Tag Team Tech October 2011
In My Network Confession . . .
Joyce Kasman Valenza
I have a love hate relationship with my network.
Happily, most days the love part is so much stronger than the hate. But there are those mornings I dread my inbox.
I’ve been holding these in for a couple of years, but it feels good to share a few of my secret network confessions:
- I get scared when I am off the grid, and I feel my Twitter friends have been learning more than I have.
- I worry that people will discover my stuff on one of the many networks I joined and abandoned. They will be disappointed that I left no great treasures there and they will think I am a network slacker.
- I worry many days that I will have nothing to contribute to those who count on me for an occasional gem.
- I worry that from many of my networks, I take far more than I give.
I thought I’d take a closer look at my own network habits and peek into the networks of a few colleagues who keep me up to date and make me continually wonder, “How’d they discover that?”
So, what does keeping up look like? Current awareness is a term I learned back in library school in the 70s. In fact, one of my very early library positions was exclusively about keeping the members of my organization up to date by clipping and physically tagging articles with little handwritten notes. I don’t think we had sticky notes back then.
So, what does current awareness look like now? My own PLN (Personal Learning Network) is both messy and exciting. When I get down to the kitchen in the morning, before I leave for school, I scan my two email boxes for alerts. Diigo is my largest source for these alerts. I subscribe to several Diigo groups and I use their updates to build my LibGuides and to discover great stuff to forward to my colleagues at school and beyond, many of whom I have not yet convinced to subscribe themselves.
Among my most forward-worth Diigo groups:
- Interactive Whiteboards in the Classroom
- Diigo In Education
- History Teachers
- iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch Users Group
- Ad4dcss/Digital Citizenship
- Project Based Learning
- English Teachers
- Web2.0 at school
- elearning 2.0
It may sound very 80s, but I also subscribe to a few email lists for their alternate voices: InfoLit, AASLforum, and LM_Net.
But I ADORE TWITTER. It is my secret weapon, my supergirl cape. Honestly, I don’t know if I could live without it. I never actually really read my whole stream, but I do scan it at different points during the day. It looks completely different depending upon when I choose to scan it. Those times when I wake up in the middle of the night, I find myself listening in to conversations that are far more global. I rely heavily on my own Twitter lists and hashtags for the discovery of new resources and ideas to inform my practice.
I find that reading the TLChat Daily makes keeping up a lot easier. Paper.li is a great curation service that allows folks to “publish newspapers based on topics they like and treat their readers to fresh news, daily.” I also rely on my manageable list of daily updates from News.me that describe the top stories my friends are reading.
I am beginning to discover the value of joining in on one of the regular Twitter chats. For instance, #YAlitchat, #Engchat, and #edchat have regular meetings with focused questions during a selected time period. Cybraryman Jerry Blumengarten maintains a list of Education Hashtags, as well as a list of Education Chats on Twitter. You’ll find a love-list of these chats on this Twitter Chat Schedule Spreadsheet. I hope we can add focused chat to #tlchat this school year.
I love Scoop.it, though admittedly right now I am using it more as a consumer than a contributor. For instance, I rely on Robin Good’s Real-Time News Curation Scoop.it to feed my strong interest in curation and curation tools. Also check out Buffy Hamilton’s Curation for Learning, Nikki Robertson’s School Libraries, Donna Watt’s Scoop.it on Rebranding School Libraries, and Steve Matthew’s 21st Century Libraries.
I ask some of the others in my network, what aspects of their networks could they not live without. Where do they most like to learn and where do they most like to share? What I discovered in the process was, that despite a variety of interesting intersections, our networks and preferences were really very different. Unfortunately, I found myself expanding my own overwhelming network with their fascinating leads.
So, I present to you a peek into the network confessions of my few esteemed colleagues and the strategies they rely on to keep up.
Buffy J. Hamilton
About the network thing, “It’s a hard question,” said Buffy Hamilton, @buffyjhamilton, aka the Unquiet Librarian at Creekview High School in Canton, Georgia. “It’s always evolving, but Twitter and Facebook are my two primary points.” Hamilton values spaces where not only can you share and discover content and resources, but you can also experience a medium for dialog.
