Being Participatory: An Impromptu Twitter Chat

Held Her Breath And Hoped To Survive Until Daybreak

I’m generally a shy person and very much an introvert. Yet, I decided to enter a profession where I need to be outgoing all day long as I work with learners of all ages. Over time, I’ve accepted and don’t have a problem speaking up in most social settings. Most. Twitter has been one of those mediums where I’ve been less comfortable with interacting with others. I seem to have gotten more comfortable and I didn’t really notice it until tonight when I joined a Twitter chat very unexpectedly. While waiting for my daughter to finally go to sleep (she’s still awake by the way), I opened up Twitter to check things out. Most of the time I’m a lurker. I don’t get too involved, mainly because I don’t have a lot of time to contribute. But I saw a tweet in my feed with the hashtag #1to1techat and decided to check it out and was in luck that they were still actively engaging in their Twitter chat. I lurked for a couple minutes just to see what was going on and then I quickly found myself shooting out a few tweets in the last minutes of the chat.

I’m sharing my experience not because I want to out my social awkwardness, but because too often we don’t engage through social media even though we have a lot to contribute. This has happened to me and a lot of very eloquent educators I know who don’t want to engage for a number of reasons. Yet, as we lurk, we have opinions on the conversations taking place without us. We aren’t using our voice and our contributions that can help deepen everyone’s knowledge never reach the engaged, captivated audience in Twitter. I didn’t really notice, or maybe believe, this until tonight when I spent just a few minutes participating in the Twitter chat. I sent out only a few tweets, yet a number of people retweeted, replied, and favorited some of my tweets. I don’t feel like I said anything too revolutionary, but it apparently was valuable to some people, which makes me think I assisted in their learning. And that’s what makes social media powerful. It’s the interactions you have with other people. While tonight I only engaged in a small way and my knowledge and skills likely didn’t change all that much, although I do think they changed, I helped contribute to the learning of others. All because I participated and it’s entirely possible that the next time I participate I’ll get to a deeper level of interaction with my Twitter colleagues and my knowledge will in fact expand into new arenas and in different ways.

So next time you find yourself with a few minutes to spare, check out Twitter and see what’s happening. Participate. Send out some tweets in response to what others are saying. It may feel awkward. It may even be a little uncomfortable. But you get used to it and nothing makes you feel better than when someone validates something you’ve said. Because just maybe, you helped then learn something and in the process, you learned something too.

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My #ITEC13 Reflection

After two days of waking early and making the trek to Des Moines from Waterloo, I find myself on #ITEC13 +1 having trouble sleeping in to my normal 6am and instead thinking about everything I learned over the last two days…at 4am mind you… So, rather than have an isolated reflection while futilely trying to go back to sleep, I might as well get up and share my thoughts, my ideas with anyone who may be interested, which brings me to my first major takeaway: As educators, we find ourselves constantly taking resources and ideas from the internet, but when was the last time we contributed?

Jeff Utecht was the keynote on day two and I’ve been a big fan of his for a few years now. So having the chance to hear him speak in person was amazing. There were a number of things that he brought up, but perhaps one of the most compelling was the need for educators to contribute to the larger community. How are we giving back to others who we don’t directly interact with? Certainly we give back in our classroom, schools, and local communities, but what about the larger community? How are we contributing to the advancement of the profession? More and more I find myself thinking about non-positional leadership and how we are advocating, leading, and working with others to advance meaningful change. Hearing Jeff talk about sharing with the larger community only served to reinforce this concept that each of us are leaders and do have opportunities to lead within our profession and beyond the classroom. For me, I’ve seemed to fallen off the larger community radar a little over the last year. Things get busy, I have small children and I have a pretty full schedule. Yet, given all of that, I still feel this nagging feeling that I’m not contributing enough. I’m not posting enough about what I’m doing or enough about some of the ridiculous ideas that I have that I want to start putting legs on. This wasn’t a major theme Jeff had, but it was an important theme, and has given me pause for reflection, as I hope it will do for each of you.

