Dear Twitter. It’s not me, it’s you

Here’s a confession … I’m not as enamoured by Twitter as I used to be. Unlike a traditional break up argument (is this the case, I don’t know?) where one party says to the other “it isn’t you, it’s me”, I am most definitely saying “it’s not me, it’s you [Twitter]”.

Twitter, at its core, is something that merely reflects us, either individually or culturally. It’s a free tool and subject to very few rules and regulations. And I don’t like what I see there these days. A year ago, I wouldn’t have thought I would be in a position anywhere I would be called, or call myself, anything other than Avid Twitter User (ATU), but today I find myself a Reluctant Twitter User (RTU). I still use Twitter because I have made some amazing friends and contacts there, I have some fabulous conversations and networking, and the like. I’ve had ideas, shared them, allowed them to grow, collected and collated articles and books, all from Twitter. And I want to continue that. For the most part my use of Twitter hasn’t changed in the last year. But the way other people use Twitter has. Let me explain.

I have never used the ‘trending‘ or ‘moments‘ features of Twitter. I’m not interested in the latest celebrity news, I don’t care what who said to whom, or which talentless so-called celebrity is on the cover of some over-priced glam-mag, or whatever they’re called. And don’t get me started on the ads … all I’ve learned from Twitter ads is that the more you interact with them (either blocking the accounts or clicking the ‘dismiss’ option) just means you get more. The last time I tried dismissing or blocking the ads I ended up with a ad every 5th or 6th tweet in the iOS app. Now I ignore them, just gloss over them, and I get far far fewer! Annoying, oh yes, but fewer of them.

No, these are mere annoyances. What is causing me to think twice about Twitter is the way, as I said earlier, the way it reflects ‘us’ and how others are using it. In the last year the world has changed, it’s quite difficult to have not noticed. For my UK and European friends, it’s been Brexit. For the US and, frankly, rest of the world, it’s Trump. My Twitter feed is now full of political commentary and all sorts of negative content that wasn’t there before. Don’t get me wrong, and I’m not making a political statement here, the world feels like it’s on the edge of a very precarious precipice, and I feel like we’re toppling into the abyss on the other side we may never recover from. But that’s not the Twitter I want, or rather not what I look to Twitter for … this is why I ignore the ‘trending’ and ‘moments’ features, it doesn’t represent the Twitter (and my network) I want. 

I admire those who are vocal and active in bringing the ‘new world’ to our attention, to bringing the elite few to task for the masses who are not as able or represented (freedom of the press is powerful and ultimately the only thing capable of bringing balance to current affairs, by holding those in power to account for their actions), but I want to read and hear about it when I choose, not somewhere where I go to learn about my work, my network, my interested and passions, etc. Twitter has always been, for me, about learning, learning technology, etc. because those I choose to interact with and choose to follow are also tweeting about that. The world has changed, and all of us with it.

So, here’s what I need from Twitter, in this new world – I don’t want my Twitter timeline/stream to be controlled by algorithms, but I do want more control (note: I want the control, not for it to be done for me) over the kind of tweets that fill my timeline. If the 1,300 or so people I follow on Twitter want to share and discuss current affairs and Brexit and the like, then I am happy for them and don’t want to stop them, or unfollow them either. I just want some way to filter those out, until I want to read them. Twitter is acting against the rise (and rise) of trolls and the nasty side of the internet (some say too late).

Some might say I shouldn’t’ blame Twitter, it’s merely holding the mirror up to reflect society as it is changing, and it’s that reflection that I don’t like, but Twitter has changed – not just how it’s being used but also how it’s allowing itself to be used. Twitter, I believe, has a responsibility to balance how it is used. An analogy would be to not blame the car manufacturer for the people the drivers kill in accidents where their cars are involved, but we still hold them responsible for either false or misleading advertising features or safety they don’t have, as well as holding them responsible for the safety features they ought to have (so your car can go 200mph … how good are the brakes? Good enough, or the best they can possibly be?). So, Twitter needs to hold itself to account and deal with trolls, deal with the abuse of the verified icon, deal with the abuse of the global audience every tweet can have (whether it’s from someone with 3 followers or 3,000,000 followers), deal with (deliberate) misinformation from those who are in a position to affect so many, etc. Twitter has a responsibility. I don’t know how it can do any of this, but hiding or ignoring it isn’t going to make it go away. Inaction to deal with these problems, by association, is the same as allowing them to happen, almost to the level of making it approved behaviour, almost encouraging it?

