Total Pageviews

Showing posts with label PLN. Show all posts
Showing posts with label PLN. Show all posts

Friday, July 30, 2010

Twitter, The 140-Character Chameleon

Creative Commons photo by Go to
If you've been told that all there is to Twitter is telling people what you had for lunch or following celebrities, you've been mislead. For teachers, Twitter is about connecting with colleagues and sharing ideas, resources and advice.

Call it a chameleon, a shape-shifter, use a pipeline analogy - anything you like - but one thing is for sure, you can't nail Twitter down. Twitter is whatever you want it to be. That's what makes it so hard to explain to people who aren't there - yet so brilliant for those who've taken the plunge.

If you're unfamiliar with Twitter and what all the fuss is about, you're not alone. Consider some of the ways this 140-character chameleon can be used.

Broadcast medium - Twitter is permission-based. Every message you send is broadcast to a group of people who deliberately choose to follow your feed. You do not collect email addresses. You never have to worry that you're sending unsolicited messages (or need to give yours). And whether you're broadcasting from an institution, your classroom, or standing in line at the grocery store, Twitter excels at letting you engage with people who want you to share your ideas, blogs, wikis, videos, and websites with them.

PLN builder - Your Personal Learning Network takes a while to build. This is the one thing you should understand - building that PLN requires real work. But once you do, it can be a great morale booster, invaluable source of advice, and cheering section. You can find thousands of advocates for PLNs, any one of whom could guide you, at a Ning run by Thomas Whitby called the Educator's PLN. Sue Waters has an excellent post on how to get started on your PLN with Twitter.

Professional Development - On Twitter, PD is entirely within your control and available literally anytime. Links to resources, lots of them, are Twitter currency. And colleagues are more than willing to share. This can be a wonderful cultural shift if you're not used to it. None of us knows everything, but all of us know something. Together we're better.

Edchat - You can chat with educators in a true global village through #edchat. It happens twice every Tuesday, but continues throughout the week. It's teachers talking to teachers. Real time PD anywhere, anytime. You won't believe the connections you'll make. Check out details from Tom Whitby and Shelly Terrell.

Virtual conference attendance - Short on PD funds? Just tap into a conference by following people who are tweeting from the event. Seriously, there will usually be someone there. Just search for the event name here, look for a hashtag, and you can monitor and participate in what's happening in that very room in real time.
Live blogging - Send a constant stream of tweets from a particular session or keynote and you'll be providing a wonderful public service to those who are following a conference or other event.

Backchannel - Following the hashtag for a particular conference session lets you communicate with other people in the same session. You can message people across the room, in another session, even those folks who are participating virtually a continent away - in real time. This sounds incredibly disruptive, but can work so well. Sometimes presenters will choose to display the backchannel tweets so they can get real time feedback on what's on the minds of the audience. Backchannels can greatly enrich your conference experience.

Complaints dept. - Get the attention of large companies and other organizations (at the least the smart ones who are listening) by mentioning your problem and including their name in a hashtag. Conscientious organizations will monitor their mentions and will often contact you to see if they can help.

Tech support - Crowd source (from your PLN) support answers to your vexing technical problems. Tell your followers what you're having difficulty with and tap into their expertise.

Subscription service - Whether it's Alfie Kohn, Sarah McLachlan, Lance Armstrong, or Michael Buble, Twitter gives you a glimpse into people's lives and the illusion (or the reality if you're lucky) of proximity to notable personalities. You can follow a author, a movement, a magazine like Fast Company or an organization like the National Education Association or the Canadian Teachers' Federation in real time.

Disaster and emergency tool - The American and Canadian Red Cross, Center for Disease Control, and police departments both stateside and in Canada are using Twitter to alert people to emergencies and send warnings and alerts.

Share your tastes and activities - Remember that tweet what you have for lunch thing? You can do that too, if you r-e-a-l-l-y want to. Some people even tweet pictures of it - ugh!

Real time search - websites are the institutional voices of organizations, tweets are authentic voices of real people. Find out what's happening on any topic under the sun by entering it at Twitter Search. Go ahead, type in anything under the scholastic sun to see what people are saying. You can use this to lurk and see the flood of real-time information on any topic before opening your official account.

News on demand - News from all the major corporate suspects are on Twitter, like the CBC, CNN, the Globe and Mail and the New York Times. But so are thousands of local news outlets - and millions of citizen journalists. If there's an accident on the highway, poor road conditions, plane crash, a dust-up at sporting event, you'll probably hear about it on Twitter before TV, radio and print get it.

Broadcast the revolution - When @cnn couldn't get reporters on the ground during election protests in Iran, citizens in the street tweeted all the drama and fed the world text and video as it happened. Glasnost and perestroika would have happened years earlier if the Polish shipyard workers had Twitter.

Journaling - Your Twitter feed is considered a microblog. But the truth is your tweets will disappear into the ether after a few months. If you want to save them longer than that, check out or You can also send your tweets directly to your Evernote account.

Look at me, look at me! - A bit of shameless self-promotion is expected. So, go ahead and brag about what you or your kids are doing - you're allowed. Don't worry, your PLN will give you props.

