Category Archives: Web2.0

The End of Isolation

As an early adopter of the social networking site Twitter, it has become my most frequently used source of new ideas, inspiration, links to resources and research etc. – in essence, it's a key part of my professional learning network (PLN). This was an unexpected outcome for me, as to be honest, when I first signed up it was more out of novelty value than with any expectation that it might become what it is today – and I honestly expected it might last for a few weeks in my consiousness then fade like a number of other social networking sites I've joined. Now there's barely a day goes by where I'm not introduced to some new ideas or resources from the people I follow, as they share what it is they've been reading or creating in the course of the day. 

So it was with interest that I came across this study that has recently been released on the Journal of Online Teaching and Learning (JOLT), titled The End Of Isolation, by Elizabeth Alderton and Eric Brunsell from the University of Wisconsin, with Damian Bariexca fromLawrence Township Public Schools. The study provides new insight into how teachers use social networks such as Twitter, as prof learning networks – the abstract below explains more:

This research study provides new insight into how teachers use social networking sites, such as Twitter, as professional learning networks. The researchers surveyed and analyzed the public Twitter feeds of classroom teachers to determine the specific purposes for which teachers use Twitter. Study participants also completed surveys dealing with social networking. The K-12 educators in this study engaged in true dialogue, where evidence of actual conversation occurred in Twitter over 61% of the time. Additionally, over 82% of the time, the educators in this study chose to follow other educators or content experts related to their field of teaching so they were able to create a personal learning network meaningful to their professional needs. Analysis of data shows that a majority of tweets were educationally focused and were primarily in the categories of practice/philosophy, questions, and sharing of resources. Additional studies looking at how other online learning communities may be used as professional development venues would be beneficial and add to the knowledge base of online learning, professional development, and learning networks.

Although the sample group for the study is very small (10), the general findings and conclusions of the authors open up many of the issues and ideas that need to be discussed and researched further (as they suggest). The key for me was the fact that  the educators in this study chose to follow other educators or content experts related to their field of teaching so they were able to create a personal learning network meaningful to their professional needs. Analysis of the data in the study shows that the majority of tweets were educationally focused and were seen in the categories of practice/philosophy, questions, and sharing of resources.

For me this reinforces the understanding that the technology on its own isn't the key, it's how it is used – the intentionality behind its adoption. I get rather tired of people (generally non-users) propogating myths about sites such as Twitter with repeated comments like "I don't want to hear about what people ate for breakfast" – simple remedy – don't follow them! Reserve the space on your twitter feed for those who can offer you professional support, who update you with what they're learning and reading etc. That would appear to me to be a productive use of the technology – it's what I do. 

A biker’s tale

As someone who regularly bikes to work (around 40 minutes each way, each day) I was interested when the link to the video embedded above appeared in my twitter feed this morning. Makes me thankful that I live in a city where cycling is reasonably well catered for with a growing number of cycle-ways, and, thankfully, no silly law that makes it illegal to ride where there isn't one.

The video caused me to reflect on one of the meetings I was a part of yesterday in Auckland, where we were discussing the concept of disintermediation, which, in economic terms, refers to the removal of intermediaries in a supply chain: "cutting out the middleman". At the heart of this concept is the idea that the separation of producer and consumer is minimised, enabling a more direct interaction. This is at the heart of what is happening in the Web2.0 world. Consumers can now deal directly with artists to purchase music without the mediation of a retail music store for instance, and witnesses at a scene can become reporters to the world via blogs and social media sites without the intervention of an editor and publishing enterprise.

In the case of this chap, he had (in his view) a legitimate grievance where he felt he wasn't being listened to, and where the logic of the case against him was flawed. His solution, pay the fine then set about illustrating his point, leaving it to the thousands who may view this on YouTube to draw their own conclusions – and possibly provide words of support and encouragement.

For educators we have to consider – what is the future role of schools, teachers, text books, curriclum etc, in a disintermediated world? I have many thoughts on this and have shared them on numerous occasions, but for now I'll let the biker tell his story and leave you to ponder the significance as I head out to board a plane for the UK.