Sticking with Jeff a little longer, there were two other things that really stuck out for me. The first was the idea of a moonshot idea. As Jeff described it, a moonshot idea is an idea that seeks to change something that appears almost impossible. However, we strive to make that moonshot idea happen because we are bothered by it. We want it to happen and refuse to let it pass us by. The name moonshot comes from when JFK said we would put a man on the moon. No one knew how to do it, but we were going to do it anyway. There was a drive, a passion for making it happen. For me, moonshot ideas are what keep me going, keep me asking questions, and make me challenge those around me. Things bother me. Some more than others, but being bothered is what has kept me feeling like I can make change happen. Probably the biggest thing that bothers me is ineffective use of technologies in the classroom that is then highlighted as increasing achievement, learning, (insert term here) when in fact nothing has really changed. Scott McLeod had a session on this called Gratuitous Use of Technology (or something to that effect). While I missed the session, that really sums up what bothers me. It may be a far cry in comparison to putting a man on the moon, but nevertheless, it still matters, it’s still important, and it really bothers me.

The other thing that really stood out from Jeff’s keynote was the video of the young man doing a Rube Goldberg, at what appeared to be his house. This child, I think he was in fourth grade, but can’t really remember, creates this impressive Rube Goldberg machine and he makes a prediction about how many times his machine is going to succeed and how many times it will fail. I think it was a two to 14 ratio. As the video continues, it starts showing the trials. The first three are a bust and then on the fourth a success. What happens next is the best thing. This kid literally flips out. He is so excited that it worked on the fourth time when he predicted that if would fail “umpteen” times. I immediately thought, when was the last time we were this excited and willing to fail “umpteen” times? The mantra seems to be if we can’t do it it right the first time, we better not even try. I’d say this was a common theme I ran into throughout the conference. It’s okay to make mistakes, but what we do next is what matters. What’s worse is that we appear to be sending this signal to our students via standardized tests with all the focus on getting the right scores and the high stakes nature of the tests. Nothing in life, at least in my life, is as high stakes as those tests are for students and schools. They aren’t realistic and the emphasis we place on them as a nation, state, and local community truly bothers me. This certainly is a moonshot idea and it’s almost embarrassing that it is.

Other highlights from my conference experience:

  • Teaching students how to search is truly critical. We don’t live in a world where we can organize everything into nice little units. Our knowledge is too large, complex, and changes way to fast to keep up. Being able to sift is going to be much more important that sorting. I actually started this with my son last night. We started searching for orange juice and he loved it! (Henry’s four BTW)
  • Our knowledge has a half life of 18 months. This is interesting for me since the work I did for my doctorate in my first couple semesters is going to be outdated by the time I write my dissertation. Let’s not even go to textbooks…
  • Some key things when it comes to searching on Google: find the ads, the more links to a website means Google thinks it’s an authority, use the search tools to refine results, site: and filetype: are very useful for getting the resources you want, reading level is also helpful, and it is possible to search for dated materials, such as newspapers from the Korean War era (type Korean War, limit results to 1950-1955, and click on the news link in Google).
  • It’s easy to make info grams. Some resources:,, and piktochart.
  • Never underestimate the power of Twitter. The majority of my resources, including those from the previous bullet, came from Twitter. One person was at ITEC, but the other was in Oklahoma. Not to mention all the things I would have missed that were captured by others via the back channel #ITEC13
  • Speaking of Twitter, it still has a spam issue. I hadn’t really noticed it for a long time, but during the conference it was certainly present in the hashtag. But I did learn that you can filter your results. For me I used #ITEC13 -hidelink (Hidelink was what was spamming everyone). Thanks to @jamiefath for that one!
  • Kids are important and are missed when they are gone. But do we let them know that? My guess is not enough.
  • We are social creatures, yet school is typically the place where we can’t interact either with those literally sitting next to us or those in the larger community. If we want students to be engaged, let’s give them something to be engaged in.
  • There are a number of apps in iOS 7 that use location and notification services that really don’t need to. All that does is suck my battery life down and shares more than I really want. Check it out in settings and take back control!
  • There were three 8th graders at the conference (perhaps more, but I only saw three). It seems like more and more young people are showing up at conferences and I love it. Young people have a voice and they should let it be heard. As I was working on this post I saw Ian Coon tweet out something that appears to be a student bill of rights (I don’t think that’s what it’s called, but something generally like that) about what they want from their school and their educational experience. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m going to later today when I get to work. I don’t know if K12 students have to pay for ITEC, but they shouldn’t. These are the people we need to invite in, because above all, their voice counts, yet they are the most underrepresented group in education. We should be inviting them in so we can learn from them.
  • I met a number of people I follow on Twitter. Always a fun experience. I also had the chance to meet up with some people I hadn’t seen in a few years, even since high school.
  • Looking for more? Check out #ITEC13 and

