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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Twitter is Not Living Up to Its Potential


On Thursday I wrote about the professional development potential of Twitter.  Unfortunately, though, (just like many of my former students) Twitter isn’t quite living up to its potential right now.  I read an old blog post of Justin Tarte’s (@justintarte) the other day that made me realize that interacting with others is a crucial part of building your Twitter network.  After spending a good amount of time trying to determine exactly how to do this I came to the conclusion that asking questions was the key. 

There are two types of questions that I have tweeted since Thursday hoping to reach beyond my followers – direct (replies asking someone for information about a resource they have shared or an event or organization that they are involved in) and general (inquiries asking the followers of certain hashtags for assistance).  None of them have gotten responses. 
I understand that I am the new kid in town and that to a certain extent I have to prove myself.  However, I am baffled by the lack of responses to the direct questions considering that the network I am trying to build is one of people who are committed to improving education.  If a student raised their hand during class to ask a question, would they simply be ignored?  I am even a little taken aback by the lack of the lack of responses to the general inquiries.  I might not be asking the most profound questions, but it’s also not like I am asking for advice on the charley horse that woke me up screaming in the middle of the night.  Again, thinking about the classroom – when you first use a new piece of technology students often have non-content related questions.

So, I have decided to do an experiment of sorts.  I have three different things that I am going to try and see which (if any) will finally get me some answers:

1.  Tweet again: Max Ray (@maxmathforum) mentioned in a comment to one of my previous blog posts that there is only a 1/3 chance of any tweet being seen.   So, maybe the "teacher" isn't ignoring me, but simply didn't see that my hand was raised.  Therefore, if I don’t get a response within 48 hours I am simply going to ask again.  I wonder, though, at what point I run the risk of becoming the annoying kid because just because the person or people the question was directed at might not have seen it doesn’t mean that others didn’t.  

2.   Purposely time my tweets:  The Social Media Guide (@socialguide) says that 12:00 p.m. EST is the best time to tweet because it coincides with key daily events (beginning of the work day, lunch, and end of the work day) in three different time zones.  Dan Zarella (@danzarella) also says that people are more likely to click on links over the weekend.   I know that I favorited a number of tweets over the past two days to do just that because I wasn’t able to give them the attention that I wanted to at the time that I received them. 

3.   Tweet synchronously: I found that I had the most true interaction during last Sunday’s #21stedchat.   Others asked questions and I answered.  I asked questions and others answered.  People retweeted me and someone even favorited one of my tweets.  It seems that participating once was not enough to really impact my professional network (again, that whole proving myself thing), but I think that if I constantly interact with the same people I will see a difference.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Twitter Makes the "P" in PD Powerful, Personal, and Progressive

A 2010 Rutgers University study found that 80% of tweeters use Twitter to update others on their status or share their thoughts and observations and deemed such users “meformers”.  I’ll admit that two weeks ago this was my perception of Twitter  that it was a one-way method of conversation for Narcissists and/or people with far too much time on their hands.  In contrast, a recent Drexel University study found that only 2.5% of tweets by educators contain personal information.  Rather, as I have discovered, teachers are "informers".  You share resources, pose and respond to questions, and learn about innovative programs, technologies, practices, and research. In many ways, Twitter is a natural extension of what teachers do in the classroom – modeling the behaviors and skills you want to see in your students (information literacy, communication and collaboration, safe social networking, and lifelong learning, among others).

I recently posted a comment on Michael Pershan’s (@mpershanRational Expressions blog that included my view that mathematics education is more about the process than the product.  Twitter fits into this philosophy too – it transforms professional development from being a single event with a specific focus into a continual conversation with limitless possibilities.  Twitter allows educators to maintain connections with people you meet at conferences and workshops, college and graduate school classmates, and former colleagues in a way that is different than email due to its more open nature (more about this will be coming in another post) and 140-character limit.   (SadlyI searched for over 25 such contacts and was only able to find one who has a Twitter account.)

In addition, though, Twitter also offers a way for teachers to expand your professional network.  You can choose to follow people with whom you share a specific experience, interest and/or goal (more about the mechanics of how to do this will be coming in another post) as I did with Beth Gryczewski (@Gryczewski).  The exciting part is that in doing so you often discover conversations and blogs that introduce novel topics or ideas that will make you pause to reflect and perhaps even act.  For example, Beth recommended that I join the #21stedchat Twitter chat last Sunday. (For anyone who is unfamiliar with a Twitter chat, it is simply a synchronous, public conversation held on Twitter at a designated time and threaded together with a common hashtag.  Here is a list of all of the educational chats on Twitter thanks to Jerry Blumengarten (@cybraryman1)).  The topic was "Professional Development for 21st Century Learning".  Participating exposed my tweets to the people interacting with me in addition to my followers and brought professional development opportunities to my attention that I most likely would have never found on my own (Internet searches tend to be most fruitful when you have something particular you are looking for).  I was unaware of the existence of #edcamps prior to the chat and now I am trying to convince The Math Forum (@themathforum) to host a math-specific one. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Is anybody listening – oh, oh / No reply at all…

