NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing due Nov. 2

I have been encouraging students to apply for the NCWIT Award every year.  I’ve been lucky to have 3 winners among my students so far.   This year, I have many more students, so I’m hoping many more applicants.  If you have female students interested in technology and Computer Science, you should encourage them to apply.  Just applying gives students access to a fantastic organization that supports young women in their pursuit of careers that involve computing.  That support is crucial, especially as they move on to colleges where the percentage of women in CS or Engineering might be low.  And beyond that, to careers in tech where again, the percentage might be dismally low.

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?

What to do with social media

A person I follow on twitter has I followed everyone he follows, some 5000 people, so that he can start fresh. He’s trying to get more bang for his buck, and recognized that he was caught in the wrong feedback loop. He was more interested in getting more followers than in getting value from people he did follow. Reading some of the responses makes me feel old. I’ve been blogging since 2003, on Facebook and delicious since 2004, and tweeting since 2007. Most of the people who responded mention joining twitter in the last year or two.

I feel their pain, though. I’m constantly reevaluating what I’m doing in these networks. Who should I friend in Facebook versus Twitter? I’m constantly thinking about dumping Facebook. I blog on my own domain while most new folks join .com domains. Am I promoting myself or learning? How much time should I spend in these networks? I don’t have easy answers. The answer is 42. And the answer is yes.

I am promoting my work, but it’s not about me. I’m part of a larger cause. I’m also promoting my school–honestly. And I’m trying to educate about my field, about women in CS, etc. So there’s a little selfishness in my social media use, which makes me a little squeamish because I don’t like being artificial. I try not to be. I try to say what I think, and if people like it, they like it. If they don’t, they don’t.

I switched fields a couple of years ago, which has meant rebuilding. What I’m finding is that there’s a core of people who started blogging, etc. about the same time I did. If they’re still at it, we follow each other in various media. Many higher ed folks have stopped connecting with me and I with them because what I say and what they say are no longer related. While I follow a lot of k-12 people, not that many follow me, or so it seems. And CS people tend not to be on social media, which strikes me as problematic when we have an image problem.

I do find blogging valuable. I like the chats on twitter. I get a lot of information there that I find useful. I wish more of my colleagues tweeted and/or blogged. I’ve enjoyed connecting with the few who do. And I wish I could figure out what to do with Facebook. It’s a constant reassessing, I guess.

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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Social Networking Tips

Nancy White commented on my Parenting in the Online World post that she wanted to know more about what to do and not do on sites like Facebook.  I had mentioned that parents should not comment publicly on their kids’ wall posts and that is a key tip, but let me lay out a little more detail.  Let’s start with some more on Facebook.

First, the wall.  The wall is generally public, though people can control who sees it.  But it’s best to simply assume that everyone can see it.  Think of it as being in a coffee shop.  Would you criticize something your kid said or did loud enough for the whole shop to hear? I hope the answer is no, though I have unfortunately witnessed such incidents.  So that’s one thing.

Also, don’t mention personal things like bathing habits, underwear size, girlfriends or boyfriends, parties, etc.  The bathing and personal habits might be obvious.  But you aren’t always privvy to the social life of your teen and you never know if you say “hey, are you going to john’s house?” on her wall that you might have created a bad social situation for your teen.  The same is true for your own postings.  It’s not friendly to say, going out to dinner with Susie and Sarah, knowing that you’re intentionally leaving out Martha.  Just be careful when posting about social engagements.  You might hurt someone’s feelings.

Be careful about publishing religious and political opinions.  I have my views posted in my profile, but I rarely post anything on Facebook about those opinions.  Facebook generally attracts a wider variety of people with a wider variety of opinions.  If you’re cultivating a network for professional reasons, you might lose people by posting staunch opinions about something.  I defriended someone who posted some really mean things after the health care bill passed.  Saying which side one is on is probably not a huge deal, but spouting off personal attacks can make you look unprofessional.

Don’t post messages to the wall that would be more appropriate in an email or personal message.  Many of these may fall into the categories above.  Before posting, consider whether you want the whole world reading what you’ve written.

