Monday, March 28, 2011

Week 3: Further Developing PLN Through Google Reader and More

Fingers flying, eyes straining, pin-drop silence and then exasperated sighs were just a few of the things we experienced during this past class on March 22nd as we tried to keep up with the #edchat on Tweetdeck. It was intense and I found my eyes getting dry as I forgot to blink! I loved it though. I had participated before through Twitter, but never through Tweetdeck. I liked Tweetdeck better this week as it helped me to have a second column open with mentions in it. If somebody replied directly to me and mentioned me with an @bellafiore then I could see it while still participating in the chat. I think participating in a live chat greatly illustrated to some of the doubters in class how dynamic and powerful Twitter can be when used in this way.

In addition to the Tweet-fest we also learned how to use Google Reader to sort blogs and other feeds that we might be following. We learned about RSS (real simple syndication)as a way to follow blogs and other sites. I had used Google Reader last year, but the interface was annoying. You couldn't set up folders without doing a lot of extras after you had begun to follow a feed. This time the interface appeared to borrow from bloglines. I think Google must have re-designed their interface. This meant that it was a few easy clicks to set up folders and organize your reading. Loved it! I don't read everything that I follow regularly, but I do go back to various blogs when looking for certain info.

We learned about a lot of other tools for socially connecting with people and building your PLN in other ways. My favorite was Goodreads, which allows you to develop an online bookshelf. I love to read, but often don't read much during the school year as I don't have the time or mental patience. In the summer however, I devour books 2-3 in a week. Goodreads features groups that you can join, who may have common interests and discussions. I joined one on Art, but it appeared the discussions were a bit too, general. I will continue to explore this one. It could be like being in an online book discussion. You can also connect and be friends with people through this site. I don't know if I need to do this. I feel like I'm already connected in so many places, but it is fun to see what people are reading and what they might recommend. I also saw that you can link your Goodreads account to Facebook. One of my favorite early Facebook features was the favorite books thing that let you create a book shelf and rate books you'd read. I wonder if Goodreads copied Facebook or vice versa? Either way I love to read and this is another great way to connect.

Another site that I have used that is similar to Goodreads is Scribd. The difference with Scribd is that many of the documents available are self-published articles and booklets. There is an interesting collection there for educational purposes and you can also friend people and recommend articles etc. Many of the presenters at this year's NAEA conference published their presentations on Scribd, which allows for graphics rich documents. I learned of several of these documents through tweets that I was following throughout the conference at #naea11 on Twitter.

We discussed a number of other PLN builders that I didn't have the time to try this week. Some of them I was already familiar with such as TED Talks and PBS for Teachers. The PBS for Teachers is one I'd just set up an account with a few weeks ago. I love the resources and the videos that are available. I teach using the Art21 website that is powered through PBS and it is an awesome resource so I look forward to exploring even more with the full Educator access. I didn't have time to explore any of the other tools so more will come later on those. I am excited to use Goodreads and further develop my book shelf. Now if only I had that iPhone so I could access my list while I'm at the book store shopping!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Developing a PLN-Week 2 Using Tweetdeck

This past week in class we experimented with using Tweetdeck to manage our tweets and the various feeds that we may be following. While I understand the reasons for Tweetdeck I found it to be a bit overwhelming. I don't know if I am still too, new on Twitter, but I found it to be too, crazy to watch multiple columns of tweets at the same time. I installed Tweetdeck right after class the first week and began playing around with it. I had it running in the background of my laptop while I was working on other documents or other things on the web. I found it to be distracting, but sometimes interesting to have the tweets pop up on my screen. Distracting in that I would stop to read the tweets and if someone had said something good, sharing a link etc. then I'd be off and running to follow that link. I started to be more off task than I am when I try to work at home and have Facebook up at the same time!

I think that Tweetdeck is outstanding for organizing columns of tweets so you can monitor multiple conversations at the same time or isolate certain people's tweets so you don't miss any of what they are saying. I tried to follow the #edchat and #wiunion tweets at the same time on Tuesday evenings class. There were so many tweets in both streams it was hard to keep up, much less respond. I was also trying to follow the PLN2011 chats and felt like it was all I could manage. I think for reading and just following, Tweetdeck is cool, but if I want to participate and respond I am still trying to become familiar with the tools to do this through Tweetdeck. It sort of feels like the interface is a bit hidden/compact compared to the easy, straight forward tools on Twitter. I think Twitter took off because of its simplicity.

I think Twitter has infiltrated many people's lives because of that simplicity. I read in the New York Times today how there are groups of people who are experiencing Twitter envy over the posts of people attending events that they wish they could go to. Some Twitter users feel people are just bragging when they tweet things like "I'm standing in line next to Danny DeVito etc." I think it is fascinating how this is taking over our social mores and Twitter etiquette is now part of the social structure amongst some groups. I think again that Twitter is able to do this because of it's simplicity.

