creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by jez`: http://flickr.com/photos/girlgeek/3374620636

So often it is said, teachers must be on Twitter. For example, Peter DeWitt’s provides 3 Reasons You Need Twitter More Than It Needs You! while Mark Barnes gives 5 Reasons Every Person in the World Should Be On Twitter. The question though is whether Twitter is the answer? Teachers are encouraged to develop their own personal/professional learning network, but does this automatically equal Twitter? I am not saying that I am against Twitter (see for example my posts here, here and here.) I am just wondering, like Audrey Watters, whether Twitter is the best option for online professional development? Here then are some alternatives for cultivating connections online through aggregation, bookmarking and speaking with people:

Aggregation

When I started my PLN, content and connections came via Twitter. I found resources from those I followed and various hashtags, such as #vicpln and #edchat. Connections and relationships felt like they worked as I only had a small network. However, as the numbers of people I followed grew, the medium changed. Although there were more ideas being shared from a wider array of people, it started to lose something. Although lists offers one way of managing noise, I turned to Feedly as a way of managing connections in order to build stronger relationships. Feedly is a news aggregation application, which means that instead of going to different sites to check for updates, RSS allows you to keep track of updates. This is particiularly important for blogs and news sites which are updated regularly. Although I could subscribe to posts, I have enough coming into my email as it is. What I like about Feedly is that I am able to organise posts into categories, quickly flick through them on whatever device that I am on, as well as easily post links and quotes to other applications in order to share with others.

Feedly is not the only aggregator out there. Some swear by Flipboard and Zite (which was recently bought out by Flipboard), while Pocket also offers many possibilities, especially if you have subscriptions forwarded to it. I am also really taken by the idea of syndication as a way of creating a personalised aggregation. A great example of this is the Connected Courses community. Having dabbled with Paper.li, I wonder if this would be a better way of bringing a community together. Although this could be more easily done using something like Tagboard, not everyone in the community uses the same #hashtag, making it that bit more difficult.

Bookmarking

An alternative to aggregation and syndication is social bookmarking. Personally I use Diigo. I came upon it via the Ed Tech Crew group and my practise has grown from there. Some of the benefits include the ability to curate a personalised library of links, annotations, notes and tags that can include not only your own items, but also links to others as well. Like Feedly, Diigo provides the flexibility to work across platforms using a range of add-ons, extensions and bookmarklets, although I still find it easier to use through the browser, rather than on a mobile device. However, the most useful feature of Diigo is the ability to search for resources that you can’t quite find or have forgotten about.

There are other alternatives when it comes to curation, such as Delicious, Pinterest and Evernote. I could spend all day arguing why Diigo is the most useful or provides the best features. However, at the end of the day it comes down to personal choice. For a more extensive list of the alternatives when it comes to bookmarking and curation, see John Pearce’s extensive presentation. The benefit of curation, Tom Barrett argues, is not about whether you will continually use all the links you save, but about building a resource you can dig through and mine for ideas at a later time.

Sound and Vision

One of the complaints about Twitter is that due to constraints it does not properly grasp the personal and limits depth of dialogue. An alternative that has really taken off for me lately has been Voxer. A touch-to-talk application, Voxer allows you to communicate with a community via voice, text and image. Joe Mazza calls it his very own personalised podcast, This may not seem that revolutionary, but there is something slightly more humane about the human voice. I think that is the success of podcasts in general. In addition to voice, you can add as many contributors as you like. For more information, see Pernille RIpp’s post.

An alternative to Voxer is Google Hangouts. Hangouts allows you to connect ten people at once through video. In order to go beyond this, there is the option of broadcasting the conversation to the world and involving others through backchannels, such as Today’s Meet. This is the process used by Amanda Rablin and Roland Gesthuizen with their online ACCE Learning Network show. The other way of extending the conversation beyond ten people is by using MIT’s open sourced Unhangout platform. Based around Hangouts, Unhangout allows you to start centrally and then split off into various small sessions as needed. The only other feature that is sometimes overlooked when it comes to Hangouts is the ability to communicate via text. Like Facebook Messenger, these conversations provide the means to create quick and easy conversations with a wide audience without filling up the inbox.


Interestingly, last year there was a report published by Kathryn Holmes, Greg Preston, Kylie Shaw and Rachel Buchanan about ‘What Twitter Offers Teachers.’ They studied the tweets of 30 leading educators, as well as streams of some popular #hashtags, for their evidence. There findings were:

  • Twitter is a filter for educational content
  • Twitter facilitates positive, supportive, contact between teachers but not sustained educational conversations
  • Educator tweeters are not prone to tweeting inane meaningless comments
  • The majority of hashtag posts contain educational links
  • Hashtags enable access to a wide variety of web-based resources and news without the need to interact with others or to sift through the personal communications between othersTwitter offers connections with a network of like-minded educators
  • Twitter gives a user total control over the level of interaction and focus
  • The key characteristics of effective professional development could be accomplished through the use of Twitter.

Going beyond this list, what interests me is why just Twitter? Why not all platforms? Why not a focus on the connected educator, rather than just Tweechers? In the post script it is stated that more research is needed into the impact of Twitter on the classroom. However, I think that what is really needed is reseach into the impact of being connected as a whole on educators (and learners for that matter too). However, as Alan Levine pointed out while reflecting on Connected Courses, that the data which we collect and collate often misses serendipitous nature of learning.

Above anything, it needs to be remembered that there are many ways to foster connections and they don’t all need to be on Twitter, let alone online at all. Although digital tools make connections more doable, not everyone is comfortable being active in such spaces. However, this is not to say that they cannot or are not connecting. At the end of the day, what matters is why people are connecting. Maybe moving forward this should be our message moving forward? So, how are you connecting beyond Twitter, I would love to know. Your comments, as always, are most welcome.



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