cc licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs:
http://flickr.com/photos/113562593@N07/13713874174
 
Alan Thwaites posted the following tweet and it got me thinking.
Not just what you Tweet Aaron, but watching how you use Twitter has been very clarifying for me. I appreciate it mate.
— Alan Thwaites (@athwaites) April 6, 2014
How is it that I use social media anyway and more importantly, what does it mean to be a connected educator anyway?
 
In a recent post about the benefits of blogging and being a connected educator, +Tom Whitby outlines some of the many benefits associated with sharing online. He states:

The difference between writing a blog post and writing a magazine or journal article is the immediate feedback in the form of comments or responses. Before a blogger puts words to the computer screen the audience and its reaction are a consideration. The blogger will strive for clarity in thought. The blogger will strive for clarity in the writing. The blogger will attempt to anticipate objections.

What stands out to me in Whitby’s post is that the whole process revolves around its reciprocal nature, that is, as a reader you not only take in various ideas, but also respond and add back. One of the big problems though with being ‘connected’ is that for some it simply means lurking in the background. Although they may draw on the dearth of ideas and information out there, there is no impetus to give back in anyway, shape or form. My question then is whether this is really connecting at all?
 
Whilst perusing the net a few weeks back, I got involved in a twitter chat with +Bianca Hewes about the matter of sharing. Hewes was ruminating about the one way flow of information that too often occurs online. Those situations where others ask for resources, but fail to offer anything in return. She tweeted:
It kinda irritates me when I’m a member of a fb group for teachers and people only ever post to ask for stuff… rarely offering stuff 🙁
— Bianca ‘Jim’ Hewes (@BiancaH80) March 12, 2014
If you read the ensuing chat involving Hewes, myself, Dick Faber, Audrey Nay, Teacher from Mars and Katelyn Fraser, there were a breadth of responses provided. Some of the concerns raised included the apprehension associated with looking like a dill and some people’s fear of sharing. A topic that +Chris Wejr has elaborated on elsewhere in his post ‘Not Everyone is Able to Tweet and Post Who They Are‘. On the flip side though, there were some really good suggestions provided, such as lurking for a time until comfortable, sharing something small or even simply re-tweeting something to add to the flow of information.
 
Thinking about all of the these great responses, I feel that there are three clear ways that we can respond and give back. They include the ability to share links and ideas, adding to a conversation by writing a response or remixing an idea creating something new in the process.
 

Sharing Ideas

There are many ways to share, whether it be using social bookmarking, such as Diigo, where you might share with a particular community, or using social media, such as Google+, where you might share out into the world. This is something that I have elaborated on elsewhere. One of the easiest ways I find to share ideas though is on Twitter. Most applications offer the potential to post to Twitter with a click of a button, making it quick and easy to read a piece on Zite, Pocket or Feedly and then share it with the others.
 
There are many different perspectives associated with Twitter. For some, it is too much. How could you possibly keep up with each and every tweet posted by those that you follow? However, +Darrel Branson put a different spin on it in Episode 238 of the +Ed Tech Crew Podcast, where he suggested that mediums like Twitter are great to just dip into whenever you have the chance, not necessarily something to be hawked over 24/7. Branson suggested that if an idea is significant enough it will be shared around, re-tweeted and reposted enough that you will pick up on it in the end. What is important then is actually sharing good ideas and keeping the river flowing.
 
In addition to sharing, Bill Ferriter wrote an interesting piece on the importance of not only sharing, but also recognising whose content it is that you are sharing. One of the problems with many applications is that they allow you to quickly share the title and web link. However, they fail to provide any form of attribution to the actual creator. Therefore, I always endeavour to make the effort to give credit whenever I can. This has led me to use applications like Quozio in order to turn quotable pieces of text into an image in order to fit more into a tweet. To me, this means that while perusing something like Twitter, you are able to continue the conversation with creator, not just the curator.
 

Commenting and Continuing the Conversation

In addition to sharing ideas, another great way to give back is add a comment. Whether it be a video, an image, a blog, a post on Google+ or a tweet, writing a response is a really good way to continue the conversation. Too often when we think about commenting, there is an impression that it needs to be well crafted thesis, however it can be as simple as a confirmation thanking someone for what they have shared. Some other possibilities for comments include posing a question about something that you were unsure about, sharing a link that you think made add to the dialogue or providing your own perspective on the topic. The reality is, we often learn best through interaction and dialogue with others, a point clearly made in Whitby’s post.
 

