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“Twitter 101” for Academic Managers

 

At today’s Academic Managers Meeting, we spent some time talking talking about the value of Twitter in education, and why academic leaders – including faculty and staff – are finding Twitter to be a valuable tool to help make us smarter and to strengthen relationships. Although many of us (myself included) are actively using Twitter, an equal or greater number are less enthusiastic for a variety of reasons. These include concerns related to professional boundaries, time, content, relevance and general comfort level. All of which are valid.

Here are some key take-aways from today’s dialogue, reflecting the diverse ways that Twitter can help us to realize added value for ourselves, our colleagues, our institutions and our students.

 

1. Don’t judge Twitter by your first impressions. To new users, Twitter content can appear pretty mundane. As one of my colleagues pointed out, “Do I really care what you had for breakfast?” The quality of what you see in your Twitter feed is directly related to the personal/professional relevance of the people and organizations you follow. This leads to Tip #2:

 

2. Curate your Twitter feed. Where can you find great content? Check out the people that your colleagues and others follow. That’s like finding related research literature in the bibliographies of highly relevant articles. Search out academic superstars – in your and others’ fields – and follow them. If someone follows you on Twitter, chances are you have common interests – follow them back. In short, build your own personal learning network.

 

3. Be yourself. Although it’s tempting to separate “public Twitter” from “private Twitter”, this may not be a great idea for a couple of reasons. For one, social media thrives on authenticity. We most want to engage with people when they are genuine and real. Also, since Twitter is public, anything you Tweet should be consonant with how you project yourself as a person and a professional.

 

4. Drink when you’re thirsty. Twitter (like social media broadly) is a gushing torrent. (So is email for that matter – but that’s a different topic). When you’re thirsty, you drink enough to quench your thirst – same goes for Twitter. The thousands of tweets that you don’t see don’t matter – there’s lots more where they came from, and lots get repeated anyway. Just dip your cup into the stream whenever you have the time or inclination.

 

5. Call people by their names. Just like IRL (in real life), using peoples’ Twitter handles (user names) gets their attention and is more likely to evoke a response. If you’re sharing a link/observation/quote/question via Twitter, consider including @Person’sName. See #4 (above) for why this is especially helpful.

 

6. Show your work. People are generally more interested in your process than the polished, perfect product. Twitter is a quick way to communicate what you’re working on, where you’re getting stuck, and the solutions or resources that you find. Thank you Austin Kleon.

 

7. Give props. Students and colleagues are tweeting their own and others’ accomplishments, events and stories. RT (retweet) them! Click on the little star to favorite these tweets! Reply to these tweets. Because it’s so visible and public, Twitter is a powerful way to show that we care and that we’re listening.

 

8. Don’t fear #hashtags. Hashtags are a way of organizing tweets by subject area, and make your tweets searchable. There is no secret code. There are no rules for hashtags. If you make up your own as you go along, chances are a million other people are using the same hashtag. One important caveat – if in doubt, search your hashtag to make sure that the content you’re #-ing is consistent with your message.

 

9. Explore the terrain. There are a host of resources on how to use Twitter effectively. Search around, and make sure to tweet what you find.

 

10. Stake your claim. Depending on how commonly-used your name is, you might need to get creative to claim your personal Twitter handle. Plus, check out examples of effective Twitter bios to compose yours – in 160 characters or less. Hashtags are optional, but why wait?  #myfirsttweet

 

 

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The third type of digital divide and why mobile devices should remain on

 

Much has been written about the digital divide. And we are now seeing research and publications focused on the “second-level digital divide” as mobile devices become increasingly ubiquitous. Now we’re talking about the structural inequities among not just who has digital access, but rather, the kinds of access and digital access skills.

 

In addition, the pervasiveness of mobile computing means that North American post-secondary classrooms are increasingly a site for a third kind of digital divide: between instructors struggling to wrest students’ attention away from their mobile devices, and students as tied to said devices as day traders to the Nasdaq. Maybe it doesn’t have to be one or the other: mobile computing can add value to any classroom.

 

 

Here are seven ways to leverage mobile capacity from the very first class.

 

1. Ice Breaker: App Show and Tell

People love apps (estimates for 2013 range from somewhere between 54 – 86 billion downloads). Ask students to stand up, mingle around, and query someone they haven’t met “What’s your favourite app and why?” What are the most popular apps represented in your class? What does this say about commonalities and differences?

2. Course Playlist

Playlists are the contemporary equivalent of mixtapes. What song(s) symbolize the themes of this course? Put together a collaborative playlist. Play a song at the beginning and end of every class.

