Year End Review

Being in the digital world for me has meant having access to material from the past year ( or past almost 10 years).  I’ve often used this blog to settle arguments about what we were doing 5 years ago in March.  Which is kind of funny.  Before hitting the archives and past Facebook and Twitter feeds, I just wanted to think through what the year has entailed so far.

I started the year out by getting elected to the CSTA board, something I’ve enjoyed immensely so far.  I’ve met some great people and helped do some interesting work.  Spring was pretty much a blur, but I had an enjoyable summer, the best part of which was going camping with my family.  Finally, school got off to a great start.  I added two colleagues, bringing my 1-person department up to three, and I increased enrollments from 7 to 47.  Not too shabby.  The semester will end shortly after we return, and I’ll start a new class.  I’m looking forward to it!

The digital world captured some of what I was up to last year.  From Word Press, this data-filled retrospective.  Blogging was slow at times, indicating how busy I was.  My most popular post was What I’m Teaching When I’m Teaching Programming.  I spent a little more time on Facebook this year, posting mostly pictures from trips and time off, and taking a few random quizzes here and there.  There, my role in Sound of Music is documented, various dog pictures appear, and pictures of beer and sangria.  Don’t ask.

Speaking of pictures, I’m still putting stuff on Flickr.  Pictures of this year’s Italy trip as well as the summer camping trip are there.

Twitter, as always, remains the main way I connect with other teachers, primarily through various chats and hashtags.  I’m still running the #makered chat, though Andrew’s move to Korea has meant that I’m mostly on my own.  I’m approaching 2k followers and 20k tweets.  Quite something.

I’ve been experimenting with other social media.   I’ve used Pinterest for recipes and clothes, and I’m using Tumblr for tracking cleaning projects.  Every stream has a different purpose, I guess. 🙂

Tomorrow, I’ll start looking forward.  Tonight, I’m spending a relaxing evening at home with a little champagne and some binge tv watching.

Tabs

The invention of tabs for web browsers has been one of my favorite things that’s happened in the browser world.  However, I’m notorious for having a bunch of tabs open at once.  I currently have 20, which is a small number for me.  Some of the things that are open are things I check regularly and it doesn’t make sense to close them (email, my fitbit dashboard, Google Drive, and my course management system).  but some are documents and articles I’ve opened that I haven’t decided if it’s okay to close or not.  I have 2 spreadsheets open, a book review, a couple of grant program sites that I might apply for.  My fear is if I close them, I’ll lose them.

Bookmarking systems like Diigo, Delicious, even Storify, are ways of saving some of those things for later.  But I haven’t found a perfect system.  I have buttons for Storify, Pinterest, Diigo, and more on my browser toolbar.  The problem is, once I click one of those buttons, the article may as well not exist.  Because I don’t have a system for going back to them.  Sometimes I tweet the article and that’s all I really wanted to do, but often, I recall that several articles are related and then, either I have them up and can do something with them, or I have to go searching for them again.  Sometimes I want to share the article with my faculty.  Other times I want to share it here.  And sometimes, I’m on a different device like my iPad or phone.  And saving and sharing are different there.

I need a better system.  I need a system that works across devices.  I need a way to save something, sort it, and send it where it needs to go based on how it’s sorted.  For example, I’d love to be able to read an article and if I want to blog about it here, I could tag it “personal blog” and save the link as a draft to work with here.  If I want to send it to the school blog, I could tag it “school blog”.  Currently, IFTT can do some of that, but I have to have separate accounts.  I can’t have two blogs on IFTT and set up a recipe to send to different blogs based on a tag.  Ditto for Twitter.  But this is one of my goals, to create something that works better, that allows me to look at a tab and think about what I want to do with the information and quickly and easily do what I want to do–maybe do more than one thing with one click.  I think I just need to spend some time thinking through the system I want.  I think I have the tools already.  I just need to arrange them appropriately.  A little up front time might save me time in the long run.

If anyone has ideas, please do let me know.  What systems work for you?

And we pause for the World Cup

English: Slovenia - USA at FIFA World Cup 2010
English: Slovenia – USA at FIFA World Cup 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At 4:00 yesterday, I settled in to the couch with a beer and some chips and dip to watch the US play Belgium.  Spoiler alert, we lost.  But it was a nice respite from attending to other duties.  Last week, we had to go to a bar to watch since we had no tv in our house.  I told Geeky Boy that I liked doing that because I felt like I was part of a community kind of instantly.  A similar thing happened when we wandered down the street to find ourselves in the middle of a concert.  I don’t think he quite felt the same way, but he lives communally right now (thanks to college), so he has groups of people around him pretty constantly.

