Professional Networking – Learning from people I’ll never meet.

Social Networks and Online Communities

Learning through Social Networks and Online Communities is mostly about learning from people I’ll never meet. Occasionally, to my delight, the unexpected happens, and I get to meet a person I’ve interacted with extensively online. When that happens we greet like old friends.

I’ve learned a great deal from my direct teaching experience, from face to face PD sessions, from my students, from my teaching colleagues and from reading material they’ve recommended, but I’ve learned still more from connections online.

I’ve connected through Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn and online communities like the Google Teacher Academy, the PLP Network, and more recently, VicPLN. The sharing and discussion in the VicPLN and the Australian-e-Series Facebook groups illustrate just how useful online communities can be for discovering educational ideas and resources.

I’ve still much to learn about professional networking online, especially on Facebook, which I’ve used mostly to stay in touch with family and friends, and Pinterest, which I’ve used less frequently. I’m looking forward to learning how to better use Facebook professionally this year. I’ll continue exploring Pinterest too, though I’m less sure how active I’ll become there.

Google+ and Twitter

I do most of my networking on Google+ and Twitter which are now the second and third largest social networks respectively. They make it easy to read the thoughts of interesting people and to share my own thoughts with them. We can converse, argue, laugh, learn, engage, and, if we’re busy, ignore one another – something we can’t do face to face. Often the discussion revolves around a shared link to an online article or resource outside Google+ or Twitter, but it can also be a direct conversation with no external linking involved.

The key to success is making connections – to circle people on Google+ and to follow people on Twitter – the more the merrier. If you don’t do this, you’ll suffer the ‘ghost town’ syndrome or, if you’re a celebrity with many followers but minimal people you’re following, your ‘networking’ will be no more than advertising.

It’s also important to share, though you can start by ‘lurking’ as a follower or circler until you gain confidence. With Twitter it helps to use hashtags like #VicPLN or #edtech. They make it easier for people who don’t follow you to see your tweets. With Google+ it helps to join Communities which function like Facebook Groups.

Managing the Avalanche of Information

As I write this post I have more than 4000 people in my Google+ circles and more than 7000 people have circled me, so there’s too much information to show in readable form on screen. The flow is filtered automatically by Google and Twitter so that it’s possible to read, but it’s too rapid to digest. I use three strategies to manage the avalanche of information.

Firstly I use simple search. Both Google+ and Twitter allow me to enter searches that return posts or tweets relating to whatever search term I enter. If I want to read what people are saying about the Gonski education reforms, all I need to do is search for ‘Gonski’.

Secondly, I filter the stream to narrow the results. In Google+ I do this by switching from the full Google+ stream to circle streams or community streams. I might browse my ICT in Education circle’s stream or my Philosophy community’s stream. In Twitter I use TweetDeck to display separate columns for streams like the #vicpln hashtag and for individuals I find especially interesting.

Thirdly, I use automatic collation tools like Flipboard and Paper.li that present my streams in digital newspaper format. These provide a relaxing magazine like experience and, since I’ve only chosen to circle or follow people who share my interests, I invariably find interesting things to read.

Hanging Out

Google+ Hangouts also provide a great way to communicate more directly with others. Hangouts are similar to Skype except that you can have up to 10 people appearing on screen at one time and you can stream Hangouts to YouTube so that others can watch live or view a recording later. I’ve sometimes used hangouts to bring distant experts into discussion I’m having with teachers. The most impressive hangout recipe I’ve seen so far comes from Amanda Rablin and Roland Gesthuizen whose weekly ACCELN (Australian Council for Computers in Education Learning Network) Google Hangouts offer great value. You can read how they manage their hangouts here.

Google+ vs Twitter vs Facebook

Twitter and Google+ are very different tools. Twitter is better for discovering and discussing breaking news. Google+, like Facebook, is better for longer and more detailed discussion. I prefer the clean advertising free interface of Google+ and the ease of managing sharing compared to Facebook. Facebook’s advantage lies in its massive user base. If I want to find out about the next big family gathering, I go to Facebook, not Google+.

Google’s network began as a place for geeks, but that’s changing.  Already it has passed Twitter to become the second largest social network behind Facebook. I highly recommend it as a place for intelligent discussion. If you want to start Google+ with a bang, here’s my simple four step recipe for success.

Block or unblock? You can’t learn if you can’t do.