Te Apiti Cluster day

I spent the day in Palmerston North with the Te Apiti Cluster conference, an inspirational gathering of around 150 teachers from the six schools in the cluster. I provided one of the keynotes on the, with Mark Osborne, DP at Albany Senior HS providing a second. I also did a workshop titled ‘thinking digitally’ in which I spoke about the online tools and applications available to teachers and students to help them develop thinking skills. I created a series of ‘LiveBinder’ files with the links embedded which can be accessed below:

The point of the workshop was to introduce a range of tools and applications that are freely available on the web for teacher and students to access, and to illustrate the ways they can be used to develop inquiry and thinking skills.

Communicating in a crisis

The earthquake in Christchurch has provided an opportunity to reflect on a wide range of ideas and issues about the things we think are important, and how best we might prepare ourselves for the eventuality of a crisis situation. I remember as a student at school being required to undergo ‘earthquake drills’ and ‘fire drills’ on a regular basis, never really thinking we’d some day have to go through one for real. It’s only during a time of crisis that the importance of some of this preparation comes into focus.

One of the things that has impressed itself on me at this time is the importance of effective communication. At the time of the Feb 22 earthquake I was in Rotorua, my wife was teaching at the pre-school where she works, my son was alone at home while the secondary teachers at the school he is at were at a stop work meeting, and my daughter was at primary school. At that instant we all had a significant need to be able to ‘find’ each other, and to ascertain that each was safe. The phone system,both landlines and mobile networks, were working to capacity, and it took ages before we were connected. Despite receiving regular updates via social networking sites such as twitter and online news-feeds on my mobile phone, it was nearly five hours before I managed successfully to connect with my wife in Christchurch – all the while working frantically to change my flight to return home immediately.

Of course, that was in the midst of the crisis itself, and it is inevitable that public communication networks will be put under severe stress in these times. But in the hours, weeks and months after the crisis, the communication need remains.

At the time of the crisis there were parents wanting to find out whether their child was safe at school – and teachers wanting to locate parents. This is where up to date phone records are important – particularly mobile phone numbers where both text messaging and voice calls can be utilised. With the increased use of smart phones, use of social media services such as Twitter and Facebook should be considered, along with immediate updates on the school website. Look at this example of a Twitter account for one of the CHCH schools using Twitter to communicate with parents at the time of the earthquake (scroll down the list of ‘tweets’ to see the messages that were sent out at the time.)

Schools I have been working in post-quake have been re-thinking a number of these ideas. One secondary school I know of has had a policy of banning mobile phones on the premises for years – only to find that had their students actually been allowed to access the very device that is their life-line in out of school hours it may have reduced a considerable amount of anxiety at the time. One of my colleagues began receiving Twitter and Facebook updates from her child’s school almost immediately, while several other schools still had no update on their website two weeks after the event when I did a quick search. In some cases I’ve learned that this is because the maintenance of the school website is handled externally and updates are only made once a week – or less – as a part of a management contract.

Communication becomes increasingly important in the uncertain times immediately after the event also – with parents wanting to know when schools will be re-opened, what alternatives are being provided for those whose schools have been destroyed etc. The mayor of CHCH was seen regularly on our TV screens post-quake, earning praise for his persistence in keeping the citizens of CHCH appraised of what was happening. (Several times I appealed to our Ministry of Education for there to be some sort of “Education Bob Parker” to keep people appraised specifically about what is happening in the education sector – but sadly it hasn’t eventuated.)

My point really is that effective communication in a time of crisis is critical in terms of allaying fears and minimising the sense of alarm or panic. Of course there will be a general awareness of lots of people locked away in back rooms doing all sorts of emergency planning and preparation – but people feel the need to know this to be the case, to feel connected to what is happening and to feel they have the opportunity for their voice to be heard in the midst of it all.

