people new to social media to know that. I also think it is hard to know what changes we are making using social media and how social media is changing us.

    I am not sure if my thoughts have added anything new, but thanks for this space to add my recent thoughts related to this. I appreciate your candid thoughts on all you addressed in this post, Chris! I am really enjoying the thoughts added by others as well. All very helpful!

    • Chris Wejr says:

      Hey Sheila – thanks for chiming in. I like your statement “I also think it is hard to know what changes we are making using social media and how social media is changing us.”

      How is social media changing us as educators? as people? as a society? These are huge questions but ones we need to reflect on. Now THERE is a post. :-)

  12. Dean Shareski (@shareski) says:

    Lots to chew on here but the one thing that keeps me grounded and more me I think is a blessing is how I came to twitter. Because I’ve been using it for almost 6 years I didn’t start using it as a strictly educational tool, it was social. And for the most part, that’s how it remains. Certainly the blur exists and I’ll use it to promote and share but first and foremost it’s a place for me to hangout. I don’t come to twitter as primarily a learning space. I’m not saying that’s wrong either, but I do think that since it’s a place for me to enjoy kabitzing with one another, it takes the pressure off. I’m very hesitant to emphasize twitter during talks or presentations simply because the way I use it is not typical of most educators. Again, not better or worse, just different.

    I will say, that the social side of things makes me much more interested in the people. Seeing photos of your family on instagram for example, makes me see you as more than a educator. I certainly can’t do that with a large number of folks but as Jabiz said, we’re all trying to figure this stuff out.

    One of the conversations that George and I have had are about those who set up vast numbers of automated tweets sharing links constantly. While that may be fine and all, it does take away from the social and taking away from the social might be a problem in the long run as you focus more about yourself than others. Again, my interactions and purposes differ from most educators who have largely entered this space to learn and grow their PLN. For me that’s secondary.

    How’s that for rambling?

    • Chris Wejr says:

      Dean – you are someone who has pushed me to be more personal with what I share. You model the power of the social aspect of social media. When you said “it is a place for me to hang out”… it made me think back to when I did that more when I first used Twitter. Maybe it is time for me to step back more from the education side and enjoy the personal hang outs that come with the journey. Great food for thought.

  13. Neil Ringrose says:

    Morning from Hong Kong!
    Chris, thank you for a very thought provoking post.
    I love the fact that we can connect with others using twitter and social media. I remember when I first began to use it and was excited when someone connected with me. This still happens. We all need to be grounded in who we are and learn to live, learn and connect with each other, if that’s what we want.
    Thanks again because I do really enjoy reading and sharing your thoughts.

    • Chris Wejr says:

      Neil – yes connections are key – people do get excited to connect, especially when there is a similar interest or passion… and that is my concern, there could be likely an opposite feeling when someone is shut out. Human relationships are complicated… this social media thing doesn’t exactly make them easier. ;-)
      Thanks for adding… all the way from HK!

  14. Gayle Kolodny Cole says:

    I found this so thought-provoking and compelling that I am struggling to know what reaction to share first. First, thank you for bringing up a complex topic in this reasonable and articulate way. Second, I don’t know if I would have found it or read it if I didn’t consider you someone fascinating to follow, and I am hoping you take it as a compliment when I say I look to you as a edu-celeb I admire. I am glad I discovered your writing and your ideas, just as I am glad I’ve met Twitter newcomers recently and I’ve discovered so many interesting voices at the school where I am new this year – I will share this post with many of them. I guess what I want to say is that I hear you, and I see that we have a delicate balance to maintain – like so many other things, it’s important to keep perspective. I am going to keep thinking about what you wrote (especially, “use a critical eye on how we use social media in education… question the events and initiatives that may hinder the meaningful dialogue that can occur through social media”) and that is a gift. Thanks again.

    • Chris Wejr says:

      Gayle – thanks for adding your personal reflection. Although it is nice to have people RT a post or “like” a picture, when we are with our staff, students and kids – all this becomes so small. I am not right or wrong with my thoughts but they are my thoughts that I share publicly…. so not only can I share the stories, but also get feedback to help me grow. The key for me is to be reflective in my learning – whether that is in my school or through social media. As you said… keeping perspective is important. Thanks!

  15. Malyn says:

    It’s so true that people use social media for a variety of purpose and as Jabiz said, it can be summed up into – “find your space”.

    I like the diversity of people I follow and/or connect with. Increasingly, I gravitate towards those who are more real and engage me in conversation – you being one of them. This may be light-hearted, personal, educational, exploratory, etc. The point is, there are actually conversations happening – that wouldn’t happen otherwise without the affordances of social media.