Remix and Creating New Beginnings

A step beyond sharing and commenting on the ideas of others, is the act of remixing. Using someone else’s idea as a starting point, remixing involves adding something and turning it into something new, an idea in its own right. This blog itself can be considered as a remix, bringing together a range of different ideas in the creation of a new beginning. A great exponent of the remix is +Amy Burvall, whether it be using Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker to mash-up text and videos or using the paper app by Fifty-Three to create images to capture her ideas. Remixing ideas not only allows you to continue the conversation, but also start a new one as well.
 
 
Now I know that everyone comes from a different perspective and have their own view of what it is meant by digital literacy. A topic that I have explored elsewhere in my post ‘What’s So Digital About Literacy Anyway?‘ However, I find it hard to believe that there can be any example of being connected that does not include getting involved and giving back. A point clearly reiterated in Mozilla’s Web Literacy Map. The question then is how are you giving back? Is there something that you do that I have missed? What are the problems that you have faced along the way? I would love to continue the conversation, so feel free to leave a comment below.

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For a while, denial worked for me. I treated it like some sort of solution. However, I’ve learnt the hard way that denial is a coping strategy, a way of masking a problem, a way of pretending everything is ok. The issue though is that at the end of the day everything isn’t ok and the problem still remains.
I was reminded of this recently with the death of my mum of kidney cancer at the ripe old age of 54. I remember when in the middle of last year that she first told me she had cancer and that it had already moved into her liver, I just thought that she would be ok. No matter that it would be incredibly difficult to operate, I just thought that she would somehow get through it. She overcame other challenges in life, why would this be any different? She didn’t and it wasn’t until the last few weeks that I truly realised the extent of it all. No matter that she hadn’t eaten properly for six months, that she had lost much of her weight. Like her, I was an eternal optimist. Not my mum, not my family, but as my wife so rightly put it, ‘cancer does not discriminate’. There are no rules about who gets it. Sometimes that is just life. The reality is, being in denial never helped me, especially at the end.
While reflecting on the matter, it occurred to me that denial pervades everywhere, especially in schools. Whether it be the denial that every student learns differently, that government tests and formal exams do not measure everything, that for some students there are greater concerns in their life than submitting a piece of homework or completing an assignment – there are so many examples of situations in school where it just becomes easier and more convenient to deny some things.
A really good example of this is the place of technology and digital literacies in school. In a recent post, ‘Choosing Not to Know‘, +George Couros spoke about the culture of fear that hangs over some school leaders in regards to implementing technology and social media. As he stated:
I had two administrators approach me yesterday and start a conversation.
One told me about how their IT department had closed all social media in their school and about how their fear that if they were to open it. The fear shared was that their would be so many more issues of cyberbullying, inappropriate content shared, amongst other things.
 
What stands out to me with Couros’ discussion is that it is not only a question of fear that leads to the locking down of social media, but also an act of denial. The world is changing, yet there are some in education who believe that social media is not significant enough to incorporate into the classroom. I understand that there are issues associated with opening up the classroom and providing more access access to social media, as Dick Faber pointed out to me on Twitter:
 
@mrkrndvs @EduTweetOz @gcouros we had it open,only to teachers @ students with tafe access, world of pain;from hacked tafe/tchr accounts
— dickfaber (@dickfaber) March 10, 2014
 
However, I would argue that this risk is not simply alleviated by locking schools down. This simply shuns some of the problems, but in doing so fails to resolve the bigger challenge, that of prevention.
I remember teaching at my first school ten years ago. We had a student who had a will to destruct, so he created a virus and progressively installed it on a dozen desktop computers via a floppy disk. Locking the systems down did nothing to stop this situation. Sadly, when there is a will, there is a way. Opening up the school to social media simply changes the possibility of those ways.
Instead of denying that social media exists, we should be asking the question, which application allows students to explore and understand more about social media, so that when students leave the classroom and the school they are more aware of the world around them and their place within it.
In the end what underlies so many instances of denial is the inability to recognise the change that exists everyday, around us. So often we lock our lives down to an idyllic representation of how things are. However, this notion of the world not only denies so many facets to make it possible, but also those aspects that change and evolve each and everyday. Associated with change is the inability to allow others to learn and fail. It can be so easy to hold onto an ideal, a perception of who someone is. As I have stated elsewhere, this failure to recognize change often denies who someone could be. Whether it be through errors in our ways or personal development, we are all constantly evolving.
I understand that sometimes it isn’t possible to fathom everything, that you can’t support the whole world, that a little bit of denial never hurt no one. However, on the flip side, it never really helped anyone either. Maybe the first and most important step is simply recognizing those complexities that we so easily deny. Although we may not be able to resolve all such problems, sometimes it is enough to recognize that complexities and chaos does exist in the world. In some respect, that is the biggest part of the battle won.
I would love to know your thoughts.

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