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

Coincidence or Connection?

One of the things that my American friends are always very proud of is that they claim to live in a country where dreams can come true and where everyone has an equal opportunity of success. They call it “The American Dream” and all over America young children are told that anyone – even them – has the opportunity to grow up and become president one day.

Of course, if you’re a young American, the reality is that while anyone can potentially become president, the probability of it actually happening to you is somewhere around 1 in 307,006,550 (which is roughly the number of people living in the USA at the moment). So while you possibly could become president, it’s far, far, far more likely that you won’t be!

If you did happen to somehow end up as the President of the United States, the odds get even more staggeringly unlikely that your son or daughter will also become president. Mathematically, the chances of two people from the same family both becoming President of the USA are around 1 in 9.42530217 × 1016, or, as my math teacher friend Darren Kuropatwa likes to call it, zero. While both people may have the same opportunity as anyone else, the statistical likelihood that two people from the same family will both end up holding the office of president starts to become so unlikely that you might as well call it impossible.

Yet, we all know that this has indeed happened in the past. George Bush Sr held the top US job between 1989 and 1993, and then his son George W Bush held the same position from 2001 to 2009. The odds of two people from the same family both reaching the office of President are very, very unlikely, yet it happened.

And this is not the first time it’s happened. Back in 1797, John Adams earned the US presidency and then his son John Quincy Adams took on the same position in 1825. And let’s also not forget William Henry Harrison, who became president in 1841, and then 41 years later so did his grandson Benjamin Harrison. What’s going on here? How can something so unlikely keep happening multiple times?

It’s not just politics either, it happens in other fields of endeavour as well. In sports, the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, have done a similar thing, with both of them being ranked as the number one female tennis player in the world at various times. The statistical likelihood of getting to be the world’s best at anything may seem unlikely, but the chance of two from the same family should be nearly impossible.

Australian readers will remember the Waugh brothers who played cricket for Australia back in the 90s. Like becoming president, becoming an elite athlete is hard work and requires a great deal of focus, dedication and effort. Rising to a world class level is highly competitive and although many try to get there, few actually do. And yet Mark, Steve and Dean Waugh bucked the odds when all three brothers from the same working class family in southwestern Sydney ended up representing their country in cricket. The chances of one of the brothers playing cricket at the elite level is slim, but you’d imagine that the chance of all three of the boys doing it would be near impossible.

And yet, these things do actually happens far more often than you might think. You don’t have to look too far to find plenty of examples of people from the same family, group, team, organisation or school achieving significant unlikely success together. If you just look at it from the perspective of statistical probability, getting multiple people from the same family or group or school to succeed at a high level might seem unlikely to happen, and yet it does happen with surprising frequency. So what’s going on here? Are some people just in the right place at the right time? Are they just lucky? Or is there something else going on?

When you stop and think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense. Although it may seem almost paradoxical at first, the notion that your own performance can be raised up by the associations and connections you create with those around you in the same field is really not all that surprising. When Venus improved her game, it probably spurred Serena on as well. When Serena learned to improve her serving technique she probably passed on some of that learning to Venus. Being around other people who are achieving excellence doesn’t reduce the likelihood that you’ll learn from them, it dramatically improves it!

If you know someone who has reached the top of their chosen field, and you spend a lot of time with that person, it usually makes it more likely that you will succeed, not less. You get to share their passion and their enthusiasm, which often drives your own passion and enthusiasm forward as well. You get to learn from them, which helps you avoid some of their mistakes while benefiting from their experience. You can get caught up in their competitiveness, which often drives you to be better, to try harder, to practise a little longer. Despite the apparent odds of more than one person succeeding at an elite level, it would seem that associating with like minded people who share your passions dramatically improves your own chances of success. As any sports star will tell you, the best way to improve is to regularly play with other good players.

How does this principle apply to you as an educator? What are the associations and connections you surround yourself with? Who are the people you associate with and learn from? How do you get to be part of an “all star team” that can drive your own learning and professionalism forward?

I’d suggest that the analog for committed educators is to development a strong Professional Learning Network, or PLN. I’m sure that those of us who are connected through tools like Twitter, the blogosphere, Skype, etc, can attest to the remarkable difference it makes. Not just a little bit, but an enormous amount. Being connected to the right people, being part of the right networks, sharing ideas and conversations with the right people… I would rate the idea of being a “connected educator” as the single most crucial thing you can do for your own ongoing professional development.

This all struck me as I was sitting in a meeting in Melbourne today with a group of leading Australian teachers. Many of them I consider to be some of the best educators I know. Many have enormous wisdom about teaching, about learning, about education, about schooling, about educational technology, about being an effective and fluent citizen of the 21st century. In short, these were a bunch of fine educational minds. At one point, it was noted that although many of us had never met in person before, we already shared many connections and the fact was cited that nearly all the people in the room were active members of the OzTeachers List (one of the longest running and most active educational online communities in the world).

Someone commented that it was quite a coincidence that, in a room full of leading educators, so many were all OzTeachers members. To which I would respond, it’s not a coincidence at all. In fact, it’s more likely the whole reason we were there in the first place. This was not a room full of random teachers who, surprise, surprise, all happened to belong to the same online community. Out of this “random” group of teachers, virtually everyone there could claim to be part of numerous shared networks of connection; ADEs, GCTs, Edubloggers, Classroom 2.0ers, Twitterers… The room was full of people who already knew each other from online networks. Coincidence? I think not.

This was a room of teachers who were already connected in numerous networked ways, and it was undoubtedly these connections that were the very reason they were asked to be there in the first place. It’s through being connected, belonging to shared communities of practice and being part of each other’s professional learning networks that makes leaders, not the other way around.