Admittedly, there is overlap the categories above. But this list is nowhere near exhaustive. The point is, that Twitter can be a tremendous boon to your personal and professional life. It really is anything you want it to be. Simply put, Twitter puts you in touch with colleagues and great PD, and it makes your world larger.
Skeptical? Read How One Tweet Changed a Teacher's View of Social Media by Irene Tortolini.
If you still have questions or doubts, there are over 4,700 colleagues who can help you back at the Educator's PLN.

If you have questions, comment below and I'll help.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Hope for 21st Century Education

A recent post by Tom Whitby on his My Island View blog explored the issue of standards testing. It was a great springboard for Andy Marcinek's launch of the #onecom chat associated with his growing One Comment Project ning.

Tom's post and this little video--inspired by the Lost Generation video of the same format--bring hope and a refreshing point of view to the debate.

If you're looking for great professional development, start your own Personal Learning Network (PLN) by joining thousands of colleagues from around the world on the Educator's PLN. Then join us on Twitter every Tuesday afternoon and evening for #edchat.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Who Really Taught Me Spanish - Was It My PLN?

Business 2
I've been blessed with being able to speak Spanish for a long time now. It's a real kick being a gringo and knowing my way around this wonderfully exotic language. And it may not have happened if it weren't for The Midnight Special.

Back in 1975, there were two Friday night concert shows on TV--The Midnight Special, first hosted by Wolfman Jack, and Don Kirshner's Rock Concert.

One night, two extraordinary acts hit the screen. One was David Bowie back in his glam rock days--the other was a British-American, flamenco-rock group called Carmen.

These days, you'd probably call Carmen's style world music or worldbeat. All I knew at the time was that they sang in English and Spanish and their sound really rocked.

So, I enrolled in Spanish lesssons at the International Centre and met Soñia Amaya, my Spanish teacher. Sonya taught us hapless Canucks how to trill our Rs and do various other pronunciation gymnastics which anglos have such difficulty with.

During the coffee breaks, I would sit myself down at a table full of Chileans--this was three years after the coup in Chile, so there were lots of them around--and test my halting Spanish. I'd ask if they had the time or invent any other excuse to start practising my rudimentary Spanish skills.

Well, I had a ball.

I got such a warm reception and made so many good friends that things snowballed from there. Setting foot into the Chilean world made mine so much bigger. They fed me and helped me learn their language. I heard their stories and grew to love them pretty quickly.

There were other Canadians who were just as adventurous and who were rewarded in the same way. And right about that time, I discovered that there was a small Spanish-speaking branch in my church.

I had hit the jackpot.

I was so excited. In fact, the first talk I gave in church was in Spanish, after I had spent eight months reading Condorito magazines, buying Chilean newspapers, listening to Radio Havana Cuba on the short-wave and working through a book called Spanish Made Simple.

Because of my association with Chileans, I learned all about the coup in '73, saw the movie Missing many times and tried to understand what my friends were telling me when they said they were in Canada as refugees--that they were forced to leave their country.

What an eye-opener.

The benefits of speaking Spanish have been extraordinary. But first, let's be clear. The language itself is not hard to learn. People talk about having a universal language and sometimes point to Esperanto. Well, Spanish has Esperanto beat hands down.

It's easy to learn, the grammar makes sense--I don't even have to know the meaning of a word to pronounce it properly--and it's already spoken in 21 countries. I love keeping a foot in each world--the Canadian and the Chilean. They really do complement each other.

I know my wife, who was born in Concepción, Chile, wouldn't have married a gringo who couldn't speak a word of Spanish, so I was lucky there. And that's the biggest blessing.

But it has enriched my life in other ways, as well.

I've learned that there are other ways of looking at things, other ways of thinking, other points of view. That the North American way of doing things is not the be-all and end-all. That has been a major benefit to me.

I like to think I'm more tolerant, more sensitive to racial issues, less patient with racial slurs, and more understanding of other people and cultures because of it.

I love this quote from anthropologist Wade Davis:

"The world in which you were born is just one model of reality.
Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you;
they are unique manifestations of the human spirit."

I owe a lot to this ability to speak such a warm and inviting language, to rub shoulders with such wonderful people, to have my world view broadened and my life enriched.

But my question is, who taught me Spanish? Am I really self-taught?

I could say I spent countless hours listening to La Voz de Los Estados Unidos on short-wave and many more dedicated to working through Spanish lessons on LPs, cassettes, and in manuals. I could give a nod to the excellent PBS sit-com Que Pasa USA--and to the many newspapers and magazines I pored over. Surely my own hard work combined with media and technology (such as they were) played a big part.

But even more important was the friendship of wonderful people in the early years. Recent immigrants who had little but shared their hospitality, friendship and their homes with me. Instructors who really cared about my success and the way I sounded. Church members who reached out to the Chilean wannabe in their midst. The Columbian woman at the Cosas Lindas Boutique who ran the local Hispanic radio show. My good friends Ivan and Victor. Later, my wife and my in-laws. All were huge influences.

In short, I had a large social network that adopted me just because I showed an interest in them, in their culture and language.

So, did I really "teach myself" Spanish?

Far from it.

I had a lot of people who mentored me, guided me and cared about me. People I enjoyed being with and who enjoyed being with me.

And even though we didn't have Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Livemocha--or any other social media tools to study languages with--we all shared and learned so much from each other.

To me, that wonderful network of friends sure sounds a lot like a pre-web PLN.

Your comments?