Tuning Out

Fingers in EarsSometimes you just need to take time off and check out.

I can’t remember the last time I checked Twitter and tried to read most of the tweets. I can’t remember the last time I checked out one of my favorite blogs. I haven’t written a whole lot lately, either. And all of that is OK because I think sometimes we need to take breaks from all the information overload.

I like to be a part of the edublogosphere and keep up with my colleagues and friends on Twitter. But sometimes it can be overwhelming, and the sheer volume of information can be daunting. So, I have been on an information sabbatical, and it has been wonderful. I have learned how to make soap, and it has become a satisfying, engaging, and interesting hobby for me. I have been reading a little. I watched the entire first season of Doctor Who and a few episodes of the second, so now I’m totally hooked. I have been busy with the start of school in my new position.

The move from Georgia to Massachusetts was mentally and physically exhausting, and I think I just needed some time to recharge my batteries. I didn’t unplug right away, but I would say it’s been about a month since I really kept up with all the social media I usually use. I am beginning to feel recharged. I think once I get my bearings at my new school and find myself settling into the routine of the school year, I will be able to engage in social media again. As for right now, if you’re wondering where I’ve been, well, here I am. I am not the kind of person to announce a hiatus or quit altogether, but I recognized I needed to tune out the cacophony for just a little while.

It’s been a wonderful vacation, and I know in my heart I’ve missed some really important things, but stepping back can be important, too, and I think many of us hear the message that we need to be continually engaged in the conversation or people won’t read our blogs or will not follow us on Twitter. I decided not to worry about that a long time ago. If my blog is good, people will visit when I post. If they are looking for quantity, they probably won’t. If what I tweet is helpful and interesting, people will follow, and I don’t need to worry about losing folks who think I don’t tweet enough. This is great advice to anyone who wonders how to juggle it all. The fact is, I’m not sure anyone can. You have to set priorities based on your goals. Right now, my goal is to settle into my job and enjoy my new home. So far, so good. I will be in touch soon.

Image via Roxie’s World

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What is a Connected Educator?

August is Connected Educator Month.

What is a Connected Educator?

Let me start with a reflection about my children. My children use YouTube constantly to learn how to do things. Tonight at dinner, my daughter Maggie told me how she used YouTube to learn how to create a flash dress up game. Keep in mind she opened Flash for the first time maybe a couple of weeks ago, if that. She used the tutorial to create the game. I frustrated myself trying to do anything in Flash for most of a semester in grad school. Anyway, Maggie’s game looks awesome, and it works great. Maggie knows how to leverage her personal learning network—in this case, YouTube—to learn how to do something. That is how our kids are learning. They are curating and collecting resources that help them learn to do what they want to learn to do.

Maggie is not too different from the students in your classroom. Your students are connected. They can’t remember a time when everyone wasn’t connected. Teachers should be lifelong learners, and one of the things teachers should learn is how to get connected to other teachers. One of the best ways to connect to other educators is through professional learning networks, or PLN’s.

My favorite professional learning network is Twitter. I recently acquired an iPad and use the apps Zite and Flipboard to discover stories that are relevant to me. I also follow many educators on Twitter and group them according to various interests (e.g. “readers,” “tech,” or “writers”) so I can quickly check in on their latest tweets. I participate in #engchat, a weekly Twitter discussion of issues related to teaching English. Many folks share items they feel will interest English teachers with the hashtag #engchat even when a chat isn’t scheduled, thereby making it easier for English teachers who follow #engchat to find their tweets.

Another way I connect with my personal learning network is through this blog. I post about whatever is on my mind, and if people are so inclined, they share the post with others and comment on the post. I reply to their comments, and we have a conversation about the issue. I first realized the power of this kind of connection when I decided to read Understanding by Design several years ago. I began reflecting on my reading here, and before I knew it, there was a loosely structured book club, a wiki for sharing units, and a connection to Grant Wiggins.

If you are looking for a way to connect with educators, my suggestion would be to try using Twitter. Locate good educators to follow. It’s OK to lurk at first, but when you feel comfortable, you should begin conversing with the teachers you follow and posting links to resources you like. Participate in an education chat on Twitter. Jerry Blumengarten has a great list of hashtags and Twitter chats that educators will find helpful. You’re sure to find one that interests you. As you begin to use Twitter more, you might want to download a Twitter client or use an in-browser client like HootSuite. Most clients allow you to save searches for hashtags so you can easily check in on your favorites.

