Melissa Giddins

Exploring technology and literacy in education.

PLN in Action

I spend a lot of time talking to teachers at the beginning of their journey into the integration of technology and I promote the idea of a PLN (Personal/Professional Learning Network) to each and every one of them. As part of this I recommend getting on Twitter and following educators there. On Twitter, there is a constant flow of information and you can partake in more professional development in an hour on Twitter than you could at a full day workshop, both from the accumulation of resources and practical suggestions, and from the philosophical discussions.  Beyond that though is the ability to ask a question and receive suggestions, ideas and alternative resources. To illustrate this for all the newbies out there, let me show you an example of what happened yesterday.

I posted on Twitter that I was going to be using Google Docs with my students for the first time on Monday and that the principal would be watching, did anyone have any suggestions? hints? tips? Firstly, it got Retweeted by @sandynay to reach a wider audience than just the people who follow me:

 sandynay RT @melissagiddins: Going to use Google Docs for the first time with kids on Monday, with principal watching! Any hints? tips?

Then the responses started rolling in:

After receiving these, I put out a message saying that Google Docs was blocked, so maybe I would try wallwisher and did anyone have any tips or suggestions about that? The responses continued to roll in:

I then sent a tweet back explaining that the students would be brainstorming ideas and that normally I would just have the students write all their answers on the whiteboard but then they have to copy it into their books so I was looking for a digital solution to cut down time. The responses continued:

As you can see, this is now a flood of information, suggestions and alternative resources. I then said that I had forgotten how to do a filter check to see if students had access to a website. Two instant responses:

Then I checked out Nota that Pip had suggested, and asked whether I should create a private version rather than a public version.

I felt like I had received plenty of info and suggestions and said thanks to all those who had participated in the conversation. The responses, however, just kept rolling in, long after I had gone offline, and were waiting for me when I returned:

Not bad for a Saturday morning. I had access to numerable suggestions and resources, philosophical advice, past experiences and all of it answered when I needed an answer – on Saturday when I was doing the preparation, not on Monday when maybe I could make phone calls. For the record, here are the statistics:

  • 49 responses in total
  • 5 links to other websites with lists of alternative tools
  • When Google Docs was clearly unavailable the following suggestions were made: wallwisher, Nota, Lino-It, Sticky Notes, Wikis, IWBs, Moodle wikis, bubbl.us, Freemind and Moodle 2 wikis.

Really, people, that is incredible. Why be on Twitter? Why have a PLN? If this doesn’t demonstrate a practical application for both, then I don’t know what will convince you!

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May 16, 2010 Posted by | PLN | , | 1 Comment

Out of the flow

In a small departure from my usual type of post, I am going to add a personal reflection on a recent difficult period in my life. I began 2009 fired up and with much gusto. New school, new city, new opportunities. I grabbed everything with both hands, had many ideas and did all that came my way. By the end of the year I was stressed beyond belief. Burnt out? Quite possibly. I stopped engaging with the world outside of my job as I hunkered down in an effort to survive. I stopped tweeting, stopped blogging, stopped emailing and even stopped calling my friends. I didn’t really know how to describe what was going on for me and every minute on the phone was another minute that I got further behind in my work so it was just easier to isolate myself. In the January 2010 school holidays I made a concerted effort to recover, spending three weeks resting and building up my resilience again, a week reconnecting with all my friends and a week preparing for the new school year. I was excited, energised and enthusiastic about teaching and learning in 2010.

The first week of school was awesome. I felt like my old self again and was really looking forward to the term. That weekend I fell down, put my arms out to break my fall, and broke my elbow. My left arm went into a cast from the knuckles of my fingers to just under my armpit and my right hand and wrist were bandaged up to immobilise them completely. The right hand and wrist were immobilsed for three weeks and it took five or so weeks after that for all the pain to leave that hand, the left arm was in the cast for the rest of the term (10 weeks). The cast came off in the holidays and here and now, five weeks after the cast came off, I can finally type with two hands again. I have physio twice a week, can almost straighten my elbow and can now turn my hand over palm up with only a little pain.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I would like to talk about the impact of it. I did not realise how much I relied on being a two-handed individual to do my life. Never mind all the practical aspects, which were tediously difficult, there were others just as frustrating. Only being able to type with one hand was crippling in every sense of the word. I could only really use a mouse with any degree of proficiency and had to even ask someone to open the lid of my laptop for me as I was not able to open it one-handed. My iPhone came into its own during this time. I typed with one hand but found it so time-consuming that I once again stopped really communicating via text with anyone. Lots of phone calls now but very little interaction with technology. Twitter became frustrating as I would see great things that I wanted to talk about and add to Delicious or email to my staff or blog about and yet it caused me too much physical pain to do so.  As a result, I once again took myself out of the flow.

Now that I am back on deck with two hands that almost work the way they used to, I am discovering that not only does the pace of technology move with unrelenting speed but so too does the Twitter stream.  I am out of touch, on the edge of the flow instead of within it, and I find that my PLN are now talking to other people who don’t even know who I am, nor that I used to be in the flow.

I am uncharacteristically hesitant to jump in, self-conscious about tweeting and feeling that perhaps I no longer have anything relevant to blog about. From this, however, I have GOOD NEWS.

It has reminded me of how it feels to be a newbie ( a noob!), how all those teachers that I am encouraging to join Twitter and to blog, etc must feel as they venture forth into the unknown. It has reminded me of why I started my blog in the first place. It was so that all those teachers new to technology integration had a place to go to find out the basic, starting information.

My experience has led me to a greater sense of purpose in my blogging, a greater understanding of those who deal with physical handicap, hardship and inconveniences on a daily basis, and a better balance in my work and home life. I have learned to take the time to nurture my health, both mental and physical. I have learned that it is ok to say “no”, to sometimes miss out on things and to be out of the flow occasionally.

May 14, 2010 Posted by | Social Networking, twitter | , , | 1 Comment

Engaging with Social Networking

I read an interesting blog post today: Why You Have to Engage In Social Media, Even If You Don’t Want To: http://blog.asmartbear.com/blog/why-you-have-to-engage-in-social-media-even-if-you-dont-want.html.

This article is from a corporate/business world perspective however, it is still quite relevant to teachers, particularly to assist in understanding the role of social media/networking in the world.

As part of a presentation at school today I mentioned social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, and there was quite a bit of negative reaction to Twitter, whereas Facebook was seen to be a more ‘acceptable’ form of social networking.  In my experience (so far) Twitter has proven to be far more valuable as a professional resource. Facebook has allowed me to connect with people from my past and present, but it is very much about me and my life and harder to see it’s usefulness as a professional tool.  Twitter, on the otherhand, daily delivers new professional information to me quickly and easily. In fact, the link at the beginning of this post came from a tweet I received when I got home from work today. I receive information pertaining to my professional development, the latest news about education and little tidbits of information like the fact that Darcy is spending tomorrow looking at the DET beta blogging platform – prior to that tweet, I didn’t know that the DET was finally starting to think about providing us with a blogging platform – and I am very excited about that opportunity! I feel very ‘cutting edge’, thanks to Twitter. However, I would like to add that it is the people that you choose to follow that makes the experience either valuable or trivial.  I choose to get a dose of both in the tweets I receive, and I am enjoying the interaction with people I may not otherwise have access to or speak with in the ‘real’ world.

April 28, 2009 Posted by | Social Networking | , , , | 2 Comments

What is Twitter?

One thing that I have noticed about other people’s blogs, is that sometimes people can assume that you know about the technologies they are talking about. One thing that I want to do on my blog is make it a resource for those who are just starting out when it comes to integrating technology into their classroom teaching, working world and home life. As such, I will try to create ‘instruction’ posts fairly often, to give readers information at a basic level for those who need it!

I have created instructional posts for Delicious and wikis, so now it is time for one on Twitter, particularly owing to the number of posts on my blog that are talking about Twitter. So here is a fantastic little video from Common Craft that explains Twitter in plain English.

April 24, 2009 Posted by | Social Networking, twitter | | Leave a comment

Twitter Instructions

For all of you out there who have now decided that you want to check out Twitter, I have found two great resources for you. The first one is a handbook on how to use Twitter that was put together by a group of teachers in WA:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/14062777/Twitter-Handbook-for-Teachers

And the second is a great post on how to Retweet:

http://mashable.com/2009/04/16/retweet-guide/

Two great resources for the brave who decide to come twittering with me! Once you have a twitter account just click on Find People and type in: melissagiddins and then click on ‘follow’ and I will follow you right back.

April 21, 2009 Posted by | Social Networking, twitter | | Leave a comment

TED talks Twitter

This is a great video that I found on Kelli McGraw’s Blog, with the co-founder of Twitter, Evan Williams, explaining  a little of what Twitter is all about.

April 20, 2009 Posted by | Social Networking, twitter | , | Leave a comment

Teachers and Technology

The big question seems to be: how do we get teachers using technology in the classroom? My answer: get them using technology fullstop. I think that teachers who are not users of technology at home or in their workplace, not only lack the confidence to begin in front of a teenage audience (most of whom are more proficient with technology than the teacher) but also lack the ability to imagine ways to use it. Using different pieces of technology on a regular basis allows your mind to soar beyond the mechanics of it and into that creative and innovative place where fun, deep learning happens.

