Tag Archives: Twitter

It Takes A PLN…

22 Aug

It Takes A PLN...

The cool people at Educator Studio (@EducatorStudio) illustrated one of my tweets. I think it looks great!!

Does Liz Sandals Hate Twitter?

9 Jun

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” spoken by Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

On June 6-8 the Ontario Public School Boards Association held their annual general meeting in Muskoka. As a taxpayer and an educator it was enlightening to be able to follow the twitter stream of the conference, monitored by the excellent OPSBA staff, and see what delegates were doing, thinking and saying. Trustees are increasingly using twitter and it gives a layer of transparency and accountability to what they do and allows others to engage with them. In the course of the conference I agreed, disagreed and asked questions about what was going on, all through twitter.

One of the highlights of the conference was an address to the OPSBA by the Minister of Education, Liz Sandals. Minister Sandals is a past president of OPSBA (1998 – 2002) and so understands the organization well. She was there, however, as the representative of a government that had significantly undermined the role of school boards in Ontario through it’s handling of collective bargaining in 2012 and Bill 115.

Unfortunately the Minister was not a contributor to the #OPSBAAGM twitter feed in any way because, unlike her predecessor Laurel Broten and a long list of other liberal MPPs (including leader Kathleen Wynne) Liz Sandals isn’t on twitter. This in itself may not be a big deal. Most people recognize that while a politician may have a twitter account it is often a political aide who is doing the tweeting. However, when it comes to using twitter the lack of an @LizSandals account may be just the tip of the iceberg.

Anyone who followed Laurel Broten quickly learned that it was also a good idea to follow Paris Meilleur, her Director of Communications, for other education related tweets. Paris often explained issues, provided other contexts and engaged with Ontarians about education. I don’t know whether Minister Sandals has a director of communications (I assume she does) but whoever it is, they, or any other members of her staff, don’t use twitter in a professional capacity.

(Correction: Found out through Caroline Alphonso at The Globe & Mail that the Minister of Education’s press secretary is Lauren Ramey and she is on twitter. Lauren says she is trying to be more active on twitter)

Another layer to this is to look at what has happened to the official twitter account of the Ontario Ministry of Education (@OntarioEDU) since Liz Sandals became the Minister in mid-February. It seemed that since then there haven’t been as many @OntarioEDU tweets in my timeline. My quick and dirty research revealed that there are about half as many tweets on the @OntarioEDU account as under the previous minister (an average of 9.7 tweets/week vs 19.5/week). There are innocent explanations for this. Maybe it’s taking them a while to get organized. Perhaps, because of the “Bill 115 Crisis”, the previous staff were tweeting more.

Nevertheless the combination of a minister and staff with no twitter presence and a ministry that’s tweeting less suggests a change in attitudes towards twitter. So what? Does it really matter if the minister and ministry uses twitter? I think it does.

Education issues in Ontario are increasingly discussed and ideas are shared on twitter. It’s an incredibly meritocratic space where ‘who you are’ doesn’t matter as much as the quality of your ideas. That’s why trustees, directors, principals, parents, students and educators are increasingly connecting on twitter. If the minister and the ministry have a reduced or no presence they’ll miss out on that discussion and exchange of ideas.

That’s a critical error and a missed opportunity to engage with Ontarians about education. When the minister says she “…wants to hear from education stakeholders, parents, students and members of the business, research and innovation, not-for-profit and Aboriginal communities…” about education in Ontario, that’s exactly the people who are discussing education on twitter. A refusal to engage with people where the discussion is should make us question her interest in hearing what Ontarians really think.

Over 90% of high school students, and an increasing number of elementary students, use social media daily. When the minister says she want to discuss  with Ontarians “How can we use technology more effectively in teaching and learning?” mobile devices and social media must be a big part of that. How can the minister effectively administer Ontario’s education system and discuss student use of technology if she isn’t conversant in how social media works? She can’t really understand how social media changes the way you think about things unless she’s actually used it.

In an effort to help I extend an open invitation to meet with the minister and help to get her up and running on twitter. I’ll pay my way to wherever she is and I’m sure that within an hour or two I can get her tweeting. I know she probably has people on staff who can help her, but it can be embarrassing to reveal your ignorance to someone you work with (believe me, I know).

