Clay Shirkey on the need to continually rethinking our workflows

Technology is always adapting and evolving, here are a few of the recent changes to my digital workflows.


In a post discussing the setup of digital devices, applications and workflows, Clay Shirky explains how he regularly changes things up:

At the end of every year, I junk a lot of perfectly good habits in favor of awkward new ones.

This disruption seems important in a time when platforms are designed to maximise our attention. As Shirky warns:

The thing I can least afford is to get things working so perfectly that I don’t notice what’s changing in the environment anymore.

Change can take many shapes. Although I may not shake things up as much as Shirky, here are some recent tweeks that have kept things fresh:

Pocket

For a long time I have used Pocket to save links to come back to. It was one of the first applications I really took to. I use a range of methods to add content, whether it be via email, using an IFTTT recipe which saves my Twitter favourites or an extension in the browser. I then either read it later or listen depending on the device or context.

I started out listening using Lisgo, an iOS app. However, this functionality is built into the Android application so I scrapped the additional app when I changed phones. The only issue I had with listening via the Android app is the requirement to select a new article each time. A recent update completely changed that with the addition of continuous playback. This allows you to organise your various links in a playlist and listen to one after another. This new feature has lead me to rethink how I use Pocket and subsequently saving more and more links to listen to

In regards to other aspects of the application, I have never really used the tagging or archiving features. Instead I bookmark elsewhere and then delete the articles in Pocket once I have finished with it. The best functionality is still the ability to read a stripped back version of the text. AMP without all the other stuff associated with AMP. I wonder how Pocket will grow with the acquisition by Mozilla?

Inoreader

I love Feedly. I came to RSS Readers around the time Google pulled its reader from production. Before that, I relied on a combination of Pocket and social media. Feedly was perfect. I progressively built my feed over time getting to the point of following 200+ blogs. I also developed a a process which allowed me to capture a quote and share it out on Twitter.

I did not have any qualms, however when Chris Aldrich pointed out the limitation of storing your OPML file within the application I was intrigued. I didn’t really like how Feedly organised the various categories and always found it tedious to backup my OPML to share with others. The answer is to subscribe to an OPML Feed stored in the links of a WordPress site, rather than upload a static file. Feedly does not allow for this, but Inoreader does.

Starting afresh has been good. There are no features that I used in Feedly that are no replicated in Inoreader. Instead there are ways of working in Inoreader that I prefer, such as the ability to quickly mark posts as ‘read’ by pulling across, rather than swiping, as well as the potential to create my own filters. This maybe a start towards Aldrich’s idea of an #IndieWeb algorithm? At the very least, it helps in understanding how some of these things work and the infrastructure behind them.

Trello

I have written about the features and affordances associated with Trello before. One of the challenges that I have had with the application is how to get it to work for me. A lot of people talk about using the Kanban approach to support an agile way of working. This often involves allocating ‘points’ or colours associated with blocks of time, setting due dates and focusing on priorities. I tried this both personally and in my workplace. It did not work. I decided to leave it for a while and come back at a later point with fresh eyes.

In leaving the application alone, it quickly became apparent why I needed it. I had some documents in my Google Drive, PDF files sent to me via email, links to resources and notes that needed to be recorded somewhere. I therefore wondered if instead of a means of managing priorities that instead Trello could become something of a digital filing cabinet, Something of a ‘canonical URL’, where if you wanted to find something you would start there.

Creating a list for each of the key focuses, the cards broke down the various projects and activities. Each card then contains a description summarising what it is about and a list of resources associated with it. This is all done using Markdown. These resources are all added into one Google Drive folder and linked from there. The card comments are then used to provide a historical snapshot, documenting any developments, additions and meetings, while the checklists are used where applicable.

This new way of using Trello also led me to review my own use. A few years ago I set up multiple boards for all the things that I do personally, whether it be blogging, presentations or projects. Similar to my work experience, this failed. It was too busy and needed to be more efficient. After being reenergised by my use at work, I wondered if I could condense everything into one board? I therefore created lists associated with blogs, projects, ideas, interesting links, things to listen to etc and used the cards to unpack each of these areas. This has subsequently led me to crafting my blog posts using Markdown in the description section and adding links and notes in the comments. Although having its limitations, it is a much smoother process than writing Markdown in a Google Doc which I had started doing. When I want a more thorough writing space though I use Typely.

Typely

I remember reading a rant from Marc Scott a few years ago on the use of Microsoft Word, although it could have been about Google Docs as well. He ended with the plea:

Learn to write in sodding Markdown.