It drives me crazy when I meet teachers who continually resist the idea of belonging to online networks of like-minded educators. Like so many others in that room in Melbourne (and around the world in many other networks of connection) I know the undeniable value of being connected to others, of sharing ideas, of speaking a common language. I know what an amazing difference it makes when you expose yourself to a steady stream of innovative ideas, resources and people. Being connected to other passionate people exposes you to more good ideas in a single day than most unconnected educators will stumble across in a year. I honestly believe that being connected to others is the single best thing you can do for yourself and your own professional growth. As Steven Johnson says, “Chance favours the connected mind”.

So if you’re already a connected educator, congratulations… I’m sure you can attest to what a huge difference it makes in your own professional life. If you’re not, then maybe it’s time to finally bite the bullet and do it.

I’m sure Venus and Serena would agree.

Photo by emmettanderson

Asian Growth

Nǐ hǎo! I’m currently in Shanghai, China for the Learning 2.010 conference, and that’s pretty exciting for a number of reasons.

Firstly, mainland China is somewhere I’ve always wanted to go. In particular, Shanghai is fascinating because of its almost incomprehensible growth.  Intellectually, I know that China is a fast rising star, rapidly moving from a developing nation to a developed nation. We’ve all heard the statistics about the size and growth of China, of how Chinese is destined to become the most used language on the Internet, of how China has more honours students than the US has students, and so on.  Seriously though, no matter how many times I see the “Did You Know” videos that tell me how fast China is growing, nothing can quite prepare you for the endless ocean of concrete and skyscrapers that simply didn’t exist a mere 15 years ago.

Perhaps more than any statistic, this is where China’s growth really hit home for me… I got picked up by Michael Weber at Pudong airport and we got a cab back to the hotel… thankfully, I’m still alive to tell the story of it.  The cab driver was clearly not an experienced driver at all, struggling with the gears and clutch in this beaten up, manual VW taxi she was driving.  She had no idea where to take us, and ended up stopping in the middle of the freeway (I’m not exaggerating, quite literally in the middle of a five lane freeway!) to punch the address into the GPS. Once she got underway, the trip was a scary series of swerving lane changes, a mix of very slow and very fast driving, and lots and lots of horn tooting. The notion of staying in one lane, using her indicators, observing a speed limit, etc, was clearly not part of the plan.  But what struck me most as I glanced across at Michael, who must have been able to tell what I was thinking, was when he said “you have to remember that most people here in Shanghai had never driven a car until 5 years ago.”  5 years.  When he put it like that, and you then see the number of cars on the road, the freeway infrastructure and so on, and you realise that all of this growth has happened in the last 5 or 10 years… well, it’s hard to comprehend.

Then yesterday I was on the 100th floor observation deck of the Shanghai World Financial Centre. As I stood there, standing on the second tallest building in the world, looking down on the Jin Mao Tower – the fifth tallest building in the world – just next door, and the miles and miles and miles of skyscrapers you can see (well, you could see, if not for the smog) in all directions, it was awe inspiring view. Just seeing this sight is incredible enough, but knowing that this has all been built in less than the lifetime of my two teenage kids is just, well, mind snappingly incomprehensible.  I’m glad I got here to see it for myself, because the growth here in Asia is difficult to comprehend unless you actually see it.

The second reason I’m excited to be here is to be one of the cohort facilitators for the Learning 2.010 Conference. It’s a conference that I’ve heard so much about of the last few years, and that I’ve followed on Twitter each year with great envy.  It’s going to be a great conference for a few reasons, but mainly because it’s focused on trying to deliver a conference experience that breaks the mold of what we’ve come to expect from conferences. It uses a very learner-centric model to make the participants active learners rather than just delegates who turn up to listen to people talk at them.  Philosophically, it’s the right idea because although we talk a lot about 21st century learning, so many education conferences are still run in “delivery mode” where the presenter talks and the audience listens.  That’s ironic for an education conference in particular, because the people doing the talking are usually telling the people listening that schools needs to shift away from being places where teachers talk and students listen.

At Learning 2.010, the goal of the conference is to make the participants active in the learning process.  Although the conference does have a few strands or themes to get started with, the actual content of the event will be directed by the needs and wants of the people who attend.  It’s run very much in an unconference mode, and even the themed cohort workshops are loosely structured so that they can provide the flexibility to adapt to the needs of the participants on the fly.  The event is being held at Concordia International School in Pudong, a pretty impressive school in its own right, and I’m teamed up with Melinda Alford, one of the middle school teachers from Concordia, to cofacilitate the cohort called “Fostering a Culture of Learning and Creativity”.  As cohort leaders, we’re going in with lots of ideas and plenty of experience, but with absolutely no idea where it will end up.  It’s risky, a little scary, and it’s harder to do, but I believe that it’s absolutely the right way to approach it.  Education conferences have to start modeling the sort of learning and risk taking that we keep saying we are all about. Kudos to the Learning 2.010 organisers for having the balls to run it this way.

The third reason I’m so excited to be here in Shanghai is the people. My PLN came to life in a whole new way yesterday as I got to meet in person an amazing group of educators that I’ve only ever known online.  I was sitting in a planning session yesterday, sharing the conversations with people like Kim Cofino, Darren Kuropatwa, Wes Fryer, Alec Couros, Jeff Utecht, Julie Lindsay, Tim Lauer, Liz Davis, Steve Hargadon… and it was a bit of an out-of-body experience really.  I know that our rock stars are not like your rock stars, but I think we were all as excited as each other to finally be meeting in real life. I also got to meet a whole lot of other people that I really didn’t know as well, who are equally amazing educators, and who will now become part of my growing PLN.

We all had dinner together last night in the Jin Mao Tower, then drinks afterward at Cloud 9, apparently the highest bar in the world.  Who knew?

I’m really looking forward to the next few days!

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!”