Here is Will Richardson on personal learning networks (PLN’s):

YouTube Preview Image

Here is a great collection of books for connected educators. Check them out!

If you’ve been waiting for the right time to figure out all of this Web 2.0 connectedness your tech-savvy colleagues are talking about, what better time than Connected Educator Month? You can follow the Connected Educators Project on Twitter at @edcocp, and follow their hashtag #ce12.

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History and Twitter

I’ve heard many people say they think the subject with which is hardest to integrate technology is history. Nothing could be further from the truth if you have a little imagination! The folks at The History Press proved that yesterday with their live Twitter commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic. Followers could read events live from the viewpoints of passengers, Captain Smith, officers, crew members, and nearby ships in real time as the ship approached its doom. This kind of idea would be great for commemorating any historical event. Students could do the research necessary to plan such a Twitter event and select a date (an anniversary would be great, if possible) to hold the event, then drum up interest and build excitement as the event approaches.

A project like this has a built-in authentic audience. Students need to think about the audience who will read their tweets and draft the tweets in advance. They would need to find out, if they can, the exact timeline for the historical event. Students can feel experience history “live.” I know that as an audience member, I felt like a part of the event, almost like I was watching it happen. I was glued to the Twitter feed. Creating a Twitter commemoration would give students intimate knowledge of the historical event and even allow them to take on roles as major players in the event. I can’t think of a better way to learn about history. After all, isn’t that what made Oregon Trail so much fun?

Obviously, this kind of project has other implications. A book’s events could be reenacted for a reading/English class, for instance. More ideas for integrating technology in history to come. Exciting stuff!

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Cool Tools: YoruFukurou, The Tweeted Times

Lately Twitter has been my main go-to tool for learning and connecting. It’s not a new tool by any means, but I don’t think I’ve ever made as much use of it as I have lately; even when I haven’t tweeted much, I have followed lots of interesting folks and learned a great deal.

I wanted to share two tools that make using Twitter easier for me. The first is a Mac app called YoruFukurou that I first heard about from Audrey Watters on Twitter. “YoruFukurou” is Japanese for “NightOwl.” Ever since Nambu pretty much gave up the ghost, I had been looking for an app that was as clean as Nambu and also gave me an unread messages count for my lists as well as my main Twitter feed. The unread messages aspect was crucial, and other clients just don’t have it (for some reason). YoruFukurou actually has Nambu beat. As far as I know, the creators still have no plans to develop YoruFukurou for Windows, but if you have a Mac, and you’ve been looking for a good Twitter client, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The other tool, much newer to me, I found via Danah Boyd on Twitter. Boyd linked to a post on the First Five Tumblr in which she shared the first five websites she visits each day. I had toyed with the idea of creating a Twitter paper before, but I wasn’t sure about it. On a lark, I tried out The Tweeted Times, since it was on Boyd’s list, and I love it. I can set it up to tweet my top stories daily at a time of my choosing. Also, I can set it to tweet my top story whenever it changes. It figures out what my top stories are based on what the people I follow—my “friends”—tweet, and what my “friends of friends” tweet. On one hand, this might be kind of risky because it relies a bit on the wisdom of the crowd, but if you follow smart people, it seems to work. The advantage of having a Tweeted Times is that I don’t miss some stories I previously might have missed. I can also tweet links from the stories within the paper itself. I can subscribe to others’ papers, too. I suppose that Paper.li works much the same way. Can anyone who has used both give me a comparison of features? I’m trying to decide if it’s worthwhile to go ahead and sign up for both (but I don’t want to annoy Twitter followers either).

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You (Yes, You!) Need to be on Twitter

I recently encountered this article via Twitter (interestingly enough). The sentence that jumps out me is this one: “One assistant principal who refused to speak on the record said he believed any school personnel using social media were ‘exercising poor judgment.’”

