Can The Network Deliver?

Ok, here’s a little test of network theory.

Some background. On February 14 this year, I asked my beautiful partner Linda to marry me. She said yes. Yay! So we are planning a wedding. In fact we are planning two weddings, one in Canada and one in Australia. As you can imagine, there’s a fair bit of expense involved in doing that.

Then a couple of weeks ago, Linda spotted a contest on Facebook where you submit a photo or short video, and get people to vote for you. As most of you know, I haven’t always been very complimentary about my Facebook experiences, but just to support Linda I reactivated my dead account so I could cast a few votes.

Long story short, we’ve ended up doing ok in this contest, in fact for much of the last few weeks we were leading. Unfortunately, right now we are not leading, and have dropped back into third place. The people in number two spot will, I assume, get disqualified since they have submitted copyrighted material, so I’m not too worried about them. But the people in first place are on a real burn and are adding votes VERY quickly…

Normally, I’d just shrug it off and say it’s all just a bit of fun. No reason to take it too seriously. But the first prize is $10,000. Yes $10,000! I probably don’t need to tell you just how helpful that would be for making wedding plans!

So here’s what I’m asking – partly because I’d obviously really like us to win, and partly because I’m really curious to see just how much a network of people like you guys might respond to a request like this.

Could you vote for us. Please. I look at it this way… we are trailing by about 1100 votes. According to Feedburner, this blog has about 1100 subscribers. If each of you voted just once we would be back in the race. If each of you voted twice, we would be hard to beat. If each of you voted just three times, we would be planning the wedding(s) that Linda deserves.

So what do you say? Would you vote for us? Please?

Here’s the link… http://goo.gl/QRN3u

Yes, you need to be a Facebook user, and yes you need to Like the page temporarily to cast a vote. But it’s easy and quick. And you can vote once each hour, as many times as you like. Just 2 or 3 votes from each of you would make a huge difference.

I’d REALLY be grateful. And I’d love to be able to tell this story about how, when I needed it, the network really delivered.

Thanks!

PS. I should mention the contest closes at midnight on Saturday March 31 (Sydney time). So if you want to help us out, just be aware that you’ve only got a short window of time to do it.

ISTE in less than 140 Characters*

Pennsylvania Convention Centre
It’s been a big few weeks. I’m currently writing this while flying in an Air Canada Boeing 777, seat 40J, somewhere just south of the equator and slightly west of the International Date Line, chasing the sun around the globe on my way back to Sydney.

I’ve been in Canada for much of the last few weeks, visiting our Canadian family and friends, something I wish I could do more often. But for three days I managed to slip away down to Philadelphia PA for my first ISTE conference. If you know me, or read this blog at all, you may know that I tend to get around to a few conferences in various places, but the ISTE Conference (and prior to that, a NECC) has eluded me so far. For whatever reasons, I haven’t been able to get to this event so when the opportunity came up this year I jumped at it. And I’m glad I was able to… it is an amazing event.

In thinking about ISTE 2011 to decide what to blog about it, there are a few notable things to mention, but for me, one really stands out as the highlight.

First, there was the sheer size of it. With (I’m told) 20,000 delegates this year, the scale of ISTE is unlike anything I’ve seen before. Pennsylvania Convention Centre was simply enormous and easily housed the hundreds of exhibitors, vendors, workshops, presentations, displays, poster sessions, and of course, the thousands and thousands of attendees. I don’t know exactly how big the PACC actually is, but it’s huge.
Ed Tech Karaoke with David Wees
Secondly, the number of presentations taking place at any one time was mind boggling. There was so much choice, so many options, it was hard to know where to be. I only attended a few actual presentations, but the quality of the presenters and the information was very good. Whether your interest was in learning about the various edtech tools, in hearing about new pedagogical approaches, or finding out about new ideas for what works in today’s classrooms, there was something for everyone. Some sessions were huge, like the keynotes with 6000+ people, to presentations with a few hundred, to classroom-sized workshops, to poster session conversations; the choice available through the organized sessions was astounding.

