Saturday, April 11, 2009

Social Networking; Is It Really Just 140 Characters?



I've become the butt of Twitter jokes lately; mostly to those who don't really get it. Which, I suppose, is most people. I'll admit, I do use Twitter and like it very much. It's been a great tool for me to find and keep up with other educators; world-wide. I also follow non-educators and love to hear about news items and updates from sources I might miss otherwise. I've learned so much from those I interact with on Twitter; and I like to think I have something to share there as well. I try to be thick-skinned about the whole thing, but the truth is people can be judgmental. People are quick to say that Twitter is for those with nothing to do and definitely with nothing to say. Even those of us on Twitter can be judgmental of each other and apply labels such as "snobs" and "noobs," based on personal usage preference. Feh! I suppose that's human nature to place people in buckets to make sense of the world.

So in an effort to help make sense of Twitter and the whole Social Networking thing, I'd like to try to explain why Social Networking is much more than simply 140 character tweets!

Twitter has become the 21st Century buzzword for all things social networking. This is such a shame because Twitter is just ONE tool I use to find and learn from others. Social networking is so much more than communicating what you had for dinner. If you follow my tweets, you'll see plenty of those silly tweets; and I think silly, fun tweets are important to building and nurturing relationships. But, you'll also see some tweets about (for example) upcoming professional development for teachers, pros and cons of being part of a company's teacher network, sharing creative-commons photos with others, and so on. Sometimes these tweets then lead to off-Twitter conversations and many times to valuable opportunities, such as:

  • Collaborative Classroom Projects - I've set up more than a few teachers here in my district with teachers from my Twitter network from other states/countries where terrific projects between their students evolved. Likewise, I've participated in some awesome projects & live blogging events with other teachers.
  • Brainstorming Opportunities/Tech Support - I've received help figuring out how to use InDesign and why my wireless base station wouldn't work correctly - I've helped others proofread some documents and brainstorm some job descriptions they were putting together. While in a meeting at work, we all questioned how other school districts handled something. I sent out a tweet from my iPhone and before the meeting was over, I had almost 20 responses.
  • Face 2 Face Meet Ups - Continuing these conversations in person is one of the best parts of Social Networking. By staying connected through the various tools, I'm more likely to hear about the opportunities to meet my network peers in person. I'm looking forward to NECC and the EduBloggerCon where I may get to spend some time in conversation with a few people I've "gotten to know" online.
  • Offers to Present - Cindy Lane (@clane on Twitter) and I met through Twitter and are currently working on a proposal to present at next year's FETC and Alan November found me, indirectly, through Twitter (a Twitter friend created a presentation and referenced something of Alan's and mine). Alan then contacted me, said he checked me out (scary, huh?) and extended an invitation for me to present at his Building Learning Communitites conference in July.
So what other Social Networking tools do I use?
  • Plurk - Very similar to Twitter; 140 character messages, but much easier to follow the conversations because of the threaded replies. This "plurk" was started by me when I saw a blogpost about getting rid of all textbooks.
  • Delicious - This social bookmarking tool allows me to save all my favorites online, so I can access them from anywhere. Best part is that I can choose to make some of my favorites public to share with my "network" of friends who in turn will share their favorites with me. I found this great site by going to my network, and clicked on Craig Nansen's name in my delicious network. Then I went to his "Tag Bundles" then "MacRelated" then "iMovie" and found this: YouTube: Leopard Green Screen
  • Flickr - I love using Flickr to back up my photos and by simply sending a link I can share with my friends and family. Flickr has a hidden gem though; The groups feature! By joining a group, all you have to do is tag a photo of yours to belong to the group and then other group members will see your photo when they go to the group feed. In this example, educators who are creating VoiceThread projects can use these images freely because members of the group are adding content for this very purpose. You can create your own groups too. I created this one to share photos from FETC2009.
  • FaceBook - Despite how my own kids feel about me being on their turf, more than 200 million people must be on to something. The fastest growing demographic is people over 35! Hint for educators (on how I use FB): although my kids are my "friends," I RARELY post on their walls and except for 2 exceptions, I NEVER "friend" my students or ex-students.
  • Ning - Roll your own Social Network. With Ning, you'll find a "FaceBook" with a specific focus. Just go to Ning.com and do a search. For educators, I recommend starting with Classroom 2.0.
So, there's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Do you use any Social Networks I didn't mention? Do you have an example of a time where someone you "met" helped you out and/or vice versa? I'd love to hear your stories.