I understand Markdown, but could never find the right reason or workflow. I kept stumbling upon different cases, whether it is Kin Lane’s use of Markdown with Jeykl and GitHub or Mike Caulfield’s Wikity WordPress theme with Markdown built into the bookmarklet. However, it was not until I started having issue with extra bits of code when copying text from Google Docs into my blog or newsletter that I realised why Markdown is so important.

I have been exploring a number of applications to support publishing of late, whether it is add-ons such as Grammarly and Pro Writing Aid or applications in general such as Google Docs and Trello. Initially I took to writing Markdown in Google Docs and pasting the text into a converter. This workflow though does not allow you to preview the text along the way. Using Trello allows you to work cross-platform. However the need to flick between preview and editing screen is tedious and not ideal. I recently came upon another application called Typely.

Typely is best understood as a beefed-up text editor. There are no hyperlinks or formatting. Instead you focus on writing. Other applications offer a similar experience, but where Typely differs are the various options to customise the experience, whether it be turning Markdown preview on or off, switching to a blog background or selecting rules to check for. The screen also adapts to the size of the screen, with panes collapsing if there is not enough space. It does not really work on a mobile screen though. Unlike Pro Writing Aid, the error highlights can easily be turned on and off or resolved. Although on a Chromebook, the combination for resolving issues (CTRL + Spacebar) is allocated to changing between languages. There is also the ability to open and save documents across different platforms if you sign in.

Noterlive

I have long used Twitter to share thoughts and findings at conferences, including quotes, reflections and links. This has gone through many iterations, whether it be retweeting what others shared or typing in a document first before sharing out. One of the challenges that I have always had though is how to meaningfully archive this content?

The obvious answer is to curate tweets and embed them. Like so many others, I have used Storify in the past. However, with its move to a paid product, other solutions are needed. I have also used Martin Hawksey’s TAGS script before to make collections of Tweets. Although these can be easily embedded into WordPress, this archive is broken if the original Tweet is deleted. Although Hawksey provided a link to another application for producing a full embed code, I could not get this to work.

Another option is Noterlive. This web app created by Kevin Marks was designed for making IndieWeb live noting (aka live tweeting/live blogging) easier and simpler. Chris Aldrich summarises it as follows:

It not only organically threads your tweets together into one continuing conversation, but it also gives you a modified output including the appropriate HTML and microformats classes so that you can cut and paste the entire thread and simply dump it into your favorite CMS and publish it as a standard blog post. 

Aldrich has also compiled some additional instructions. See an example here.

As an approach and application, Noterlive provides a means of recording snippets of text in a thread. However, it does not allow you to attach media or connect to the actual Tweet. You are also unable to include other Tweets directly in your archive. A solution to this is to add this content when you save the simple HTML archive. This can be a good point of reflection.


So there are a few of the recent changes to my workflows, what about you? Are there any applications that have made you rethink the way you work lately? As always, comments welcome.

Also posted on IndieNews


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

Hashtags

“Hashtags” by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

I was recently asked about my take on hashtags. I have written about hashtags before, whether it be their role within Twitter, the way in which they help foster sets and a reflection on what they mean to my own workflow. While I have been influenced by Jon Dron, Terry Anderson, Clive Thompson, Ian Guest and Kevin Hodgson. Here then is a summary of the different uses that have meaning to me.

  • CHATS: The obvious use of hashtags, especially when it comes to education, is as a means of facilitating a chat. This is personified by Tom Whitby and #edchat. These are used at specific times designated by organisers and archived using applications such as Storify.
  • TRIBES: Extending from the chat is the use of hashtags to collect together tribes. In Teaching Crowds, Jon Dron and Terry Anderson describe tribes as communities bringing people together around complex ideas and interests, tied together by certain rules and expectations. Jerry Blumengarten is oftwn quoted as the definitive source for hashtags. However, more recently Kasey Bell has attempted to update this. Although many of these hashtags are associated with chats, they are not confined to that and often take on a life of their own outside of them. Sometimes the challenge with using what seems like the ‘right’ hashtag is that it is difficult to remember every common hashtag, while it seems tedious to go check lists all of the time.
  • RANDOM TEMPORAL CONNECTIONS: Similar to the idea of an in joke, where what is being said only makes sense when privy to the context behind it. Two that come to mind are #whereisHa and #TwodayswithElton. Based on the idea of Where’s Wally, #WhereisHa was started by a group of participants at DLTV14 when Michael Ha was running late having just flown back into Australia from USA. #twodayswithelton was a tag between Ross Halliday and I leading up to Google Teachers Academy a few years ago. It started when Ross said that I looked like  Elton John. We then started a swapping lyrics that acted as something of a sidechat to the official #GTASyd14 hashtag. This informal ad-hoc use is captured by Dean Shareski in his discussion of a more playful Twitter. Another temporal use is also a hashtag around a particular event, whether this be a conference or a camp.
  • EMOTIONS: A different take on the informal is the use of hashtags to capture emotions or responses. This is best demonstrated in Instagram, where everything seems to be interconnected through hashtags. However, it is used on Twitter to highlight various attributes, such as #longread, #trust and #leadership.