Am I breaking up with Twitter? No. Or rather, not yet. But I am very conscious of trying hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Oh yes, Facebook. Don’t get me started on Facebook …

Image source: “Twitter” by Pete Simon (CC BY 2.0)

Networks – establishing and maintaining them

So, how would you provide an insight into creating and maintaining a professional network, in 140 characters? This was a challenge I took up from David Walker this morning.

Tweet

Actually, once I included Twitter handles of David, Sue, and Sheila, I only had 108 characters left. This is what I said:

Tweet

Replies both David and I received include, from Sheila MacNeill, “the more you give the more you will receive” and  a PLN “takes time to cultivate but pays huge dividends as a forum for sharing/Q&As” from Sue Beckingham.

I’ve written previously on networks, and how they work for me:

Many of us are aware of our networks and the impact we/they have on others. For some, like me, the network has grown out of no real plan or long-term goal. For others it’s been carefully managed and nurtured to be what it is. Whichever your approach it is fair to say our respected networks are important to us, both personally and professionally. Therefore we must care for it, and how others see us through it, in order to maintain our position in other peoples network. If we don’t do we end up being removed from networks and getting ‘black flagged’ or a bad reputation?

What would you say, to David or anyone else, about how your PLN, your learning network?

Image source: Kristina Alexanderson (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

What makes a good online learning experience?

Is it possible to define the qualities of what makes a good online learning experience, or a good MOOC? Is there a check list we could have pinned to the wall which we could use as we design and build our courses?

Here’s a few items I think the list needs, feel free to add your own ideas in the comments field below:

Presentation: Is the student able to relate to the subject and the presenter / educator? This is not always easy as the platform (Blackboard, Moodle, FutureLearn, Udacity, etc.) often controls how the materials are ‘presented’. Even with these constraints you do have options on designing your materials and laying them out in ways which make them easy to navigate or interact with. 

Accessible: Yes, there is web accessibility, but there is also ‘how easy is it to find your way around the materials’. Are there signposts in place at different points of the course to extra reading, areas for interaction and engagement, contact details, schedules, assessment points, etc.?

Interaction: You will probably have specific pinch-points in the course where you have designed and expect interactivity, but remember that students may want to interact or comment on other resources as they work their way through your materials. Consider adding functionality to enable students to do this (a dedicated forum for questions,or comments on each step?) and that someone from the course team will monitor these areas and is ready (and able?) to reply where necessary.

Connection: Remember that your students are not only geographically dispersed, but will have a range of learning styles, backgrounds, and availability. Not everyone can join your online chat or webinar at a certain time every week (it’s likely they work and have family commitments that take priority), just like they may not be able to access materials due to firewall issues. Distance learning students often say they don’t feel connected or part of the University or course because of these distances, so think about including some getting-to-know-you or group activities, give them opportunities to meet each other (virtually) and grow their own learning network (PLN).

Build for online: Re-using the same materials and design for an online course that you teach face-to-face will probably not work. Your existing materials and activities are designed with you as a focal point, where you can introduce, explain, highlight, and support students in a real-time environment. Online, things are different. Students will access and interact with the materials and each other asynchronously, therefore there will be delays between posts, requests, etc. of days or even weeks. Providing a link to a resource (PDF, PPT, etc.) should not be done even with face-to-face students (contextualise it, explain what it is and why they need it) and it’s even worse for learners at a distance: introduce each step and resources, explain what it is and why the student needs it, and provide an action to it (read, discuss, critique, analyse, share, etc.) to give it meaning.