There were also the fun events too. The Google Party held at the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, held among the dinosaur bones and the fluttering butterflies, was great fun, and being invited to the invitation only Google Certified Teacher cocktail party beforehand was pretty special. The Edtech Karaoke Party the next night (#etk11), where we all had a few drinks and got up and sang, was one of those events I’m sure I’ll remember for a very long time.
Leigh Zeitz and I
But the thing that really made the ISTE event most valuable for me was the opportunity to meet and mix in person with the people in my PLN. It was, as someone observed, like having your RSS reader come to life. I was constantly bumping into people I knew, whose blogs I read, who appear daily in my Twitter stream, whose YouTube videos I’ve watched. Some I’d met before, but most I had only ever known online.

As you’ve probably experienced yourself, the best parts of most conferences are the serendipitous conversations, bumping into people in the corridor, having a chance to chat face to face. For me, ISTE was all about the people I met.

After the conference was over, I jotted down a list of all the people I’d had a conversation with over the previous three days, and the size of the list surprised me. In no particular order (other than that dictated by my slowly deteriorating memory!) here is a list of all the characters I met, chatted with, or had a meaningful conversation with over the three days I was at ISTE…

The (less than) 140 Characters

Me, Mike Gras and Paul R Wood
Paul R Wood @prwood
Mike Gras @mikegras
David Warlick @dwarlick
David Jakes @djakes
Sharon Peters @speters
Amanda Marrinan @marragem
Roger Pryor @pryorcommitment
Wes Fryer @wfryer
Jason Arruza @jarruza
Vinnie Vrotny @vvrotny
Martin Levins @levins
Angela Maiers @angelamaiers
Kevin Honeycutt @kevinhoneycutt
Carl Anderson @anderscj
Holly Hammonds @libraryquest
Angela MaiersLinda Swanner @lswanner1
Melanie Burford @mwburford
Lisa Neilsen @InnovativeEdu
Dvora Geller @teachdig
Mark Wagner @markwagner
Nancye Blair @engagingEDU
Lisa Thumann @lthumann
Wendy Gorton @wendygorton
Cathy Brophy @brophycat
Paula White @paulawhite
Erin Barrett @erinbarrett
Charlene Chausis @cchausis
Cheri Toledo @cheritoledo
Karen Fasimpaur @kfasimpaur
David Wees @davidwees
Wes and ILeigh Zeitz @zeitz
Brian C Smith @briancsmith
Roland Gesthuizen @rgesthuizen
Marg Lloyd @?
Tony Brandenberg @tbrandenburg
JamieLynn Griffith @jgriffith2
Steve Hargadon@stevehargadon
Beth Still @BethStill
Christopher Craft @crafty184
Maria Knee @mariaknee
Molly Schroeder @followmolly
Dean Shareski @shareski
Julie Lindsay @julielindsay
Lisa Parisi @lisaparisi
Diana Laufenberg @dlaufenberg
Brian Crosby, Lisa Parisi, Sharon Peters and IEllen Sheerin @esheerin
Chris Walsh @chriswalsh
Adrian Camm @adrian_camm
Tom Petra @RealWorldMath
Pete Moran @pjmctm2010
Brian Crosby @bcrosby
Maurice Cummins @mauricecummins
Jennifer Garcia @mrsjgarcia
Ginger Lewman @GingerTPLC
Alice Barr @alicebarr
Susan van Gelder @susanvg
Dean Muntz @?
Diane Main @dowbiggin
Benjamin Grey @bengrey
Kim Sivick and IKim Sivick @ksivick
Becky Crawford @Becstr9
Scott McLeod @mcleod
Bethany Smith @bethanyvsmith
Sam Gliksman @SamGliksman
Rob Griffith @rgriffithjr
Gail Lovely @glovely
Henry Theile @htheile
Chris Lehmann @chrislehmann
Bud Hunt @budtheteacher
Gary Stager @stager
Jim Marshall (Promethean)
Frank Augustino (Luidia)
Jason Orbaugh (Smart Tech)
Maria Knee and IJohann Zimmern (Adobe)
Adam Frey (Wikispaces)
Anita L’Enfant @anita_lenfant
Paul Fuller @paulfuller75
Linda Dickerson @?
Kyle Pace @kylepace
Michelle Baldwin @michellek107
Steve Dembo @teach42
Robin Ellis @robinellis
Dorothy Burt @dorothyjburt
George Couros @gcouros
Liz B Davis @lizbdavis
Kelly Dumont @kdumont
Kristina Peters @mrskmpeters
Alfred Thompson @alfredtwo
Bernie Dodge @berniedodge
Pamela Livingstone @plivings
Jason and Dawn (from Wisconsin, not sure of last names, met them on the train back to PHL airport)

That’s nearly 100 people and nearly 100 great conversations. (*I was aiming for 140… there were actually about 120 people on my original list but thanks to the lack of an undelete feature in Pages on the iPad, I lost a bunch names that I now just can’t recall! Grr! My apologies if I left you off the list!)