Personally, I don’t really think that I use hashtags that effectively. Fine I have a few ‘go tos’, such as vicpln, digilit, edchat, leadwild, edtechteam, disruptedu and gsuiteedu. However, beyond that I don’t really actively use them unless i have clear reason. There are some that seem to methodically share their posts across a range of tribes by including five tags in Tweet. I also tried to game Feedly by placing blogs into categories that would automatically be turned into a tag. There are some that I used to use quite a bit, such as #rhizo14, #TL21c and #ccourses. However, over time these tribes have seemingly moved away. Interestingly, these tags were associated with courses. This in itself may say something.

So what about you? What do hashtags mean to you? As always, comments welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

2017-03-24_06-51-37

Often it feels as if the discussions around being a connected educator resort to being a part of this or that community or signing up to a particular platform. For example, many argue that all educators should be on Twitter. When I think about my connected activities, I exist in a number of spaces, each with a different level of commitment and engagement. David White and Alison Le Cornu capture this with their idea of digital resident and visitor.

What is interesting is that beyond the commitment and balance between personal and professional, each application often offers a different set of features and affordances. Take Twitter readwriterespond  for example, allows such things as:

  • Post a message of 140 characters
  • Connect with ideas using hashtags and.people using handles
  • Add additional material, such as images and links

Although these features are continually tweaked, from adding an algorithm to the feed to the new functionality in the form of moments. What is interesting is that overtime the way these features are used changes and morphs. From an educational point of view, there has been a move to more serious and professional consumption, with this there has been a rise in automated engagement, while some conversations have been somewhat silenced with the rise of so-called ‘attack dogs’. See David Hopkins’ post for an example of a critique. In addition, I have changed both personally and professionally. Personally, I feel that I have developed an extensive network with different connections in different spaces. Although this is a positive, it has changed the way I engage with my feed. I also use other means to find posts and information. Professionally, I have become more mindful of my presence, especially what impact it might have with the various schools and teachers who I work with. One of my mainstays has been sharing.

As I read in other places I use Twitter as my first place to share. This month I decided to mix things up and change to Google+. Doug Belshaw is always talking about workflows, bringing in some different, junking what may not work anymore. I was interested in what would happen to my workflow if I had to junk Twitter. I understand that their are copies, such as Mastadon social, but I was particularly interested in what would happen if I moved to a completely new platform altogether. the differences.

So here is a summary of my experiences of moving in part to another space:

Positives

  • Longer Explanations: With the limit of 140 characters lifted, I started writing longer elaborations on my thoughts and reflections. I also included a quote for most posts. I have been doing this for a while with Diigo and then my newsletter.
  • More Thought Out: I found myself questioning what I posted on Google Plus. For some reason I am happy to post more frivolous content to Twitter, where the focus on summarising and quotes made me think again.
  • Text Formatting: Although it is only *bold*, _italicise_ and -strikethrough-, this simple formatting offers some different possibilities, such as italicising quotes or bolding keywords.

Negative

  • Serendipitous Conversations: Although there were a few comments and conversations on Plus, it is not quite the same as with Twitter. It would seem to have a smaller serendipity surface. There was neither the breadth or depth that can come with Twitter.
  • Connections and Communities: One aspect that stood out within Google Plus was the lack of connections. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of people in my Circles. However, it feels like there are more people on Twitter than there are on Plus. In addition to this, it would seem that people spend their time on Plus within Communities. The problem with this is that there are so many different communities. This can make it hard to work out where to share exactly.
  • Multiple Identities: Another point of confusion that Plus adds to the mix is that people often have multiple Identities, each with their own purpose and intent. Therefore, it can be a challenge when tagging people in a post as it is not always clear which account to share with.

So that was my month of residence in Google Plus. It definitely left me thinking about some of the challenges in moving between different spaces. So what about you? What have been your experiences associated with Google Plus? What would you miss without Twitter? As always, comments and perspectives welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Looking Back on a Week as @EduTweetOz

This week, I took control of the EduTweetOz rotation curation account. Like many, @edutweetoz provided some of my first education connections with those like Jason Borton (the first week I ever followed) and TER Podcast. For so long I had thought that it was for somebody else, those in positions of responsibility, those with something important to say. Of course, this was my own misgiving. However, I always found a reason why now was not the right time.

