Social Network Learning: A Reflection

image art for reflection4-page-001I find it interesting that the class I expected to learn the least in is the one that has enriched me the most. Such has been my journey this semester in EdTech 543 Social Network Learning.

We’ve all got the first two words down – it’s that last one: learning. This course has opened my eyes to the powerful learning tool that social media and social networking can be. I’ll try to sum things up with a few before-and-after glimpses of what I have learned to help paint a better picture.

Before: Twitter is for people who have a lot of time on their hands and want to follow celebrities or make political statements. What could I possibly have to say in 140 characters?
After: Twitter is a resource so versatile and powerful that it can be used in the classroom and for painless professional development. I’ve truly been converted, as shown in Twitter Power. In just two months I have found dozens of helpful resources. I found out about the Global Education Conference and actually presented two sessions. Each time I check Twitter I walk away feeling enlightened and inspired.

Before: Pinterest is a much-too-pretty time-waster for people who love to cook and craft
After: Many educators use Pinterest in remarkable and creative ways to curate resources, share ideas, and enlighten students. My two boards so far (My Personal Learning Environment and EdTech Spotlight: Resources Educators Should Try) have strengthened my digital footprint and inspired me to create more.

Before: No one really cares what I have to say
After: It is my digital duty to contribute academic and sound content to the cyberspace knowledge cloud. My Periodic Table of Connectivism was picked up on Twitter, Scoop.It, and various blogs and websites. I still get dozens of views on it weekly. My presentation  My Digital Footprint and PLN currently has over 3,000 views on Slideshare since I created it two months ago. I’ve used it as the backbone for a huge presentation proposal I’ve submitted to an international conference. Point? Educators, professionals, and students are looking for specific content and topics and appreciate well-researched resources.

Before: Social networking really means Facebook
After: I am amazed at how many social networking tools that can be used for specific learning purposes. My Personal Learning Environment has grown immensely in this course. I’ve developed my personal brand and identity on Learnist, Classroom 2.0, Pinterest, Slideshare, Edmodo, and updated several other profiles on sites I’ve been using for a long time. I’m consistent and intentional in what I put out there.

Before: Social network learning is used interchangeably with social media and social networking
After: I ended up writing my very dense EdTech 504 paper on Social Network Learning: Supporting Theory and Framework. Social network learning is about learning in connected ways. It’s deep and powerful. Social media are the tools that facilitate this connection, and social networking involves using these tools to find new connections. The focus of this class has been on the learning.

I could go on. I’ve developed a social media acceptable use policy. I’ve created an infographic representing my Personal Learning Environment. I’ve created a MOOC prototype. I’ve communicated, connected, and collaborated with my peers spread across dozens of time zones through Facebook, Moodle, and Google Docs. I’ve received beneficial instruction and feedback from my professor Jackie Gerstein, who lives what she preaches and lives it well.

My digital life is deeper, richer, and more meaningful – and it’s only just begun!

Photos at top used under Flickr Creative Commons from the yes man and Anja Jonsson

Social Media Policy

A Teacher’s Guide to Social Media

Our school, like many, has an Acceptable Use Policy that students and parents must sign if they are to use any computer at school. It helps to ensure that students use school resources (both hardware and bandwidth) in appropriate ways. It keeps them safe and holds them accountable.

Part of my assignment this week in EdTech543 is to craft a social media policy or establish a plan to create one. In looking around for various examples of what other K-12 schools have done, it’s clear that each school does what works for them.

I’m disappointed, though not surprised, to see how many districts and schools ban external social media sites completely. Sure, it may protect and cushion students, but it also creates a long-term problem of not helping students learn to navigate a world they are already using daily. Schools do students a huge disservice and only compound the problem by feeding school-life-home disconnect. Students will still use social media outside of school but are given virtually no practice to use it wisely and well – and certainly not for learning.

It’s a complex issue, and one that is not easily solved. But rather than shut social media out completely, schools should use social media sites to teach and empower students. Use them to create a safe environment that lets students practice social media etiquette and appropriate online behavior. Let them discover these sites’ potential for learning and engage them in collaborative learning environments.