That communal feeling is only partly captured via social media.  A Twitter chat can sometimes feel like we’re all in this together.  But it’s not quite the same as being in the same room with a bunch of people all watching the same thing at the same time. That is, I guess, the appeal of sports more generally.  I have had other sports moments besides the World Cup, but I am not what one might call a super sports fan.  I look for these moments, though, whether for sports or other things because connecting without the mediation of technology is important and rarer than one might hope.

Why Connecting is Cool

This week I’ve participated in two social media events that have inspired me and restored my faith in humanity.  Along with Andrew Carle, I help moderate the #makered Twitter chat on Tuesday evenings, which is growing since we started it in May.  The people that join this chat are smart and engaging, even in 140 character bursts.  Thanks to CSTA and EdCampSTEAM, I’ve now met some of these folks in person, which is often my goal with social media.  I either want to maintain a connection that started in person or extend a social media connection by meeting someone in person. The last 2 #makered chats have really gotten me thinking, which is what one wants from any interaction online.  We talk about stuff and projects, sure, but more importantly, we talk about philosophy and approach.  Making, we often argue, is not just about the stuff we make, it’s about the process.  It’s the same approach I take to Computer Science.  Yes, the end product is nice (hopefully), but the journey is more important to learning.  Honestly, I feel honored to be in the same virtual room with many of these folks and to be able to learn from them.

The second event spun out of the previous #makered chat.  We had a conversation about making in other disciplines.  STEM disciplines are often the target disciplines for making, and sometimes art in the form of STEAM.  But what if you teach English or History? How could use use the #makered approach there?  So, last night, we held a hangout to talk about just that.  There were only 5 of us, but it was a great conversation.  I learned a lot, especially from Valerie at the Detroit Public Library.  She had the benefit of not being tied down by the structure of school.  The rest of us were struggling with the usual issues related to interdisciplinary work: schedules, credits, politics, fiefdoms.  Andrew saw making across the disciplines as a direct challenge to those issues, and something we all should embrace rather than shy away from.  We talked about how to collaborate effectively while still challenging the status quo.  As Mike said at the end, “My brain is spinning.”  I agree.  I have a lot to think about and I’m looking forward to thinking about all the issues we raised.

And that was just in two days, two hours of my time that I got so much out of.  That’s why being connected online is so important to me.  It feeds my need for intellectually stimulating conversation.  It allows me to talk about things I might not get to at work (being the only one who does what I do, though I have plenty of colleagues who share my philosophy).  It inspires me to be better at what I do, to be constantly improving, basically to approach my whole career with a #makered philosophy.  How cool is that?

Digital Connections: Reality, Addiction, or Something Else?

Over the last couple of days, I’ve spontaneously bumped into several conversations about “being online.” People are wondering, as they have since online was a thing, whether being online is a good thing or a bad thing. Is there such a thing as being online too much? What do we miss when we’re not online? What do we miss when we are? I’m writing this in bed, and both me and Mr. Geeky are online, as we often are, many hours of the day. Our kids are also online many hours of the day. We think about these things a lot. I don’t have any easy answers.

My first encounter this week was with an older post by Dean Shareski that was retweeted. Just the way I found it should tell you something. 🙂 Dean argued that there is no difference between being online and offline in terms of connecting with people. I mostly feel the same way, but as I said in a comment there, I think the whole thing is complicated. There is a slight difference in connecting online and offline. Right now, I think that connecting online in a deep way takes a lot more effort than face-to-face. In a short amount of time in a face-to-face conversation, you can get facial expressions, tone of voice, body language that you just can’t get in an online conversation (although hangouts and skype do come close, but I have very few of those). To capture that same depth online requires more than 140 characters and usually more back and forth. In fact, I would argue that in the days of just blogs (no FB, no Twitter), in depth was easier than it is today. We really did do what I’m doing right now–connecting blog posts together via another blog post–more often. Nowadays, we just tweet it. I do it too. I don’t take the time to comment on the article I tweeted. It’s worth reading the comments on Dean’s post. It is representative of the way a deep conversation/connection can happen online. I’d argue, however, that those are rarer than they should be.

My next encounter was with Rob Cottingham’s comic, which I’ve loved since I first found out about it through Northern Voice 6 years ago (where I presented a video and conversation about this very issue). He, too, thinks this idea that the online world doesn’t matter or isn’t real is a silly one.

