Worth the Risk

My poor mother. To say I was a picky eater as a child is a massive understatement. My mom would often cry, fearing my sister and I were not eating enough. My eating habits improved in high school but I was still pretty hesitant when it came to trying new things. In university, a professor of mine used cheese to get me to open my mind to the endless possibilities of good food. Later that year, I took a big risk for a former picky eater. While in Prague I opened a restaurant menu only to find that it was written entirely in Czech (naturally). I remembered my professor’s advice, closed my eyes, and pointed. It was delicious.

Since then I’ve tried things I would have never fathomed in my previous, risk-free life – some were delicious, others not so much. I really did take something away from that experience and I’m trying to apply it to my life in ways that don’t just relate to food. One way I’m trying to do this is in my teaching. One of my goals straight out of teacher’s college was to learn more about the use of technology in the classroom. I decided I was going to make it a goal to learn more about the various options available for incorporating technology in school and then do my best to apply those things when I started teaching.

Technology can be scary! What happens when my lesson plan is based on content requiring an internet connection and the WiFi suddenly goes down? What do I do when my projector isn’t working, or even worse, I forget to book one out on a day it’s needed? I had these and other fears when I decided to join an online collaborative project called “Macbeth Goes Social”.

Classroom setup for our second Google Hangout
Classroom setup for our second Google Hangout

This project allows a space for teachers around the world to collaborate and share their collective experience of studying Macbeth at the same time. We’ve used Google Plus and more specifically Google Hangouts to share throughout this unit. The idea of a Google Hangout really scared me at first. All those previous questions (and more) swam through my mind. What if? Well, I took a risk and I tried it. My class has done two live Google Hangouts so far and I hope to do at least one more this week. Yes, there were flaws and yes I would definitely change a few things the next time, but boy am I glad I decided to give this a shot! This project has allowed my class to learn the importance of having a live audience (digital citizenship); share with peers around the world (Italy, America, United Kingdom, etc.); and have fun while doing it.

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https://twitter.com/HUSNAIN_AHMED/status/467296880670806016

If you’re interested in checking out a Google Hangout there are more scheduled for this, the final week of the project. Head over to the Google Plus page for Big Fun Education (the organizer) and watch some of the videos already posted.

 

Public and Professional – The Social Media Diaries

Here’s a quick timeline: I joined Facebook in 2005. 2005! What does that mean? I think it means there’s a lot of 20-year-old me posts out there somewhere in Internet Land. The good news is that a few years after joining, I came to the realization that future me may not be as excited about those Halloween ’06 photos I posted and I did some weeding. I should say there was some outside pressure to start deleting content as well.

In 2008, I enrolled at Queen’s to begin my Bachelor of Education. While learning about lesson planning, classroom management and assessment strategies, my peers and I were also being warned. “You should probably delete your Facebook account” is a phrase I didn’t hear just once. That’s when the real purge began. Even though I had a “private” profile (I had locked it down to the point that all information was hidden unless we were “friends”), I still deleted anything I feared might be considered inappropriate.

I joined the world of Twitter in 2011 with a “protected” account – meaning my tweets were private unless I approved of followers who added me. I even created a different account to use with my students, because, why would I want them following the “real” me on Twitter?

First Tweet
My first tweet

For a while, I thought I was really doing this Social Media thing well. I shared what I wanted, with whoever I wanted. I felt like I had control over my content and that I was being safe. But then I started to do some reading, and some thinking, and some more reading. I realized that maybe I was going about this all wrong. Rather than trying to keep everything hidden and private (which is getting harder and harder), why wouldn’t I just put my best foot forward from now on? Why not be mindful of what I post and tweet?

In Personal and Professional vs. Public and Private, George Couros states, “It is not that we can’t be ourselves online, but we should just be more cognizant of what we do there.” That statement really resonated with me. I felt that I was trying on a new identity with my teacher account while keeping the real me locked behind my protected account. So, I made the decision, “unlocked” my Twitter account and began to truly think about everything I wanted to share.

This shift in my Social Media presence has been a positive one so far. I feel like I’m able to use Twitter to it’s full potential through sharing, retweeting content and chatting with people who don’t follow me. And even though I still keep my Facebook account private, I feel that by carefully considering everything I post and share, I am putting out the image of myself that I feel most comfortable with, and therefore am projecting a positive persona to my ever-expanding audience.

Finally, I feel like I’m really able to stress the importance of Digital Citizenship and the power of putting out positive content to my students. In the past, I’ve warned them about the dangers of posting without thinking on Social Media, but now, I’m having a different conversation with them. Rather than scare them into protecting their accounts, I want them to start being more Social Media saavy – I’m now stressing the importance of creating a positive profile, thinking before posting and attaching something good to their name. I’m sure some young people are going to find the need to purge their profiles in a few years, but my hope is that they don’t have to weed through too much questionable content along the way.

 

Confessions of a Twitter Lurker

I signed up for Twitter back in 2010. I posted a handful of times and then promptly deleted my account. I asked myself, “Why would anyone care about what I have to say?” Honestly, I just didn’t see its purpose and figured I wouldn’t get much use out of it.

Fast forward about a year later and I found myself getting talked into rejoining. I created a new account, added a photo, posted a couple of times and lurked…a lot. I followed some people who interested me, clicked on their names and scrolled through their timelines. I read conversations between educators, too scared to jump in with my own thoughts on the subject (I felt like I would be intruding on a private conversation), watched as people tweeted and retweeted content that I found interesting and helpful. Slowly, I came to the realization that it wasn’t so much about me putting something unique and brilliant out there, it was about reading and learning from others, and posting when I found something that was helpful to me. It wasn’t until I had lurked for a while that I felt comfortable enough to start tweeting more and I think it helped me really understand the usefulness of Twitter.

So what’s so good about it? I think the beauty of Twitter is that you get exactly what you want from it. You tailor your account to your preferences. Like sports? Follow athletes, sports blogs and media personalities. Photography? Follow professionals, amateurs, and more blogs! The best part? You can unfollow with ease and without feeling too badly about it.

One of my favourite functions of Twitter is the organized chat. In my profession, there are countless weekly chats in a variety of subject areas and interests that are open to anyone. All you have to do is find the chat, follow the hashtag and join in the discussion. This is where lurking comes in handy again. The first few times I “participated” in edchats, I didn’t tweet, I only observed. Again, there was that fear of not having anything particularly important or useful to add to the conversation. Slowly though, my lurking gave me more confidence to really join in the conversation and tweet right along with the others.

I admit I still do a lot of lurking, and I don’t see any harm in it, as long as I do join in the conversation from time to time. So for those of you that are nervous about Tweeting, my advice to you is this: lurk away. Find some people whose Tweets you enjoy reading and scroll through their timelines. Observe. Join a chat on a subject that interests you and watch and read to see how people interact. Finally, don’t be afraid to join in. Start with some retweets then add your own perspective and slowly, you will build the confidence to use Twitter in a whole new, hopefully more meaningful way.