14 comments:

JenW said...

First of all -- don't let the "nay-sayers" or the jokesters deter you from anything which you have decided is necessary for you!!!

Over my journeys with twitter -- and I emphasize journeys -- I have come to the conclusion that you need to make twitter work with what works for you. Some will understand, some won't. And that is okay.

I have been helped by MANY people in my social network.

I owe my recent award from Google Earth to tips and tricks I was provided with.

I recently have put out cries for help with quick 1 day projects and have over 500 people respond each time.

I have gotten some great sites, helpful advice, and was able to participate in some very good ustream sessions (that I would not have known except for twitter.)

2 of my most recent requests to come speak started at twitter.

Yet, on the other hand, I have been hurt, dismissed, misconstrued, and judged.....in 140 characters.

And that is when I realized....twitter has to be what you decide it to be. There are no rules (well actually, on any education site, I think bad language is uncalled for and some subjects come close to guy's locker room talk) but as with anything -- we have the opportunity to follow or unfollow as will. (and to be unfollowed as well!)

You keep up your hard work!! And if you have been teased lately, first of all consider the source....

As for FB, and teachers use with students....that will have to be for a blog post of my own. I think it is treading on very dangerous territory and people are not looking at all the pros and cons.

Anyway -- good post.....you are helping many!!!

bethstill said...

Lee-
What a great post! My PLN has helped me more than I can begin to explain. I agree with Jen that some people will never get it. I am not just talking about Twitter, but social networking in general. Some people still see it as a complete waste of time. I cannot understand how educators can be so opposed to learning new things. Thank you for sharing your silly tweets as well as the professional ones. I have learned so much from you.

AE said...

If you like Delicious I suggest you check out Diigo. I use it for my research as well as with my kids in class when I want them to focus on specific areas of web pages. It lets you highlight and "sticky note" on the net using a URL similar to the way that delicious works. As far as Twitter goes, I try and promote my blog on 21st Century Education as well as engage in conversation with innovative educators. Eventually the discussion in one school runs dry becuase people don't introduce new ideas. I like it that I can attract people with quick snippets about my blog and engage more people in conversation. Those that don't understand will often turn to insults and attempts at degradation.
http://stretchourminds.blogspot.com/

SuzanneWhisler said...

Can you learn from just 140 characters? Yes! I've said it before and I'll say it again Twitter is all about learning and sharing with others. Everyday I learn something new from the people I follow. I'm grateful that folks are willing to share their resources and knowledge to help me grow as an educator. Twitter is a valuable social networking tool.

Bill Ferriter said...

What's funny about the skeptics who criticize social networking services as valuable forums for learning is that research has shown time and time again that humans are social creatures who CRAVE opportunities to interact and that the best learning is always done in group situations.

If we accept those two core propositions as truth---and I don't think any educator would argue against them---then how could we ever "laugh" at tools that make social transactions across continents easy?!

The real reason for criticism is the sea of negative news that has surrounded tools like Facebook and YouTube----paired with a complete lack of imagination on the part of people who call themselves "teachers."

Whew. You got my blood pressure pumping this morning!

Glad to "know" and to "learn" from you.

Bill

Chris Webb said...

Twitter has really become my introduction to social networking. "BT" (Before Twitter) I chose to stay out of the social networking "scene". I was scared to share - I guess I was really *more* scared that no one cared to read what I might consider posting in my blog or anywhere else. Twitter opened my eyes to the fact that I *did* have something to say, and that, in fact, somethings could help others. Since giving Twitter a chance, I have been working with Flickr, my professional blog, various wikis, nings, and such. It's an amazing world of sharing!