Can you use Tweetdeck from your phone? If I'm at an event following multiple conversations on my phone how does that work? Not sure? Still experimenting with Tweets by phone. I am not entirely sold on Tweetdeck. Bottom line might be a design thing. I think the graphic design of Tweetdeck is a bit cluttery and since I'm a visual person maybe that's why I'm not thrilled with it. I wonder if HootSuite is designed better? I went to download, but it looked like you had to pay for HootSuite so maybe not. What do you think? Is there a better, cleaner design for following and organizing your multiple feeds?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Developing a PLN-Week One Twitter

In the midst of all the chaotic WI state budget talks and threats to teachers I have found being a connected professional with an already healthy PLN to be a godsend. Websites like Twitter and Facebook have spread the word about the movement. Even if you are on the opposite side, the social networking sites and microblogging communities have helped to mobilize a movement. As an educator I find this part of what has gone on to be especially intriguing.

Educators enlighten, inspire and teach students how to learn. I have learned more this past week about the dynamic power of Twitter than the past year or so that I've been casually puttering around with it. Twitter became my news source. If you follow the right discussions or thread it is POWERFUL especially during a crisis. Yesterday as the state Capitol building went into lock down mode after the controversial vote on the bill, reporters for the state were sending rapid fire minute-by-minute tweets of what was happening. I tried to find info on the local news websites, but their updates seemed to be biased, less journalistic and very slow in reporting exactly what was happening. The Twitter feed was quick and very specific and objective. Facts were being stated objectively through pure observation; this is what journalism is supposed to be. Both sides were being reported and I felt almost like I was there. The tweets spurred me to action and I felt compelled to head to Madison that evening to be part of history.

This personal experience was powerful for me. I think a connected educator can empower her students to be intelligent consumers of the media driven economy that we live in today. Inspiring students to be informed and to use social media for educational purposes, to gain knowledge and to be inspired can be a great thing. Using social media to connect to learners around the world expands the teacher's expertise, too, allowing her to bring a more diverse experience to her students. I communicate with some of my students via social media. I try to keep my communication professional, critiquing their art work or sending them links of art exhibits and other online resources that I know they might enjoy and derive inspiration from.

Being a connected, networked educator requires some commitment and perhaps a change in perspective on the part of the educator. We can be connected 24/7 if we choose to be. I am ok with a student asking me a question at 11:00 at night while I'm on Facebook or texting me a comment during the summer like, "Mrs. Bjork, I'm at the coolest art gallery right now and you would love this one painting." I don't mind being connected to my students 24/7 because being an eductor and artist isn't something I do just between the contracted hours of 7:15 to 3:15. I am always ON, refining my craft as an educator and artist. If I don't want to connect I log off or silence my phone.

Lastly I think developing a dynamic, lively PLN has been instrumental in helping me learn how to be a 21st Century Educator. Many of the skills I needed in my field of art weren't available here within the district so going beyond and connecting to educators worldwide allowed me to get the knowledge I needed to expand my curricular area. The mac lab and new technology based art courses that I teach are a direct result of the knowledge I learned from my PLN.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Digital Media - New Learners Of The 21st Century Great Show from PBS

Watch the full episode. See more Digital Media - New Learners Of The 21st Century.

This is a great show on Digital Media and the skills that 21st century students need to succeed and survive in everyday life. It celebrates how educators have taken on the challenge of teaching in the new environment. There are some really inspirational models for what schools could look like if we embrace technology and teach utilizing it in authentic ways. Students utilize trial and error to problem solve real technology projects such as game design.

Another thing I love about this is that students are encouraged to play and to tinker and to naturally, organically arrive at solutions. The video also shows students pursuing things they are passionate about pursuing not just for school, but as a career. My favorite part was the media work segment where kids were developing films, videos and graphic design portfolios. The teacher, Nichole Pinkard talked about media work and how students had to build on traditional literacy skills, but then needed art literacy, the ability to decipher and understand colors and shapes in order to build a successful media project. The arts are critical!! It illustrated the integrated use of art, literature, music, writing and more. Loved that part!

Another thing this video illustrated is how students became more engaged citizens. Their excitement for digital media caused them to share it with family and friends and eventually to become volunteers in their community. FANTASTIC! I also love how the video showed students connecting with museums through educational programming. I used to work at a Children's Museum and greatly value the learning through play that a Museum environment can foster. It changes the atmosphere and can engage students more than they may be engaged in the standard classroom. There are more options and more possibilities. It is fantastic when students connect with their community and the organizations that exist in that community for educational purposes. Museums that are active and creative can really be a huge part of 21st century learning.

So excited to see that one entire segment was filmed in Middleton, WI. Students are working on Design problems and are using location-based education to learn about the city plan and the uses of the Middleton city plan. What an amazing real world way to teach. The students left the classroom and went where they needed to go to complete the project and solve the problem. It inspires me that this is going on right here near where I live. Students were using their own cell phones to do this. They didn't need big fancy, expensive equipment. I also liked how the students were really meeting with the actual city planners and others that they would meet with if they were doing a real design job. I wish we'd done this at my school with the re-design of the art room and building project.