So even though many encouraged me, it was only this year that I finally got around to putting my hat in the ring. It really hit home when more and more people were curating for the second time. So I signed up.

I must admit that the experience was not what I necessarily expected. In part I think because I did not know what to expect, but really because it is something rather unique. I once had a run at curating the short-lived @vicpln account, but it was something of a non-event as it did not have much of following and the account never really got beyond infancy.

So here are my three takeaways from the week that was:

Finding Your Voice: Some people seem to come into the week with a real agenda. They treat it like some sort of perpetual edchat, posting nightly questions around specific themes. Others approach the week as a means of telling a particular story linked with an association or edu-organisation. This methodical manner is not mine. My intent was simply to continue the conversation. After running through various approaches, such as providing some sort of quasi-episode of This is Your Life, I decided to simply do what I usually do within my own account and respond accordingly. I was mindful of sharing too many of my own posts, I, therefore, made a concerted effort to highlight other voices in the village.

Other People’s ideas and Arguments: An odd thing that I had to deal with early on was responding to replies to past posts. This was brought to the fore when one of the account administrators posted a piece on low literacy and forgot to include [admin] in the tweet. This did not really worry me until it escalated into something akin to a tribal dance with both sides applying war paint and sharpening their spears. I am all for debates and discussions, but usually when they are mine to have and to own. I neither felt compelled or comfortable, so I just killed the conversation, quietly.

Public Notice Board: Just as it is confusing as to what voice to use with the account, I was intrigued with the number of tweets shared with the account for no clear reason. I got the impression after a few days that there are some  who use the account as something of a public noticeboard to amplify their own voice. Fine, I had the choice to retweet, but it just seems to me like bad faith. This reminds me of the lesson I learned from Alec Couros in regards to Twitter and spamming.


So what about you? Have you ever taken control of a rotation curation account? What was your experience? Did you find any challenges? As always, comments welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Jon Andrews recently tweeted out the following comment:

Now I know where he is coming from. You only need to look at Graham Martin-Brown’s recent reflection for an understanding of some of the less savory chatter that can fill social media feeds. However, I feel like we are back at the age-old debate as to whether every teacher should be on Twitter?

Don’t get me wrong, I love Twitter, but both my appreciation and use of the platform has developed over time. I once went to Twitter as my first port of call. However, now I use it more as a learning well, a meeting place. Although I go there to learn from others, I am less worried about missing out and instead entertain the serendipitous nature of dropping in every now and then.

Here then are some spaces I go to for critical and quality engagement:

  • RSS Feed: This is usually my starting place. I have over 200 blogs in my feed. The way it works is that if I find someone who posts interesting content on Twitter or any other space, I will then add them to the list. In addition to sharing  interesting posts out, I also bookmark ideas with Diigo.
  • Newsletters: Different to the average blog, email newsletters are the new zines. I am currently subscribed to the following: Doug Belshaw’s Thought Shrapnel, Tom Barrett’s Dialogic Learning, Graham Martin-Brown’s Revolution, Laura Hilliger’s Freshly Brewed Thoughts, Austin Kleon’s Weekly Newsletter, Ian O’Byrne’s TLDR, Bryan Mathers’ Visual Thinkery, Dan Haesler’s newsletter and Audrey Watters’ Hack Education Weekly Newsletter (HEWN). Some are not much more than a list of links, others provide a rich commentary. What stands out is that they all provide curated content to scour.
  • Nuzzel: A social aggregation application, Nuzzel searches through your Twitter feed for posts that have been by a number of people. Although you can access the site for a constant feed, I depend on the daily email for a summary of links.
  • Email Subscriptions: I get emails summarising content from a range of sites, including Diigo, YouTube and Pocket. These can be good to flick through and often provide ideas and resources that are outside of my usual connections.

So there are some of the ways that I filter content. Although Twitter can be fantastic, there are also other means. What about you? What strategies do you use? As always, comments welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

There is so much written about the benefits of Twitter in regards to learning. This is often epitomised by Twitter Chats, regular catch-ups revolving around a hashtag and a series of questions. Some of the limitations to Twitter Chats is that it can be a challenge to keep a track of all the ideas being shared, as well as engage in deeper conversation.

A twist on the usual chat structure is the SlowChat. This usually involves a question posed with the intent to provoke conversation. Like the usual Twitter Chat, this is captured by a hashtag. Some examples include the #teacher5adaySlowChat or Paul Browning’s participation in the rotation curation #EduTweetoz using #whyiteach. These chats are usually built upon the back of preexisting communities and usually done with some intent.