This should be obvious, but don’t post about your drunken or sexual escapades.  Grownups may not need this, but teens and college students might.

For a humorous take on Facebook faux pas’s, check out Failbook.

Ok, now for some more positive things.

It’s quite alright to post some personal things, noting what you’re doing, what music you’re listening to, etc.  Just consider how others might view it.  Keep it simple and you’re usually going to be okay.

Do post links that are interesting to you, especially ones related to your work.  I actually have Twitter and Facebook connected, so that what I post to Twitter makes it to Facebook.  Since much of what I post to Twitter are links to articles, that ends up in Facebook.  Think of it as providing a service, especially if many of your friends are in your field.  You’re filtering for them, providing them the things that you think are important.

Post links to your blog posts if that’s an important part of your professional life.  Again, I installed a plugin that automatically sends my posts to Twitter, which then sends it to Facebook.

Make connections to people.  I have to admit that this is problematic in Facebook.  It’s easy enough to connect with high school, college, even graduate school friends, but reaching out to random people is more difficult.  It’s much easier to do in Twitter or LinkedIn.  But, you might connect with them in another venue first and then find them on Facebook.  And they may not friend you.  Maybe Facebook for them is a purely personal venue and they leave their professional lives on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Likewise, tap into your connections when you need to.  Are you looking for a job?  See which of your friends are in your field or in your area and send them a note (do not post on their wall!) that you’re looking and ask if they know of anything.  Obviously, this can be done in other venues, like LinkedIn and Twitter.

Also, try your best to maintain those connections even if you don’t need them now.  Make comments on people’s posts, respond to questions via Twitter or Facebook that you know something about.  You never know when you might need a connection or when they might need you.  It’s best, too, to do this naturally.  Don’t go too much out of your way or you might look desperate.  Instead, just keep an eye on your feed and comment when you have time and the mood strikes.  But make time to do it and it will pay off.

Keep your profile professional.  Have a good picture.  List contact information and websites.  List employment and education.  In a way, this is like a shortened resume.

Consider starting a group or a page.  This can raise your profile.  You can create a page for your business or non-profit or you can join groups related to your field.  Again, be careful about what you join.  These may show up on your wall or profile and you probably don’t want people to know that you’ve joined the neo-Nazi group or a sex group.  🙂

Okay, on to some other sites. Many of the same rules apply, but keep in mind that each site has its own vibe.  Tread carefully until you get the feel for it.

LinkedIn. This is a purely professional site.  Keep your information up to date.  It serves as a resume.

Link your presentations (if you do this kind of thing) using SlideShare.

Search for jobs on the site if you’re looking.

Connect with people.  Since this is what the site is for, if you see someone whom you think could advance your career and that person is connected to a friend, get introduced and connected.  It’s like getting introduced at a conference or cocktail party, just virtually.  On the homepage, you’ll often see a list of “people you may know.” Take advantage of this and add them to your network.

Get recommendations.  Ask former employers, co-workers, students, etc. to write recommendations for you.  These appear on your profile and can be a real added bonus.

Connect your blogs, Twitter feed, etc.  LinkedIn allows you to show your other sites on your profile.  If, like me, you use these for professional purposes, by all means, include them.

There’s also a question feature that may be useful to you.  People post questions about things in their field.  Answering these well can get you a “best answer” star, which will show your expertise in a particular area.


Twitter is just status updates, but you can make those updates count and you can learn a lot from other people’s updates.

Pick people to follow.  Search on Twitter’s site for people in your field or check out the people someone you know and respect follows and follow them.  If you pick well, you can end up with great information as people post news and articles that can keep you up to date in your field.

Post questions that you need answers to.  Poll the twitterverse.  This can be a great way to connect to people as well as get information.

Like Facebook, be wary of the personal update.  Everyone posts some, “OMG, I ‘m busy!” or “I’m headed to the ballgame” posts, but if you’re using Twitter professionally, keep these minimal.

Retweet things that are interesting.  Twitter allows you to retweet someone else’s post, giving them credit.  This can get you a new connection.