Platform: Know what functionality your platform has (Blackboard, Moodle, FutureLearn, Udacity, etc.) and what you can use, where, and why. Consider each tool you’ll use to present materials as well as ask for engagement, and be sure the students have adequate instruction to use them if they’re new. Don’t use every tool in the box for the sake of making the course seem ‘modern’ or ‘interactive’ if there is no reason to do so. At the same time don’t ignore the tools available to you, just because you don’t know what they do – go find your Learning Technologist (or equivalent) and work with them during the process of designing your course – they’ll help you think about different tools or techniques available, explain what benefits they can offer you and your students, and help you implement and support them.

Value: For some this will be value of resources, for others it’ll be quality of videos produced and used. Consider each stage of the course, each resources you’ve included (core or recommended) and think about whether it is adding value to the learning experience, or not. If it’s going to cause a distraction, drop it. if it’s interesting but tangental to the learning journey, then consider moving to an area that students can go if they want more information.

Visual elements: Don’t forget that images or diagrams  (infographics?) can help showcase an idea, concept, or theory just as much as words can. Not everything need an image, but something that could link or help structure the course materials may well aid students and their understanding of the subject.

Journey: The learning journey should not just be about getting from the start to the assessment (and passing). There should be goals set at different pinch points where students can show understanding or critical evaluation of themselves and the materials. I prefer courses that don’t have exams (that’s because I always did badly under exam conditions) and alternative ways of assessment should be explored. Admittedly there are restrictions on what you can and can’t do with assessments that are possibly based on the platform, programme, or QAA (Quality Assurance Agency), but we shouldn’t stop thinking about improving and enhancing the learning journey and learning experience with different assessment methods.

Time: Do you make resources and materials available all at once or release them over a published time frame? Do you allow students to work ahead of the rest or keep them back so they engage at the same time as everyone else? Do you have objectives or webinars that require synchronous learning; what do you do if these don’t meet with individual and personal schedules? Do you provide alternatives?

Testing: Never underestimate how much time testing your course should take, and always get someone who has not worked on it to try it out. Test links, embedded media, tools, logins, interactions, assessments, etc. from both the view of how the students will view and interact with them, and how the course team (academic and administrative) will support your students.

What makes a good online course?

Image source: Kristina Alexanderson (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

 

How Twitter can be used for informal personal learning?

I joined Twitter in January 2008 and in the last 6 years, 4 months, and 7 days since my first tweet I have made or posted nearly 33,000 tweets! As I highlighted in my post from last year I have found Twitter the single most important source of information, events, research, back-channel, inspiration, and motivation I have even come across.

Of course it’s not actually Twitter that does this; it’s the individuals I have connected with in those 6 year, from all corners of this wonderful world and from all walks of life and cultures. These people, who I’ve built my Personal Learning Network (PLN) around, have made me laugh, cry, think, reflect, criticise, critique, avoid, seek out, and generally strive to know more about myself.

The great thing is that you/they had no idea they were doing it, or even part of it. That’s because that’s what I use Twitter for. You might use Twitter for something else; running buddies, charity auctions, account complaints, celebrity stalking, coffee-shop cake comparisons. We each have our own version of the same system that offers our own unique answers or destinations. 

Perhaps this is why Sue Beckingham asked me to help her out with her MSc dissertation because of both my approach, and use, of Twitter.

Using Google docs (something I first used for interviews and to collaborate on writing The Really Useful #EdTechBook), each question was semi-structured, giving the opportunity for follow on questions based on the interviewees answers. Sue certainly got me thinking about my own use, past and present, of how I use(d) Twitter.

With Sue’s permission, here is our exchange. I wish Sue the very best with her MSc dissertation, I only hope my small contribution was of use?!

How Twitter can be used for informal personal learning?

Sue Beckingham: The purpose of my research is to gain an understanding of how Twitter can be used for informal personal learning, the context in which it is used, and the perceived personal value of this space as a learning environment. I am interested to find out how you as an Educator in Higher Education might use Twitter as an informal personal learning space and what this space affords.

Thinking about the people and organisations you follow on Twitter, how did you identify them as useful to follow for your personal informal learning?