Facebook and Twitter are blocked at my primary school. I think that’s reasonable for students, but not for teachers. We expect to unblock Twitter and possibly Facebook this year after we’ve completed some staff PD on professional networking. If I was at a secondary school, I’d favour unblocking Twitter, Facebook and Google+. They all offer powerful educational potential and, to stay safe online, students need to learn how to use them safely and responsibly. We also need to teach them how to manage and control the distraction of social networking – no easy task, but an important one. When we teach students to ride bikes and drive cars we use real bikes and real cars. When we teach students to use social networks, we should use real social networks too.

Not enough time? Blame Facebook! No, Twitter!

“Real Life”. I don’t like weeding the garden!
The power of ICT brings so many new possibilities to our lives that it can be difficult to choose which ones to pursue and which ones to ignore.  There’s simply not enough time to do all that we might want to do.
The miriad of possibilities created by ICT also bring into focus the distinction between “life online” and “life offline”.  “Real Life” or “RL” is used, sometimes ironically, to refer to life “in the real world” as opposed to “life on the Internet”.  This distinction makes sense to us because “life online” is a relatively new experience.  But for children and future generations with no experience of the world before Twitter and Facebook, the disctinction, if it lasts, may seem quaint.  More and more peole are forming close friendships with people they never meet “offline”.  More and more people are beginning relationships from a distance “online” that end in physical intimacy “offline”.  At a recent DEECD PD (PLP ConnectU) Will Richardson urged teachers to tell their students, “DO talk to strangers.” He said that he’d never met in person most of his best teachers.  That’s something I’ve only recently come to appreciate.
“You spend too much time on the computer,” is a valid criticism for husbands or wives who spend too long on Facebook or Twitter.  It’s certainly an offense I commit all too frequently. But it’s not because I’m ignoring “Real Life”.  Twitter has become part of my real life – but it can play havoc with my time management, just like a good book.  Facebook and Twitter, seductive as they are, must be balanced with many other real life commitments. There’s nothing more wonderful for me than time spent with my family.  That’s an easy “offline” activity, but it happens “online” too.  I don’t like weeding the garden.  That’s strictly “offline”, but I’ve still got to do it.

Do you ever get the feeling that there’s just not enough time to do all the things you “need” to do?

Social networking through sites like Facebook and Twitter is seductive. Online social networking may be one of the most profound sociological developments of the twenty first century – but it can also be a terrible waste of time! In an already busy world it has made our lives even busier!  ICT brings with it so many possibilities that it can be difficult to choose what to pursue and what to ignore.  There’s simply not enough time to do all that we want to do because we are spoilt for choice!

This miriad of possibilities also brings into focus the distinction between “life online” and “life offline”.  The term “In Real Life” or “IRL” is used, sometimes ironically, to refer to life “in the real world” as opposed to “life on the Internet”.  This distinction makes sense to us because “life online” is a relatively new experience.  But for children and future generations with no experience of the world before Twitter and Facebook, the disctinction, if it lasts, may seem a little quaint.  More and more people form close friendships with people they never meet “offline”.  More and more people begin relationships from a distance “online” that end in physical intimacy “offline”.  At a recent DEECD PD session (PLP ConnectU) Will Richardson urged teachers to tell their students, “DO talk to strangers.” (Safely, of course!) He said that most of his best teachers were people he’d never met.

“You spend too much time on Twitter,” is a fair criticism for many of us.  But it’s not because we’re ignoring “Real Life”. Twitter has become part of my real life – but it can play havoc with my time management, just like a good book. More importantly – even more than a good book – Twitter and all kinds of other ICT tools create entirely new and powerful possibilities that I never had before. That’s what makes them so exciting.  Gutenberg helped change the world. It’s now the turn of a five year old – Twitter.  Here’s some interesting writing on the topic:

Dismissed as a joke, Twitter revolutionises the way we communicate

Social Media Revolution

Short History of Twitter from Gutenberg

Is social media Gutenberg or Guttenberg? It’s actually both

Of course Facebook and Twitter, powerful and seductive as they are, must be balanced with our many other real life priorities.

There’s nothing more wonderful for me than time spent with my family.  That’s an easy “offline” activity, but it happens “online” too.

I don’t like weeding the garden.  That’s strictly “offline”, but I’ve still got to do it.