Posts Tagged connect

Social Media in Education: Who is it REALLY About?

Who is it all about?
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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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From Followers to Friendships

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Many of us have written about how our PLN (personal learning network) has helped us get through challenging times.  I wanted to share some experiences of how people I have met through social media have impacted me in my day to day life and even moved from followers to friends.  I am not a fan of lists of people and this is not meant to include or exclude but more to share some recent positive experiences resulting from social media.

As I head back to work and reflect on the summer, some key moments with friends stand out… moments that would not have occurred had I not been using social media as a tool for professional learning.

People who do not use Twitter and Social Media often state that “real relationships” cannot be formed through these avenues.  This summer was a clear example of how friendships CAN result from relationships formed through social media.

At the beginning of the summer, George Couros, division principal in Alberta, planned a few days stop over in Vancouver on his way to a speaking tour in Australia.  We planned to hang out for a day and then meet up with a few others that evening.  I picked him up at the airport (I was a bit late… although I did a drive by and he was too busy tweeting out that I was late to notice me driving by) and we spent the day chatting about all things life, education, and social media.  In the evening, we met up with a few other amazing educators (whom I have also met through Twitter) for some dinner and in depth chats about technology, education, and professional learning.   The weird thing is that this was only the third time I had ever met George face to face.  We have ‘spoken’ through Twitter, Facebook, email, SMS, Skype, etc for a few years but because he lives in Alberta, we rarely get to meet.  George and I hung out like we were university buddies… often it felt like we were catching up by sharing old experiences and bouncing ideas off each other.

Brian Kuhn, the technology leader in Coquitlam, is someone whom I met through Twitter and blogging a few years back.  I originally went for breakfast with Brian to pick his brain about developing a tech vision for our district.  What resulted has been regular (EARLY!) breakfast meetings throughout the year that include dialogue not only about technology and education but also about family and life in general.  We often meet up at conferences or events and I follow his travels around Europe and mountain biking trails via Facebook and he follows the growth of my young daughters.  Today we attended an Edcamp together and he made a comment “It is so cool to see photos of your daughter growing up… feel like I am watching family”.   Brian is a bit of mentor to me but also has moved to a trustworthy buddy that I can chat with about anything.

Another connection with Kuhn.

A few weeks ago, I was heading up to a family reunion in Salmon Arm and the route to there took me through Kamloops.  Cale Birk, a principal in Kamloops, invited me to stop by his place on the way back.  His house was a perfect pit stop for my family (you cannot get very far with two 20-month-old daughters in the car) so we popped in for a few hours.  Again, hanging out with Cale was like being with a buddy that I played hockey or basketball with.  We chatted about everything until finally my wife gave me the signal that we had to head out.  The crazy part of this is that our wives had actually connected through Facebook a few weeks prior as they are both dance teachers.  Further, Cale has 2 beautiful daughters (2 and 4) who immediately connected with our daughters.  The best part of this meeting was the fact that I had never met Cale face to face before.  We had also used a variety of tech to communicate with each other so we knew each other quite well but meeting face to face created that friendship.  Cale, Lori, Paige, and Kate stopped by our place for lunch the following week, en route to Victoria, and we are planning some more gatherings in the near future.

 

Meeting the Birks


The last example I want to share does not involve a face to face meeting but more of someone whom I keep in touch with on a regular basis.  Darcy Mullin, a principal in Summerland, and I have been Skyping once a month for the past year.  In addition, we chat via Twitter, Facebook, email, and text messaging.  Although our attempt to meet up this summer (which would add up to a whopping 3 times) did not work out, Darcy and I kept in touch by Skyping a few times and texting throughout the summer.  The best thing about our conversations this summer is that the focus was not just on education but mostly on our families.  Darcy has twins as well so the stories of my daughters really bring him back; too, I enjoy his narratives of his family outings throughout BC and Western USA – the excitement in his voice when he speaks about his wife, son, and daughter is truly contagious.

Meeting with Mullin

To me, the learning that results from the connections we have with people is obvious.  This post is by no means meant to be a cheesy shout out to George, Brian, Cale, and Darcy nor is it to exclude the many other people and friends I have met through social media; it is to share and highlight the potential deeper relationships that can arise from the effective use of social media.

Connecting through social media is not about the quantity of followers or ‘friends’ that a person has but it IS about the deeper, trusting relationships that can result if you take the time to make these relationships happen.  These guys have had a huge impact on me – and I probably would never have met them without social media.  I look forward to deepening the relationships and learning with a few more folks in the near future. Thank you to all those that have taken the time to connect with me to help me both as an educator and as a person.

For another example of how followers can turn into friends, please check out Stacey Garrioch’s wonderful post on #edcampkinder.

 

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