Finally, perhaps the best part of the conference were the conversations I had with my colleagues on the way to and from the conference. We were able to talk about more things in the two hour drive there and back than any number of meetings would have accomplished. This is on top of the interactions we had during the conference. For me, I was able to get a ton of feedback on my dissertation topic and some new directions to keep my work moving forward.

So all in all, I had a great conference experience. My only regret is that I wasn’t able to stay for all the afternoon sessions. Time is a scarce resource, but even with my mostly limited ITEC experience, I still feel I’ve been rejuvenated and am ready to keep on being bothered.

Focusing your PLN

I’ve noticed over the last month and a half since my daughter was born that I’ve almost lost control of my PLN.  I didn’t really read many blogs and kind of checked in with Twitter when I had a minute, but overall, I spent the better part of a month not engaging in my PLN in any way.  Now that I have gotten back into a routine, well for the most part, I am trying to catch up with some of the things I’ve missed.  However, the problem I have now is a lack of time to go through all the things I want to.  BNB (Before Nora Beverly) I used to have much more time to engage in my PLN, but ANB (After Nora Beverly) time is a bit more restricted for things like my PLN.  I’m still able to engage in it on a regular basis, but I have found I need to be more focused.

What I mean by being more focused is that I typically only have a few minutes a couple times a day to explore my PLN.  BNB I used to just aimlessly flounder through my PLN, reading tweets, checking google reader, or casually flipping through Flipboard on my iPad.  Now that I have less time, I have to focus my energy to gain as much from my PLN as I can.  This means making some tough choices, since there is so much available.  What I have found to be effective though, is limiting myself to just one medium when I do get to engage in my PLN.  So when I have a half hour to spend with my PLN, I choose either going through tweets, my google reader, or Flipboard.  While Flipboard has a combination of both blogs and tweets, it presents it in a different way that makes consumption unique.

So for example, this morning I spent about 20 minutes reading blog posts.  Nothing but blog posts.  I didn’t turn on Tweet Deck and I resisted the urge to read any emails, texts, or IMs that came in during that block.  I was deliberate with what I wanted to read, and I enjoyed myself, while still learning about topics like: social media, gaming, assessment, and leadership.  I didn’t consciously pick these topics beyond the fact that the title of the posts seemed interesting (I suppose that is a little like judging a book by its cover, but…).

If the opportunity presents itself again today, I’ll check in, most likely with Twitter.  But when I do so, I’m going to be just as focused.  No blogs, email, IMs, texts, etc.  Just Twitter.  Focused.

