Archive for category technology

New Milestones – Twitter, Blog, Work

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Blog

It was very satisfying this week to get a notification from WordPress reminding me of my blogiversary.

Six years of blogging!

The time sure has flown. And although I still have much to learn about online writing, I can say with confidence that nothing beats the professional development and reflection that public writing has afforded me.

 

Twitter

As if one milestone wasn’t enough, this was also the week that I clicked over the 10,000 tweet mark (!)

Sadly I missed the exact moment and didn’t get a screenshot, but here’s how it’s looking today:

Screen Shot 2014-06-08 at 5.15.41 PM

 

2008 – what was happening?

A quick look at my profile stats shows that I joined Twitter in May 2008, and created my blog not long after in June 2008.

Around this time I was:

  • 27 years old
  • living in Southwest Sydney
  • halfway into my second year of full time teaching
  • part time enrolled in my PhD
  • newly married
  • on the ‘Web & Technology’ and ‘Curriculum and Assessment’ Committees of the NSW ETA

Whew! When that’s all written down in a list we can see it was big year! And that’s just the ‘big stuff’.

The ETA bit is important, because it’s through ETA work that I met one of my most influential and constant mentors, Darcy Moore – it was his persistent encouragement that persuaded me to start tweeting and blogging. His advice at the time, which has always stuck with me, was that I shouldn’t be afraid to put my views in the public domain, as long as they are views I am prepared to defend and stand by. In fact, the test of whether you are prepared to say something in public can be an excellent method for testing your convictions.

I’ve used the metaphor before, but real True Blood fans can stand to hear it twice: Darcy you’re the best ‘maker’ ever!

My other big digi-hat tips go to Bianca Hewes for being such an incredible force of energy and inspiration, and to Mary-Helen Ward who got me writing my first ever blog posts back at university on the internal network. You gals have left footprints all over my professional (and personal) life and I’m so grateful for it.

Milestones IRL – Work

The end of this semester also marks a non-virtual, real life work milestone: four years in one job.

Four. Years. In. One. Job.

It’s not for lack of stamina that I haven’t stayed anywhere else for longer than three years. I worked part time for awhile when I started my PhD. Then I taught for three years in one place before moving interstate and reseting the meter. So it’s not like I’m some kind of education sector Runaway Bride! Although I am also no Baby Boomer, and I confess the idea of staying in one job for a lifetime is simply unfathomable to me. I won’t bother linking to any of the plethora of ridiculous articles about how Gen Y make bad employees – as a Gen X/Gen Y ‘cusper’ I never see myself in those stories (I’m too young to relate to Winona Ryder in Reality Bites, and too old to pull off skinny jeans). But suffice to say that after four years in one job, I’m feeling a sense of stability that I’ve never known before. It’s nice. I’m finally standing still for long enough to start sharpening the saw.

What Next?

Well, it turns out that this is my 299th blog post, so post number 300 is just around the corner :)

Other than that, I’m going to keep on keeping on with my online writing and continue to integrate digital communication/curation into my teaching practice. I’m working on a few scholarly journal articles for publication early next year, so my post-PhD academic writing funk looks like it may have finally run it’s course.

I’m trying to take a more active role in promoting our local English Teacher chat on Twitter (#ozengchat).

I’m slowly collecting my poetry teaching materials on the web for other teachers to access with ease.

Aside from that, time will tell.

But for now let me just say: thanks for reading, and happy blogging everyone!

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Risk-taking and risk-aversion in teaching

Happy 2014 to all! It seems I inadvertently took a blog break over summer holidays – a break from most things digital, in fact. I’m back in the swing of things now though, with a head full of ideas and energy stores replenished. Who knew I was so tired after 2013? Well OK, I did. Now you do too ;)

So, this is my fourth year at my job as a lecturer. How time flies eh? Reflecting on my time so far I can confidently say that I’ve continued the spirit of innovation I had as a high school teacher into my university teaching. I’ve pushed forward with using social networks to support student learning, with developing project-based learning pedagogies, and with developing blended learning experiences including wiki work and blog-based assessment.

But this week when I was offered a chance to trial a new technology with my class, I turned it down.

