Twitter: From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

Filed Under (Education, educational technology, social computing, web 2.0) by Sharon Peters on 28-01-2009

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I haven’t yet decided whether it was in a moment of sheer madness or sheer genius that I signed up for a course in emerging technologies two months ago with George Siemens and Dave Cormier as the instructors to the online course (out of the University of Manitoba).

As part of the course, we have been asked to provide a presentation on one of the applications that could be said to represent an emerging technology. I believe I was the only one of the course participants to claim twitter as my presentation topic.

I settled on the title “From the Ridiculous to the Sublime”, although I was tempted to use “How Twitter Saved My Life and Made Me Lose My Job” (this is a joke; I am gainfully employed!).

Twitter remains an object of ridicule and disdain as well as ferocious loyalty and praise.

In my five minute Jing screencast, I demonstrate my twitter home page and show off a few of its capabilities.

However, those five minutes went by screamingly fast, so I wanted to briefly include a few other questions here in my blog.

To understand JUST how viral twitter has become, you might want to look at the links I have collected in my delicious bookmarking.

Why are we fascinated with Twitter? My response is based on my observations of teenage behaviour (I have access to quite a few of those!). The need for instant gratification from our network is huge. Being able to receive almost instant feedback about our thoughts, ideas and experiences, as well as our questions is a powerful force.

Why are we repulsed? For those of us who want more – deeper, and more thoughtful from our communication may find twitter quite mundane and even narcissistic. For some time after I returned from Africa, I found it hard to take.

How is twitter a learning tool? The value of twitter definitely relies on the quality of the network – those that you are “following”. I happen to think that I follow some amazing folks who challenge me and make me think. Most of whom I follow are educators. We help each other out when we are confounded with problems and seek answers. We support each other when we are feeling down or frustrated. We share resources with each other and alert our network to breaking news around the globe. Twitter has become replacement for email because I have found recently that “direct messaging” a person in my network gets there faster than an email (or as fast).

Where does the learning take place? I think the learning takes place in the short, abbreviated conversations we have with each other. We don’t always agree with each other, but we can challenge thinking and offer different perspectives. Often I have to resort to emails when 140 characters just isn’t enough.

Who is twitter for? Twitter is for anyone who wants to build a network of excellent minds whom they can tap into.

Why do I use twitter? I will be honest here – much of what I twitter falls into “social twittering”. However, I am a firm believer that sociability (or sociality) is an important ingredient to learning. I observed this amongst my teenage research participants for my thesis work. My twittering often involves an exchange of information and ideas as well. I try to share as much as I “take” from my network. And I cannot stress enough that it is the quality of folks in my twitter network (those that I “follow”) that make the difference between narcissistic nattering and conversation that matters.

I would love some feedback on this brief presentation about twitter! Apparently, I have to improve this preso for next week’s class, so where did I lack clarity? What information is lacking? Let me know!

Chris Betcher and Interactive White Boards

Filed Under (Education, educational technology, ICT issues, social computing, web 2.0) by Sharon Peters on 03-01-2009

Chris Betcher and I have been colleagues online for over two years due to our mutual interest in global projects and social tools of the Internet, but I finally had the great opportunity to meet him face-to-face today for the very first time. When I heard he had plans to come to Montreal while on a visit to Canada, I asked to meet him, of course. And then when I found out he was in the midst of publishing his first book and it was about Interactive White Boards, well, I seized an opportunity. Interest in Smartboard (Interactive white board) training is at an all time high here in Montreal. Just like many so other places on the globe, interactive white boards are being installed (or have been installed), but solid professional development on how to use the IWBs is lacking.

My own Smartboard skills have grown stale. I will readily admit this. Chris and I had a lively conversation about whether there is more to this technology hardware than what it seems. He convinced me there was. So I asked for a personal tutorial which grew into a workshop that drew more than 20 educators on a holiday break. So it was that Chris was invited to my school in order to present a 4 hour workshop to educators in the Montreal area. I was impressed that so many gave up a day of their Christmas holidays to attend this workshop.

And it was good! I have observed myself that bringing in an outside expert seems to resonate more with teachers than their appreciation of a local yokel, at least as a catalyst to discussion.

It was a successful day on a number of levels.

First, I was challenged to ratchet up deeper thinking opportunities for my students. It is not about the playing around with tools and buttons – it is about creating visual and audio materials that we can use to draw our students into meaningful discussion and engagement. Chris showed us that the interactivity of the Smartboards does not occur on the white projected screen at the front of the class, but in the classroom as we interacted with each other to create and share knowledge, insights, ideas, and so on.

Secondly, Chris challenged the workshop participants to consider taking responsibility for their own professional development and showed them many ways in which they could do that. Knowing how many top level Quebec educators were in that room was heartening to me. They agreed! Of course, I am hoping that they will explore some of those professional development strategies themselves and that they will, in turn,  influence other educators.

And finally, it was encouraging to me to see educators from so many different areas of education meet in one room to discuss how to create better learning environments for our students. Our participants ranged from public to private, early elementary to adult vocational, new teachers to heads of school, and from novice to quite advanced users of smartboards. The expertise represented was phenomenal. How often can we meet that range of educators in one place? We need to do this sort of thing more often. Chris wisely pointed out that we needed these opportunities to share our expertise and grow from each other, but also that we have tools to also communicate with other such educators around the world. He showed us which tools could facilitate that.

Just checked my twitter reports from the last few hours. Special thanks to those who checked out our Ustream livestreamed video (begins about 10 min into video) of the workshop from across the globe. We had visitors from Utah, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, Maine, London UK, New Hampshire… and a very special visitor from Nepal!

How about that? Just over two years ago, I met Chris Betcher through other online friends and today he made an incredible impact on some of the best leaders in education in Quebec. Who still doubts the power and potential of a PLN (see Alec Couros’ recent post on this!)?

Here is a compilation of the resources we discussed today. Please share more through your comments!

How has your PLN changed the educators in your sphere of influence? This would make an interesting study!