    I’m guilty of being starstruck (I’m still starstruck when you tweet me…see?). That said, I find it extremely awkward when I’m subject to it – thankfully, it doesn’t happen much. I would then stammer, “don’t just follow me, talk to me”….because that’s important to me.

    Today I celebrate my 4th year in Twitter and looking back, I’ve gained sooooo much from it. People do come and go, and that’s fine….it has to be because that’s life. What I can do, and actually do, is try to nurture what I can – the people I gravitate to. It’s one great big, organic narrative really and I love how stories get woven and intertwine.

    Thank you Chris for putting this out there. It’s good to have a place to discuss.

    • Chris Wejr says:

      Hey Malyn – I have enjoyed our relationship through SM as it shows that although we can be on different continents and in different time zones, we can always learn from each other. I like your “don’t just follow me, talk to me” idea as maybe the bigger idea and question is “why do we follow?” and that may be the area that people are struggling with.

      I don’t have too many answers but I sure have a lot of questions. The key for me is to be reflective about how our actions can affect others on social media.

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  19. Bill Ferriter says:

    This is an interesting post, Chris. Not sure what my take on it is.

    I always worry when people expect to be followed — and expect anyone that they follow to interact with them — simply because it takes ownership over learning away from the learner.

    I want to control who I listen to. I want to have the choice to limit the voices in my network. I don’t want their to be a sense of obligation to let every voice into my stream — or the sense that I’m an insensitive jerk because I’m not willing to follow everyone.

    I also believe that good voices will be discovered by “the network” no matter what. That’s what happens when a blog post gets picked up and retweeted a thousand times. I don’t worry too much that good ideas will be ignored only because I believe in the breadth and depth of my network.

    That being said, I DEFINITELY think there’s a lot of “me voices” in the network too. That comes across in the complete lack of interaction between people that you often see in social spaces.

    No one comments on blogs anymore and fewer people are actually having conversations in Twitter than back in the old days. Lots of sharing and little talking ain’t really collaboration.

    On a related note, I like thinking about the connections between this trend and the deprofessionalization of teaching. Half the “me people” in the network are just trying to make a living. Maybe if we paid teachers well, there’d be less need to scramble for attention and opportunities.

    Interesting stuff.

    • Chris Wejr says:

      Bill, thanks for taking the time to comment. I am not saying that we need to follow everyone that follows us nor am I saying that we need to follow many people. What I do think is that we need to understand that social media is social and there is a relationship involved. It may be shallow for some and deeper for others but we need to be careful of what messages we send when we unfollow large numbers of people. I see many good ideas being ignored because they are not picked up by the larger “voices” on twitter. There are a few parents on Twitter and blogs who write great posts but receive very few comments or views. I also see the deeper issues do not get as many views/comments as some of the more surface level issues (ie. I have noticed this post or a post like “10 Ways to Use Social Media in the classroom “will get tons of views but one that talks about school choice, equity, poverty, assessment, etc gets significantly less).

      You are bang on – very few people comment anymore. When I look back to my older posts – there will be 50 comments.. now it is more like 5-10 at the most (aside from this one). I wonder why this is – are we just reading more blogs and commenting less? Are people reading on their mobile devices and getting frustrated trying to comment (like me)? Are we engaging MORE often but in a more shallow way (by RTing and @ relying vs commenting)? These are great questions that come to mind with your comment.

      And lastly, your last point is a valid one… no arguments here! :-) I have no problem with people making a living sharing their expertise but I just want to see people sharing their stuff along with others (you are a good model of this).

      Thanks again Bill!

  20. Pernille Ripp says:

    Hi Chris,
    As someone who greatly admires you and what you do at your school (and also how you share) I am also not quite sure how this hits me. As one of those people that just rebuilt my Twitter stream from 0 – although I never followed 1000’s – I keep standing by the point that you have to make Twitter work for you. I tend to not follow people that only do self promotion only because I never end up having a conversation with them and I try not to self promote very often because I mainly have blog posts to promote and not really anything else.

    I stopped long ago looking at follower counts for who I follow and mainly started following people that I engage with, people whose handle or picture I recognize. This strategy works for me because like Jabiz said it creates an organic growth in Twitter rather than something else.

    I am no longer offended over awards, lists or any other ranking that someone might do for people on Twitter or blogs. Life is too short to get offended and I will use my energy in my classroom instead. I used this year’s edublog award nominations to tell 2 people how much their blogs have changed me and my teaching and to thank Kidblog for continuing to be free. I use others’ nomination posts to find new blogs that i was not aware of that will continue to push my thinking. Much like we expect teachers to make their classroom work for them, I make the internet and Twitter work for me.