Her diverse network includes an eclectic blend of academics, public and special librarians, archivists, law librarians, medical specialists, teachers, journalists, and people who write about social media.
Hamilton’s clear favorite, Twitter, was “from the get-go the cornerstone of my PLN. It opened so many doors, made me a more reflective practitioner. It was my gateway to people who now greatly influence my practice. I don’t think I’d be doing the work I am doing now if it weren’t for Twitter.
“I’ve got no list of rules for Twitter,” says Hamilton about her strategy. “I just enjoy the serendipity. If someone tweets something interesting, it piques my curiosity. I’ll want to explore and then maybe follow them. I avoid following people who are excessive with hashtags or people who do a ton of retweeting.” Hamilton tries to weed her follows a couple of times a year. “It’s like collection. You need to continue to revisit it to keep it fresh. And your interests tend to change.”
About Twitter’s serendipity: “I often discover someone new, check them out and see what they are sharing, and sometimes, when I make a great discovery, it can push me out of my comfort zone and really make me think.”
Hamilton learned about Scoop.it at the beginning of the summer and recently taught it to a first group of students. “Right now I am using it for research projects, but I want students to see that it could be used for any interest or passion. The kids, especially my ESOL students, were really impressed. “ She plans a big roll it out with her seniors this fall and has prepared for that event with a LibGuide on Scoop.it. (Don’t miss Hamilton’s screencast on the Challenges of Curating and Sharing Database Content.)
We use some networks more for the recreational than the professional. That’s how Hamilton approaches Pinterest, which she uses primarily as a repository for her fashion inspiration. “Right now, it’s where I keep the items on my wishlist—most often clothing and shoes and stuff for home decoration, as well as a way to capture inspirational words and images.” Hamilton is studying her use of Pinterest to explore how it might be useful for students.
Hamilton shared that at Library Journal’s Movers & Shakers luncheon in New Orleans; people approached her and noted that she had such a diverse network. “It’s not diverse intentionally. It’s more spontaneous. I try to find people who are outside of our profession with interesting ideas—people who can provide a lens for our own practice. I see all sorts of interesting work going on in other disciplines and people in those other disciplines might have more in common with us than we think. I like the kind of cognitive dissonance you get from people outside our field. They force me to rethink what I do. If our focal point is really about facilitating learning, if we use learning as the canvas for our networks, of course, that opens up all kinds of possibilities.
Advice on network building? Hamilton suggests that when you find a tool you like, use it in whatever way works for you. Play with it. Give yourself permission to mess around. There’s no “right” way to use it.
Newman, @librarianbyday aka Librarian by Day, co-founded and writes for the Libraries and Transiteracy project, contributes to the Transliteracy Research Group, and consults for her own B. Newman and Associates. She is also back to school for a Masters in Public Administration.
“I may be the last hold out,” said Newman, who really loves her Google Reader. “I subscribe to lots of blogs. Maybe a couple of hundred. And my feed reader is very organized. I organize my feeds in folders—like tech, transliteracy, colleagues, fun, daily, and weekly. Of course, weekly is less important than daily. But I check those folders everyday. Right now, I need to weed it to narrow my focus. “
As for all the tools out there, Newman is not afraid to go bankrupt. “They are just tools that are supposed to be working for you. If Google Reader is dominating your life, you have a problem. It’s supposed to be the servant, not the master.”
So what exactly feeds into Newman’s many well-loved folders?
“In my Daily folder, DML (Digital Media and Learning) Central, supported by the MacArthur Foundation, is a fave. So is the Pew Internet and American Life Project.” She took issue with a recent report, How Mobile Devices are Changing Community Information Environments, that suggested the large role mobile phones might play in bridging the digital divide. Newman pointed me to S. Craig Watkins’ Youngandthedigital.com, an academic blog that explores how a digital lifestyle is affecting the ways youth learn, play, bond, and communicate.
“For me, Facebook gets overwhelming,” says Newman. “I love Twitter, but if you’re not on at the time something is being tweeted, you tend to miss it. It’s fairly common to see something get tweeted by the AM crowd and the discussion among the PM crowd may be very different. I couldn’t use Twitter without Tweetdeck. I limit follows to 350, but my capacity is not there.”