I think it just goes to show that the real power of an event like ISTE is in the people you meet and the conversations you have. That’s where the real connections are made and strengthened. Between the catch-ups with people I already knew quite well – like some of this year’s significant Aussie contingent – through to the folk I have previously met in the past, to the many who I have only ever known through our online connections, meeting in person and having the chance to connect and share and talk was what made ISTE truly priceless for me.

Thanks for being part of my network! See you in San Diego next year?

PS: If I have missed your name, or was unable to include your Twitter contact, please let me know so I can include it.

*PPS: Apologies (or thanks) to @lasic for the idea of the name for this post

Name that Network

By default, your computer’s drives usually have creative names like “My Computer” or “Macintosh HD”. Home wireless networks usually have equally uninteresting default names, like “linksys” or “netgear”, or that ultimate of all default SSID names, “default”. USB Memory sticks and portable USB drives often have even less interesting names, usually based on their brand, or a series of random characters.

Some people give their computing equipment names that make them a little more interesting, or at least a little more unique and personal. I’ve seen people use names of planets, Greek gods, fictional characters, and many other esoteric collections as the source of inspiration for the names of their networks and computing gear. I once worked as the network manager in a Catholic school where all the servers were named after saints. IT geeks often have an unusual sense of humour, and it commonly shows up in things like this.

As I was running some backups tonight on my two main home computers, my attention was drawn to the names I’ve given to my own machines, drives and home network over the last few years. There is a common, albeit fairly geeky, thread behind their names.

See if you guess where I got my inspiration from… if you think you know where these names come from, drop me a comment below.

My MacBook Pro’s hard drive is named Raskin and the backup drive is named Atkinson. My iMac’s hard drive is named Hertzfeld, and it has a backup drive named Engelbart and several terabytes of attached storage on drives named Wozniak and Tesler. Finally, my wifi network is named Espinosa.

If you can tell me what all these names have in common, without Googling them, then you are obviously pretty darn geeky yourself!

Using Twitter to develop a PLN

Another article written for Education Technology Australia. Probably not much new in here for regular readers of this blog, but I thought I’d post it just in case anyone found it interesting…

Of all the tools to emerge from the Web 2.0 revolution, few are as intriguing as Twitter. When Twitter first appeared in 2006 it was one of those hard to define web tools that, on the surface, sounded silly and trivial. However, in the last few years it has risen to be one of the web’s most powerful simple ideas.

At its best, Twitter is the ultimate real-time communication tool, enabling ideas to spread across the Internet with unprecedented speed and reach. As a mechanism for gaining insight into the “wisdom of the crowds” it has few equals. During the recent elections in Iran for example, Twitter proved its worth as a vehicle for people in Tehran to keep the flow of information going to the outside world, even when official news crews were being silenced and censored by the government. Thanks to Twitter, the truth still had a voice.

At its worst, Twitter can be nothing but an embarrassing parade of personal ephemera, filled with people publicly sharing the most inane and trivial aspects of their lives.

Twitter was created in 2006 as a side project by Odeo Corp, but has since evolved into one of the web’s hottest properties. Thanks to its recent “discovery” by Hollywood stars and TV personalities, Twitter has experienced a massive burst of growth and visibility. It seems that everywhere you turn these days you hear about Twitter, and yet it remains generally misunderstood by most people.

So what exactly is Twitter? Think of it as a cross between SMS, email and blogging. Usually referred to as a microblogging service, Twitter enables users to send out short 140 character messages to anyone who chooses to “follow” them. Some people have thousands of “followers” reading their updates, or “tweets”, each supposedly answering the simple question “what are you doing?” Followers have the opportunity to engage in dialog with those they follow by sending a public reply – usually called an at-reply due to the Twitter convention of prefixing their response with an @ symbol – or to reply in private with a direct message, usually called a DM. These short 140 character bursts of text between individuals are generating thousands of simultaneous conversations that anyone can take part in.