Why parts of the Missouri law limiting teacher-student online interactions are still a bad idea

Yesterday two of my colleagues let me know about a law in Missouri that limits teacher-student online interactions using websites like Facebook and Twitter.  When I saw this I was immediately outraged and did rant just a little bit about the law, while not really knowing the whole story.  So I did some searching and quickly came across a Huffington Post article, which led me to the actual senate bill.  All in all, the bill isn’t that terrible, but there are two small parts of the bill that limit teacher-student interaction using text messaging and online websites, which I feel unreasonably limits student-teacher interaction and creates an image of teachers that hurts the profession.  They can be found on page 15, lines 26-33 in the above linked senate bill.

Before going on, I do want to point out that there are sexual predators in our schools and that too many of the nations students are sexually assaulted by educators.  However, the number of responsible educators looking out for students by far out number the scum that prey on them.  The Associated Press found from 2001 to 2005 that 2,570 educators had their “teaching credentials revoked, denied, surrendered, or sanctioned for alleged sexual misconduct.”  However, when you put that in perspective, that’s less than one tenth of a percent of the over 3 million teachers in the nation.  Assuming that rate is consistent from state to state, Missouri lawmakers are legislating against the whole in response to the actions of a few.  And while the bill goes on to do a number of what I consider good and decent things to protect young people and to stop the “passing of the trash” from school to school, such as: providing guidelines for reporting alleged abuse or providing protection for educators who report other educators for alleged sexual abuse, restricting the interactions of educators in online spaces that might be private, seems like it goes a bit too far.

Can sexual abuse still happen through this medium?  Yes.  Will this law prevent the people who really want to abuse children from using these sites?  Probably not, which means that this part of the law will only prevent the other, non-sexual predators who also happen to be the vast majority of educators, from using social networking and text messaging to help students learn and support their growth.  Most teachers won’t be willing to use these mediums because they might do something wrong.  It isn’t worth the risk of losing your teaching license.  I get that.  I also understand that Missouri lawmakers are trying to protect young people from the sleaze of the earth, but this isn’t how you do it.  This law has a number of different ways that will actually help protect children, but limiting teacher-student interactions via text messaging and social networking sites isn’t the way to do it.  Your desired effect isn’t going to happen.  The predators will likely use these mediums, because they take calculated risks, just like they take calculated risks when they decide to sexually abuse young people.

Students, parents, educators, community members, and anyone else who cares about children, need online safety training in a 21st century context.  Students need to be taught how to responsibly use social networking sites and text messaging so we have fewer incidents with children being abused.  Thinking we can just block the issue away isn’t going to solve the underlying problem.  It’s just going to make it worse.  Students will continue to be abused and bullied by other students and adults.  We have an opportunity to make a difference, but limiting our freedom to teach young people isn’t the way to do it.

After reading the bill, I’m wondering if people will think: if teachers can’t be trusted using text messaging and social networking sites with my children, then how can they be trusted when they are physically close to them?  This law not only will be ineffective in preventing cyber sexual predators, but it hurts education as a profession.  It shows that educators aren’t people we can trust, when this is far from the truth.

Twitter: How to use it and why

I had a teacher I used to work with contact me over Skype last week and he asked about using Twitter.  I was almost caught off guard by the question because even though this teacher is very innovative with the use of technology in his courses, and is always one to help when others ask, he just isn’t into social networking. Which is okay.  Social networking isn’t the right fit for everyone and there are certainly different levels of adoption.  However, with him starting the conversation and asking the question, I thought I would share with everyone else who is considering using Twitter in their courses or as part of their PLN.

To start off I’ll explain my experiences with Twitter, because like many people I just didn’t get it.  A little over two years ago I started hearing more about Twitter and when I attended a state technology conference I decided I would sign up.  I didn’t really know what to expect and was really quite disappointed after the conference ended.  I truly didn’t get what I was supposed to do.  I didn’t know who to follow or really what following was all about. So I just stopped using it, because I couldn’t justify the time commitment when I had an entire district to look after.  Over the course of the next few months I some how came back to looking into Twitter again and wish I could remember what triggered my interest in it again.  Regardless of the reason, I gave it another chance and this time I started looking at how other people were using it and finally discovered what I had stumbled upon.  As I started to slowly follow people I began seeing more and more resources and support for ideas I have that I think are important.  Up until this point I had relied only on my RSS reader for my PLN, but now I was able to expand that network by including the conversations, shared resources, and other interactions that take place through Twitter.  Twitter really brought a human component to my PLN.  Overtime I slowly began sending my own tweets and have noticed that others are interested in what I have to say as well.  The interactions I have had on Twitter have been some of the more in depth conversations I have ever had and now I can’t think of not using Twitter as a way to refine my skills as an educator.