As mentioned above, post your own blog posts.  Be careful about this if you’re a prolific blogger as people can get annoyed if all you’re posting is your own stuff.

One final word of advice about any of these sites.  Turn them off when you need to focus.  When I’m writing, I turn off Twhirl and close Facebook and other web pages that might be distracting.  These sites can be a time suck, so be aware of how much time you’re spending.  While it can be productive, it can easily take you away from what’s important.  Constantly re-evaluate.

I’m sure others have advice or other sites to include.  Let me know in the comments!

Facebook vs. Twitter

I’ve been on Facebook more over the last two weeks than I’ve been on Twitter.  They are, of course very different applications in many ways, but they have similar features, most notably, the status update, which is almost all Twitter really is while Facebook sports many other features.  I have almost completely different friends on Facebook than I do on Twitter.  I’ve had a Facebook account since 2004 and back then, I had a handful of friends from the tech and new media fields.  We were all just taking FB for a test drive, kicking the tires, seeing what’s up.  I started a Twitter account in 2007 and really started using it heavily during a conference in early 2007 as a backchannel.  Since the conference was a techie oriented one, most of my friends were also techies in the education field.  In fact, I can clearly delineate my friends on Twitter among higher education folks, K-12 folks, and then a few random people thrown in for good measure–moms, news and job sources, pure technology folks.  I use Twitter to find information from people who have their finger on the pulse of different areas.  People point to articles, new applications, or make quick suggestions.  And often, I do the same.

Facebook, on the other hand, contains almost exclusively what I’d call “past friends.”  These are people I befriended in high school, college, and grad school or worked with at one time or another.  For good measure, I’m friends with a few old blogger friends, my mom and dad, my kids, a couple of cousins, and friends of my parents.  It’s a broader net, for sure, as there aren’t the same interests tying us together.  And yes, I spend much of my time there managing my virtual enterprises, but I also take note of what my old friends have to say, and I’m starting to feel somewhat reconnected to some of the ones that post most often.  For the most part, my friends in Facebook are not particularly technologically savvy as far as I can tell, or, at the very least, don’t care that much about technical stuff.  It’s just the opposite for my Twitter friends.  Even the educators are very tech savvy and very interested in technology, especially the ways it’s changing education.

Both tools make it fairly easy to keep up with lots of people at once.  At a glance, I can see what conferences people are attending, what they’re reading, what they’re spending time on (grading and cleaning are popular).  But each has its own vibe.  Facebook is slower paced and more personal, while Twitter is fast and more about people’s professional lives. In Facebook, I tend to find out about people’s marriages, deaths, children’s illnesses while in Twitter, I find out when books are published, meetings go bad, or other professional events.  I wouldn’t want to completely combine them and I think many of my FB friends wouldn’t want to migrate to Twitter and vice versa.  So, I live in two separate worlds, hopping back and forth depending on what mood I’m in.  I think the variety is good for me.

Too much of a good thing

The world of social networking is an interesting thing indeed. It’s created dilemmas for us that we never thought we’d have to face. Like whether or not to friend your mom in Facebook. (I have–hi Mom!) My son found Facebook the other day–at my suggestion. He had been using Runescape as his primary means of communicating with friends–really. Because it’s a game, he had a tendency to get sucked in for hours, so I suggested he use Facebook instead. And yes, he friended me. I guess my parents worried about our spending too much time in front of the tv. I worry about other screens. As the summer approaches, I haven’t figured out exactly how to parcel out time appropriately. After all, I spend probably 8-10 hours online myself and only about half of that is “work”.

This week, the NY Times had an article about the effect of too much texting on teens. I actually think the article makes some good points as we’ve seen similar effects from too much computer use in general–sleep problems, grades falling, anxiety (usually caused by the first two). And, as the article points out, sometimes see restrictions on texting as hypocritical as their parents are attached to their Blackberries. There are simple measures, some of which the article mentions, that parents can take. We discovered, for example, that Geeky Boy was keeping a laptop in his room and playing into the wee hours of the night. Needless to say, we now have him check all electronic devices at the door before going to bed. We haven’t done this with the cell phone since a) he doesn’t have a text plan and b) he isn’t that attached to it yet. But it would be easy to have your kids hand over the phone before bed–and in fact, this could be the rule for the whole family. We’ve also put limits on computer time or had prerequisites for using the computer. For example, homework and certain chores must be done before logging in. That usually means that there’s only an hour left as it is.