So, whom does Newman follow? Who is on the top of that list of 350?
Newman avoids following some of the more popular tech tweeters–@ RWW ReadWriteWeb, @ mashable,–because they are too prolific and because she can be certain she’ll see them second hand when they are retweeted by friends.
“The people I follow others don’t. I have a nonlibrarians column for literacy organizations like:
@HASTAC Humanities, Arts, Science, & Technology Advanced Collaboratory, sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation, devoted to exploring the future of thinking and learning in a digital age. She also follows its co-founder @CatinStack, Cathy Davidson, author of Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn. And completely unrelated to libraries and tech learning, Newman also follows @gretchenrubin, author of The Happiness Project, who spent a year exploring how to be happier in the life you have.
Newman approaches Facebook in a strategic way. She uses lists to organize people. She chooses not to follow authors, because they often promote a product. She does follow professional organizations. “I’ve favorited a lot of pages that have to do with literacy in any form. And I value them for their different perspectives.” For instance, there’s New Media Literacy, National Center for Family Literacy, Media Arts and Literacy Institute, National Literacy Trust, and, a variety of library organizations, like CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals), from the UK.
Jones, @gwynethjones, the Daring Librarian at Murray Hill Middle School (MD), never got on the Diigo bandwagon, perhaps, she says because she was “a devoted Backflip devotee since 2004. “It was the first solid bookmarking tool. And, once I commit, I commit. I went from there to Sqworl—it is far more tasty than Delicious. And that’s where I bookmark.” Her colleagues have made other bookmarking choices. “My friend Shannon recommends Symbaloo, because it creates a short URL and gathers cute thumbnails and because teachers like to make their own.”
But for Jones, it’s hugely about Twitter. “It’s my main PLN builder. In fact, I created a gushy little graphic to express my love: Twitter is a deep moving river of education & pop culture conversation goodness with amazing & generous people. Drink deeply the Twitter Koolaid, my friends. So Refreshing!” Jones continues her Twitter river metaphor: “Consider Twitter, a fast moving river of conversation. It doesn’t judge you. It goes on with or without you, happily bubbling away. The conversation is always flowing with different personalities on different days. You can always dip a cup in for a refreshing cup of professional development goodness.”
She loves the clever hashtags to identify and search for conversations, for instance, #tlchat, #engchat, #edchat, as well as the hashtags that develop backchannels around conferences and events, like those that are created for ISTE, AASL, ALA. “They allow me to participate from my couch in my bunny slippers or wooly socks, even if I am not there. I love that I can vicariously learn with others from around the world without leaving my room.”
Jones seeks people with diverse opinions and points of view, people who don’t just retweet. “And I like to mix it up, to connect with educators of all subject areas and to share what I learn with the with people back at school.”
From whom does Jones learn the most? She credits folks like @Larryferlazzo and @cybraryman1 (Jerry Blumengarten) for their intrepid curation of resources. And she loves the regular tweets coming from: @kylepace, @tomaltepeter and @thenerdyteacher (Nicholas Provenzano), @MrSchuReads (John Schumacher), @stumpteacher (Josh Stumpenhorst), @web20classroom (Steven W. Anderson), and my very generous friend @shannonmmiller.
A little while back, Jones created a Comic Life tutorial on the art of the follow. Her basic advice for Twitter network building? “Find someone you admire and see who they are following. Evaluate their tweets. In your own tweets, aim to be 90 percent professional, 10 percent personal. There are people who won’t follow anyone who say something personal. But you can’t really get to know a person who Tweets like that. A dollop of personal is good. I’ve made so many wonderful friends through Twitter. But I am not in that coffee shop to talk about my double skinny latte with no foam.”
New to Twitter? Checkout Jones’s lovely tutorial on getting started on Twitter.
About Facebook, she says (in inimitable Gwyneth style) that she and FB have had an “on and off rocky relationship. Right now we’re seeing other people.” In a recent must-read Daring Librarian post, Jones shares, “Dear Facebook, We Need to Talk,
. . . we never really talked about why I left you for while two years ago and I really feel bad about that. You wanna know why? You’re like that studly rockstar boyfriend I dated in college who threw those really AWEsome parties and was so cool! You were so popular I couldn’t resist you…even when I knew you were no good for me I kept overlooking your faults and taking you back. I HAD to have you but I really never liked it . . .