An alternative to these hashtag chats are the incidental ones that occur each and every day. These organic ‘chats’ often start with two in conversation. Sometimes the beginning is a particular topic or question, other times they start with the sharing of a particular reading or resource. As the conversation continues, others often come on board, bringing different perspectives. Sometimes they are tagged into the conversation, while other times they simply join in. Not only does this provide a depth of discussion, but without the constraints of the hashtag allows the conversation go in whatever direction it needs to. Individual value is gained by each participant. For some it is possible answers gained, while others it is clarification.

An example of such a chat occurred recently when Andrea Stringer shared out a link to a report of pre-service teachers:

What followed were questions about quality, elaborations on the differences between a teacher, leader and coach, suggestion for alternatives, such as co-teaching, a focus on development and the sharing of various resources. What this demonstrated was the power and potential of a PLN and networked learning. As Andrea Stringer highlighted:

What is even more significant is that Deborah Netolicky has continued the conversation in her own way, writing two posts teasing out the notion of quality teachers and unpacking what they do.

Often when people talk about the benefits of Twitter, they focus on structured activities such as Twitter Chats or the limitations of 140 characters. However, we must not overlook the power and potential of serendipity that it allows. Simply spending time at the well, as David Culberhouse would put it, can produce unforeseen rewards.

So what about you? What learning have you been a part of online that was unintended, but had a significant impact? As always I would love to hear.


DISCLOSURE: I do not own shares in Twitter and do not believe that every teacher should join Twitter. I am however interested in the various nuances of the connected life and helping give voice to this. This is why I am interested in Ian Guest’s current doctoral work.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Twitter is one of those unique platforms. There is so much said about it. Some dream of what it could be. Others swear by it as a means of professional development. Some rue the changes. Others talk about the public/private conundrum. Some are critical of the branding and death of the real comment. What is interesting is that with all of these attempts to make sense of the platform, how people use it is always somewhat particular to them.
Riffing on Ian Guest’s recent post unpacking how he uses Twitter, here are some of the ways I use the platform:

  • Hashtags: Clive Thompson once described tags as the soul of the internet, in regards to Twitter they are pretty important. I often use them to follow up different ideas and information, this is especially the case when participating in a cMOOC, such as #ccourses or #rhizo14. I also use hashtags to tune into different communities, such as #VicPLN, seeing what is being shared and if I can help with anything. In regards to my own posts, my thinking has been influenced by a post from Mark Barnes, I consciously restrict myself to two hashtags when I post.
  • Publishing: one of my main uses is to share ideas and information. This is often done outside of Twitter itself. If it is my blog, the Jetpack plugin allows me to share posts when published, while I often share directly from news aggregation applications, such as Feedly and Pocket. For this, I usually try and capture a key quote, rather than just tweet out the title. This is about my own sense of meaning making, as well as a way of commenting to the author what I find interesting. For other spaces, like Flickr, I use an IFTTT recipe to publish to Twitter.
  • Engaging: When pondering something or seeking different perspectives, I will often put it out there on Twitter to see what I get. This is something that Clive Thompson talks about in his book Smarter Than You Think. I must admit, I have found that open questions or calls for help themselves often receive little attention even with thousands of followers, therefore if I really want a response I will tag particular people. Sometimes this can produce momentum where others will then add further thoughts. In addition to this, I regularly engage in different conversations online. Along with sharing ideas, I see this as a part of giving back.
  • Chats: I must admit, I have never truly fallen in love with chats as others have. In part, I have always been a little sceptical about what ideas can be gained, but to be fair my bigger concern is time. My life as it presently stands does not always afford me 30-60 minutes to tune into a chat. Subsequently, I often break the unwritter rules and just drop in and out based on what else is happening. Sometimes I will come back to the Storify’d archive, but not as often as I would like. What I do like about chats is the stronger connections with other educators that such spaces allow.
  • Consuming: I have been through different iterations when it comes to reading tweets. I remember when I started I would scroll through every tweet each day. I actually managed this for quite a while, until I started following far too many users and felt that I needed to dig deeper. I then resorted to creating a list, which contained all those people that I felt I didn’t want to miss out on. Now though I rarely use Tweetdeck and find lists too cumbersome when using the Twitter application, I therefore just take a dip in the river every so often when I have a spare moment or two. To support this serendipity, I use IFTTT to save tweets directly to Pocket. While I also sometimes check out the highlights, as well as the links that people occasionally tag me in. Early on, Twitter was my source of ideas. However, I rely heavily now on the 100+ blogs in Feedly, as well as other sources, such as newsletters and Nuzzel to curate my content.