I encourage the minister to do something we ask our students to do every day. Step into the unknown, take a chance and try something new. It would serve as a great example to all Ontarians of how we all, no matter who we are, have to take chances and try new things. It would also signal a genuine willingness to engage with Ontarians about education.

Social Media Can’t Save Education

5 May

Has anyone seen my phone?

I love dogs. My most cherished childhood memories are of walking on the West Pennine Moors with my granddad and his dogs (and later mine) ranging around us. We rarely talked or saw others, but I learned a lot. There was a deep feeling of stillness and peace as we walked and connected with nature while eating Nuttall’s Mintoes. He’d tell me the common names of plants, share some local history or tell me a joke that made us giggle.

That deep connection with the countryside and dogs drew to me to Tweedhope in Scotland and Border Collie breeder and trainer Viv Billingham’s farm during a trip to the UK. Sheepdog trials are popular the world over, as trainers use their dogs to collect and move flocks of sheep around a field against the clock. Viv is a sheepdog trial “rock star”, was featured on TV and represented Scotland in international dog trails.

We arrived in Tweedhope on a sunny afternoon (yes, it gets sunny in Scotland) and found the farmhouse nestled in the glens and looking exactly as it should. Viv spoke about the breeding and training of border collies and put some of the dogs through their paces in an exhibition.

She explained that she doesn’t start training any dog until after it’s first year. It takes a year for the dog’s personality to emerge. Once she knows who the dog is she can know how best to work with it and for what roles it is best suited. This was my first encounter with differentiated, individualized learning and I still use those ideas when I work with students. I try to get to know students first and then  work with their personalities and strengths.

When the exhibition was over Viv invited us in for a cup of tea and some biscuits. Inside were a litter of Border Collie pups, about 3 or 4 weeks old, and I asked about their future. Viv explained that they were all destined to be working dogs.

I wondered about border collies as pets (my grandfather had owned one, the beloved ‘Floss’) and Viv vigorously shook her head. Border Collies need lots of vigorous exercise to stay healthy, not only physically but mentally healthy. They are bred for work and if they don’t work they become “unbalanced”. Sheepdogs that don’t herd sheep obsess about herding other things, like children, nipping at their heels to get them to move. They become fixated on an object, for example a ball or passing cars, as a proxy for the real stimulation they need. However they respond, it isn’t healthy, and the dogs become anxious and unmanageable.

When I see how we use social media in education I’m reminded of sheepdogs that aren’t herding. In the absence of real human connection we fixate on social media as a proxy, and become obsessive and neurotic.

Students show an unhealthy connection to electronic devices and connections. The epidemic of teens and distracted driving is just one illustration of how serious this fixation has become. If controlling a heavy machine full of flammable liquid at high speeds doesn’t make you put away your phone and pay attention, what will?

Educators also show an unhealthy preoccupation with social media and electronic devices. It’s a central topic at most education conferences and it’s common to hear advocates impatiently wondering why every teacher isn’t on Twitter and “what do we have to do to get them there?”. The suggestion is that by getting educators to use social media our education system will magically improve and the factors limiting student learning will disappear.

Social media is a useful tool for educators but it isn’t the panacea some suggest. It’s the old “correlation not causation” maxim. Excellent, motivated and thoughtful educators are on social media, but social media doesn’t make them that way. Those qualities lead them to social media and make it useful for them.

Disinterested and disengaged educators on social media won’t change things. The same inspiring educators that use social media work every day alongside disconnected and ineffective educators. If that doesn’t change them getting a tweet with a link won’t.

The success of any problem solving strategy is contingent on the conditions of the problem. We don’t use the same strategy to reach all students, so why would one tool (social media) be the right lever for all educators?

Social media can’t save education. It’s a useful proxy but we forget that the real relationships we have with students and colleagues every day are the ones that really matter. When we feel unsupported professionally and emotionally, social media is a terrific way to extend our reach and get more support. But social media will never overshadow the significance of real relationships. If the goal is to support other educators in moving forward our energies are better spent on real relationships, those powerful face to face connections we have with others.

After all, that’s what we’re bred for.

Hacking Your Professional Development

23 Apr

Hacking (verb) [hak-ing]– Creative problem solving. Finding an unconventional solution to a difficult problem.