There are any number of reasons that teachers say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to trying something new. Watching this keynote by Sarah Howard from 2012 today gave me a chance to reflect on my own tendency to be a risk taker in my practice – I usually see the benefits of innovation as outweighing the costs:

…and boy last semester there were some costs. Some cyberbullying from a student really put a damper on my teaching with Twitter, and right at the end of last year I experienced a big delay in giving students assignment feedback after a swathe of electronic assignment files got deleted. Further technology fails ensued as I struggled to negotiate student assignment return via Blackboard, our university LMS. It was a nightmare, and a confidence shaker.  In a university teaching context where a whole semester of awesome learning can be overshadowed by a single student complaint to the wrong person, I ended 2013 wondering if all my efforts were ‘worth it’.

Fortunately I value innovation and creativity to such an extent that taking risks in pursuit of better practice is still worth it to me. In her keynote Howard explains that people are less likely to take a risk to pursue something they see no value in, which makes sense really.

I guess the shift for me will not be from being a risk-taker to being ‘risk-averse’ – I haven’t had the stuffing beat out of me quite hard enough yet to be averse to risk! For me the shift will be from high-stakes to more low-stakes risk; rather than pushing the boundaries with a wildly new practice I’ll be consolidating and refining my current pedagogies and taking stock of where I want to go with my teaching in 2015. Which will be nice timing, given the massive course changes we are implementing next year (PS. in six months if I disappear completely, somebody please come find me, I may be perishing under a mountain of new unit outlines…).

Do you see yourself as a risk-taker in your teaching? How risky are you planning to be in 2014?

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Explaining theories of learning and pedagogy

I want to post here two excellent images that I have come across to explain the various theories and concepts that can be drawn on in relation to learning and pedagogy.

The first is an image that I found via TeachThought (an excellent website – set aside a good hour to go and browse):

A Diagram Of 21st Century Pedagogy

A Diagram Of 21st Century Pedagogy

The image originally came from a 2008 post by Andrew Churches on edorigami, which also features diagrams explaining thinking skills, assessment and ‘fluency’. You can check that post out here: http://edorigami.edublogs.org/2008/08/16/21st-century-pedagogy/

 

The second image I am sharing here is this maaassssssive map of Learning Theory produced by the HoTEL project in the EU:

Learning theories map by Richard Millwood

Learning theories map by Richard Millwood

While all of the links made in the maps above are open to challenge and discussion, I really value them as texts! Both maps do a great job of visualising some of the theoretical complexity that sits behind education practice and decision making. I’ll definitely be sharing them with my pre-service teachers next year.

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Common blogging complaints

Latte blog...

‘Latte blog…’ by filipe ferreira (via Flickr CC-BY-2.0)

1. Blog Blockage:

I really shouldn’t write any more posts until I write up the totally timely thing I did the other day.

Cure – write a very short post on the totally timely thing. Then get on with life. Or, just write something else in between, you’ll live.

2. Posts Piling Up:

I have so many ideas for different posts, I can’t decide which one to start with!

Cure – start a whole heap of the posts and save them as drafts. Pick one to complete at a time.

3. Lonely Blogs Club:

No-one comments on my blog, I should just give up.

Cure – invite your friends directly to add a comment. Adding tags and categories will help Google to find you. Or just be content to write reflectively. Wait, back up…did you decide if you even really want an audience to be a happy blogger?

4. Beginning, Middle…:

I don’t know how to end a blog post.

Cure – finish a line of thought and hit ‘publish’. A short post is a good post anyway.

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Using Pinterest as an ‘inspiration board’

I have been using Pinterest a fair bit this year to collect links and images of interest to me an my students. It’s a nifty platform for curating – it’s highly visual and has an app for both apple and android that I find myself using often when surfing my mobile devices in front of the telly.

When introducing Pinterest to newcomers, I am often asked the question: “how does this website full of pictures of cupcakes have anything to do with learning?”. It’s a good question! Pinterest at first glance presents as a space filled with links to homewares, fashion, craft and cooking. I know some people claim that Pinterest is therefore “for girls”, but plenty of people refute this.

One way that I have seen Pinterest used very powerfully in education is for the creation of ‘inspiration boards’.

Tania Sheko has provided an excellent account of examples from her school in a recent blog post. I’ve included her screenshot here to give you an idea of what is covered:

Pinterest screenshot by Tania Sheko

Pinterest screenshot by Tania Sheko

Working as a librarian in her school Tania was able to really boost the teaching/learning resources available in a visual arts unit by creating a range of boards with images to INSPIRE students in their project making.

What a great idea!

If I was teaching English right now, I could definitely apply this strategy. I would probably start by making inspirations boards for:

  • Shakespeare
  • journalism
  • poetry
  • different genres (a gothic board! a crime fiction board!)
  • characters for story writing
  • locations for story writing

So there you have it – INSPIRATION BOARDS. An excellent way to utilise the (wonderfully visual and digital) Pinterest in your teaching.