As for the question of 140 characters...I like to share with language arts teachers (and others) that if I try and equate the number of characters to writing assignments (or experiences) they might have, it might turn out this way:

As of today, I have sent 4,783 tweets. If I assume the full 140 chars. per tweet (which doesn't always work out), that's 669,620 characters. If I assume the "average" word length is 5 characters (found that somewhere online once), that's 133,924 words. If that is divided by the average "500 word essay", that's approx. 268 - 500 word essays in just over one year. How many students can actually, with pride, that they've written *that many* essays!?!?!

Personally, I think that 140 characters (Twitter) was a great introduction to social networking, for me, and a great way to revitalize some "written" communication skills.

Lee Kolbert said...

@JenW
Congratulations on your GoogleEarth award. I agree with you about using Twitter (or any SN) being a "journey." There are certainly phases I've gone through as I've developed my own personal style and I'm certain I'm not even 1/2 way there yet. Thanks for your comments.

@Beth
I agree with everyone here that many people will never "get it," and that's ok. I was actually not only talking about educators, but non-educators as well. And you're right, we certainly do hold educators to a higher standard when it comes to tolerance, don't we?

@AE
I agree that a blog is an excellent place to initiate a great discussion (as in this one). I'm glad to hear that you also use Twitter to attract people to your blog, as do I. I think Twitter is great for that. If people are interested in your 140 character quips, it makes sense that they might like what you have to say if you had a little more space and where they can then join the discussion in a manner that makes more sense, right? Thanks for visiting my blog. I'll be checking out yours too.

@Suzanne
I wonder if those who started Twitter ever envisioned that it would be of such value to educators like us? It's sort of become a faculty lounge but where we only allow those in who we enjoy conversing with!

@Bill
Sorry about the blood pressure thing. :) Maybe some laughter will help? I think people poke fun at that which makes them uncomfortable. The Twitter cartoons and the Jon Stewart segment and all the other stuff posted out there on Twitter IS HYSTERICAL, in my opinion. Yet, when others (who don't understand) laugh it seems mean spirited; probably because you know they are perpetuating the stereotypes that we're trying to dispel. I love the humor so I don't want it all to stop, I guess I just want people to be more open minded.

@chris
Love your thinking!

twojuices said...

Wow - I had no idea how clueless I was when it came to social networking. I must say, I have been busy checking out all of the different platforms. Thanks for laying it out there.

I will at least know the lingo when I overhear students talking.

Ellen said...

Great post! I noticed Diigo wasn't on your list. I highly recommend it as a social, bookmarking, highlight the web sorta thing that I now find indispensable.

I look forward to learning more from you and will certainly seek you out on Twitter as well.

Ellen Paxton @prodevProfessional Learning Board

cait205 said...

I must say that your blog really changed my opinion on things! I am currently enrolled in an "Computers in Education" class and we are discussing social networks.
I did not think that social networks could be used in the classroom (which I still don't think that they could be) but I never thought of using the social networks for gathering ideas! It would be nice to get advice from other teachers and share ideas for projects. Great post and thanks for the advice! I plan on using social networks to get ideas in the future when I become a teacher!

Lee Kolbert said...

@cait205
Thanks for your comment. I really appreciate what you had to say. My best advice is to jump in and enjoy. Don't try to take any of it too seriously. You'll find the educators waiting for you with open arms.
Good luck!
~Lee

Rebeca said...

I just became a twitter user before 1 month. I am unknown about so much twitter application. Can any one tell me about retweet.

Lee Kolbert said...

Hi Rebeca,
A "retweet" is just when someone tweets something that someone else already tweeted but wants to give them credit for having said it. It looks like this: RT: @nameofperson then followed by the tweet.

It's nice when someone retweets your tweet because it means they liked it or they are helping to get your message out.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

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