I have written before about Twitter, capturing the different possibilities, but a focus on supposed affordances overlooks the nuances of personal use and development over time. Although I have used Twitter for quite a while, how I use it has changed and morphed. Sometimes it is about where it fits within my life, sometimes it is about purpose and intent, other times it is simply about trying new things.

Take for example sharing visual quotes. I used to use Quizio (an application I actually discovered via Twitter). I share less images now, but probably spend more time creating them. A part of this is about developing a unique style and signature.

So what about you? How do you use Twitter and how has it developed over time? As always, comments welcome, but even better, write your own post and share it here.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

I was recently asked who to follow on Twitter. This is so subjective. It would be easy to say follow XYZ. However, something is missed in this. Whenever someone joins up, I recommend people that I feel might be of interest to them and how I understand them. If though this is not enough, these are some of the strategies that I have used to broaden my network:

  • Lists: I find so many people who are unaware that lists even exist. They allow you to group together collections of users. Hidden in the options within the usual Twitter application, lists come into their own if you use Tweetdeck. You can subscribe to others or create your own. You can make them public or keep them private. A great place to start is Sue Water’s list of Australian Educators. You can either subscribe to this list which will add it to your collection or go through and add various users. Once you start looking, you will find endless lists out there to mine.
  • Chats: Another great place to find new people is in chats. Two positives to this is that they are often active users (for they would not be participating in the chat), while they are specific to an area of interest. If you are interested in coaching then check out #educoachOC the first Monday of every month. If you are a PE teacher check out #pechat on every other Monday. If you are simply interested in education in Australia and abroad then check out #satchatoz on a Saturday morning. (Not the times will change depend on where you are reading this, sorry.) What is great about chats is that if you missed them, you can easily catch up at a later time. They are often Storified to make this easier.
  • Follow-Who-Others-Follow: A different approach to chats and lists is to simply follow who other people are following. Maybe you have found someone who is sharing interesting things, whose ideas push your thinking, then look at who they are following. This can be useful to really broaden your network. For example, maybe you have read Jon Andrews’ blog and find that he shares interesting ideas, check out who maybe inspiring him and add some of these voices to your stream. This approach however has its limits when you follow people who may follow hundreds, if not thousands, of people.

The reality in the end is that there are so many different means of adding to your network. For some, like Alec Couros, if you are in education you are in. Others swear by lists of people published using the hashtag #FF (aka ‘Follow Friday’). Others just depend on Twitter’s algorithms to suggest people. The reality is, finding people is easy, the real challenge is what you do once you are there. That, in the end, is what matters most. You can follow five or fifty thousand, if you are not engaging (either sharing or lurking) then what is the point?

So what about you? How do you build your networks? As always, comments welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

I recently presented a session at DigiCon15 about Becoming a More Connected Educator. To provide a voice for those listening, I created a Google Form asking a few questions of those in attendance, such as how they are connected, what are the biggest challenges and any questions they may have. There were a few that I addressed at the end of the session, including moving beyond sound bites and giving back. However, one question that alluded me was a ‘get connected’ for dummies. So here goes, my 10 step process to becoming connected or as requested, a getting connected for dummies:

Work Out Why

Too often people are told, sign up to Twitter and get connected. Not only does being connected not simply equal signing up to a platform, but it misses why we might do it in the first place. In part, my initial reason was wondering what impact sharing and being open might have for learning. Although being open is still at the heart of my reason why, I would argue that now it is less about wonder and more about action, that is, how might we use the possibilities enabled through networked learning to build ‘smart rooms’ that consciously make possible new ideas and beginnings.

Grow a PLN

There are too many posts out there that discuss personalised or professional learning networks as something that can magically be done. Follow these people and hey presto you are connected. As I have discussed before, PLN’s are better thought of organically, a rhizome, with no central root system and no central belief system. Instead, there is one connection leading to another. This being said, the strength of a PLN is often deemed by how we nurture and grow it. Andrew Marcinek and Lyn Hilt reflect upon our role in regards to the health of our PLN and the need to continually reinvent it. One of the challenges is where you choose to spend your time and further your connections. For many it seems to be Twitter, others it is Google+, for some it is in spaces like Edmodo, while there are those whose connections are fostered between blogs. At the end of the day, the choice is yours. Some possible starting points are to participate in a Twitter chat, join a community on Google+, join in a blogging challenge like #youredustory or go to a teachmeet or an edcamp.