There is no shortage of contentious issues in education. You can debate instructional methods, how to arrange a classroom, enthusiasm vs experience, the value of whole language strategies and so on. But educators agree that traditional professional development (PD) doesn’t work very well.

Nothing gets a faster eye-roll from a teacher than being told that there’s a PD session you must attend. Teachers would rather stay in the classroom teaching than be forced to do a round of ice-breakers before listening to a consultant reading Powerpoint slides. This should concern anyone involved in education. Advancements and new ideas are announced daily and more than ever educators need to be armed with the latest research and methods.

Increasingly, educators are solving this problem by hacking their professional learning. Teachers have always stayed ‘current’ with professional journals, an occasional conference or a course in the summer but hacked PD is different. Hacked PD puts teachers in charge, is immediate, immersive and leverages the power of social media to create Personal Learning Networks (PLNs). It’s a change that’s attractive to many educators.

Last week’s Google in Education Summit in Waterloo, Ontario sold out early, forcing hundreds of others to ‘attend’ from home over the internet. On May 4th hundreds more will attend EdCamp in Hamilton, Ontario. On the same day there will be EdCamps in Boston, Birmingham, Detroit, Fort Wayne and North Carolina, and that’s the case on most weekends. There’s no requirement or incentive for educators to attend these events. They do so to become better teachers and to help others do the same.

Want more useful, meaningful, self-directed and convenient professional learning? Here’s how to “Hack Your PD”

  1. Begin With Twitter: The most accessible way to take charge of your professional learning is by using twitter. Fifteen minutes a day reading tweets will introduce you to more useful ideas than you can shake a stick at. The problem isn’t finding new ideas, it’s figuring out how to manage all the new ideas you have.

  2. Follow Your Passion: Whatever you love about teaching, find others who love that too and follow them. Established tweeters regularly share amazing resources and their own thoughts and questions about teaching. They’ll tweets things that make you think and reflect, which helps you grow. You’ll encounter ideas from outside traditional education channels. Experts, parents and passionate citizens have useful and helpful ideas and different perspectives.

  3. Share: Once you feel more comfortable you’ll want to share. It may be as simple as a tough day you had or something amazing that happened in class. From there it grows. You begin to share your thoughts, opinions and ideas. You find something cool and want to share it with others who freely shared with you. You’re now a member of a fully functioning Professional Learning Network (PLN).

  4. Attend An EdCamp: EdCamps are locally organized gatherings of people who want to share and learn about education. Many attendees come to just listen and learn. There’s usually no cost and the only expectation is that you participate as best as you can and share what you’ve learned (back to your PLN). The topics discussed are often determined by what participants are interested in on the day. It’s a fun, relaxed atmosphere unlike a traditional education conference. If a session you’re in doesn’t engage you, you’re encouraged to move on and find something that does.

  5. Attend A Workshop or Conference: Every weekend this month there are conferences and workshops I want to attend. There’s no shortage of opportunities to learn, and once you look you realize that the problem isn’t where to go, but what to miss. Going to workshops on something you’re passionate about is more engaging than a mandatory PD session. It’s also a great opportunity to meet those you’ve been sharing with on twitter. Face to face is always better than virtual and it helps cement your PLN. If you can’t make it to a conference participating via a twitter “backchannel” is the next best thing. Many at the conference will be madly tweeting via the hashtag, allowing you to think and discuss from home.

  6. Present: Presenting is a wonderful way to further your personal learning. It gives you feedback on your thoughts and ideas and helps to refine them. The motivation presenting to your peers provides is like a fire that purifies your thoughts. You learn which ideas are useful and which you need to rethink. Conference presenters are often given free entry, so you also learn from other sessions.

  7. Repeat: After each step return to twitter and share. Share your thoughts, opinions, questions and ideas with your PLN.  Feed it back and give to those who helped you along the way.

There are thousands of educators on twitter, hundreds of edcamps (all over the world), hundreds of conferences and workshops and more being added all the time. The potential of hacking PD to transform teaching and education is unlimited.

Aside from the personal benefits the most important reason to hack your PD sits in front of you every school day. Your students deserve the best and latest teaching methods and ideas you can find.

Teachers are the only ones who REALLY know what they and their students need. You should be the one in charge of your professional learning. Get hacking!

If Facebook is Out For Teens…What’s In??