In the modern world of online communications we are in a position like never before where this can be achieved, and there are some good examples emerging:

  1. Geonet has provided citizens with (almost) immediate details of the quakes as they occur – and rose at one point to be the #1 hit on the web for CHCH!
  2. There’s a Christchurch recovery fund page on Facebook
  3. Using Storify NewSolid provides an aggregation of feeds and news items to keep people informed
  4. Re-imagine Christchurch has a site where you can contribute your thoughts and ideas about the future of Christchurch.
  5. Stuff provided us with an opportunity to look at before and after shots of some of the CHCH landmarks, as did ABC News.
  6. Schools EQNZ – a site established so that people in other parts of the country could offer help to CHCH schools.
  7. As well as a series of forums and opportunities being planned to allow young people to provide input, including:
    • Rebuilding CHCH – youth perspectives, to he held on 14 May
    • Youth voices – a forum initiated by UNESCO to be held on 28 May
    • We Speak – a series of forums to be put on by theThe Otautahi Youth Council

A recent post from eSchool News titled How social media can help, and not hinder, during a crisis suggests steps that can help school and university leaders use technology to react to emergencies effectively. It covers much of what I’ve been thinking about, but the following quote about the demand for hyper-transparency sums up the particular emphasis I think is important:

A big challenge with social media audiences is that they seem to feel they have a right to know anything and everything about a crisis and the people and organizations behind it. Withholding information or hesitating to update the public risks being seen as a cover-up.

Their suggestion is to create a “listening post”

A “listening post” is simply a term for the electronic platform used to synthesize news across all types of media, including traditional print, blogs, and Twitter. It is a way to learn what people are saying about a situation in real time. Administrators and faculty can use the following tools to help feed a listening post:

  • Google Alerts – eMail reports that track news stories, blogs, and more, based on search keywords.
  • Twitter Search and TweetBeep – websites that act like a Google Alert equivalent for Twitter. They monitor discussions occurring in the Twitter realm.
  • TweetDeck and Seesmic – desktop applications that allow you to monitor Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn, as well as Twitter.
  • Social Mention – a search tool that also tracks content from YouTube and Flickr, in addition to Facebook and Twitter.

The overarching message of the article, and one I’d advocate strongly is – be prepared. Make this a part of your strategic planning before the crisis happens. In the same way as we’ve been practising earthquake drills for decades, we need to consider and plan for the use of web-based technologies and social media in our crisis management plans. The challenge for us in the Christchurch education community right now is to create a coherence in terms of the future planning that is going on – and effective communication is key to this, including the use of social media.

My second plea is be a user, not just a pusher! This approach to communication is not something to be abdicated, left to ‘someone else’ to take responsibility for. Like the case of schools who rely on an outside agency to update their website – this is last century thinking. Leaders at all levels – principals, community and national agencies – must develop their own repertoire of communication channels, including social media, and be active in at least monitoring what is going on, and preferably be active users. Sadly, in  my experience, only a small number of our current colleagues in leadership can be included in that category.

Best of the web 2010

Just when I think you’re on top of what’s out there and available on the web I come across a presentation like the one above that reveals a whole heap of online applications and tools that do cool stuff that I’ve not come across before. Richard Byrne’s Best of the web 2010 (or 64 tools in 60 minutes) provides a quick overview of 64 online tools that are free to use. They include tools for online video editing, audio editing, storytelling, search, image handling, mind-mapping, online learning and much more. Worth checking out.

Using ICTs as an aid to public speaking

I had the privilege of being invited to share some ideas on how ICTs can be used to support public speaking to a gathering of members of the local branch of the National Speakers Association of NZ this evening. It was a pretty daunting task, presenting to a group of people, many of whom make their living from speaking, and all of whom are committed to improving how they speak professionally.

After sharing some thoughts I have about how to use slideshow tools such as powerpoint, keynote and impress to best effect, I used a LiveBinders ‘binder’ to introduce a range of online tools that can be used to support effective presentations, and to help share those presentations with others after you’ve spoken. It was the first time I’ve used LiveBinders in a public speaking situation, and I was very impressed! The binder I used is embedded in this post – and from my presentations tab on this blog. Or you can link to it directly here.