Find Your Tribe

One of the keys to connecting online is finding your communit(ies). So many of my early connections were based on a sort of convenient hypocrisy. My room was made up of people I had grown up with, went to school with or worked with. Often such connections become about sharing stories about this or that, but not necessarily common interests and passions. What can be hard is that there is not necessarily a directory of tribes, rather it is something relational and discovered by listening and engaging online. It needs to be noted though, that sometimes finding your tribe might actually mean standing up, leading and connecting people around a cause.

Surround Yourself with People who Scare You

On the TER Podcast, Cameron Paterson spoke about finding someone who scares you to be a mentor. I suggest taking this a step further, I suggest surrounding yourself with people who scare you. Often we start out meeting people at conferences or following people who seem to have similar interests. The next step is actively seeking out new connections. This does not mean that you need to automatically openly engage with these people, but instead tuning in and critically evaluating the various ideas and arguments. David White describes this as elegant lurking, where the purpose is to assess credibility of those involved within the discourse.

Support Others and Give Back to the Community

Although it is fine to observe from a distance, at some point communities thrive on participation. As David Weinberger points out, “Even if the smartest person in the room is the room itself, the room does not magically make all who enter it smarter.” Too often people get caught up in the ‘original’ trap, feeling that they themselves have nothing new to say or add. However, being in the room can mean different things to different people. I think that Steve Brophy puts it best when he made the call to “be the connection that gives others a voice.” To me, giving back is about participating, being someone’s +1, paying it forward, attributing ideas where possible. Putting his spin on this, Seth Godin says in Tribes that the challenge is, “to help your tribe sing, whatever form that song takes.”

Create a Place For People to Find You

Online, it is important to own your identify before someone else does. Anne Mirtschin talks about creating a digital badge, incorporating three key ingredients: a consistent image, clear username and detailed profile. In addition to this, it can be useful to guide people to a splash page, such as About.me, which brings together all our different spaces online. Some alternatives to this include pointing to a personal blog or a Linkedin account. Although trust within online spaces can be a difficult, by at least being open about who we are and what we might stand for at least helps build trust and deeper connections.

Have More Meaningful Conversations

In a recent post, Dean Shareski lamented on the lack of depth to many of the conversations he finds online. He reminisced on the ‘raw and natural tone’ that was prevalent when he was drawn to blogging ten years ago. Although idle chatter may be the glue which unites us, Shareski suggests that our challenge is to use this social capital to ‘provoke deeper, more interesting ideas’. For some this has meant moving conversations to more private mediums as Voxer and Slack. While others have taken to creating podcasts and web shows as a space for deeper conversations. Although Peter Skillen maybe right in saying that no wisdom can come be found in one-line, however it can be the stimulus for further thought.

Curate the Chaos

Heather Bailie suggests that in regards to digital literacies our focus has moved from the traditional idea of read, write and react, to a focus on being able to create, curate and contemplate. For me, creation is the means that we use to collect information. Many find all their resources via various social media platforms, however, there are other means of engaging with ideas, such as Nuzzel, Flipboard, Zite, Paper.Li, Feedly and Tagboard. Such platforms offer their own means of aggregating information. The next step is making sense of it all. In regards to social bookmarking, there are many different possibilities, whether it be Evernote, Delicious, Scoop.it, Pinterest or Diigo. For a more extensive list curation tools, see Christopher Pappas’ post.

Make Stuff Worth Stealing

I think that Doug Belshaw puts it best when he says, “Remixing, re-appropriation and riffing off other people’s work just seems to be part of what we do as human beings.” A step beyond engaging online, whether it be providing your perspective or adding a comment, is making stuff worth stealing. Instead of worrying about how much money could be made or how people might use ideas, Austin Kleon suggests we need to, “do good work and share it with people.” In his book Open, David Price touches on four key values which he sees as being integral to the 21st century: sharing, being open, giving things away for free and trusting others. A great example of such communities of sharing, riffing and giving away are cMOOCs like the CLMOOC, Connected Courses and Rhizomatic Learning.

Be a Lead Learner

How can we really say that students and learning at the heart of the classroom if we ourselves are not learners ourselves? Jackie Gerstein argues that we should not only be leaders when it comes to learning, but actively modelling the process by continually articulating our understandings and experiences. Gerstein provides a model to support this iterative process, focusing on prototyping, testing, failing and tweaking. Blogs or vlogs can be a useful means for not only documenting this process, but also gaining precious feedback and perspectives to support growth and improvement.


I am sure that there is more to it than what I have touched on here and like Tom Whitby, I wonder why we still need to continue to talk about such topics as PLN’s. However, we are all at different points in our learning. So what about you, where are you at? Is there something that you would add to or elaborate? As always, comments are welcome. For it takes a village and that village includes you.