Put the online world’s role in your life into perspective — not just where it distracts you from what matters, but where it connects you to it.

And that is where I think most people miss the point. It’s also not what everyone is doing online. Ever since I ventured online, I was doing so to find connections to people. I felt isolated, alone misunderstood, but through my online connections, I found meaning and connection, and eventually, a new career. But many people are online not to connect in a meaningful way but to promote, to stroke their ego, to get the shallow satisfaction of having thousands of “friends”. And these people bother me and they are bringing along with them a way of looking at the online world as a shallow place. Our students seem to start there, in the shallow end. In part, that’s about cognitive development. They’re all about the ego well into their young adulthood. But some will make meaningful connections and we, as educators, can help them do that.

My final encounter was a link from Rob’s site about a 25 day vacation from being online. Thurston sounds like someone who needed a break, who had lost that sense of balance between interacting offline and online, feeling the need to tweet, check in, or post to Facebook every moment of his life. In fact, if I’d seen Thurston online, I dare say I’d have categorized him as one of those people using online spaces just for promotion and not for real connection. And perhaps that’s why he burned out and needed the break. Twice in my life I’ve gotten to that point. The first is documented here. Here’s what I said then:

I just need to think about why I began blogging in the first place and what I really want to be writing here and how it fits into my life. I think in many ways, blogging has been a substitute for the lack of support and recognition I feel in other aspects of my life. That’s not to say that I think blogging is to blame for the imbalance I feel right now. It’s not. It’s just that what I do here has become something different from what I want it to be. . . . The connections I made here are real. I enjoyed reading about other people’s lives and sharing in births and deaths, tenure and job searches, struggles with children and parents. It felt like a community here, a virtual neighborhood where we did more than just wave at each other across the street.

That was one of the worst times in my life, and for whatever good I got out of having an online community, it could not support me enough to help me through my difficulties. There was a clear qualitative difference between the people I was connecting to there and the people around me physically. For a time, I gave the online community more of me and that broke the relationships I had with those around me. The damage from that, in fact, still lingers. I don’t blame the Internet for it. It was just what I happened to turn to.

So what am I trying to say? I will say that I value my connections online. I value that I can write here and people read it and comment and send me email. I value that other people write things that make me think, cry, laugh, etc. I value my connections on Twitter and that we can share resources, have brief chats and help each other there. But when I’m at dinner or in a meeting or sitting with friends talking, I don’t check my twitter feed or my email or my blog. When I go for a walk around town, my phone stays in my pocket except for the occasional photo. Being online is a huge part of my life and part of my work. But it can’t be everything. Here’s how Thurston put it:

I am still a creature of my technological time. I love my devices and services, and I love being connected to the global hive mind. I am neither a Luddite nor a hermit, but I am more aware of the price we pay: lack of depth, reduced accuracy, lower quality, impatience, selfishness, and mental exhaustion, to name but a few. In choosing to digitally enhance, hyperconnect, and constantly share our lives, we risk not living them. We have collectively colluded to take this journey, but we’ve done so inches at a time, not realizing that we have traveled leagues in the process.

We’re still figuring this stuff, individually and as a society. There’s a lot more thinking to do, a lot more connecting dots, wondering, critiquing. These are interesting times.

Why I think social media is important

Many people think social media is a waste of time. Or if they don’t think that, they think that maybe there’s value in it, but they just haven’t made the time to really engage with it.  They often associate it with the distracted teens sitting in classrooms or at restaurants, ignoring the world around them.  Yes, teens are sometimes distracted by texting, Facebook, snapchat, instagram, and more.  But eventually, maybe, they’ll discover that they can actually learn something from it.

Earlier this evening, I participated in a flurry of Tweets about Bridge, Euchre, and other old card games that it turns out many of us geeky types used to play in school. It made me smile.  I learned something about a handful of people I’m following on Twitter, in the same way I might have if we’d been standing around a hallway at a conference.  We’re planning to actually play the next time we’re all physically in the same place.  So, connecting with people, on a truly human level, is something valuable I get out of social media.

Also, ideas.  Many of these same people are people I ask questions of and get interesting answers.  We have conversations about issues we’re all facing or we share successes (or failures) in the classroom.  We share articles and resources.  We sometimes discuss those articles (on our blogs if we need more than 140 characters).  We’re learning together.

I’ve recently re-engaged with Google+, where I’ve joined a number of communities.  While I still find Twitter provides more bang for the buck most of the time, I’ve been able to find resources, and get questions answered in many of the communities I’m in there, many of which are quite specific (where Twitter is scattershot when it comes to topics).