Thanks to Tania for sharing her ideas!

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It was a cyberbullying kind of day…

Most teachers have had some experience with cyberbullying. Whether your students are very young primary schoolers or adolescents, circumstances can arise when students post nasty comments about each other on social media, share embarrassing photos, or email hurtful letters. 

But what do you do when a student engages in bullying tactics online toward you, the teacher?

It’s the fear of this happening that stops many teachers from engaging with students on public platforms. I’ve heard several teachers ask questions about this, including in every ‘teaching with technologies’ workshop I’ve ever held: what if a student acts out online? what if a student posts inappropriate comments that get linked to the school name, or mine?

Unfortunately, this has been the story of the past week for me.

The scenario: A student felt that I had not uploaded assessment criteria in a timely fashion. I differ on this opinion, but that is really besides the point! The student (or a group of them?) had created a fake twitter account, unlinked to their real name or photo, to post tweets about our class. They sent tweets addressed to the class twitter handle and using the unit hashtag to make, at first, a series of queries about unit materials in an aggressive tone. Yesterday these tweets became more critical, referring to university policy, slandering the education faculty, and linking the official university twitter handle into the tweets as well.

My response: It’s always hurtful, on a human level, when something like this happens. But as a teacher it’s probably easier than in many professions to let these kinds of criticisms roll right over you – “water off a duck’s back” style. Teachers face the wrath of student disappointment in many manifestations! After a while in the teaching game you learn what to take on board and what to turn a blind eye to. We try not to take things too personally. This is why, at first, I simply replied to the tweets in question with helpful advice and invitations to contact me via email or in person, out of the public domain. Once the tweets this week started to include references to the uni though, I knew I had to be firm – I used a couple of reply tweets to make it clear that cyberbulling was not tolerated in our institution and outline what constituted bullying behaviour.

Resolution: As well as public tweets I sent a series of three direct messages to the student/bogus account asking them to stop making public statements that critique my professionalism and letting them know that I wouldn’t be further engaging with public criticism. I asked someone higher up the food chain than me whether it would be OK to ‘report and block for spam’ the offending tweets and they advised YES. When I went to block the user this afternoon, I was relieved to see that the student had thought better of their actions and deleted the entire offending account.

PHEW!

The reason I want to share this story is to emphasise the strategies I used for dealing with this over the past week:

  • INFORM: Be polite online and try to diffuse critical questions with helpful information.
  • INVITE: Ask students that publicise critical views to contact you directly to discuss issues that are bothering them.
  • CAPTURE: Always take a screen capture of material that you suspect is, or may turn into, bullying. I did. This ensures you have a record of events even when/if the student deletes the material. This becomes vital down the track if the bullying is repeated elsewhere.
  • REPORT: Even though you will naturally want to avoid embarrassment and ‘bad press’ for your name/class/initiative, it’s important that your boss (e.g. Head Teacher of English in a school) knows what is happening and has a chance to help.

I’m going to try turning this into a very light and positive ‘teachable moment’ in our class lecture tomorrow – not by attacking the student but by highlighting good digital citizenship practices. Wish me luck!

In the meantime, if you want to learn more about cyberbullying, excellent material can be found on the ReachOut website here: http://au.reachout.com/Cyberbullying

The new Safe Schools Hub also has a useful Framework for building safety into the school culture: http://safeschoolshub.edu.au/safe-schools-toolkit/the-nine-elements

One last thing…

I won’t be closing down my twitter account or ceasing the use of twitter in my class learning environment or anything drastic like that! Although this is exactly the kind of thing that scares teachers away from online teaching spaces, I still think the value of positive exchanges via social media are ‘worth it’ for my class.

Although…I will be renewing my commitment to talking about digital citizenship with students in the first week of the semester. On reflection, this could probably all have been avoided if I did some explicit twitter teaching and set clear boundaries in weeks 1 or 2. D’oh!

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‘I’m a teacher and I just joined Twitter…now what?’

Last week I was walking a colleague through Twitter and thought now may be a good time to pen a post with some tips for new users. In particular I want to encourage new users in the education sector to build their profile on Twitter and explore its potential as a personal learning network.