So now that I’ve talked about my experiences, let’s get down to the nitty gritty of using Twitter:

  1. First things first, you need to sign up for an account.  It’s free and pretty straight forward to do, especially if you’ve ever signed up for anything Web 2.0ish.  So go to and click sign up.
  2. Once you have an account the next thing you should do is find people to follow.  This is where I struggled at first but I think this is getting much easier in education because more and more educators are using Twitter.  I’d first start by thinking about people you know who might be on Twitter.  These could be people in your school, your AEA (regional education agencies in Iowa), the Department of Education, or other associations and organizations.  Once you find a few people who you want to follow, then start looking at who they follow.  Chances are you have similar interests and will follow many of the same people.
  3. Once you start following other people, you will start to see the power of Twitter.  You will see people tweeting resources, links to articles, blogs, and other resources that can help you learn.  The best part of Twitter is that you don’t have to contribute if you don’t want to.  There is certainly power in sharing your knowledge, but you need to be comfortable doing so first, so if you don’t feel like saying anything then don’t.  It’s okay to just lurk for a while and see what everyone else is saying.
  4. The next step is to begin sharing.  Once you have gained some comfort and followers, start sharing your ideas, resources, and anything else you think will help others become better educators.  As you start sharing others will begin interacting with you and the power of Twitter jumps dramatically because even though you are using 140 characters to say something, you will be surprised at how profound and meaningful some of those short statements are.  Some of the best conversations I’ve had with other educators have been over Twitter.
  5. If you see something someone else tweeted that you would like to send out to your followers, then you should retweet it.  Retweet is simply resending a tweet.  You would do this because there could be people who don’t follow the person who tweeted the initial tweet that follow you and may be interested in the original tweet.  I also see it as reinforcing what someone said.  You can also add to a retweet if you want to add something more, but beware of the 140 character limit!
  6. As you begin sending out messages, you may want to make your tweets are searchable by using a hashtag.  The best way I’ve found to explain a hashtag is that it is the pound sign (#) with a word or single phrase following it.  A hashtag doesn’t have any spaces and is usually descriptive of a topic, such as #edchat, #iowacore, #iwb, etc.  This is a great way to help organize tweets about a certain topic and allows for more structured conversations to take place.  It is also a great way to find others to follow and will help you establish more followers.  You will also notice others using hashtags which you can click on to do a quick search of the topic.
  7. Once you get the hang of using Twitter, you should look into using software that helps you organize your searches and tweets better.  The one I’m most fond of is Tweet Deck, which is an application that is installed on your computer.  Tweet Deck allows you to organize your tweets in columns, which is handy if you want to have multiple hashtags open at once.  Another that doesn’t need to be installed is Hoot Suite.  It follows the same basic concept of Tweet Deck only it isn’t installed on your computer and is ran through a Web browser.
  8. If you want to send a tweet to some one specifically, you can either send them a direct message or mention them.  To mention someone you type their handle (what shows up when they tweet, such as dmourlam) preceded by an @ symbol (@dmourlam).  To send a direct message click on Message at the top of your Twitter Web page and click new message.  The main difference is that a direct message is a private message where a mention is a public message.