Getting Connected for Dummies (1)
flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/16693027205

It has been interesting following the #28daysofwriting initiative organised by Tom Barrett. The premise behind it is that committing to a month of regular posts will hopefully help develop a sustainable habit of writing and reflection. I have not participated as I feel it best to commit time when I have it and also write based on need, rather than time. Sometimes this may mean going beyond the rudimentary four paragraphs every now and then, but so be it. Anyway, I digress.

One of the observations that has arisen is the lack of comments occurring amongst the various posts. A lot of people are writing a lot of things, but not many people are actually responding. The proposal that has been put forward is a return to commenting with #28daysofcommenting. Now I am not against comments, as demonstrated by my recent post. As I have said for a long time, responding is an integral role to reading. The challenge is making this visible to others. I have issues though with the argument that ‘micro engagement has killed off the edublogging community‘. I do admit that things have changed, but I wonder if blaming this change on micro engagement is missing something more?

In a post looking at issues with education today, Peter Skillen puts forward a range of arguments. One is that there can be no wisdom and development gained in one-line. Although I think that there is plenty of drivel out there full of excessive branding, self-promotion and back-slapping, as well as enough people engaging in what Doug Belshaw describes as ‘elegant consumption‘, I argued then and I would argue now, there there is still a potential to such interactions. Going beyond being a representation of our digital identity, Twitter offers a means for sharing the main idea, writing aphorisms and generating new ideas. It provides new beginnings if we are willing to take them.

To look at this from a different perspective, Corinne Campbell made the observation that, “creativity requires design constraints”. What is often overlooked with a medium like Twitter are the constraints at play. I think that it is easy to get lost in the flow of things and forget that Twitter can just as easily be seen as a form of creativity. A point that Dean Shareski makes so well. The issue then is how to make the most of such constraints?

As I have discussed before, there are different ways to share and respond. The easiest and quickest thing to do is to simply post a title and link. Something that Barrett puts in the red zone. However, in order to develop richer communities and smarter rooms, it is wise to include handles and hashtags. For me this includes both the author and anyone who I know the topic maybe applicable to. Going beyond this, I also try and post quotes rather than titles. For one it demonstrates a higher level of engagement with the text, but it also offers a different entry point for readers.

Both Barrett and Ewan McIntosh have reflected on the halcyon days when posts would get long streams of comments, where the initial idea acted as a start for a deeper debate. (See debate over Design Thinking for a good example.) Whereas now it is more common to get a retweet, a like or a +1, with little if any actual engagement. McIntosh wonders if “anyone cares about many blog posts any more.”

This move away from commenting was brought home to me by Steve Wheeler’s reflection on his most read posts of 2014. His most read post was Learning First, Technology Second. It received over 8000 hits, yet only twenty three comments, half of which were his own responses. When quizzed on the matter of hits to comments ratio, Wheeler suggested that it is often the more emotive posts which usually gain the most interaction. I wonder if this has always been the case?

A problem I have with comments is that with a move to mobile, they just aren’t as easy as they used to be. A majority of my digestion comes via Feedly. I then save posts for commenting later. Sadly, this does not always happen.

In addition to this, commenting does not always seem as interactive as other mediums. I write a comment and it is between myself, the author and anyone else who may come upon the response. When I write using a medium like Twitter, my response is shared with whoever is viewing and is more visible, meaning the conversation has more potential. For example, I was recently wondering about iPads in Prep and put it out on Twitter:

Fifty posts later and I was left with an array of thoughts and ideas. I wonder if a blog would provide such engagement?

This is where I feel that Blogger wins out over WordPress. I like the fact that comments are connected between Blogger and Google+. Lately, I have taken to sharing comments I receive just as a way of spreading great ideas.

As an alternative, although I may not comment, I do connect. What I do is remix other people’s ideas into my own writing. They will often lay dormant, waiting, then something happens, they connect and spur on a new idea in a new context with a different perspective. What is different about remixes as opposed to connects is that it allows for multiple interactions. Pingbacks then connect back, something missing with Blogger.

At the end of the day, there are many ways of continuing the conversation, whether it be Diigo, Facebook, Google+, Voxer, the list goes on. Although there may have been a reduction in direct comments, I wonder if there has been an increase in engagement overall? I love Robert Schultz’ endeavour to comment on at least one post a day, but I think if we are to move forward then maybe we need to look more closely at the problem? Is there a new idea that needs to be unearthed? What is your take?

I encourage you to continue the conversation here.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.