23 Mar

We believe that some of our users, particularly our younger users, are aware of and actively engaging with other products and services similar to, or as a substitute for, Facebook’’ from a Facebook regulatory filing with the SEC, February 2013.

Teens and pre-teens use social media a lot. Recent figures from The Pew Institute’s Survey of Social Media Use suggest that more than 80% of teenagers and young adults are using social media, well above the internet average (67%). A 2010 study suggested that the average teen spend 110 minutes a day on social networks. Increasingly teens are using social media on mobile devices, that’s phones or iPod touches with a wi-fi connection, not sitting at the family’s computer, which makes parental supervision tougher.

But if teens and pre-teens are using social media a lot while deserting Facebook, where are they going?

Firstly, it’s important to understand that most teens continue to use Facebook, just not as much and for specific uses. Facebook is now full of adults. Can a teen really refuse a friend request from their grandparents or their aunts and uncles? In addition Facebook’s privacy record is questionable, which make teens leery. So while teens keep a Facebook account to post safe pictures and Instant Message with their families, they’re using other social media platforms to connect with friends.

Where are they going? Here are 5 of the most popular alternatives:

  1. Instagram: Yup, not just for hipsters to post pictures of their food, the popular photo sharing service is also a popular teen connection social media network. It allows teens a forum to share pictures taken with mobile devices and they can chat with their friends. Proper use of the privacy setting can make it feel private. Instagram is becoming the preferred platform for tweens, those under 13 year olds who are ‘officially’ excluded from most social networks.
  2. Snapchat: Launched in September 2011 and developed by 4 students from Stanford, Snapchat is a photo messaging app that allows users to take photos, record videos, add text and drawings, and send them to a list of friends. Senders determine how long messages can be viewed, up to 10 seconds, after which they are deleted from the recipient’s device and the company’s servers. The recipient list and the time limit make teens feel safer when posting pictures, but Snapchat insist that this is no guarantee of privacy, as many teens have discovered.
  3. Kik Messenger: Kik Messenger is a free mobile app that allows user to send and receive unlimited messages over wi-fi and cellular, bypassing a phone’s traditional text service. Being able to send and receive unlimited messages without charges is a boon for chatty teens. It also means that parents are less likely to know how much messaging is actually happening. Since a Kik account isn’t attached to a physical phone number, it’s more anonymous. It could be a fictitious username or a string of numbers and can be easily changed if needed. Users can also hold multiple accounts. All of this adds to a greater feeling of privacy for teens.
  4. Twitter: Over the past two years the number of 12-17 years olds on Twitter has doubled from 8% to 16%. Teens like twitter because they can be more anonymous. They don’t need to show their real name, can hold multiple accounts with various identities and can change their handle or account easily. They can also use simple privacy settings to protect tweets and send what amounts to a ‘group text’. Add to that being able to follow The Biebs and you can see the appeal 🙂
  5. Pheed: Pheed is a platform for sharing user-created content such as text, pictures, sound, video, and live broadcasts. Users subscribe to other’s channels and view uploaded content in real-time. They can ‘love’ or ‘heartache’ content, hashtag it and provide ‘pheedback,’ as well as share content from others. Pheed is popularized by endorsements from celebrities (Miley Cyrus, Paris Hilton, et al) who use it as a way to promote their content (MySpace anyone?). A huge advantage for Pheed users is they retain control of their uploaded content, unlike Facebook, and no one is allowed to use it or edit it without permission. Users also have the option to charge for their content, which Pheed hopes means the content is of higher quality.

The movement of teens and tweens away from Facebook is fueled by privacy concerns. They are gravitating towards services that will allow them develop a separate identity and connect with others on their own terms. Some of the social media platforms outlines above address some of those concerns, but don’t change the basic fact of social media. Teen users need to understand that the internet is always public all the time. There might be the appearance of privacy but that is an illusion and users must always assume that anything they post can be shared. Parents and educators need to help helps teens understand that the internet is public and never forgets .

Digital Citizenship, Free Speech and “The Brampton 9”

24 Nov


On Wednesday Ontario education was dragged in the shifting debate over students, privacy, free speech and the internet.

Nine students in Brampton, Ontario were told to stay home after The Dufferin-Peel District Catholic School Board found out they’d “used Twitter to make inappropriate comments about teachers” the previous weekend.

This is just the latest incident in a growing trend, as educators try to navigate the minefield that students and social media has become.