I have drafted a social media policy for our school and will present it to the Technology Committee for preliminary review and hopefully adoption. I believe it’s important to have this in place in addition to an Acceptable Use Policy, because 1) it states our belief that social media has a valuable place in our school; 2) it educates students, parents, and teachers on appropriate online behavior within social media sites; and 3) it helps ensure that everyone is accountable and safe.

Positive Examples:
Do you need help convincing others of the power of using social media in schools? Maybe you feel like it’s a lost cause. Perhaps in your area or school it is. There are, however, some trailblazing schools who are paving the way for more socially connected classrooms. I created this Diigo list of Social Network Educational Projects that showcases examples of how K-12 schools use social networks as a powerful learning and teaching strategy.

Further Resources:

Integration Strategies
60 Ways To Use Twitter In The Classroom By Category
50 Ways Schools Can Use Google+ Hangouts
100 Ways To Use Facebook In Your Classroom
The Teacher’s Guide to Facebook
Twitter in the K-8 Classroom
Teaching with Google+

How to Create Social Media Guidelines for your School
Connected Learning Community Essentials
Making the Case for Social Media in Education
Every Educator Has a Story…Just Tell It

Growing my Personal Learning Environment

My Personal Learning EnvironmentIf I was a seed at the beginning of this week, I’ve definitely gained a few roots, stems, and possibly even a leaf or two. Cultivating a professional online presence is not an easy task. It takes time and know-how to select, design, share, contribute to, and otherwise refine my digital footprint.

In EdTech 543 I joined several new online learning communities this week (the usual ones Facebook, Diigo, and Twitter didn’t count ). I had to be an active participant (no lurking!) by sharing resources, links, making comments, and otherwise contributing. What I originally thought would be an easy task turned out to take a significant amount of time and strategic planning.

Take Pinterest, for example. I purposely avoided this site in its early stages because, well, it was just too…pretty. Time-consuming. Crafty. I knew my baked goods, job charts, or bulletin boards would look nothing like its gorgeous pictures. What started small in early  2010 has become the third most popular social networks in the U.S. It’s huge. Just like they did with Twitter, people have started using Pinterest in all sorts of creative ways: including education.

Realizing its educational potential, I finally created my first board. It was actually a fascinating experience but not because of Pinterest itself (I found the interface quite easy to grasp), but what I realized about myself during the process. Rather than create a general resource on Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) – there are many, and great ones, too – I chose to create a visual depiction of MY personal learning environment. It is a visual collection of my favorite websites, online learning communities, productivity tools, professional development ideas, and other resources that capture the brilliant intersection of education and technology. In short, it is my digital footprint. It is me.

[PLE’s, by the way, differ from Personal Learning Networks (PLNs). PLEs are the larger circle, that include our resources, productivity tools, blogs, etc., whereas PLNs are a smaller circle inside our PLE circle consisting of the networks are are part of.]

So, I joined several as depicted on my Pinterest board including Edmodo, Global Ed Con and iEarn (I even submitted a learning proposal and was accepted!), and Classroom 2.0. I also spent some time on Learnist and Google Plus exploring, finding people to follow, making comments, and gleaning resources.

I created a PLE diagram that shows connections between all of these communities. While I like the interactivity of the Pinterest board, I needed something that could visualize a network, nodes, connections, branches, growth, or other relationships that are core to a PLE. I chose to use, an online infographic design tool (pretty but a bit tricky). I even attempted to align my communities and resources with the NETS for Teacher standards. Here is my finished product:

In comparing my PLE representation and that of my classmates, we share some commonalities and differences. We are largely part of the same core group of networks (Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter), use many of the same productivity tools (Evernote, Diigo, Google Apps, Zotero), share via some of the same platforms (Slideshare, VoiceThread, Prezi), and include job-specific resources, blogs, and communities. While our representation of such networks differ visually and in their taxonomy, the overall effect is that of being connected to a greater pool of knowledge, resources, and individuals that we would ever achieve without today’s technology tools.

This idea of growing our network, of growing ourselves, aligns well with the connectivist framework I have been researching lately. Like George Siemens said, “The learning is the network” (2004).