I find that statement to be dangerously short sighted. Are there teachers who use social media in a way that exhibits poor judgment? Sure. Does it then follow that any educator using social media is exercising poor judgment because a few people make bad choices? I really hope this administrator was taken out of context (which happens when folks are interviewed). I couldn’t disagree more. I think it’s important for educators to be on Twitter and to use social media in order to learn, connect to other educators, and share resources. If you haven’t found social media useful for these purposes, then you’re not using it right or you’re not following the right people.

The latest issue of NCTE’s publication Council Chronicle has a great article about how teachers are harnessing social media to develop professional learning communities and quotes the likes of Donalyn Miller, Franki Sibberson, Ryan Goble, and Jim Burke. They and the other teachers quoted in the article all attest to the power social media has had to help them connect with and learn from other teachers. One important aspect of Twitter that the article (surprisingly) left out is the weekly Twitter chat #engchat, led by Meenoo Rami. If you are an English teacher and participate in #engchat, I defy you not to learn something. English teachers are not alone. Other disciplines have scheduled chats, too. Jerry Blumengarten has a great collection of education chat links on his website.

Twitter is my favorite technology tool at the moment. I find that you only really get out of it what you put into it. The more I interact with others on Twitter and the more I share ideas, the more I learn from others. I recently reached the conclusion that educators should be on Twitter, especially administrators. Twitter is a great vehicle for administrators in particular to share the exciting things going on in their schools and be transparent about their thinking. Some great examples of administrators on Twitter whom I admire a great deal are Chris Lehmann and Eric Sheninger. One of the things I like about both Chris and Eric is that Twitter is not just about work for them either. Their personalities shine through in their tweets. I know, for instance, that Chris is an avid sports fan and has really cute sons in addition to being a passionate leader and educator.

I will freely admit that before I joined Twitter and began using it regularly, I didn’t understand the point. At first, I think it’s OK to lurk, but I don’t think you’ll get it, not really, until you start tweeting yourself. At least, I didn’t get it. And here I am, about four years after I wrote that first post about not understanding Twitter, trying to convince you to join Twitter, too.

Another good reason to be on Twitter is to model its effective use for our students. Twitter is a fairly public space. Students look to their teachers to be role models and mentors in the classroom, but we can also do that through social media like Twitter. I recently had a discussion about this issue with a student. On the one hand, he argued that he didn’t feel it was fair to “get in trouble” for things written in online forums like Twitter, but I explained that if he didn’t feel what he said on sites like Twitter couldn’t also be broadcast over the school intercom or plastered on a billboard, then he shouldn’t say it. I know several of my current students are on Twitter, and I admit I don’t follow them. I do follow some former students, and I think they are being very smart about using Twitter to think out loud and share their projects. Think about how effective a teaching tool it would be if your school’s principal or headmaster was a presence on Twitter and that students and parents followed the school’s administration. A smart administrator modeling effective use of Twitter could be a powerful teaching tool.

So what do you think? Should educators be on Twitter? Why? Why not?

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Reluctance and Technology Integration

One of the questions I am often asked in interviews for technology positions is how I would approach dealing with faculty members who are reluctant to embrace or integrate technology in their lessons.

First, I think it’s an excellent question, and my answer to it says a lot about how well I would be able to work with faculty. It is a question to which any good technology integration specialist should have a good answer at the ready. Before I tell you what I think, however, it bears saying that I think a healthy skepticism of technology is not a bad thing. I have seen tools adopted simply because they will add technology to a lesson. If the only reason you’re using technology is to say you’re using technology, then you’re not truly integrating technology. Your faculty and students will see through it. I have been teaching fourteen years, which is long enough to see a few trends come and go. Technology has to be more than just flash. It needs to add something to the lesson (or whatever you are doing with it), and if it doesn’t, perhaps you don’t need to use it.

I personally feel technology has two propositions to answer before it should be adopted for integration in a lesson/class/school/activity:

  1. Will it make it easier to do what I’m trying to do?
  2. Will using it increase engagement?

Having said that, sometimes a learning curve is wrongly interpreted as making something more difficult to do. We need to be willing to invest the time into learning how to use the tools properly sometimes, but just because they are not immediately intuitive does not mean they are making everything more difficult and need to be chucked. One case in point is the evolution of sharing handouts with students. I actually have used one of those blue ditto machines. We still had one at one of my schools, and we had to use it if we did not turn in our photocopying with enough notice for the secretary who did our photocopying (a practice that is looking more and more attractive to me for reasons folks who work with me will understand completely). The ditto machine produced handouts that were serviceable, but damp and blurry. I only used it as a last resort. The photocopier produced nice handouts, but required me to hand in assignments early to the secretary, or, in other schools where I have worked, provide my own paper and assemble the packets and hole-punch and staple them, not to mention the time spent making the copies. Now sharing documents is as easy as creating and sharing a Google Doc or uploading a document to a content management system. The students have the freedom to print or even edit the document as needed, but they can also store it on their device using their personal file management system. Obviously, there is a learning curve involved in switching to Google Docs over a more familiar word processor (not much of one, but still), and users need to learn how to share the documents with others. Learning how to upload documents to a content management system also involves a small learning curve. Initially, learners who have a little more difficulty learning how to use new tools might balk at being asked to use Google Docs or a content management system, but once they learn how to use the tools and have been convinced that the tools are making their jobs easier, they will not be reluctant to adopt the technology and may even be your biggest evangelists.

On the other hand, sometimes using technology is not necessarily going to make our jobs easier, but will increase engagement. A good example of a project that fits this criteria is a recent lesson I did with our social studies department on how to use PowerPoint. I am told that the students were reluctant to come to my lesson because they didn’t think they would learn anything. They had, after all used PowerPoint before. I, like you, have seen many ineffective PowerPoints over the years, and I have actively sought presentation mentors who have taught me about creating more effective PowerPoints. I shared these lessons with the students. In essence, I taught the students:

  • You are essential to the presentation. If you make yourself inessential because you put all of your presentation text on your slides, you have no reason to be standing in front of the room.
  • Your slides are visual aids for your presentation and should therefore be light on text and heavy on images.
  • Go beyond the default fonts and prepackaged themes.
  • Give credit for using images and try to find images licensed under Creative Commons.
  • Practice your presentation in front of your mirror, your dog, your parents. If your teacher lets you, put cues on index cards, but you shouldn’t read from the cards any more than you should read from PowerPoint slides.

The lessons went very well. The students asked great questions. I was impressed by what I saw them creating in class. They shared at the beginning of the lesson when I asked how they feel when they see a PowerPoint on the screen that they associated PowerPoints with boredom.

Creating good PowerPoints definitely does not make your job easier. In fact, it is easier to create a bad PowerPoint with all your speech on the prepacked theme slides and few images (or perhaps the odd clip art image). But these PowerPoints are not engaging for your audience. In order to make your presentation more engaging, you will need to do some work. Most people who have seen a great presentation will say that it was worth the extra work to increase audience engagement.

I was thrilled when I received this feedback from one of the social studies teachers about the students’ presentations:

Just wanted to give thanks to Dana Huff for helping with a very successful technology integration project for 9th grade CP2.  Dana helped to teach my students how to utilize MS Power Point to create a dynamic and interesting visual accompaniment to a presentation.  My students took Dana’s lesson to heart and have come up with some compelling visual aids.

Dana spent two class periods with my students teaching them how to use the Power Point software itself and also reviewing best practices for using Power Point in the context of a 10-15 minute presentation.

Thank you to Dana for all of your help!  The students greatly benefited from the time they spent with you!

Another project that required more work but definitely increased engagement was a QR Code project I helped our art teacher with. Creating and editing student videos was certainly more work for the art teacher, and uploading the videos and creating QR Codes that linked with them was also time-consuming. Hanging up the art and calling it a day would have been easier, but putting the QR Codes next to the art work so that the art displays could be more interactive made the art show more engaging for the participants.

I think the best way to approach a teacher who is reluctant to integrate technology is to share a specific idea and be willing to do some convincing that the idea will either make their jobs easier or make what they do more engaging (for them, their students, whoever). After that, you must be willing to support that teacher’s learning with professional development. The worst thing you can do is give a teacher a tool and tell them to figure out how to use it. It won’t be used because it is much easier to just keep doing things the same way. Which is essentially what Tom Whitby said on Twitter the other day that prompted me to retweet:

So in the interest of learning more about what others thought, I tweeted the question “What do you do at your school to encourage teachers who are reluctant to embrace & integrate technology?” and added the hashtag #edtech in the hopes of attracting answers from folks who don’t follow me, but keep track of that hashtag. Here are some of the responses I received:Gary Anderson

Allison BerryhillAbbey WilsonAbbey WilsonDeej LucasShervette MillerSome definite themes emerge in the responses:

  • Offer extensive professional development.
  • Demonstrate using the technology is really going to make their teaching better.
  • Model technology integration (or provide models).
  • Provide resources and choices.