There are a lot of things to know about Twitter, but once you adopt it into a regular practice, it doesn’t take much time investment.  If you are looking to increase collaboration with your students, you could have them begin using Twitter as well.  What you would need to do is make sure they all have access to a device that allows them to send tweets and then for instance you could create what is called a backchannel in your lectures/discussions.  A backchannel is a live chat stream, usually projected if part of a physical classroom, where the audience can engage in the content of the lecture/discussion rather than remaining passive in the learning process.  So as a speaker talks your students can ask each other questions or highlight parts that are important to them.  Creating a backchannel is also a great way to receive feedback during a lecture.  The key is to use a hashtag that is unique to your class, which you can make up ahead of time and let everyone in class know.  You will also need to use a service like Twitter Fall to show all the tweets from the backchannel, which you can then project in the room.  May sound intimidating, but it is a learning process and is certainly leading edge in terms of increasing the collaboration amongst your students.

As you begin looking at how to use Twitter, make sure to take some time to let everything digest.  There isn’t a rush and you’ll have to admit that you can’t read everything.  A good way to begin would be to devote ten minutes to using Twitter everyday.  Just read some things others are tweeting and see where it goes from there.  Another thing to keep in mind is to ask for help when you have questions.  Twitter can get a little confusing, so make sure to reach out for help when you need it.  Hopefully I’ve been helpful, but if you have questions, don’t hesitate to let me know.

Good Luck!

I’m jumping on the Twitter bandwagon…

In an effort to stay fresh and cutting edge, I am going to start using Twitter.  What does that mean exactly you may be asking yourself?  Well to tell you the truth I am not sure how well this is going to work, but here is my two part plan.  First I am going to continue to do my tech tips using my blog, but instead of having my blog act as a stand alone page, I am going to make my blog work a little.  Whenever I post a new blog, the blog will show up on my Twitter page within one hour.  This will allow my followers to receive updates, via Twitter, text message, or a third party twitter update application like TweetDeck.  If you decide you want to follow me you will receive an update in one of the preceding ways and can decide if my tech tip is something you want to look into.  This is the content publishing part of my plan.  The second part is a little more interesting and I hope many of you will decide to follow my lead.

Part two of my Twitter plan deals with continuing my development as an educational technology leader.  The beauty of Twitter, and most social networking sites, is that you are able to connect with people all over the world and interact in a meaningful way.  In the past this was limited to face to face interactions we would have at conferences and other meetings, which made it hard to learn new ideas.  Twitter changes things.  Twitter allows me to follow people that are leaders in my field, which I had been limited to in the past.  I am now able to follow people like Daniel Pink, David Warlick, and Scott McLeod.  The beauty of this is that I can see who they are following and follow those people too.  Instead of going to conferences and meetings to discover the next great thing, I am able to interact directly with these people and receive that knowledge first hand.  I am able to do all this from the comfort of my computer anywhere I am in the world, not to mention all the money I am saving in the process.

You can do this too.  I encourage you to think of the leaders in your content area or even someone in education that you think has some good ideas and check if they have a Twitter account.  If they are making semi regular Tweets you may want to consider creating your own Twitter account at and begin following them.  This is free and easy to do.  It may take a you few minutes to get going, but once you jump in and embrace the system you may be surprise what you find.

If you want to follow me on Twitter go to and click follow.  You will need to create an account first.  I also mentioned TweetDeck earlier.  It is a really neat application that will sync with your Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace accounts and when there is an update it will pop up on your computer.  You can download TweetDeck for free at

As always, if you have questions or need help jumping on the Twitter bandwagon give me a buzz.

The most popular word of 2009: Twitter

Believe it or not, Twitter was the most popular word of 2009.  In our remote region of the world, most people don’t really know what Twitter is or how it works.  That doesn’t’ stop if from being talked about though.  You can’t read a blog on some random Web site or watch the news without seeing or hearing about Twitter.  Twitter is everywhere it seems, which is probably why it was the most popular word of 2009.  Jose Vargas goes into more detail why Twitter beat out the rest on his blog: