On Going PD

At a meeting yesterday, there was a break for myself and a friend who was sitting beside me.  We seldom get a chance to meet face to face but when we do, I feel like I get some of the richest conversations around education, educational technology, futuristic visioning, using the tools instead of the tools using us, etc.  When we don’t get to meet face to face, we use technologies to continue this discussion.

In this case, we were discussing our use of Twitter and Facebook to make connections and to keep the learning fresh with new ideas and new insights to old ideas.  As we bounced around, it became apparent that our approaches to learning using the network were quite different.  For one, he used the Twitter website as his launching pad for Twitter and I use Seesmic Desktop.  We were doing much the same things – looking for inspiration, just in different ways.

He asked me how I was using Seesmic and we ended up downloading and installing it on his computer and I gave him the nickel’s tour of the features.  Even today, after using it for a couple of years, it feels very strange describing the concepts of Twitter.  Unlike many other things, the terms and words don’t easily roll off the tongue.  It seems bizarre somehow to talk about “friends” and “followers” and “timelines” and “Twitpic” and “yfrog” and “tr.im”, etc.  Even though they’re part of what it means to use the technology, the words and contexts don’t seem to be a natural part of speech yet.

But, we get through it.  As any teacher will tell you, there’s nothing that requires you to know your stuff thoroughly than to explain it to someone else.  So, we get things up and running on his computer and we’re having fun talking about how to use the software to get the most from it.  One of things that’s powerful for me is to have filtered columns for “Ontario Educators”, “Non-Ontario Educators”, and “Just Favourites” where I plop different people into for easy monitoring.

We got talking a little later about setup and I noticed that he had added some additional columns to his setup.  We started talking and his columns weren’t about people; they were about concepts.  So, there were searches for “ipod education”, “smartboard”, etc.

There are two significant differences between the two approaches.

By following people, you lend credibility to those people knowing that they’re going to have a discussion about anything in their world.  So, if you’d followed “me” yesterday, you’d have seen a picture I posted, a shoutout to Leslie Fisher who was doing a present

Image by luc legay via Flickr

ation in New Orleans, notice of my Delicious bookmarks postings, notice that I had blogged about a first day of school computer activity, a couple of smart aleck comments, and some good mornings to some online friends.  However, they were all done by me.  Similarly, as I scan my Ontario educators column, I find out what @redfearn, @fryed, @aforgrave, @zbpipe and @thecleversheep were up to yesterday.  None of us were just focused on a single activity.

By following concepts, you get a wealth of information focused on the one thing that you’re searching for.  So, if the column search was “ipod education”, you’re filtering from the public timeline on comments with those terms.  They may come from people that you know, but they’re more likely the wit and wisdom from folks from near and far, usually far.  One of my standing columns, is filtered on “teach” and there are all kinds of conversations where that word shows up.  Some are K-12, some are college, some are just pleas for information or assistance.

In both scenarios, there is really rich and interesting conversation.  In both scenarios, there is also noise.  The detractors of this sort of medium for professional development will focus on the concept of noise.  But, in face to face Professional Development activities, there is also noise.  I think it’s just part of the human condition that we draw inspiration from conversations with others.  We’ve heard and read all kinds of thoughts about what 21st Century Skills (if they exist) are.  Perhaps “noise filtering” or “learning from noise” could be some of these skills.

Of one thing, there can be no doubt.  No matter how you attack the information that is available thorugh Twitter, there is a richness of comment and resources to inspire further learning.  To ignore this richness is to say no to on going professional development.  If you know everything, then just ignore this and go happily on your way.  If you still feel the need to learn, figure out how to harness this technology for your purposes.  It’s your call.

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