Posts Tagged Personal Learning Network

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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Becoming a Connected Leader: A Journey

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I recently had the honour of presenting to a neighbouring school district about my journey in developing on online personal learning network (PLN) and becoming a connected leader.  The slides from the presentation are below but here is a brief (ok, this is LONG for a blog post) summary of my journey into tapping into the most effective, ongoing professional learning in which I have ever been involved.

In 2009, my wife and I met with a good friend, Kye Grace – who is a bit of an online marketing guru, about how we could use social media to help market her dance studio.  About halfway through lunch, while listening to him describe how using a Facebook Page and Twitter could help our business, he said “you know, I am sure there are a few educators on Twitter you could network with and learn from… and I think the parents of your school might like a Facebook Page to read about all the good things happening at your school”.

Following this meeting, I played on Twitter for about a month and followed business folks, sports reporters, and a few authors with a personal account I created; we also created a Facebook Page for the dance studio. I then took the plunge – I spoke to the staff and then created a Facebook Page called “Parent Info For Kent Elementary” and opened a Twitter account (@mrwejr) that I would use to also send messages to parents.  Little did I know that this new Twitter account would lead me on a journey to meet passionate and inspiring educators from around the world.

The first real connection I made was with a teacher from Alberta, Joe Bower.  I came across Joe’s article “For the Love of Learning” and he basically described the journey I had gone through with my master’s program; I, too, began to question the use of grades, rewards, and punishment in schools.  Joe and I began to write through email and he recommended I read books by Alfie Kohn, Carol Dweck, Daniel Pink, and Seth Godin.  Looking back – these authors and the resulting conversations with people around these books have helped to develop my evolving philosophy of education.

After about a year of tweeting and reading other educators’ blogs, I dove in and created the “Wejr Board” blog (some mocked my last name Wee-jer and called me Wejr Board in high school).  The blog was to be a place for me to get my thoughts out there and create dialogue around education with parents, teachers and other educators.  A few months after I began writing, our school made a decision to end our current awards ceremony;  I followed this meeting up with a blog post titled “Death of an Awards Ceremony“.  Up until this point, getting 100 views on each post was about the norm… when checking the analytics of the site on this post, I had over 1000 views in a single day – what I realized was that Alfie Kohn had actually tweeted out my post. Not only was this exciting but it also led me to connect with many other educators with similar thoughts; more importantly, it helped me to gain confidence in being challenged as an educator as many people did not agree with our school’s decision.  Getting challenged online has significantly helped me in face-to-face dialogue; I have realized that getting challenged helps me grow as an educator and it is important to respond professionally rather than react defensively.

During the rest of 2010, I truly began to realize how social media could power up my PLN.  I joined the “Connected Principals” blog site (created by George Couros and Patrick Larkin) that helped me network with many other administrators from other parts of the world.  I read and was inspired by  George’s post on “Identity Day” so I stole this idea (a huge benefit of a PLN… stealing ideas) of having students complete a project on themselves and presented this to my staff; because this aligned well with our school goals, we hosted our own Identity Day in April, 2011 (and will have another one Feb, 2012).  The fact that I had connected with George led our school to host this inspiring event that left me watching every student in our school proudly present on a strength or interest they had.  Not only had connecting with other educators benefited my learning but now it was clear that these connections were benefiting the students in our school.  Our students have also grown through connecting with other classes through teacher-assisted email, posting blogs and using Skype.

A huge Aha! moment came for me when I attended Edcamp Vancouver later that month.  My previous professional development experience was that I would attend a workshop, sit in the back and take notes, come back to the school and try to implement some of the ideas in a school or classroom (and usually after a few weeks, the excitement would fizzle out).  This experiences demonstrated the benefit of an online PLN.  I found out about the (un)conference through some key members of my PLN (David Wees in particular).  I then started to get excited by chatting with other educators who were planning on attending.  When I arrived at the school, it was like meeting old friends for the first time.  I felt I knew so much about these people – their philosophies, their classrooms and schools, even their families – yet I had never met them!  The day was spent with endless passionate dialogue around how we could create positive change in change educations; these conversations carried on in blogs and Twitter and continue to this day (we are planning Edcamp Fraser Valley for December 3, 2011). The excitement remained as I attended the Edtech BC conference that was keynoted by another friend (George Couros) whom I had spoken with online through a variety of means but never met.  You can imagine how hanging out with the keynote speakers George and Alec Couros for 2 days picking their brains about education and life made my conference experience.  My whole professional learning experience, both online and face-to-face, has significantly improved since this journey began.

Not only has the development of my PLN helped me as an educator, but it has also helped me on creating more avenues to communicate with parents.  People like Bill Ferriter, Sheila Stewart, and Heidi Hass Gable (along with a number of parents within our community) have helped to meet parents where they are.  At our school we now use Facebook, Twitter, Remind101, Flickr, YouTube, WordPress and many other tools to help us connect with the families in our school community.  The key for me is to use tools to develop communication WITH parents rather than only TO parents.  Instead of only handing out our newsletters in paper form (TO), we now have them in blog form so parents can offer feedback and questions (WITH) .

My PLN used to consist of our school staff, district admin team and the odd list serve; it was effective but primarily LOCAL.  Now, not only do I have my local PLN, but through the use of Facebook, blogs and Twitter (also Google+ and LinkedIn), my PLN also consists of thousands of educators and is now GLOBAL.  I have tapped in to my PLN to help plan staff meetings around motivation, literacy, and assessment and have also used it to continually collaborate with other passionate educators to help me grow not only as a leader but also as a LEARNER.  Twitter has become my own personalized human search engine as I am able to plug in to people with experience who can answer my questions.  Twitter actually SAVES me time.

This learning journey is just beginning for me.  I encourage you to tap into the resources at your fingertips.  Use social media to become a connected learner.  Thank you to ALL those who have helped me on my learning journey.

When beginning your journey, be patient. Observe. Build relationships. Seek out intellectual collisions. You will have that Aha! moment and when you do, you will never look back.  For some of my thoughts on using social media, please see the slides embedded below.

 

 

 

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