The Math Forum (@themathforum) sent out a tweet the other day about You Tube’s search for the Next EDU Gurus.  I did a decent amount of work with vodcasting while a student in Drexel’s Master of Science in Mathematics Learning and Teaching Program so I was excited to see what the contest was all about.  Unfortunately, after reading the details my excitement grew into frustration.  Despite being popular, flipped classrooms that introduce content at home to allow more in-class interaction do not always actively engage students in problem solving or critical thinking.  While the examples that YouTube provided (setting historical events to music, doodling geometry, and singing Shakespeare) might be as they say “compelling” I don’t see how they provide students with rich and authentic out-of-class learning experiences.  What does this have to do with Twitter you might be asking?  I remember watching an episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians  last year (go ahead and pass judgment, but – as Matt Labash observed – even the most intellectual television shows aren’t much more intellectual than the middle schoolers I used to teach) where Kim got into a Twitter war with her friend Jonathan Cheban and I was afraid of starting my own battle.

I personally do not feel that Sal Khan is an EDU Guru.  There is no doubt that he is a business guru – in six years he grew his “classroom” from a few hundred students to more than 4 million per month – and even a technology guru – his videos are at the heart of the online education trend (which I am a big proponent of considering that I completed my entire master’s degree online).  However, in my opinion, the Khan Academy videos promote what a former colleague of mine referred to as memorizing for the moment instead of learning for a lifetime.  It just took me over 500 characters to say that.  On Twitter, I would have written “@themathforum It’s unfortunate that Khan is a judge-his videos are nothing more than tech-enhanced versions of the lectures I got in school”.  While both versions boil down to the same thing, the second is far more inflammatory because I am able to give my opinion but not explain it.  Not yet sure of many of Twitter’s social norms (which I hope people will help me learn by commenting on this blog) I was afraid that I might make enemies before people really knew anything about me.  So instead I wrote, “@themathforum Wondering what others think of YouTube’s examples of ‘great educational content’”.

In the end, it didn’t matter what I wrote because I got no replies.  At first I was extremely disappointed.  I believed that I had posed a thoughtful question that people would want to share their opinions on, but not fight about.  Perhaps I was wrong, but I think the larger issue is that my tweet was only seen by four people.  It turns out that when you start a tweet with a username only that person and people who are following both you and that person see it.  Notwithstanding sending a direct message, a reply is the most “private” form of tweeting aside from actually making your tweets private.  If you want to reach users that aren’t following you, but received the tweet that you are commenting on you need to reference it instead of replying to it.  There are several ways to do this:
  • Put a period in front of the username you are replying to (.@themathforum Wondering what others think of YouTube’s examples of “great educational content”)
  • Place the username you are replying to somewhere in the tweet other than at the beginning (Wondering what others @themathforum think of YouTube’s examples of “great educational content”)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

What's in a Name?

I visited the folks at The Math Forum (@themathforum) last Friday and during a discussion about professional  learning communities (PLCs) I was encouraged by Suzanne Alejandre (@SuMACzanne) to sign up for Twitter.  I had contemplated doing so for some time and had decided long ago that if I ever did it would be for purely professional reasons and that I would use an alias to keep my friends and family from finding me.  (Not that I don’t love them, but as I used to tell my students – what is acceptable when talking with your friends and what is acceptable when talking in class are two VERY different things.)  Three years ago the students in my last period, seventh-grade Algebra I class used to consistently joke that they were going to write a spoof of High School Musical called Math Musical and it was going to star Polly Nomial.  Ever since then I knew that was the username I wanted, so I was disappointed to discover that it was already taken.  I racked my brain to come up with another “mathy” female name and finally settled on @DeeTerminant.  Imagine my surprise to discover that I needed a name too.  For anyone else out there considering making the foray into tweeting, here’s what you need to know that I didn’t:
  • Your username is unique to you (which is why I couldn’t use Polly Nomial). 
  • Your name is a way of identifying you to family, friends, coworkers, etc. especially if your username is something mysterious (like mine is) – usually people use a company name or their real name.

Technically both names can be the same – there are A LOT of people who do this.  But, that was too “normal” and boring for me.   I was relieved that another one of the “mathy” names that I had considered made mathematical sense when coupled with my username and MayTrix@DeeTerminant was born.  Apparently, though, my mini-stress attack was all for naught.  Here is something else that I have learned that new tweeters will find useful:
  • You can change your username at any time and it will not affect your followers, @ replies or direct messages (more on these will be coming in another post).

In the past 8 days, Suzanne and Annie Fetter (@MFAnnie) have continued to give me “homework” assignments to help me acclimate to, and reap the full benefits of, using Twitter.  I decided last night that I wanted to blog about my experiences.   As I was creating this blog today I realized that I am actually happy that Polly Nomial was not available as a user name.  @DeeTerminant is apropos in more than one way –it both identifies me as a member of the mathematics community and describes what it is that I am trying to do.  I hope that as the days, weeks, and months progress other mathematicians, educators, and tweeters will offer me their comments, suggestions, and assistance.