Some examples:

There are lots of new issues to consider. Here are three key ones:

1) Digital Citizenship: What responsibility do schools have to educate and prepare students for the “digital future” and how best do we do that?

Many students, used to texting, are missing the shift required when using social media. It’s easy to think that messages on twitter are part of a private conversation, when they aren’t. We need to help students understand that online communication is public and that means a different set of standards and expectations from private.

The consequences of not understanding this are significantly more than a few days suspension. People are increasingly judged personally and professionally by their digital footprint, losing jobs due to “inappropriate use of social media“, prevented from getting jobs because of past ‘digital mistakes’, or losing relationships. We need to help students understand this.

2) Free Speech: Can schools really restrict student’s free expression outside school? Should they?

In the Brampton case the comments and threats were seen as cyberbullying and so fit under the school’s responsibility to prevent such behaviour. But does it stop there? What about when a student makes statements that oppose the school or are controversial? What if students at a Catholic school tweet in support of abortion or anti-religious views? What then? What if a student’s online behaviour reflects badly on the school, but doesn’t involve the school in any way? If a student appropriately expresses support for an unpopular position does the school need to respond?

3) Deeper Causes: What does this all mean in the bigger picture?

Dana Boyd has pointed out that none of this behaviour is new. Students have “trashed” teachers and fantasized about blowing up the school for generations. The difference is that their conversations are now happening in social media, where it is recorded and displayed.

We have a window into students’ thoughts, attitudes and emotions about teachers and schools. What do we do with that? Do we ‘shoot the messenger’ and try to suppress those views? Or do we take advantage of it and ask the harder questions?

Why were these students so angry with/about their teachers? What does that mean? Will we listen when students have things to say that we don’t agree with or want to ask difficult questions? Will we honor their right to express their views while recognizing that they aren’t adults and will make many mistakes?

It’ll be interesting to see how this develops.

Why Khan Academy Is The Wrong Answer

21 Nov

“The problem with television lies not in the quality of resolution but the quality of programming”

Nicholas Negroponte “Being Digital”

Nicholas Negroponte is a genius and one of my heroes. He played a major role in creating the MIT Media Lab, Wired Magazine and the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program. His book “Being Digital” was transformative . Every time I turned a page I read something that blew my mind.

One revelation was Negroponte’s thoughts on the future of TV. In 1995 HDTV was on the horizon and millions of dollars were poured into increasing screen resolution. Negroponte pointed out that what stopped people from watching more TV wasn’t screen resolution, but lousy programming. They were innovating on the wrong problem.

Before we solve a problem it’s important to make sure we’re working on the right problem. We need to do the same when improving education.

Popular efforts to improve education are focusing on the wrong problem. Millions of dollars and hours of innovation are being spent on improving how we deliver content in an era when content matters less and how we interact with it matters more.


What do all these all have in common? They are one-way content delivery systems and large corporations stand to make a lot of money from them.

However, the weak link in our current learning paradigm isn’t content delivery. Traditional textbooks deliver content efficiently and effectively, and access to content is cheaper and easier than at any other time in history thanks to the internet. It’s only with the guidance of a skilled teacher and interaction with other learners that content becomes relevant and engaging. That’s what makes  good teaching important. Future education is better served by  investing in and developing tools that support discussion and interaction, not improving content delivery.

New uses of the internet (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) are social. Web 2.0 is about users interacting and collaborating. The power of YouTube is that users create, share and discuss their own videos. That’s what makes it unique. Using it to show lectures so students can watch their homework while playing World of Warcraft turns it into a TV channel, nothing more.

Promoting interaction and discussion is the most effective way to use technology to support learning. Social media promotes and extends discussion, which is far more effective and transformative than putting lectures on YouTube or textbooks on tablets will ever be.

Some Examples:

  • Google Hangouts facilitates face-to-face discussions when students can’t be in the same space. Use it for after school study groups or to connect remote learners working on the same topic.
  • Twitter allow students to discuss learning and share insights over mobile devices or asynchronously.
  • Skype can effectively and easily connect learners to experts in the field they are studying so they can ask questions and delve deeply into topics.

We need to focus on using and developing technological tools that make learning more interactive and collaborative. It’s is a more effective and innovative way of improving learning than simply finding new ways to deliver content.