I don’t have to spend a huge amount of time with social media to get a lot out of it.  Once you’re following a good collection of people, you can spend 1/2 hour over coffee every morning and see what’s new in the world.  And you can just follow along.  You don’t have to Tweet or post to a blog or Facebook or even Google+.  I do think posting yourself is important once you’re comfortable.  It’s a conversation, not a lecture, so putting yourself out there adds to it.  Participating can help you think through your own thoughts about a topic.  You can see how your ideas sit with others.

I also think social media can get you out of your bubble.  I live in fear that I’ll become isolated and insulated and not realize that I’m in a rut.  I think social media can let you see at a glance new tools, new strategies, new gadgets, and new approaches.  And that can be refreshing.  I try to keep my network varied while still having a core group of folks who share my interests and philosophy.  I want contrary points of view and people from different fields.  That can prevent me from getting in the social media bubble of having only people who are like-minded in my network.

Engaging with people on social media in my field keeps me excited and interested in what I’m doing.  I get fresh ideas. I feel connected to people. And I feel like I’m contributing to something bigger than myself.  I get a lot of that from my workplace as well, but social media offers a larger, more diverse platform.  I’m glad it still exists, and I hope there’s still value in it (for me and for everyone) at least ten years from now (though we may be wearing special glasses to interact with it 🙂 ).

Automation only goes so far

Pretty much this entire school year, I’ve been trying to come up with a good way to syndicate content to my school web site for my colleagues.  I’ve tried various iftt recipes.  I’ve gone back to diigo, rss, and javascript.  I’ve tried a learning management system.  I was kind of stuck with the school web site because that’s where my colleagues are.  There are a handful on Twitter, but mostly everyone is still just reading email and checking the web site.  Nothing automates perfectly.  For example, diigo is a great option for bookmarking things, but its embedding tool is awful and makes bookmarks hard to read once they’re embedded.  There are no bullets or other options. I tried to use another tool to take the RSS from diigo to Javascript, but the RSS feed isn’t valid so the Javascript is borking. Storify looks pretty good embedded on a web page, but I find it hard to collect the links into Storify.  I can’t get the extension to work well and I don’t want to take the time to visit the site itself. I’m having the same issue with Learni.st.  The embedded format is nice, but the bookmarklet doesn’t work. Delicious no longer has the linkroll tool.

That whole “Small Pieces, Loosely Joined” thing is failing me right now.  I will try to not go all gloom and doom about how the web is falling apart, but hey, exhibit A.

So, I’ve resorted to emailing, mostly.  I see an article or tool I think a teacher might be interested in, I just email them.  Is it time consuming? Kind of. But it’s very direct and this way, I know they’ve seen it.  And, I think, It probably creates a better connection rather than just hoping they visit the web site.  It’s a reminder that there are things that should be automated, and maybe things that shouldn’t be.

Disconnected

The last two summers, I went to several conferences. I wanted to learn more and to connect with people in my new field. This summer, aside from edcamp in May, I went to nothing. There are two or three things going on right now that I could participate in virtually, but I’m not. In part, my lack of conference participation was practical. Every conference I might have participated in was on the west coast, so it was pricey. But mainly, I’m not participating because I have other things I need to focus on and I need a real break. Conferences, even online, wear me out. I’m facing a very busy year next year and I feel like I need to rest, focus on the information I need and ignore the rest.

I see the tweets and blog posts and feel slightly guilty and left out, but I know when that last week of August comes, I’m going to hit the ground running. I’m taking a short trip to see family next week, and potentially one more college visit, and then it’s down to business. I’ll reconnect both virtually and physically. I’ll start getting all my ducks in a row. I’m glad those opportunities are out there. I’ll participate next year, and I have plans for several things in the school year. I like being connected, are all but I can’t be connected all the time.

What social media I use

Earlier this week, Jackie talked about using Twitter and how it’s been going.  She finds Facebook more “conversational” for her, but Twitter still has its purposes.

Obviously, I’ve been reinvesting my time here.  I spend most of my time online reading other blogs.  It makes sense to me to up my contribution again in that medium.  And I like writing and I want a bit of a record of my teaching so that when I go to plan next year, I can see what works and what doesn’t.  I’m sure some people come here and say tl;dr, but that’s okay.  I’ve seen some other people start blogging more again to work against the Twitter and Facebook mentality of 240 characters (or at least shorter posts).  And I think that’s a good impetus.