Some years ago now a colleague of mine and I put an idea to a potential funder to develop an online timeline for people to contribute photographs and stories that could be tagged to specific locations – linked to collections in museums. The proposal wasn’t successful and so our idea languished. So it was with interest I explored HistoryPin today, after the link was sent to me by Malcolm. Created in partnership with Google, HistoryPin allows anyone to contribute photographs and stories, linked to a specific location, building up a visual history book. Viewers can search for and explore the stories related to a certain location, and using the time slider, can find stories in that location in different times in history. HistoryPin also links with StreetView images so that comparisons can be made between historical views of locations and how they look now. As the resources on this build up I can imagine it being a really valuable reference for the classroom.

Amazing Web2.0 Projects

I had dinner just a couple of weeks ago with Terry Freedman and his wife just before I left the UK, where he told me about his most recent e-book – Amazing Web2.0 Projects .

Terry has done a fine job collating and editing this volume. it contains details of 87 classroom-based projects from around the world, involving the use of Web2.0 applications. The case studies present the benefits and  challenges of using Web2.0 applications in the classroom. The examples cover all of the education spectrum, from kindergarten to post secondary – and are organised accordingly in the book.

The book is free to download here (2.09Mb PDF)

The Web at 20 years

ONmag_WebspecialTim Berners-Lee, credited with inventing the World Wide Web, made the first proposal for it in March 1989, and on 25 December 1990, with the help of Robert Cailliau and a young student at CERN, he implemented the first successful communication between an HTTP client and server via the Internet.

That’s 20 years ago! So to commemorate, ON magazine has published a special edition that looks at the Web at 20 (PDF download). It contains a range of interviews with key people involved in the development of the WWW, exploring both the historical development and future directions of this phenomenon.

Contents include:

  • Tim Berners-Lee on His World-Changing Invention
  • Bob Metcalfe on the Past and Future of the Web, Networking, and Energy
  • Plus, Insights from Dozens of Other Entrepreneurs and Opinion Makers on How the Web Has Changed Our Lives

The mag is a a great read – providing all sorts of valuable insights for those who have lived through this development, and something of an historical record for those who have been born since and grown up used to it. In particular, check out what many of the people interviewed say when they share their thoughts about what things might be like 20 years from now.

I got to thinking, as I read, that this would be a great resource for use in secondary classrooms. What appeals is the emphasis on exploring the motivations and original intentions of those who first conceived of the idea of a WWW, and how those original ideas have been fulfilled (or, in some cases, superceded). The following extract from the introduction provides a taste of what I mean:

Future Focused – Equally important, they [Berners-Lee and Metcalf] both remain deeply involved in exploring how the web can be harnessed to address some of the greatest challenges we face as a society. Metcalfe’s vision for increasing the efficiency of energy distribution by emulating certain core characteristics of the Internet is compelling. Berners-Lee discusses how we can accelerate discovery and collaboration on a large scale by freeing data from today’s information “silos” and allowing it to be linked together via the Semantic web.

I’d be interested to hear of examples of this edition being used with students in this way – I’m sure there’s inspiration here for the next generation of thinkers and innovators.

Top 100 tools for learning

Jane Hart has just published the final list of the top 100 tools for learning that she has compiled from the Top 10 Tool Contributions of 278 Learning Professionals worldwide. Jane’s list is always worth a read.

No real surprises in this year’s list in terms of the applications listed in the top 100 – however, of real interest is the fact that, for a list of the top 100 tools for learning, there’s only one LMS that has made it into the top 20.

Perhaps the dominance of other tools such as blogs, wikis, Twitter, Ning, Skype and iGoogle appearing to be used as tools to enable collaboration, sharing and interaction signals the direction things appear to be moving, and what the alternatives to the traditional LMS are emerging as.

Thanks again this year Jane – keep up the good work!