David Hopkins: It’s difficult to remember back to when I started using Twitter but I remember being a little confused about it, and didn’t fully understand what is was and what is could be used for. After a while I focussed my tweeting and searches on my work as a Learning Technologist and then started to follow and converse with some sector leaders (Steve Wheeler, Grainne Concole, James Clay, etc.). From there I kind of followed their lead: I watched and learned, I started to blog my ideas and thoughts, I started to have people follow me and, using their Twitter bio, decided if I wanted to follow them back. At the start the number of people I followed far out weighed those who were following me, but it soon balanced out (which is key if you’re to be seen as a ‘thought leader’ and not just someone who follows everyone and anyone).

SB: Thank you. What would you say makes for a good bio? What should you include?

DH: A good bio ‘should’ include a real photo of you (although I hold my hand up and admit that I had an illustration, which looked nothing like me, for 5 years on many social media sites), link to your online ‘home’ (somewhere you are managing and collating all your network activity; blog, LinkedIn, About.Me, etc.), and a brief description of who you are or what you tweet about. I tend to ignore people who have things like ‘… father, lover, footy-mad, beer-drinking, etc.’ even if they start with a professional sounding job or bio description. Perhaps this is a true reflection of their use of Twitter, which is fine, but I’m not interested in the ‘lover’ or ‘footy-mad’ part of their activity, so that will put me off. I’ll find my information elsewhere.

SB: When you visit Twitter do you have a particular approach to finding new information?

DH: It depends where I am: at work I have Twitter open in a browser tab and flick between that and work tabs. At home I’ll be on my tablet or smartphone. Each platform means I use it differently: the browser version is easier to search, skim-read, click links, etc. The mobile versions need more attention and a clearer approach to finding information as the screen real-estate is more precious and easier to get lost in.

I use Twitter lists and saved searches a lot, but also like to just skim & scroll through my Twitter stream. I find it difficult to avoid the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) but have learned over the years to just accept I will miss somethings. Then again, I’ve also learned to trust my PLN that, if it’s important or relevant or interesting, it’ll be retweeted at some point and I’ll catch it another time!

FOMO is hard to get over but as you point out the development of a PLN can alleviate this.

SB: Which of the following do you like to engage in when using Twitter and why?

  • conversations, discussions, debates 
  • answer others’ questions 
  • organised tweetchats 
  • prefer to just ‘listen in’

DH: All of the above, and for different reasons. I won’t deny thinking about each each tweet and how will this benefit my ‘brand’. By this I’m thinking about my reputation and my followers, will ‘this’ or ‘that’ appeal to them as they’ve voluntarily clicked my ‘follow’ button, so will this link, photo, article, discussion, joke, etc. mean anything, or am I going to annoy them with it.

Twitter has always been about the connections and contact I make with my PLN, those I follow and those who follow me, to the extreme that I feel responsible for the quality and quantity of posts, links, etc. If I could I’d reply to each and every tweet or mention I would, but again I have to ration myself to doing what I can. Conversations and debates are what is taking Twitter away from the superficial “here’s my morning coffee” tweets into a meaningful channel to work.

Sharing and ‘broadcasting’ is synonymous with Web 1.0, historically the realm of big business who could afford the high prices of .COM domain names. The rise of the writable-web as Web 2.0 gave everyone who wants it their own voice. The rise of social networks online crosses both of these realms, for me, with the added benefit (or complication) of the mobility and fluidity of Web 3.0 (the ‘executable’ web; Apps and the like).

There are times to listen and watch my Twitter stream, but I don’t like to take from a community without offering something back through either a tweet or some form of recognition.

SB: You mention that you have to ‘ration yourself’ – how do you do this?

DH: More often enough it’s leaving my smartphone or tablet on the side or in my bag so I’m not tempted to check it. Some days it’s easier, especially if I’m busy or engrossed in work or family and friends, other times it’s more difficult especially if I’m at a loss or in need of something more ‘interesting’ to keep my attention. There is no hard and fast rule, or even one that works, but different tactics on different days, for different reasons.

SB: Thinking about information that is shared that you engage with do you find added value where a tweet is extended by adding a link to more information? Which of the following is useful to you as a learner and why?

  • view photos, images, infographics
  • links to videos
  • links to articles, papers, books
  • anything else?

