Friday, August 13, 2010

Learning about Social Media

Last week I had the privilege of taking a course on social media in education, which was taught by our district's technology coordinator, Dani Herro (@Daniherro). As a little aside, we could not be more lucky to have Dani on our team. Recently receiving her doctorate from Madison, Dani travels the country to speak to educators about the opportunities that technology offers us and our students. Much of her work focuses on gaming in schools, which consequently became a large component of the course.

Enrollment in the course was quite diverse. Of the twelve people enrolled, half were administrators and half were teachers. Experience with social media was split as equally, with one group being comfortable with Facebook, Twitter, etc. and the other being native to these technologies. The course itself focused more on the trends in social media and the implications for K-12 education and less on the actual tools themselves. By doing this, the learning we experienced will outlast the shelf life of a particular fad or tool.

Having explored numerous social media tools and participating in Twitter over the past summer, much of what was discussed in class was review for me. That said, however, I did take away quite a bit, both in terms of stated and unstated objectives for the course. The following list summarizes some major concepts I learned:

  • Students of today's high schools are wired differently than I am. Technology has altered the way that modern students' brains are wired. Students can switch between tasks and make connections between ideas at staggering speeds. The problem, however, is that our style of education has not changed to meet the needs of these kids. If we fail to do so, we will make ourselves irrelevant in a very short period of time.

  • Technology must be a means to an end, not the end in and of itself. I love Twitter. I love my PLN. I think everyone should use Twitter and use it regularly. That said, however, if I approach my staff this fall and try to push Twitter on them because its "cool" will lead to a miserable failure. Instead, I need to seek out commonly agreed upon problems in our school and then match the appropriate tool to solve that problem. We all know we struggle with communicating with our kids; therefore, we can use Twitter to solve that problem.

  • Gamers are actually quite brilliant. We spent a lot of time looking at massively multi-player games in this class. I had always thumbed my nose at people who spent hours playing games like WoW (World of Warcraft for the laymen). After a more careful inspection of these games, however, I now realize just how complex they can be. Players, who are often our students, solve incredibly complex problems and do so by collaborating with peers and older adults from around the world. These games provide rapid, timely and specific feedback on learning in ways that we can only dream about in the classroom. As educators, we have much to learn from these games in terms of assessment and pedagogy.

  • Use of technology in your personal life does not always translate to your professional life. Many of the teachers and administrators had experience using social media tools for personal reasons, but when it came to using them in education, there was far less application than I would have thought. The idea that Facebook might have a place in the classroom was novel for even some of our younger folks. This brings me to a corollary of this concept: younger teachers are not necessarily better at using technology in the classroom than older teachers. While novice teachers may be more comfortable with social media, it does not stand to reason that they actually use it to improve learning. This is an important point to remember for future professional development.
The learning that occurred in this class will launch new initiatives throughout our district this year. I for one feel more confident with the projects I plan on undertaking this year. I cannot thank Dani enough for sharing her knowledge and wisdom with us!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Twitter Training for Teachers

Now that I have my mind wrapped around the "whys" of using Twitter in education, I need to begin thinking about how I will share this with my staff and how I will support their use. Too often in the past, we have asked teachers to do things that they have not received proper training for, or that they feel uncomfortable with. I do not want this to happen with Twitter. The following is my current thinking about an initial introduction to Twitter during the first few professional development days of the school year. I welcome feedback on my fact, I request it!

To begin with, I think much of our first days will be spent talking about technology. Last year's staff survey indicated that this was an area of concern, so it seems natural to begin here. My objectives for the session are:
  • Teachers will understand that Twitter is a valuable tool in education.
  • Teachers will know the basic vocabulary associated with Twitter, such as tweet, hashtag, follower, etc.
  • Teachers will be able to create a Twitter account and tweet to their followers.
  • Teachers will be able to create backchannel discussions using hashtags.
Allotting about an hour and half for the session, I would like to begin with a pre-assessment, something that will give me an idea of the prior knowledge teachers bring to the table. My initial thought is a graphic organizer in four columns: what I already know about Twitter, what I learned about Twitter, what I still want to learn about Twitter and how I will apply my new learning in my classroom. Teachers will start with the first column independently, then group up to share their ideas with their peers. Hopefully this process will help me see how much of the second objective I should cover and how many teachers have already completed the third objective.

After we have discussed the results of the pre-assessment, I need to share some important information. Most importantly, the three uses of Twitter that I discussed in my previous post. In addition, I will need to address concerns that people may have. My initial thought is that people will worry about things like cyber-bullying, equity of access and control of content. I will take these issues head-on; they are real concerns and there is no point to try to hide them. Throughout the course of my presentation, I need to keep the focus on the amazing things that Twitter can do for us, from the problems it will help us solve to the instructional opportunities it creates.

Concluding the presentation, I will ask the teachers to fill in the next two columns of the graphic organizer and discuss it with their peers. At this point, another formative assessment is in order. I will ask the staff to move to one side of the room if they have used Twitter before or go to the other side if they have not. For those who have not, I will further ask them to divide: those who feel comfortable to independently explore Twitter and those who do not.

This now gives me three groups, homogeneously grouped by readiness. They will complete the following learning activities:
  • New Users w/o Confidence: We will move this group to a computer lab and walk them through the basics of creating an account, following people and sending out tweets. The major thrust will be to make sure these users feel confident tweeting information to their class. Further professional development will be offered later to help them use Twitter for more instructional reasons.
  • New Users w/ Confidence: These users will be asked to go back to their classrooms, create accounts and find 20 people to follow. I will also ask them to tweet with yet-to-be-determined hashtag one instructional use of Twitter.
  • Veteran Users: We will move to a different computer lab to explore the use of backchannels. I will use a website like Today's Meet to create a chatroom and hashtag for a discussion on instructional uses of Twitter. I will have compiled relevant bookmarks on Diigo, ask teachers to explore them and tweet their ideas with the hashtag we created.
My goal is that the result of this differentiated professional development will be that all teachers will feel comfortable using Twitter in some capacity, with a subgroup using it for more advanced purposes. As the school year progresses, I hope to offer additional professional development opportunities to expose teachers to increasingly sophisticated uses, especially the creation of a PLN.

So what do you think? What am I missing? How can I make this better?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Why Twitter?

Since I've started to share my ideas for using Twitter at OHS, this is the constant question that has been asked by colleagues, friends, family members and students. People hear the word "Twitter" and immediately imagine a stream of banal comments which couldn't possibly have anything to do with education. Therefore, I must be able to clearly articulate the purpose of using this tool at school and why it supersedes other options at our disposal.

Twitter will be used at Oconomowoc High School for three principle reasons:
  1. As a tool for staff and administration to communicate with students;
  2. As an instructional tool for teachers in the classroom;
  3. As a component of our staff's professional development.
Communication: This past year's survey data illuminated the vacuum of communication that exists at our school. Teachers tell of how students know little about what goes on outside of their immediate context. Announcements were at one time our primary system of delivering information to students; yet experience proved to us that most students couldn't hear, or didn't listen, to these anyway. There has to be a better way.

I believe that Twitter will allow us to deliver relevant information directly to students on a real-time basis. Students will elect to follow their teachers, club advisers and coaches for instant reminders and announcements. In addition, each student will follow their class (i.e. @OHSClass2011), which will provide them with information tailored specifically for their needs. In this way, students will have a customized announcement system that will connect them with all relevant information and allow them to access it 24 hours a day!

Instruction: Over the past several weeks, I have been following some very innovative teachers on Twitter (@Web20classroom and @TeachPaperless, for example). These educators use a variety of Web 2.0 tools and social media to enrich the learning experiences they create for their kids. Beyond just being engaging, teachers are finding ways to allow their kids to create instead of just consume, connect instead of isolate.

Twitter is one such tool that has limitless possibilities in the hands of imaginative teachers. Picture a back-channel conversation occurring while students in a history class watch a video on the Civil War. The teacher, posing a few questions at the beginning of the video, follows the hashtag and uses it as a type of formative assessment. After the video, the teacher can focus discussion on points of confusion or interest, based upon the data they gleamed from the back-channel. Think of how this transforms the role of student from a passive viewer to an active one that interacts with the content. This is just one of countless examples of how Twitter can enhance our classroom experience.

Professional Development: Perhaps the most exciting possibility for Twitter in our school is what it could do for our professional development. While we have worked hard to differentiate our professional learning, we still aren't there yet. Too many teachers feel disconnected from what we are trying to do, especially those in the fine arts and physical education. Beyond that, professional development is an event, something that occurs every other month on a half day of school. This is totally backwards.

Instead, professional development should be an ongoing process, something that is done daily, both inside and outside of school. Twitter allows for that. Teachers can elect to follow educators from around the world, to share resources, ask questions and participate in collegial conversations. In this fashion, professional development is whatever you make of it!

Hopefully this line of thinking makes some sense. The next step is to develop a plan to share this with staff and to support teachers in their use of Twitter. Look for ideas in upcoming posts.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Beginning...

So here it is, my first ever blog post! I've sat down at this computer a hundred times over the past week, only to be "distracted" by some other banal task that allows me to avoid doing this. What allowed me to finally begin was the realization that no one will probably ever read this thing! That said, however, it is important for me to establish the purpose of this blog in the first place.

As I enter my third year as associate principal of Oconomowoc High School (second year, according to the state of Wisconsin, but that's a story for another time), I must begin work on my Professional Development Plan. For those of you unfamiliar with licensing laws in the Dairy State, educators must complete a five year plan of professional growth, centered on a goal for improving student achievement, and that is tied to the standards of our vocation. If you're interested, my plan can be found here:
PDP 2010

Essentially, the main thrust of my plan is to harness the power of technology to foster a professional learning community at my school. We have a highly talented staff at OHS; the best professional development we can offer them is to connect educators with each other to share ideas. Time is often the limiting factor, however. Technology, more specifically Web 2.0 applications, offer a way around this obstacle. By leveraging the power of Twitter, NING, social bookmarking, Google Apps, etc, I hope to assist teachers in developing meaningful professional networks that grow their instructional capacity. As a secondary effect, I also hope that as teachers gain fluency in these technologies for the their professional life, they begin using them in their classroom as instructional tools. Some part of my plan will be dedicated to this, as well.

So, where does this blog come into play? I plan to use it as documentation of my professional growth; in addition, it will be a reflective tool for me to evaluate my work. In the rare event that someone actually reads this blog, I hope that they can provide me feedback and ideas to improve my efforts.

Look for the next several posts to concern the training and implementation of Twitter as a tool for professional development and student engagement at OHS. From there, who knows where this will go?