I am a big fan of the microblogging service, using it for personal learning, professional sharing and even teaching. The things I like about Twitter the most are:

  • I can check in any time and browse items that have been tweeted by people I have decided to follow
  • It’s not full of banal updates about people’s personal life, as on Facebook
  • If I don’t check it for ages I don’t get in trouble and there is no obligation to ‘catch up’ (unlike email)
  • I have found the most amazing connections from around the world that I otherwise would not have – it is a real networking platform

In just a couple of weeks from now our Queensland English and literacy teaching associations are co-hosting our annual national conference. We have set up a Twitter handle (@EngLit2013) and declared a hashtag (#BNW13) for the event. With luck this medium will take off during the event and lots of teachers will experiment with using Twitter, perhaps for the first time.

This post, therefore, is written with school teachers and English/literacy educators in mind, as well as my colleagues at university.

If you have joined Twitter but still don’t really know what to do with it, this post is for you!

1. Hatch your egg

Many people I talk to feel nervous about writing their first tweet and following lots of people. So let’s not start there!

The first thing I like to get people doing with Twitter is making their profile page inviting to potential followers.

When you first create a profile on Twitter you will be given the default egg image as your picture. But you are not an egg! You aren’t even a chicken! You are a person!

It’s very important to update your profile picture, or ‘hatch you egg’, to show others that you are active online. By adding an avatar that better represents you, the service will also start to seem more interesting to you.

hatch the egg

2. Add a bio

I rarely follow anyone who doesn’t have a bio, and many others have the same rule. Why? Not because I’m a Twitter-snob, but because without a bio it’s hard to tell who you freakin are!

Some people are reluctant to add a bio, worried that it will reveal too much about them, breach their privacy, or make them identifiable to their employer.

My tips for educators that are worried about such things are:

  • Don’t feel pressured to name your workplace. Terms like ‘maths teacher’ or ‘science educator’ give us enough information to go on.
  • Avoid declaring your religious or political affiliations, unless you are very comfortable doing so.
  • Get in the habit of only saying things online that you would proudly stand by if your employer saw it.
  • Don’t include your location if you have concerns about privacy or safety. You can always add this in later, once you are comfortable.

If in doubt, just browse a few other profiles until you get a feel for the kind of things people write. Many people are happy sharing that they are a husband, wife, parent of three, dog-lover etc. Writing such things is OK and entirely within the genre of a ‘professional’ bio. It’s all up to you and what you want to signal about yourself and your passions/priorities to others.

3. Follow about 15 people

I’ve heard a lot of recommendations about the ideal number of people to follow to get connections happening on Twitter. I suggest you will need to follow at least 50 people to see real ‘action’ on your feed…but following that many people is very overwhelming to most new users!

If you don’t follow enough people though, it will be difficult to see the point of Twitter.

So if you are a teacher trying to get the hang of microblogging I advise following about 15 other profiles straight away. This will give you enough material to read when you check Twitter that you are bound to find interesting things and start to see ‘the point’.

Here is a selection of profiles that I often recommend to English teachers new to Twitter:

If you are happy to follow celebrities there is also @MargaretAtwood, @stephenfry and @rickygervais. Sometimes they tweet A LOT though, so if that gets too intense, always feel free to UNFOLLOW people – we don’t take it personally on Twitter!

4. Write a tweet!

This is actually the easiest part.

You can choose to say something, ask a question, or share a link with others.

What you must keep in mind though is that Twitter is NOT Facebook. There are no ‘likes’ (though tweets can be re-tweeted or added to a favourites list) and many times you will say things that get no reply or comment. Not single one. Don’t be sad about this!

Be confident in the knowledge that people may be reading your tweets, but not replying. You will do this to them too – it’s OK.

Also be confident that even if no-one notices your tweet, that what you wrote was still worth saying. You might even come back to your own tweets every now and then to rediscover links or information you have shared. Your Twitter feed is as much for you as it is for others.

If you want lots of people to see your tweet you can include what is called a hashtag in your post – popular ones include #edchat and #edtech. There are also subject-specific hashtags, such as the #ozengchat tag for Australian English teachers to use for chatting.

5. That’s enough for now…go and get a coffee :)

Once you’ve added a profile picture and a bio, followed some people and posted a tweet, you are well on your way to being an effective microblogger.

Tweeting directly to people by including their handle (e.g. @kmcg2375) in your post and including hashtags can increase the number of replies you get, but you will find this out as you go.

One final thought for those of you who are wary of joining ‘yet another’ social media service…not all social networks are the same.

Give Twitter a decent try, checking in at least once a week for a month, you’ll see what I mean :)

xo

twitter v facebook

 

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