DH: Tweets that have a photo or some form of rich media are definitely more visible and engaging in a busy and sometimes frantic stream of updates, but it’s often not enough. I will usually browse the stream of tweets looking at a mixture of tweet lengths, number of hashtags used, if there are links, etc. but mostly I scroll and browse the avatars of who posted it. Some avatars are easier to spot than others, some I actively look for as I know they tweets about things that, more often than not, interest me. I’m sure I miss lots (FOMO?) but, as I said earlier, I have to accept I will miss some things.

SB: Do you think the number of people you follow contributes to this, ‘actively looking for avatars’, as opposed to reading in tweets in turn?

DH: Definately – the more you follow the larger the stream of tweets will be, and the speed in which they come. I know there are tools like HootSuite and the like to help manage these, as well as utilising Twitter’s own lists and saved searches, but these are not always easy to use, so I resort to just looking at the stream.

SB: What learning experiences using Twitter have been most beneficial to you? (i.e.. when was learning valuable, enjoyable, interesting to you?)

DH: Pretty much every time I tune into Twitter! There is always something being shared or discussed or criticised; from blog posts to news to research to opinions to jokes and personal chat. I have found the back-channel at conferences invaluable to learning and understanding so much of both the presentation, the background to it, as well as understanding the value (or lack of value) to ‘my’ community and my PLN!

Twitter has enabled me to leave my institutional network and reach further afield: nationally and internationally. This has been the single greatest achievement in my career to date, there is no way I could have become the professional I am today if I relied on my internal institutional network (I don’t know anyone who is satisfied with the career/professional development opportunities provided by their employer).

SB: How can others best be of help to you in enabling you to enhance your learning and self-development within Twitter as an informal learning space?

DH: If you take from the network, you should be prepared to give something back. I don’t like the term ‘lurking’, but it is sometimes a good title for those who take but don’t give something back. I know some who ‘listen’, but these people do sometimes give something back, even if it’s only a comment or share. If they power is in the network, any node of the network that takes and uses for its own glory, but doesn’t enhance or give back weakens the network.

Image source: Duncan Hill (CC BY 2.0)

Book review: The Social Leadership Handbook @julianstodd

“What we know today will get us to tomorrow, but we’ll have to learn more again tomorrow to keep ahead … welcome to the Social Age, where change is constant and we live in constant beta.”

I’ve never thought about learning like this before, other than I know I get bored quickly so find new things to keep me engaged and entertained. But, with the constant bombardment of new technologies, new networks, new applications to old techniques, etc. we are indeed in ‘constant beta’.

And I mean ‘we’ in the context of learning professionals (which I’m exploring with my next book project: follow here for news -#EdTechBook) that we need to not only keep up with developments but somehow keep ahead of them. I know this is near impossible, but we can at least be proactive in how we approach the changes, reflect on our own experiences, and make suggestions and engage with each other (and the students). From this will come better understanding and a clearer picture of what could be used, how, where, why, and (importantly) by whom. 

The Social Leadership Handbook This is why Julian Stodd’s book The Social Leadership Handbook is another book that has found it’s way on to my reading list.

Whilst Julian has clearly aimed the handbook at leaders and managers I see it resonating so closely with those of us who work across disciplines, as we often need to exhibit skills more aligned to management than technical.

“The Social Age is about high levels of engagement through informal, socially collaborative technology. It supports agility by allowing many and varied connections and the rapid iteration of ideas in communities that are ‘sense making’.”

Julian’s NET model is built around three themes, or dimensions. These are ‘narrative’, ‘engagement’, and ‘technology’. You see now why I think this is such an important book for learning professionals? Just this concept could be used to explain the role of a Learning technologist – we need to curate to share our knowledge (‘narrative’), we manage our networks, reputation, and communities (‘engagement’), and we use social collaboration and reach to learn more than we already know (‘technology’). And it doesn’t stop, we keep cycling through the three stages, not spending the same amount of time in each phase, each time we reach it, but moving and shaping our own learning, and thus the learning of those who we encounter and interact.

“Technology facilitates the experience, it facilitates learning, but doesn’t guarantee it … you can control the technology, but you can’t control the conversation, and when push comes to shove, it’s the conversation that counts. Technology is transient and adaptable. I can just bring my own device.”

