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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