Additional Resources on PLEs from our course module:
PLE for Sustainable Learning
PLEs: A Collection of Definitions
What Is An Online Community?
Ten Reasons to Be a Connected Educator
5 Reasons to Join a Niche Online Community
How To Build An Online Community: The Ultimate List Of Resources (2012)
Personal Learning Networks
A PLN Quick Start Guide
Personal Learning Communities
8 Ideas, 10 Guides, And 17 Tools For A Better Professional Learning Network

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A theory for the digital age. Retrieved from      

Curation Ponderings

Do you ever have an aha moment, one that makes you stop and ask, “Where have I been?” “Does everyone know this but me?” “How have I missed this?” I feel like a patient who has just been given a specific name and treatment for her condition and can now move forward with the prognosis. I have found the cure–or rather, curation.

Perhaps you are laughing, as you’ve been familiar with this term for a long time. So have I really: I just haven’t known it’s name. It’s me, it’s what I do, it’s who I am. I am a curator of information, however informally and imperfectly.

CURATION: the process of sorting through the vast amounts of content on the web and presenting it in a meaningful and organized way around a specific theme. The work involves sifting, sorting, arranging, and publishing information (Kanter, 2011).

It’s more than collecting, as this chart depicts well. It’s certainly more than aggregating, tweeting, and organizing information. Anyone with thumbs can do that.

Curation involves making sense of information and then sharing that information in a way that is meaningful to the audience (Jarche, 2012). I love the idea of contributing in a positive, meaningful, valuable way to the knowledge base.

For this week’s EdTech 543 assignment I co-created with group members James Russell and Debi Banks the following curation checklist:

Though located in separate corners of the world, we each came up with five research-based criteria to ask when curating content. These questions are irrespective of the topic being curated and can be applied generally. We’ll be applying this checklist as we curate next week’s assignment. While I don’t normally enjoy group work, I love the flexibility online collaboration affords.

Additional Resources:
Content Curation for Personal Learning and Sharing: A great write-up and presentation used for the PLE Conference 2012
Content Curation Primer: fCurate.Us: Share visually appealing screen clips and quotes
Spread Your Knowledge: 15+ tools to bookmark, aggregate, and curate
Keep Your Content Fresh with Scoop.It: A great resource on using Scoop.It as a curation tool
Content Curation for Online Education: A curation of curation
Pearltrees: Curation tool to “collect, organize, share everything you like on the web”
Langwitches blog: Students Becoming Curators of Information Create an online newspaper
Innovations in Education: Understanding Content Curation

Here’s a worthwhile video explanation:

Jarche, H. (2012). The PKM value-add. Life in Perpetual Beta. Retrieved from
Kanter, B. (2011). Content curation primer. Beth’s Blog. Retrieved from
[Click on the images for direct link to their respective websites]

Professional Development: Webinars

Last night I stayed up very late in Nepal to catch a few webinars on SimpleK12. One was a fast-paced Web 2.0 smackdown where each presenter (me included–cool!) shared his/her screen and told about a useful tool. I chose PollsEverywhere, not because it is the best polling system out there, as others provide more analytics and assessment (InfuseLearning was highlighted as well), but because it is an easy way to turn any device into student response systems. I also learned about some other great tools such as screenr for instant screencasts, Doug Edmonds YouTube music videos that teach content, and BeeClip student digital scrapbook alternative to Glogster. I asked questions on the backchannel that were later answered and left feeling enthused and full of ideas. ]

The next webinar was on Symbaloo, which I am actually teaching this week during a professional development discussion, and I gained some new ideas on how to incorporate this tool. For starters, I’m going to set the homepage of all of the laptops to my Symbaloo webmix so that students don’t waste so much time pulling up websites and to keep them on task. I didn’t realize there were so many useful webmixes already created, such as “Surprisingly Edu Apps” and “Best Education Blogs.” I will definitely be spending some time webmixing this week.

I’ve tried a few times over the years to attend a successful webinar and have always left frustrated. It was either was boring or laden with technical problems. This webinar experience has encouraged me and I will be looking for others on topics of interest.