Originally the domain of the geeky elite, Twitter has expanded its reach into far more mainstream uses. Celebrities are using Twitter to build their fan base. Marketers are finding Twitter powerful for spreading the word about new products and services. Companies monitor the flow of Twitter messages to see what people are saying about them. Politicians are using Twitter to converse with their constituents. It seems that many people are finding plenty of uses for a tool that lets you quickly and simply communicate you are doing.

But what about educators? What possible uses could teachers find for a tool like Twitter? As it turns out, quite a few.

The trend in professional development for educators is towards the development of a Personal Learning Network, or PLN. PLNs utilise the principle of just-in-time learning by encouraging teachers to surround themselves with others who share similar interests or knowledge. A teacher with a well developed PLN is able to turn to her network of colleagues to share ideas, ask questions, get feedback or find an audience. Many teachers have limited opportunities to surround themselves with like-minded others, either because they work in a small school, teach a niche subject, or simply don’t have access to people who think like them. Consequently, it becomes easy for many educators to feel as though they work in a vacuum, with limited opportunities to discuss ideas or get advice from others. Attending conferences or professional development days can be really useful, but these are usually limited to a few days a year.

By using a tool like Twitter to surround themselves with a network of other educators, and then using these networks to engage in ongoing conversations about teaching and learning, any teacher can have access to the “brains trust” of a larger groups of people at any time. Twitter can play a key role in connecting people together to form these personal learning networks.

Anyone can sign up for a free Twitter account at www.twitter.com. Upon joining Twitter, they will be provided with a list of suggestions for people to follow, but these are usually a random assortment of Hollywood celebrities, companies, politicians, musicians and sports stars… not exactly the right foundation for building an education-based personal learning network! Of course, there are no real rules about who you can and can’t follow – follow whoever you want – but remember that if you want to develop a Twitter network with an education focus then you should begin by following people who are already engaged in these conversations. During the signup process, Twitter will also offer to search your email address book to see if any of the people you know are currently using the service. If it finds any, it will offer to add them to your network.

The best way to start building your network is by following someone you already know and seeing who they follow. Clicking on the grid of icons will lead you to the Twitter pages of others, where you can read their bio, their latest tweets and see who else they follow. Once you find someone that sounds interesting to you, just click the “Follow” button to add them to your network. The real value of a Twitter network does not become apparent until you add at least 40 to 50 people, so continue this process of finding people to follow until you build this critical mass. When you follow someone, they receive an email notification about it and can then decide whether they want to follow you back or not. Don’t be to concerned or offended if someone does not follow you back immediately.

The other way to quickly develop a network of people is by using a list such as that found at http://twitter4teachers.pbworks.com. This list, built using a wiki by Gina Hartman, a teacher from Missouri, contains organised lists of teachers who use Twitter to help make the process of building your network simpler. Similar lists exist at http://twitterpacks.pbworks.com, where you can search for all sorts of interesting Twitter-using communities. Another excellent list of education professionals to follow online can be found at http://c4lpt.co.uk/connexions. Take some time to explore these lists and you’ll soon find plenty of interesting, relevant people to add to your network.

Once you begin to build this network around you, you’ll find a constant stream of new ideas, new links and new tools to explore. People in your network will be sharing thoughts with each other, having conversations that you can join or simply eavesdrop on. With the right group of people in your network you will be exposed to more new ideas and suggestions each day than you would normally get in a whole year of regular PD. You will have a team of people around you that you can ask questions and get suggestions from. You can tap their collective wisdom. You can get perspective from outside your regular contacts. You can find people to collaborate with. You can find an audience for student projects. Having a global network of people surrounding you, enabled by Twitter, opens up a world of professional possibilities for your own learning and sharing. You will get a much better feel for the pulse of the web.

Unlike social networking sites like Myspace and Facebook, Twitter has not become hugely popular with school-aged users and it remains somewhat of a place for “grown-ups”. Many specialist communities have adopted Twitter for their own uses, and education is one field which seems to have truly grasped the value that the service can bring to their community. Because Twitter is driven by short, to-the-point messages, it seems to be a place where content and conversation is valued. If you find particular users talking about trivial things that don’t interest you, or “overtweeting” – tweeting so often that it simply becomes annoying – you always have the option to unfollow them. You have complete control over who you want in your network. It is a very democratic environment… if people add value they find followers.