I’ve tried to be very careful about my own use of various social networking tools and try to watch my own time online. Several years ago, I had gotten so involved in blogging that I became disconnected from my family. That is not a good thing and I don’t want that to happen to me agian or to my kids. I’m regularly thinking about balance in my own and my family’s lives. I find I start to feel sort of antsy anyway if I’ve spent too much time online.

In an online discussion about Tweeting too Much, meaning, both excessively and tweeting too much personal info, several experts weigh in. Most agree that social norms in regards to what’s “too personal” and how public information is in social networking sites are still being worked out. They all seem to agree that people need to achieve some kind of balance, both about what they’re willing to put out there and how much time (and when it’s appropriate to text, etc.) they spend posting to Twitter or Facebook. Not during birth, please. And maybe not during your kid’s soccer game either. Maybe we don’t need to hear about your relationship issues either. On the other hand, if you think your sharing that information with other people going through similar issues, okay. These things used to get worked out via email lists and discussion forums (and before that, in living rooms, coffee houses/bars or over the phone). So these are new platforms for communicating, not just what we know should be public, but everything.

To some extent, this whole blurring of the public/private line fuels some of our kids’ anxiety about texting and using Facebook. They know it’s public–even if they believe it’s just a small contingent of their friends. They still need to appear cool via these venues. And come on, isn’t that part of what all our blogging, twittering, and Facebooking is about? The web gurus out there need to look like they’re on top of every story, working on cool things, talking to cool people. If you feel like you’re not, anxiety central. I used to sort of buy into that, but not anymore. I think what our kids and all of us need to figure out is how these tools benefit us and how to walk away when they’re not. I leave twitter alone when I have work to do. I only read blogs first thing in the morning and over lunch. And I consider 95% of the blog reading and writing I do to be related to my work. I do sometimes play WoW in the middle of the day when I need a break and only then for an hour (at least I try to limit that). And I don’t have a job. I could spend all day doing stuff online. It’s true, at least for me, that the use of these tools and being online in general comes in waves. There are some times when I seem to be online 24/7 and then there may be days in a row where I am not online for more than an hour a day. Finding a balance will be difficult for most people, I think, as the lines between our professional and personal lives blur and as much of our work and social lives start to take place online.

When Tech Goes Mainstream

I remember when blogs finally got on CNN’s radar. They had blog pundits. They dedicated a portion of a show to blogs, with a blog correspondent. They looked really stupid because none of them had actually read blogs much less written one, so they didn’t really get them. They’re slightly better about that now, but they’ve hopped onto Twitter. Here’s Jon Stewart on the “new” phenomenon:

It’s funny, of course, but just like the media did with blogs, makes Twitter seem a revolution of some kind. There’s no right way to use it, of course, but as with blogs, the focus seems to be on its most mundane purposes and not about how it can be used to connect with people or to get information. A year from now, I’m guessing they’ll have moved on to some other tool as their latest fetish, and maybe they’ll leave Twitter alone.

Twitter is my new information source

I’ve already blogged recently the ways in which Twitter has enhanced my ability to connect to people and collaborate with them. Today I bring you a story of Twitter bringing me news before CNN or anyone else could. Yesterday, I was clearing out my inbox, when Barbara S. sent me a direct Twitter message informing me that the U of R was under lockdown and that I should pay attention to Jim Groom’s tweets. Well, several of my Twitter friends are at the U of R, so glancing at my feed, I realized there was a play by play of the whole situation. I sent my well wishes and continued to follow the action.

The whole incident was written up in the Chronicle’s Wired Campus Blog, a fact I found out via Twitter. This happens to me all. the. time. I really do get good information from Twitter, links to products, links to research, quick answers to questions. It really is a cool tool.