A Learning Experience About Social Media in Education

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I recently hosted a workshop presented by Tony Baldasaro (@baldy7 for Twitter folks) that was titled “iPads for Admin” but turned into a great session on social media tools in education as well. The audience included school administrators and Directors from different districts across NH. It started by my introducing Tony as a presenter that I follow on Twitter (and now Google +) and how I had found him to be a great resource professionally. I explained that I started following him not because of his local connections to the NH schools that I work with but rather from my connections on Twitter from all over the world that have shared out his “tweets”. I then shared the names and/or Twitter “handles” of the school administrators and connected educators who linked me to Tony and offered the suggestion to the participants to follow and connect with these great resourceful connections for their own PLN. I can’t remember all the names I mentioned as they just rolled out but Patrick Larkin (@BHSPrincipal), Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal), Steven Anderson (web2.0classroom), Alec and George Couros (@courosa and @gcouros), Sheryl Nussbaum Beach (@snbeach), and Principal EL come to mind right now. As I mentioned these different names and the important impact that social media has made for me as an educator, I had no idea that I was creating an almost framework for Tony’s session and the great spin he would take on it. I also had no idea that all of these people and even more that I have come to value so much were all part of his presentation!

He started by showing short videos about the impact of social media from things like a dad journaling his daughter’s life in video, to that great guitar throwing airline complaint song, United Breaks Guitars, by Dave Carroll and how his viral (and catchy) video song finally got the attention of the airline giant, to the impact of Twitter on global events, and then to how Justin Beiber and Lady Gaga used social media in the entertainment field. He also shared that he’s not an endorser of their music and struggles to understand why Lady Gaga wears those “interesting” outfits (many admin in the audience share an understood laugh at this) but that he sees the powerful impact social media has had on their success and the power it can have in other areas such as education. He then shows another video clip on the participatory culture our students are growing up in and how leaders in corporations get it. (Great video, I think to myself and immediately tweet it out “Corporations get it, why not in education?”) from here, Tony segways over into the impact social media has on education and starts with a bit about Patrick Larkin from Burlington HS and how he uses, advocates for and teaches about social media in schools. (Remember I mentioned @BHSPrincipal in my intro? Well here he was full screen in Tony’s presentation!) He told the administrators in the audience how Patrick uses social media tools like Twitter and blogs in his school and even teaches a class there about social media responsibility and digital citizenship. (To add to this, I would also note that his class is part of a wonderfully connected project found in an article by Edutopia  here with two other schools and great connected educators Shannon Miller (@shannonmmiller) and William Brannick.)

Remember that I said the audience was mostly school administrators and Directors? Well, they came into this session focused on using iPads and Web 2.0 tools for Administrators with varying experience and comfort levels in using the technology in general but especially towards the idea of social media tools. While some did seem to be into the idea of using social media as a learning and collaborative tool, others seemed to be absorbing this information as if it were presented in a new light they hadn’t seen before. Maybe this was because it came from a local source they could relate with and trust in and in an audience of their peers where they could share and discuss these tools. I heard questions about Twitter versus Facebook, Do you use Twitter differently than Facebook? where do you start?, who would you suggest to start following? How do you join in conversations and school specific questions? Tony was really great about offering ideas and tips such as how to use hashtags to follow conversation such as #edchat or #edtech, how to create lists of different followers, or how to DM (direct message) someone. To my surprise and slight embarrassment, he showed how you could tell when you have been mentioned and there popped up my latest tweet. “Jenn’s been tweeting about this session, I see.” Eyes turn on me and I joke back something about backchanneling. From here though, I could see a light turn on in some of them as they explored these concepts on their iPads and began discussing how they currently use or would perhaps in the future use such tools. Tony finished the session with a great video that served as a nice ending note for the group and explained a few things for me. He showed the video with George Couros (@gcouros) that begins with “So I Started This Google Doc….” (The original movie was for Alec Couros titled “Happy Birthday Alec Couros” and was uploaded by Dennis Shareski.) Now, understand that I had attended an exceptionally great remote symposium called RSCON3 (Reform Symposium #rscon3) and attended a session by both George Couros and his brother, Alec Couros. They are two administrators in Canada (if you don’t already know about them) with a strong and proud Greek heritage who are very interesting, entertaining and engaging in their sessions. Throughout this specific session, I kept seeing chat requests for George to break out into song or karaoke. I didn’t quite understand but thought he must just be a musical guy as well and didn’t pay it too much attention. After watching this video, it all made sense….. (Watch and you’ll understand too.) It was the perfect note to send these participants off on because it truly showed the powerful ties that can be created through social media. As they left, the group seemed very energized and even those who were new to the tools showed interest and excitement at their possibilities. Tony also seemed pleased that he had a chance to share this information with his peers.

I was also energized to hear these conversations happening from area administrators. It was such a positive change versus the negativity many educators and school leaders have shown in relation to social media and online collaborative tools in the classroom. From the comments that I hear from many of my colleagues, they have fears related to this type of technology that “puts yourself out there” to people you don’t know or they fear how employers and the students might see them. Mostly, I feel that there is a lack of understanding relating to how these tools can be used as professional learning resources versus “gossipy socializing” tools that they are sometimes seen as. More examples need to be available for educators to see the positive side of using social media. (The video by George Couros was definitely one of them.) The resources, ideas, connections are just incredible. I know it has made a large impact on me professionally and personally.

I, myself, took this journey from the “against social media” to the “advocating for” camp fairly recently. So I can see where those still shying away from it are coming from and know that it will take something like this session with Tony to spin a new positive light on it for them. Solid examples of administrators with successful social media programs and how their students and staff are benefiting from it such as that of Patrick Larkin or Eric Sheninger are a good way to start such a conversation. Finding resources to help educators looking for the best way to start is important to support their journey.

In training sessions, whether on the iPads, or other classroom technology, I try to have conversations on how social media and collaborative online tools can be a great help to learn more about digital tools and for finding related resources. I even have these discussions at home with my husband who works as an IT Project Manager but isn’t really into social networking. He does use LinkedIn but not much and really doesn’t get how I use Twitter. “Its a great tool for me professionally and I learn so much!” I tell him. He nods but doesn’t really absorb what I mean. I show things I’ve discovered to him and the value behind them hoping it will spark his interest down the road but I know it will take lots of baby steps and patience to convince him.

I look forward to future workshops by Tony at my center. I hope to bring in other connected administrators here as well to provide these important examples to educators in my area and put a positive light on the use of Twitter, Google + and other social media tools.

Recently, my husband showed some promise in venturing into social media. “Started using a Twitter account” he tells me.
For creating a professional network? gathering resources? learning? I ask.

“Uh, no” he says, “For my fantasy football league.”

Oh well……… babysteps, I tell myself.
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