I would argue that there are simply cases when mandating is required, such as when a school-wide grade reporting system or content management system is rolled out. Inconsistency can cause a lot of headaches for a school, but the important thing is to allow faculty to be part of the decision about which tools to use so that they are more likely to buy into their use.

The worst thing a school can do is mandate use of some new form of technology without any professional development.

Leadership in technology integration comes from the top down, as I have said before, and if administrators are not prepared to support their teachers’ use of technology, their teachers will not use the technology. It’s not because teachers are not willing to change or to do the right thing for their students. It’s because teachers, like everyone else, want to see the relevance behind what they are learning, and they want to know why and how they will use it. In integrating technology, like everything else, you need to begin with the end in mind and determine where you want teachers and students to be, what you want them to learn, and what you want them to be able to do. Then you need to determine how you will get them to that place.

Some additional resources I found as I was thinking about and writing this post (via Twitter):

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I Found a Twitter Client

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you might recall I have been looking for a Twitter client to replace Nambu, which stopped developing their software. I tried out Seesmic, HootSuite, and TweetDeck. I tried out the native Twitter client. None of them did everything I wanted. Most of them did some of the things I wanted. The main thing I needed was a way to see an unread messages count, and preferably also see an unread messages count by list organization. I had frankly despaired of being able to find something, when I saw this tweet by Audrey Watters:

Audrey Watters

Well, I decided it didn’t hurt to check it out, especially because it’s free. I downloaded it from the App Store, and I have been loving it. It offers unread message counts, and I can add new tabs for any lists I also want to monitor, too. Here is what it looks like in Normal View.

YoruFukurou

But you can also follow Twitter conversations easily with Conversation View.

YoruFukurou

This view is handy for trying to figure out what folks in your timeline are talking about if you missed earlier tweets.

I also like the Drawer feature, which allows me to click on a person’s tweet, click on the Drawer icon, and see the most pertinent information in the person’s profile.

YoruFukurou

You can read all about its other features at the YoruFukurou website. I’ve been using it for about a month now, and it’s been the best Twitter client I’ve ever used—even better than Nambu was. Unfortunately, it’s only available on Mac, and there are presently no plans to develop for Windows.

A strange thing I noticed: When I followed their Twitter account, I had a ton of random follows from Asian spam accounts, so I unfollowed their Twitter account, but left them in one of my lists so I could still see their new tweets, and the spam follow issue resolved. Just a warning.

I am not sure how well the client works with Lion, as I am still on Snow Leopard, but the developers regularly update the app, so if it’s not compatible, it soon will be.

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My Ongoing Search for the Perfect Twitter Client


I am growing increasingly frustrated with my Twitter client, but I can’t find one I like better. Here is what I need:

  • Mac compatibility.
  • A color scheme that isn’t too dark or too bright (both versions of the Tweetdeck theme are out as a result).
  • An unread messages count. Really I need this. It’s a deal-breaker, and it’s one of the reasons I’ve stuck with Nambu despite being unhappy with their progress and development.
  • Multiple columns.
  • Notification of new tweets. I prefer Growl, but Air is OK.

Things I’d like to have:

  • Syncing across devices (an iPhone app, so my unread count is same on both).
  • Client rather than web-based (not a deal breaker—was checking out Hootsuite, but not a fan).

I wondered aloud to my husband a few minutes ago just how hard it would be to create a Twitter client that did what I wanted. I have never designed software before, but I am willing to learn. I have rolled up my sleeves and made myself learn HTML and Flash (though I can’t say I’m a proficient in Flash at all).

Out of curiosity—what would you want in a Twitter client?