    You once gave me the advice to not come off as if I was always right, and I will forever be grateful for that. It has shaped many of my blog posts and conversations since then. Our connection on Twitter made that possible. I connect with you because I think you are a stand up guy, not because of your follower count, who you know, or whatever inflated status someone may give you. But that is me and I cannot control anyone else, so why bother indeed?

    And with that rambling comment, it is time for bed. Thank you for making me think again.


    • Chris Wejr says:

      Hey Pernille – thanks for chiming in. I think the key for me is to remember that although it may be very surface at times, social media is about relationships. I am not offended by much but I do believe that we sometimes lose sight of the real benefit of social media for education. I have got caught up in the numbers and likes many times (I think this is natural) but it is so important to be reflective. I did not intend to come across as “I am right” in this post but more to air some concerns and throw out some questions for people to consider. I am trying to figure out how twitter works for me now as the world of Twitter has changed. Haven’t figured that out yet but sure asking a lot of questions. :-)

  21. Sheila Stewart says:

    Just a few thoughts I had today regarding this post and more questions just to think on maybe…Do the announcements/promos of blog award nominations and recipients, “top” tweeters (as often based on number of followers and/or tweets), scores, etc., “brand” individuals as leaders? (even if it is not their desire). If so, leaders of what? How does that impact their participation or experience? Should it? I would think that they would gain followers who they never even expected or interacted with before. Are the connections as genuine then?

    Interesting about comments on blogs too. I would think that the more blogs we read, the less we may take time to comment. I am often not clear what the “conversation rules” or expectations are on blogs, but I feel clearer about that ‘on’ twitter and on nings. Do we just have too many online spaces to go to as well?

    • Chris Wejr says:

      I completely agree with the blog comments… the more we read, the less time we have to go deeper. Still not sure how to balance hoe much I want to read and how much I want to go deeper.

      • Sheila Stewart says:

        Yes, time alloted to each and balance to consider for sure. Also, the comments and conversation that occur may determine that “deepness”, but maybe also limit it depending how vulnerable and transparent people are willing to express and exchange online. Maybe we take the deepness elsewhere and further to offline contexts and conversations with others – so it is still all good. If that makes sense.

  22. Al Smith says:

    Social Media in Education: Who… thx strong piece! Your insight is comprehensive as usual. I’m nervous socmedia becoming just a ‘marketing’ not learning. There is such rich diversity and potential but I see trends that concern me. 1. We are getting sucked in by the tools- AGAIN. tend to miss real value. 2. Our colleagues are splintering into have-have nots. Many are avoiding or disengaging because of the concerns you mentioned but mainly because of myths and fear. 3. I need to balance time spent online ‘learning’ ‘sharing’ with my time ‘doing’ . As a teacher-librarian I get to gladly share and brag about other ppl activities but must not forget to plant seeds in the real world. 4. I’m concerned about dishevelled quality of socmedia communications our teens practice and the apparent height of the digital citizenship mountain. I can see why colleagues just don’t look or bother because they don’t want to address the messiness ( and liability) of it all. Thx – Al Smith Kelowna @literateowl

    • Chris Wejr says:

      Whoa back! Love your reflections here and not sure what I can add. I too worry about the splintering, the balance, the “real” world, and the messiness. I think it is important we continue to navigate and model learning in this world but be very reflective in the process. Thanks for your insights, Al!

  23. Dave Meister says:

    Great post Chris! I have changed my network habits greatly in the past year. Work and life in general have stolen much of my “network” time. I miss the interaction, but I think I put too much pressure on myself to blog and share on twitter and I began to miss what was most important: Engaging others, sharing stories, debating issues, and cutting up every once in a while. I do admire those who have the time to share a lot, and push me to think about things differently on a regular basis. I am trying to concentrate more of my efforts on changing my tangible every day world in which I work. I selfishly use what I find in spaces like these and try my best to share what I think is most usable in my daily work with others, but my school relationships have become the focus of my energies, for better or worse. Thanks for the thought provoking post.

    • Chris Wejr says:

      There you are buddy! haha Your comment about pressure sums up my last 2 weeks completely! I have put a ton of pressure on me to tweet, blog, read and share that the self-imposed stress actually took away from using the stuff I was writing and reading about. I don’t need to reply, write, read everything right away and if I miss a few blogs, so be it. Catch the posts when I make the time so I enjoy it more and it is something I do because I WANT to… rather than because I HAVE to. Thanks for your insights and leadership with this – much appreciated!!!

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  25. David Truss says:

    Things I struggle with:

    I don’t promote my blog in my own building or school district (beyond using my school district hash tag).

    …and yet I question sometimes if I don’t promote my own things too much on Twitter?