I have not had chance to read the whole book properly but I know enough already that this will have an impact on hows I think about myself, my work, and how I approach the different elements: “the [NET Model] circle represents an agile journey .. once we have mastered the skills, we continue to refine them.

Main image source: Julian Stodd / SeaSalt Learning

Blackboard T&L Conference, Dublin #BbTLC2014

Next week is the 2014 Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference in Dublin. The programme looks very comprehensive and has 6 streams in motion, which means it’s going to be very difficult to attend and cover all the sessions I want to attend – which means I’m going to have to be very selective about what, and who, I see.

Here’s my first impressions of what I will try and see -

Wednesday, April 30.

  • Keynote / Prof Stephen Heppell. I have met and talked with Prof Heppell on numerous occasions (at Learning Without Frontiers in 2011 and during my time working at Bournemouth University) and know that his unique perspective and style will make this keynote both interesting and hugely profound on the issues affecting education today. This is one session you do not want to miss. 
  • Track 3 / Brian Hipkin – ‘The Culture of ‘Always On – How not to disengage in the age of engagement’. If we’re to engage and keep the attention of the ‘always on’ student, then understanding them and their needs is important. This session will look at society’s use of social media and the challenges of using it.
  • Track 4 / Gillian Fielding – ‘Collaborate: “A room with a view” for virtually anyone’. Case studies are always more interesting and relevant to how I think, so this one from Salford should be good, looking at the strategic embedding of Collaborate across the institution.
  • Track 5 / Kate Wright – ‘Making More Mobile – Aberystwyth University’s Experience of Implementing Mobile Learn’. I’ve been trying to find examples of Bb Mobile Learn in use for a while (December 2013) and this might be the first time I see it in action and get to find out how & why they did it, as well as what the students think about it.

Thursday, May 1.

  • Track 2 / Jan Snijders – ‘The Matrix, connecting worlds’. Bb Implementation and use across a whole institution is never easy, so it’ll be interesting to hear how Avans University have achieved this, and how they’re taking it forward and integrating it into more than just the basic ‘file store/dump’ mentality.
  • Track 2 / Sara Preston – ‘Embedding Blackboard Collaborate in Academic Practice’. Using Bb Collaborate for more than just the basic ‘online presentation’ is key to utilising it’s vast capabilities, so hopefully the University of Aberdeen can share some practices (good and bad) at how to meet these challenges.
  • Track 3 / Lloyd Dean – ‘Using BlackBoard to Flip the classroom’. I have had conversations at Leicester about the flipped classroom, as well as delivering a workshop, so this will be interesting to hear how others are using and implementing the flipped approach, and whether the techniques can be replicated at Leicester.
  • Track 4 / Malcolm Murray – ‘Student voice: is honesty the best policy? Giving students control of TEL evaluations’. I met Malcolm for the first time at the 2013 Durham Bb Users Conference, so know this session will be informative and relevant, as well as being very pertinent to the conversations I’ve had around the issue of module and learning evaluations.

Friday, May 2.

  • Track 1 / Louise Thorpe – ‘Flipped, flexible and feedback: Blackboard client community group piloting Blackboard Collaborate to provide more engaging and innovative learning activities for on-campus students’. Collaboration for both campus and distance learning students is one everyone’s mind at the moment, with Bb Collaborate a solution being considered and investigated. This session will hopefully provide some insight into successful implementation both technically and pedagogically.
  • Track 3 / Sharon Flynn – ‘Student as Producer: Developing a campus mobile app for students by students using Mosaic’. I’ve followed Sharon’s work at Galway for a number of years, and enjoyed conversations in Twitter and in real life too, so I know this session will be informative, well presented, and very useful for any organisation looking to, or has already, implemented a campus App.
  • Track 1 / Jan-Willem van der Zalm – ‘Moving Your Mission-Critical Services to the Cloud’. Cloud services are becoming a big thing. Will this session address some of the issues and concerns universities have with this (including data protection?) or just be another sales pitch … ?

There are many more sessions I am interested in, but most are scheduled for the same time. I can only hope that bloggers like me will write up their notes and/or Bb will archive the presentations .. and maybe even record them too?

Blackboard Teaching & Learning Conference 2014 BbTLC2014