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Twitter Clients

Twitter Fail WhaleI am having trouble finding a Twitter client that does everything I want. I want my Twitter client to be able to help me navigate messages I’ve missed since I last logged in. Nambu makes that really easy. When I open Nambu, I see the last 200 messages in my stream, but my lists contain more messages, and I am better able to keep up. What makes this easy is that Nambu provides a little bubble with the number of tweets, and that number decreases as I read the tweets, so I know when I’ve seen everything.

However, Nambu discontinued multiple columns some time back and is seriously dragging its feet about implementing them again despite a support ticket that is now nearly a year old. A lot of people started using Nambu because of the multiple columns, myself included, and I really need them back if my Twitter client is going to help me do what I want it to do.

Which is why I tried out Seesmic. Seesmic is great, but I do have a hard time navigating tweets since my last visit. The only drawback I can see is that I still need to wade through my stream to see tweets I missed, and I am not confident I have caught them all. Other than that, I have no complaints about Seesmic. Tweetdeck is also good, but I despise the dark color scheme, and their light color scheme is worse. I could change the colors to whatever I want, but I’ve tried it, and it’s complicated to get right. Seesmic and Nambu are both aesthetically pleasing with a light color scheme that looks good out of the box. Added bonus for Seesmic over Nambu is that Seesmic makes it very easy to add people I follow to my lists.

However, I need something that will update in real-time for Monday’s #engchat. Seesmic doesn’t have a Mac version of their real-time client available yet, so it looks like I’ll be using Tweetdeck with an #engchat column. I don’t think I’ll be able to keep up if I try to use Nambu, which has no real time version of their client at all. I have been trying out Tweetdeck, and I have to say it’s improved a lot under the hood since I last used it, but the color scheme is still the same.

Am I asking a lot for a Twitter client that

  • Has multiple columns
  • Enables me to easily keep track of unread tweets and go back and read them
  • Is aesthetically pleasing (and not so dark)
  • Updates in real time… ?

It would appear to be so. It’s a given that my Twitter client has to coordinate with URL shortening services, preferably Bit.ly. I don’t have a preference as far as image uploading services, but want to be able to have one. I also need a window to pop up so that I know a new tweet has come in when I’m multitasking (reading on the web, writing, etc.). Nambu, Seesmic, and Tweetdeck all offer these services, which is why I’ve not discussed the need for them.

For now I feel stuck opening Nambu to what I’ve missed since the last login, using Tweetdeck to follow chats, and using Seesmic for everything else.

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#EngChat

TwitterI wanted to let everyone know that I will be hosting a discussion about integrating technology into the English curriculum on #engchat this Monday, August 30, from 7:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M. EDT. For those of you who are unfamiliar with #engchat, it’s a regular forum on Twitter for English teachers to talk about various issues related to the teaching of English. For example, one past discussion centered around vocabulary instruction. Jim Burke has hosted a discussion on how we create community in the English classroom.

Honestly, I had to try Twitter myself before I could be convinced of its usefulness because it appears to be a giant, narcissistic time-suck from the outside; however, if you follow smart people talking about interesting things, it’s a great way to learn. If you haven’t tried Twitter before, following the discussion on #engchat might be a good introduction. Also, if you are interested in how we go about integrating technology in the English curriculum, I invite you to join us. English teachers sometimes get a bad rap as the dinosaurs who miss ditto machines and chalkboards. A commenter on a blog I used to contribute to once noted that English teachers are usually the most resistant to technology (actually, the problem was that my buddy Joe Scotese and I didn’t agree with what he said about it). Is that true? Is it fair? Why do people feel that way about us? English teachers are doing exciting things! I am so tired of hearing we teach like we just stepped out a time machine from the 1850′s.

In other news, I am more frustrated than I can express over the lack of time I seem to have to blog. Reflection here has become essential to my growth and well-being as an English teacher, and with school starting up, I’m exhausted every day. Between school and home duties yesterday, my day was 14 hours long. You know you’re tired when you can stop after the first chapter of The Hunger Games not because you’re not dying to see what happens next, but because even though you’re dying to see what happens, you’re too exhausted to read.

It’s about balance, and if I ever figure out how to do it, I will let you know my secret. Or else I will not let you know my secret unless you pay me. I’d make a mint.

Creative Commons License photo credit:  Mark Pannell

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