Once you start to use it more you will probably find the Twitter website a fairly inconvenient way to use the service, so there are some excellent Twitter clients – specialised software for using Twitter in an easier, more integrated way from your computer or mobile phone. There are many to choose from, but TweetDeck, Twhirl, Tweetie and Nambu are very popular. There are also plenty of Twitter clients tools that run on mobile phones – mobile versions of TweetDeck and Nambu for the iPhone, or Gravity for Nokia phones, enabling you to tweet from wherever you are.

If you haven’t tried it yet, give Twitter a go. Try using it to build a personal learning network of people you find interesting. You might be pleasantly surprised as just how powerful this simple idea can be.

Evil Twitter image by http://www.flickr.com/photos/dorsner/ CC BY-SA-NC

So You Are Real!

It seems so easy to make global connections these days.

Tools like Twitter, Skype, podcasts, blogs and even good old fashioned email make it easy to build connections with others.  But they also make it easy to overlook the fact that behind each tweet, IM or email there are real people.  Although the online world has made us the most connected we have ever been, at the same time the sometimes faceless, disembodied nature of it can also allow us to be quite disconnected if we let it.

One of the things I’ve really enjoyed doing over the last couple of years is to take every opportunity to make real connections with the people behind the avatars.  I remember the first time I bumped into Judy O’Connell at a meeting in Sydney… although I knew of HeyJude and had read her blog for a while there was still this sense of “wow… so you ARE real!” when I finally met her.  Since then, I try to make a point of meeting other members of my online world in the real world whenever I can.  It’s great to finally meet up with people you feel like you somehow know through reading their blogs or hearing them on podcasts or seeing their endless streams of tweets.

This week I had the pleasant experience of meeting up with Colin Jagoe, a passionate young edutech in Ontario Canada, and the story of how that meeting came about is pretty typical of how our PLNs can so easily cross the boundary between the virtual and the real worlds.  Colin apparently follows my Twitter feed, so when I mentioned that I was coming to Canada over Christmas, he dm’ed me back to ask if I’d be interested in coming to a meeting of edutech leaders in his school district.  He suggested it might be good to share some stuff about what we’re doing in Australia as a way to provide some additional food for thought for his district team.  Naturally I jumped at the chance, so we emailed and Skyped back and forth to make the arrangements, and last Tuesday I headed out of Toronto and up to the Peterborough office of the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board to join their meeting and share some of the stuff I’ve been doing with the students back at PLC.  We looked at some of the Year 3 Voicethreads, the Year 4 blogs, the Year 5 Podcasts and talked about the logistics and practicalities of running these sorts of projects. I shared the results of the recent PLC Mobile Phone Film Festival, an idea that also seemed to spark some possibilities for the Kawartha schools.  We talked about Creative Commons and cellphones for learning and a bunch of other topics that came up, and it was wonderful to be able to share some of this with real live people in a real live space.

I had to laugh when Colin’s first words to me as we met in the foyer were “So you ARE real!”, exactly the words I used when I met HeyJude the first time. It’s good to finally meet people and put a real face to their avatar, and this experience goes to show just how easy it is to create global links between people… here was I, a teacher from Australia, talking with a group of Canadian educators about ideas that were relevant to both of us.  It started as virtual (and there is certainly a great deal that can be done in a purely virtual environment, don’t get me wrong!) but it is amazing just how a few tweets, skypes and emails can take these virtual connections and make them real if that that’s what you want to do.

It got me thinking about some of the other real life connections I’ve been able to make over the last year or so, and it’s pretty amazing. I dug through my Flickr photostream and found quite a few snapshots that I’ve taken with other connected educators, so I made this little slideshow. (The new slideshow tool is Flickr is fabulous by the way!)  There are many other wonderful educators I’ve met that I couldn’t find photos for… I don’t want to list names as I’m sure to overlook someone inadvertently, but my apologies if I’ve left you out!

Next week, I’ll have the great pleasure of meeting Sharon Peters when I’m in Montreal, something I’m very much looking forward to.  Sharon and I have spent many hours over the last few years chatting over Skype and sharing ideas, and she has organised for her and I to present a 4 hour workshop on IWBs and Web 2.0 tools to school leaders in the Montreal independent school sector.  Should be good fun!

Sharon and I have been in touch all week with last minute organisational bits and pieces for the workshop, but I’m sure that when we finally meet in person next week I’ll still have that same overwhelming sense of “so you ARE real!”