    …and yet when I do share, I actually get more visitors to my blog.

    …and yet I’m not ashamed of wanting a bigger audience to share my ideas with, and hopefully to comment and reflect on what I share.

    …and yet I am not only about all this, I spend hours reading others, commenting, and sharing other voices.

    I don’t pretend to have figured out the right balance.

    I follow a self-imposed rule of following every educator that follows me on Twitter. I spend time exploring the profiles of ‘newbie eggs’ on Twitter, seeing if their picture-less, bio-less accounts follow educators or tweet about education, then I follow them back and DM them a link to some tips to get started.

    But I question if others see me as a self-promoter? This bothers me probably more than it should.

    …and yet I shamelessly wear my @datruss hat to events. I love that it starts conversations with people that I’m connected to, that otherwise would have passed me in a hallway. I’m not selling anything, no books or online resources, no programs or road shows. I connect on twitter to some amazing people and I learn more from and about them face-to-face.

    I like the Edublog Awards, but I don’t vote…

    I don’t like that you can just throw a link up on your blog that says a blog name with a link to a blog’s homepage, and that person is nominated in the Edublog Awards. Although I didn’t have time to nominate this year, I have spent hours on my nomination posts, explaining my reasons for nomination & sharing links to demonstrate why nominations were chosen.

    I like the awards because every year they introduce me to amazing new voices, and I get to share the voices of others I value and respect. Frankly, that should be all the Edublogs do, without the voting process at the end. I hate the ‘Vote for me’ process that follows. I also hate the yearly ‘I hate the Edublog Awards’ blog posts.

    Numbers aren’t important, connections are… And yet my large number of two-way connections on twitter ensure me that I’m not stuck in an echo chamber, that I will see new ideas and new posts from new voices.

    Did I mention that I haven’t figured this all out yet? …and yet, I know that I’m blessed to have an amazing PLN that helps me think thinks through.

    Thanks for inspiring this reflection Chris!

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  27. Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca) says:

    Chris, this post of yours really got me thinking! I’ve read about all of the people that unfollowed thousands to start again, and while I understand what they did, I honestly can’t imagine doing so. When I started to tweet, I listened to something that George Couros said in one of his blog posts about following other educators that follow him to continue to encourage them to share. (This is not a direct quote, but it’s definitely the gist of what George shared.) This is exactly what I do. Now I follow more than 3000 educators, administrators, and parents, and yes, it’s hard to communicate with all of them, but I really do try to communicate as much as I can.

    Yes, I definitely use Twitter to share my links to blog posts and to share what my students are doing in the classroom. I do this to try and get suggestions from others because I know that I don’t have all of the right answers. I share my students’ work because I’m proud of them and I want them to continue sharing what they do. I don’t know if this counts as self-promotion: maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t. It is something that I’ll continue to do though because I do see value in it.

    I will also continue to reply to tweets from others though, share what I can, and support people whenever possible. Twitter is social, and I’ve enjoyed the connections that I’ve made to thousands of other people thanks to Twitter. And yes, when I’ve gone to conferences and met some of these people face-to-face, I can’t help but feel like I’m connecting with Twitter celebrities. These are the people that I look up to and admire. If I get to meet you in person one day, I’ll feel exactly the same way. :) That being said, I’m equally excited to meet and talk to any one of the people that I follow on Twitter because regardless of if they have hundreds or thousands of followers, I learn something from all of them.

    Thanks for getting me to really think about how I use social media and why I do what I do! Your post made me reflect, and I appreciate that!


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  30. Mirna Jope says:

    Had to laugh when I recognized myself in your post. My colleagues laugh at me because I bring my books to conferences to get autographed! ;)
    Back to this whole discussion, I think that some of my discontent is part sour grapes (hey! I do some cool stuff too!!) but mostly a frustrated wish that folks would share so that we can build on what has come before rather than reinvent the wheel. I’ve viewed Twitter as an open forum for discussion and communication; it’s disconcerting when you feel hesitant to join in because it seems like you’re intruding on a private conversation. That being said, majority of contributors are quite generous.

    • Chris Wejr says:

      Hey Mirna – yes, for the most part, I agree that Twitter is full of people sharing and helping. I do, though, have a concern when people start to market themselves more than the ideas. When you add in awards ceremonies and “top tweeter” lists, the gap between those that have been on Twitter awhile (and use it regularly) and those just starting out gets wider and wider and the equity of voices can sometimes be lost. As I said, the challenge should be to find great ideas and share them… and not just share our own ideas. Obviously I share my thoughts when I write them so I am not saying we never do… just find a balance of our own voices with the powerful ideas/voices of others.

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