Over the last two years, I’ve pulled back from contributing to most social media, mostly due to time constraints, but as I’ve settled into my new job, I’ve felt not only that I have time to participate, but also a need to participate.  My school knows about all my media participation.  I post about my activities at school and often my school will retweet or post to Facebook some of the things I do.  Which is fabulous.  So part of my writing is appropriate for PR.  But also, I learn a lot, and I learn a lot more when I’m actively participating.  So here’s where I’m building my efforts.

Twitter:  I tend to check in with Twitter in the morning after my morning blog reading/posting.  I shifted the people I follow to mostly K-12 educators.  That has been really helpful to me as those folks post articles about teaching and discuss teaching in many ways.  I’ve also participated in several scheduled chats via Twitter, which I also find helpful.  My favorite of those is #isedchat, a chat specifically for independent schools.  Most teachers are public school teachers and have to deal with very different issues than those of us who are IS teachers.  Most of my participation is during those chats.  Besides a post or two in the morning, I mostly follow.  And I think that’s okay.

Facebook: I am thinking about getting rid of my Facebook account.  I haven’t even logged in lately and frankly, I find it kind of creepy.  It’s not a professional space for me and I don’t want it to be a personal space.   And I have issues with their privacy policies.  So that might go away.  I’m on the fence still.

Google+: I really like Google+, but I’m not following that many people and/or the people I follow are not posting much.  So the traffic is low.  Which is sort of a good thing.  The people I’m following there are different from the people I follow via blogs and Twitter.  And I think that’s a good thing.  In fact, the blogs I read are generally not the same people I follow on Twitter either.  Google+ encourages more writing than Facebook or Twitter, but not as much as blogging.  It’s a good place to post an article and write a brief snippet about it.  Some people have suggested that they’re going to use it as a blog, which, frankly, I don’t have any desire to do. But I do like the slightly more thoughtful nature of it.  It’s slower than Twitter, less silly than Facebook.  That may be a factor of the people not the tool, but that’s the feel of it for now.

I’m still searching for a different social bookmarking tool.  I’m sticking with Delicious for now, but I want something new.

Another tool that I’ve used a lot less is Flickr.  Partly that’s a function of my not taking as many pictures, but it’s also because the pictures I take on my phone automatically go to Google+, which is very convenient.  I could set it up to go to Flickr as well, but meh, don’t really care.  I like Flickr very much, and recommend it to people all the time, but I’m not as invested in it personally.

So that’s where I am with social media.  There are things out there I haven’t really touched: Tumblr, StumbleUpon, Digg, etc.  And maybe I’m old school, but so far, I like where I am.

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Spreading Myself Thin

I mentioned the other day on Twitter that I was spread out across too many social networks.  I have Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, the blog, a Ning I’m participating in.  It’s all too much.  But each of those networks is a slightly different audience, so I feel compelled to participate.  There are things I like about each of them (except Facebook; its redeeming qualities diminish every day).  I used to have a fairly nice setup where I’d read blogs mostly, and then I’d check in with Twitter a couple of times.  And then I had Facebook sending me email when I was really needed there.

Also, I’ve been doing this social media thing for almost 10 years.  Some of my tools are aging.  Delicious has been purchased and revamped into a nearly unrecognizable form.  My RSS feeds from there that fed to various resources pages is no longer working.  I’m waiting for a fix. And I moved my blog over here when Haloscan quit working (ah, Haloscan).  Aside from the technical changes, there’s also the shift in culture.  Does anyone besides Alan Levine blog anymore?  Even Laura at 11D hasn’t been an every day sure thing.  All the action is happening elsewhere.  Some are claiming it’s going to Google Plus.  I think most people are still in Twitter.  And therein lies my problem.  Not all my Twitter people are posting regularly to Google Plus yet, so I still have to check there anyway.  But most of my Google Plus people are still on Twitter.  Only my old high school friends are on Facebook.  And they’re just not on my priority list.

And then there’s the question of where to post myself.  I like the longer form of the blog, but most people prefer shorter snippets, which all the other social media out there offer.  I do post links to both Twitter and Google Plus.  And I love the way I can share things from my Android easily (much more easily than via my laptop–go figure). But much of what I want to share requires more typing than Twitter or even maybe Google Plus. I guess I’m trying to figure out what the best bang for my buck is.  I have a hard time imagining “blogging” over on Google Plus.  I guess that’s how journalists felt (feel?) about blogs.  I’m Internet old.

Here’s a cute video that gets at my dilemma:

 

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