3. In-ClassTwitterchat

Individual reflective activities are regarded as productive and constructive. Why not take 10 minutes and move the conversation into the social-digital realm? #yourcoursename

 

4. Open-search-engine pre-test

Mobile devices are banished from final exams – rightly so. Yet the skill of locating credible information efficiently is essential in any profession. Invite students to preview a modified final exam at the beginning of the course using their mobile devices to access information (they can work in pairs if not everyone has an Internet-enabled search engine on their phone). Extra points for the instructor if the pre-test is designed more for critical understanding/analysis than fact-memorization. Optimally, students will directly experience why attending class is a value-add over just reading the text.

 

5. Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Collectively develop an innovative idea based on the course content, or identify a community project or cause, and work with them to secure funding. Try to fund development using crowd-sourced micro finance (such as Kickstarter).

 

6. Social Justice

Identify a cause and create an online petition. Or locate, critique, endorse petitions. Reflect on the challenge of consensus building, ethics, values, decision-making.

 

7. Collaborative Learning Assessment

Invite students to collaboratively co-create the final exam throughout the course using a mobile test-maker application.

 

 

All of the above strategies are aimed at addressing classroom engagement and leveraging the reality that students will bring and access their mobile devices, whether sanctioned or not. But most important, these strategies can address the skills gaps identified in the concept of second-level digital divide. And do so in the spirit of new and emerging teaching and learning frameworks:

Paragogy and heutagogy.

(Also on Slideshare)

 

 

 

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What (and who) inspired me in 2012?

As the calendar clicks over to 2013, it’s an opportune time to reflect on some of the inspiring tools and ideas that have engaged me over the past year – and will continue to have traction in the coming year.

Here is a reverse-ordered list with lots of links to explore. Happy New Year!

10. Playlists: Every course (or presentation) needs a good soundtrack. Songza is an auto-playlist-maker recommended by Mary Nisi on NPR’s technology blog

9. Infographics: We can all do a better job at presenting complex ideas visually and elegantly. Here is a List.ly List of infographics tools

8. Presentation Zen: (Re)imagining visual communication – Garr Reynolds has been a big influencer on my own presentation style and content

7. Personal Learning Networks (PLNs): The whole really is greater than the sum of its parts

6. Gaming: Networked learning and simulation can benefit from the principles of successful, immersive and authentic hi-fidelity game environments – and this is progressing in medical simulation in Canada and worldwide.

5. Virality: What is the “replicability factor” intrinsic to certain memes? How can we infuse knowledge products with that same DNA? Check out some emerging research by Berger and Milkman (2012) What Makes Online Content Viral? and Stanford now offers an online course on viral marketing

4. Another MOOC MOOC by Hybrid Pedagogy: Because information wants to be free

3. Motivational Interviewing: A clinical approach that maps equally well to teaching and learning

2. Y Combinator: A model with applications for curricular innovation, education research and student engagement?

1. Social Inclusion: Anyone can learn if they have the tools – like the instrumental support pioneered by the World Braille Foundation: Braille = Equality… Why? Because literacy is the key to opportunity, economic security and freedom. Yet in many countries 95 per cent of blind children don’t even attend school due to lack of skilled teachers and limited access to Braille materials.

This international foundation is dedicated to promoting literacy, independence and empowerment to blind persons, with past and current projects in Kenya, Swaziland, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Liberia and Lesotho. I make a donation every year. Plus, full disclosure, the WBF was started 10 years ago by my dad, Euclid Herie, and my #1 inspiration!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Utility + ease of use are what really matter

 

Recently, I was asked to give a Keynote Address  at the 2012 Ontario Association of Social Work annual conference outlining the “digital communication power tools” for social workers and other practitioners. Although I’ve taught an online graduate course for the past 10 years and have a longstanding interest in digital communication and online applications, I’m nowhere near as expert as the teenagers in my life.

However, the beauty of a “beginner’s mind” means that I can comfortably NOT be an expert – in anything – and still have something to share, in a spirit of exploration and adventure. And that is precisely the stance from which I developed the talk.

The three areas I covered (social media, online collaboration and e-therapy) are roughly overlapping, and provided a pretty broad terrain in which to navigate. The 250 or so practitioners at the conference included super-users, newbies, young and not-so-young, and all of us keen to better understand the ways in which these tools (because they really are just tools) can contribute to professional practice.

I think the most important take-away comes from the Technology Acceptance Model, where in one study, age and busyness of practitioners were not associated with uptake of social media in medical practice – rather, ease of use and utility of the applications influence attitudes, acceptance and behaviour. In other words, busy, old practitioners can and will use social media tools if they are accessible and relevant!

Here are the annotated slides (with Speakers’ Notes):  Digital Communication Power Tools

Also on Slideshare if you’d like to experience the session via social media.

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