I am incensed that the government is giving laptops to students before teachers – how are the teachers supposed to build proficiency and get creative with how to use laptops in the classroom if they can’t get access to a laptop or computer of their own?

My brilliant brainwave for how to encourage the use of blogs and wikis in the classroom is deceptively simple: I have created a wiki for the programs for my faculty.  This will allow us to work collaboratively, will allow the teachers to get used to using a wiki as part of their working world, and give them space to imagine how to use it in the classroom while receiving resources and instruction. This blog is also part of the plan, as I hope to encourage my faculty to commence writing their own blogs, or at the very least, commenting on mine.

So now I have one week left of holidays to put my plan into action – I need to flesh out the wiki and have it ready for fun-filled wiki adventuring on our Staff Development Day.

More thoughts on teachers and technology – encourage them to join twitter, communicate by email, start a blog of their own and go searching through the videos on teacher tube (http://www.teachertube.com). None of these things are solely about using technology in the classroom – but all of them lead there.

P.S. If you’re wondering what the heck a wiki is, then go to http://www.teachertube.com and type wiki into the search bar. There you will find some fantastic videos that will explain quite simply what a wiki is all about, as well as some examples of wikis at use in the classroom. As a first look, I recommend two videos: one called ‘What is a PBWiki?’ and “Wikis in Plain English’. (I would embed them in this post if I could make the darn thing work! lol)

April 20, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 3 Comments

Searching WordPress for Twitter in the Classroom

I was reading a post at the wordpress blog about how to search on wordpress – very useful information! They have updated their search engine so that when you search on wordpress you get the very latest posts on that topic as the first listed on the search results. Wanting to test this fabulous idea, I typed “twitter in the classroom” into the search engine, and lo and behold, my post was at the top of the search results! While there however, I found some great other posts on using Twitter in the classroom:

http://carfamily.wordpress.com/2009/03/22/twitter-in-the-classroom/

http://4rxt.wordpress.com/2009/04/11/information-on-using-twitter-in-education-and-business/

http://castingoutnines.wordpress.com/2008/03/01/twitter-in-the-classroom/

The amount of information that is at your fingertips through these searches is truly amazing. You need never reinvent the wheel or try anything alone ever again! Just search it on wordpress, twitter and google and you will find yourself flooded with information (in all likelihood, way too much).  Finding the time to do the research about what others have done before you is the real trick!

April 20, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Twitter in the Classroom

In the last two weeks of Term 1, I decided to experiment with twittering with students. The dangers inherent in this made it all a bit daunting, but considering how very public twitter is, I decided that it would make me very accountable and in some ways perhaps be ‘safer’ as I had many witnesses to every communication.

The idea behind the experiment was that it would help students to learn to be succinct – capturing an idea or thought in 140 characters or less.  With the move towards reducing the amount of words students write in HSC exams, students need to learn how to dispense with waffle and to encapsulate an idea in a succinct manner. Students also struggle to put together a thesis statement under exam conditions – given only a few minutes with an unseen question, it is very tempting to skip the planning process altogether and just start writing their essay.  Students sometimes struggle with creating a thesis under these conditions with only a few minutes to plan, and every minute that they take in the planning process, takes away time for them to write their essay. The art of being succinct is becoming ever more important for our senior students. Most of them have Facebook accounts and complete status updates on their facebook pages so I was thinking about twitter as a way to combine their current social networking with learning a new and useful ability for school. What better way than learning to express themselves in 140 characters or less on twitter?

The biggest issue: the DET portal does not allow Twitter (it is a blocked site) and therefore all of this had to be done at home for both the students and myself. This meant having school infringe on my homelife in a big way, and raised questions of equity in that not all students may have access to the necessary computing and internet requirements at home.

Now for the current results of this little experiment.

Bottom line: It didn’t work the way I thought it would.

I didn’t take into consideration the fact that I can’t ‘group’ my posts so they only go to my students. Thus, every post I tried to send to them went out to all my followers on twitter. This made me ridiculously self-conscious about what I said to the students, and paranoid about irritating such fabulous twitterers as Darcy and Lyndon who deigned to follow my tweets.

Thankfully, Darcy was patient, understanding, and as always, provided me with a possible solution: edmodo (www.edmodo.com). Next project for the holidays now is setting up an edmodo account ready to start with my students next term, where the experiment will continue, just on a different platform.

