Reach!


I’ve read Jeff Utecht’s blog, The Thinking Stick, for a long time. I follow him on twitter. He’s one of the many amazing people that I think of as my Personal Learning Network. SO, I’m very proud to have his new (and first, I think) book on my shelf! I bought a copy of Reach: Building Communities and Networks for Professional Development, even though he very graciously allowed free downloads for the first few days of publication. I did that too, but thought that it was only right to support the effort of a member of my PLN. I’m glad I did, too!

Although I was familiar with many of the tools and techniques for creating a PLN that Utecht focuses on, I found that his book provides the basis for a great “how and why to start” discussion. Reach is a book that I definitely plan to share this year with faculty members. Utecht explains how to find people to follow on sites like Twitter and Facebook, how to use RSS to make it easier to connect to your “tribe,” and more! It’s the why and the how of building a professional learning network or community online–and it’s a very hands-on, practical approach. I think that it will be helpful to many of my colleagues who might be just about ready to begin reaching out for professional support, and building a unique community of learners for themselves. It could form the basis for a great PD series too, if I can find some teachers in my world that are ready!

Thanks Jeff for your work in writing this book, and for so freely sharing with your network!

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Twitter Friends…Or Something Else?

Today, in a twitter conversation with some of my network, I was marveling again at how that group has deepened my thinking and professional practice. Most of this network is comprised of people who live in other places. I don’t have too many local connections in that community, unfortunately, but I touch base daily with teachers and librarians all over the world. I know very few of them in the traditional sense though.

My thinking was stretched this morning by Dr. Scott McLeod’s post, and then the comments, on his Dangerously Irrelevant. Today he posed the question, what do we really know about the edublogger we’re sitting next to at a conference?

My thought was, what does my network really know about me? Do I reach out and share appropriately–even with my own virtual community–a community that I have chosen? Let me say upfront that I obviously don’t “produce” as much as I consume online, and in that respect, am just beginning in my journey. I’m trying to share more with my network, but constantly wonder if what I have to say is that important or interesting!

As I was thinking and reading and connecting in my nerdy middle-of-the-summer way this morning, an odd thought struck me. It has to do with a person that I consider a critical member of my PLN–a blogger, podcaster, twitterer, thinker that I have come to think of as a friend and mentor. I truly feel like I know her. I look forward to reading her thoughts on so many subjects, I love to hear what she has to share when she podcasts with others in my virtual PLN.

Now for the 2.0 part. Today she began following me on Twitter for the first time. I’ve “known” this person for years–had her voice in my head through my earbuds, read her words, cheered for her as she shared her victories with us all…and she doesn’t really know of me at all!

It just struck me how weird it must be for her when she meets someone like me, who really already thinks of her as a friend. I wouldn’t feel like I’d have to go through all the normal getting-to-know-you awkwardness if I met her at a conference. I could just pick up where her last tweet left off. Until today, she would probably be completely unaware of who I am. A very odd, one-sided thing. I guess we’re all trying to feel our way through the relationships we form in virtual communities.

I’m glad she decided to follow me though. Now, if I meet her at a conference, she’ll at least recognize my name, and maybe it won’t be quite so….creepy and stalker-ish for her! 🙂

Photo from Flickr by Always Be Cool.

Access Justified

Working in a district that typically employs what Wes Fryer refers to as “draconian” filtering policies, I am acutely aware of the frustrations caused by such uber-control. Our students can’t access any sites labeled by the filtering company as “social forums,” making it impossible for them to utilize Flickr, Voicethread, Glogster, Animoto, Google Books, public wikis/blogs or any number of web resources that could engage them and make their learning tasks more authentic, or current.

Recently, however, the district has begun to loosen the reigns on teacher logins, finally treating us slightly more like professionals than kindergarten students. Of course, even we can’t access YouTube at school, even the entirely appropriate videos that might provide a rich resource for our students. Whether this restriction is for reasons of limited bandwidth or mistrust, I am not certain–perhaps I should give “them” the benefit of the doubt on this. Interestingly, teachers are now able to access Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, etc.–although we have been trained by the district that actually USING those tools at school is discouraged, as that would be unprofessional–as if banal posts are the only posts possible on Twitter. Go figure. They obviously do not connect with the people that I do on Twitter–professional educators who collaborate and enrich each others lives daily, and in real time, through this “dangerous” and “frivolous” social forum!

I relate this story because this past week, one of our administrators found that her access to Facebook was a crucial link in defusing a cyberbullying situation that popped up with some of our 5th graders.* Because she could access Facebook and determine that a threatening message had indeed been posted, she was able to deal with the bullying and confer with parents of the students involved before the situation spiraled out of control. She later came to me and voiced her relief that she is now able to use this tool. I asked her to please remember this situation, and to talk about it with her peers in administration. Slowly, I hope that the message might spread, that social networking and social learning is not inherently bad. Students and adults are going to make mistakes in its use, but if we adults aren’t in the mix with the kids, how are we ever going to guide them to make better choices and learn from their mistakes?

*Yes, we all know that 5th graders aren’t old enough to legally use Facebook–and we’ve discussed this fact with them and with their parents–but we also know that they use it anyway. Many of them have accounts that their parents set up for them, according to a recent informal survey that I did with our students.

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