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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)
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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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