As for the actual twittering…

I suggested that my Year 11 Extension English class, currently studying ‘Dracula’ and its appropriations in popular culture, use twitter to consolidate their ideas about the text prior to their exams in Week 11 of Term 1. Of the 10 students in that class, 9 students joined twitter and began to ‘follow’ me and use twitter.  They struggled to know what to say without having any kind of stimulus, so I tweeted questions at them – which of course then went out to everyone that follows me, not just them.  I tried prefacing my tweets with ‘Year 11,’ so that it was like addressing a letter just to them, in the hope that the others following me would understand that this was a tweet that was not for all. The students began responding to the stimulus questions but it was a bit shallow and not having the effect that I was looking for. Then, students began using it as a forum to ask questions about the upcoming exams. I had to be extremely careful then about making sure that they did not have information that the rest of the class did not have  – equity, fairness, validity – all these had to be taken into consideration. The students started telling their friends about twitter and soon there were a number of Year 11 students on twitter that were not in my class – and then some of them started asking me questions about the exams as well. So now I am talking to students that I do not have a relationship established with in the classroom, and that barely know me due to me starting at the school in Term 1. The dangers here now were palpable. It would be far too easy for my words to be misconstrued and they also started asking questions about the exams.

The first thing I want to say is that I survived, and continue to survive, the experience. My worst fears were not realised and these incredibly intelligent, well-behaved and considerate students used twitter appropriately and with understanding when I couldn’t give more information. The very public nature of twitter helped, as they could read what I had said to others and that assisted everyone to have more information and to understand the limits of what I could say.  The Year 11 Extension English students made a real effort to engage with the process, and I am now going to use edmodo with this class to continue this experiment further, as they are obviously keen to use technology, social networking applications and willing to interact at home as well as at school. I need however, to make sure that the 10th student will also engage with edmodo – it will be all or nothing at all. Also, must check that edmodo works through the DET portal so we can work on it at school and eliminate some of the equity issues.

Being a particularly insane person, I also gave the offer to my Year 12 Advanced English class to twitter about ‘Citizen Kane’, prior to their assessment task in Week 11. With the task being an unseen in-class task, it was similar to the experience that Year 11 were undergoing in preparing for their exams, so my reasoning was that they may need to also learn the art of being succinct in exam conditions. This was less successful in terms of take-up. Of the 19 students in my class, only 10 took up the offer to follow me on twitter. They did not tweet about Citizen Kane at all, just used the opportunity to ask questions about the assessment task, which of course brought up all those questions about equity and validity again.

Out of the 22 students at school that are now following me on Twitter, only Year 11 really used it for what I had originally intended. Now it simply seems to provide access to me so that they can ask questions about texts and tasks. What do the students think? Some think it’s lame, some think it’s fun, and some have signed up and never really used it. But it’s early days yet, so we will see where it goes from here.

April 19, 2009 Posted by | Social Networking, twitter | , | 3 Comments

Twitter

I started using Twitter in 2008 though very sporadically, and took it up again in early 2009 to really see what it would be like to have twitter in my life on a regular basis. I downloaded twhirl (www.twhirl.org) which is an application that brings my twitter updates to me on my desktop and means I don’t have to keep checking my actual twitter webpage. Very useful tool that actually made twittering considerably easier.

I find twitter for me has opened me up to new sources of information. By following Darcy Moore (darcy1968) and Lyndon Sharp (lyndons) I am constantly receiving new ideas and information regarding social networking and technology in education. Through them I have been exposed to a new world, others to ‘follow’ and many information websites and thoughts. I feel like I am just grasping Web 2.0 or Education 2.0 and they are already talking about Education 3.0. It is online professional development and mental world expansion in 140 characters or less!

Don’t get me wrong, not every tweet is mind-boggling useful, just that they add up over days and weeks to introduce new and wonderful ideas and information. I have today joined two ‘twibes’ (‘books’ and ‘englishteachers’) which will be another useful experiment to see what riches can be yielded.

The bottom line is that so far the twitter at home experiment is working for me. I encourage others to join twitter (www.twitter.com) and begin to learn the fine art of conversing in 140 characters or less. For those of you in education, I recommend you follow Darcy and Lyndon (their twitter names are already stated above) and Maralyn Parker (Marpar) who writes the education column for the Daily Telegraph for all the latest in the news regarding education. Then, tell your fellow teachers, friends, etc and start to ‘follow’ each other. You can make the experience as mundane or as rich as you wish – it’s your two cents’ worth after all.

You are more than welcome to follow me on twitter, you can find me as: melissagiddins, but I warn you now that I am not one of the mind-boggling and profound twitterers!

April 19, 2009 Posted by | Social Networking, twitter | , | Leave a comment