With you, my worlds collided. All of a sudden it’s like I’m at this party surrounded by all my old high school and college friends who were showing my new professional & librarian friends pictures of me from my partying hardcore punk rock, rockabilly, & new wave days! Without even asking me! WTH!? I had to go around & untagging and yanking them so that I could keep some semblance of professionalism. I had had it up to here, Facebook, and I left you!
Jones is now exploring a new relationship as she builds circles with Google+. She will still maintain some presence at the Facebook party. She is playing around with a Chrome Extension Facebook for Google+ and connecting Google+ with Twitter. Though Jones believes Google+ is going to satisfy many of her social media needs, she has no plans to walk out on her beloved Twitter.
Whitehead, aka @Librarian_Tiff and Mighty Little Librarian, from Central Middle School, in Baton Rouge, LA. “can’t live without my library peeps on Twitter. The #TLchat hashtag is where you discover your friends. Clicking on the hashtag, I discovered all the cool tools, all the resources to share with my teachers. They ask me how do you find all this stuff? The secret is that it trickles to me through Twitter.”
Like many of us, from time to time, Whitehead experiences network anxiety. “After ISTE I felt like I was a Twitter snob. I try to make sure the people I am following are awesome. I watch my all friends’ streams and try to pay it forward so I don’t experience network guilt. I used to obsessively follow blogs, but now I let Twitter lead me to the posts I need to read. I got to the point where my Google Reader was stressing me out. Twitter helped me to overcome it. I know Twitter poses its own craziness, but I don’t feel as guilty about not reading everything. I am sure I miss stuff but that’s the way it is. We’ve come to count on retweeting as a safety net for those things we might miss. My biggest Twitter guilt is that I don’t contribute enough. It is simply not possible to contribute as much as you get.”
For Whitehead, it’s important to experience her network off-screen. “Honestly I need face-to-face. Conferences are where it’s at for me. The 2010 ISTE Conference changed my life. It was just like the entire world opened up for me. I was new to blogging. I was just getting into Twitter. But it was a homecoming. It was my introduction into the edtech world. Before that, I was into tech, but it was mostly about doing professional development with teachers at my school. At ISTE 2010 I had a meeting your idols experience. I met you and Gwyneth [Jones] for first time. My coworkers thought I was going to pass out. It all came together and propelled me into the insanity of the coming year.”
Whitehead is excited about serving as Vice Chair of our ISTE SIGMS. “It’s really an awesome place for us to come together. We need common goals and to have a place to bond together and make things happen. “
Speaking of the face-to-face thing, Whitehead advocates for the importance of lunch. “One of the best things from ISTE this year, was the lunch with Gwyneth [Jones], Cathy Jo [Nelson], and Jason Epstein. Being around people who get it. It’s refreshing. We go through so much in our schools and districts, trying to get people to get it. Sometimes I worry that I’ll get burned out and frustrated. When I am around people who already do, well, that’s something we need. It’s great to have a support group.”
Whitehead is likely not alone when she describes a type of professional network obsession. Perhaps it’s also a library thing, the need to be a scout and information expert. “I have to know what’s going on, I have to know what’s new. My husband thinks I am crazy.” I so know that feeling.
As for blogging, Whitehead says, “I feel like I am so random. I look at people whose blogs are consistent and organized, people who have a common thread. I’ve talked about our library and my finger nail polish. But it feels so good when people take something from my posts.”
“What I can’t live without is Twitter,” says Johnson (@accordin2jo, aka the Digital Diva). Johnson is the librarian at Pikesville High School (MD). “Twitter relates to my personality. You got to be a little ADHD, and very eclectic. “ Johnson feels that Twitter has opened worlds for her. “When I was a little girl, I never left Baltimore. Even now, I’d like to see the world, but I’ve never left country. Twitter allows me to connect with all kinds of people all over the world, to explore points of view in short spurts. Those perspectives help me grow and feed my thirst for wanting to learn more.”
So whom does Johnson follow? Johnson is interested in looking at leadership from a number of angles. She is inspired by @ScottWilliams, a pastor who talks about a variety of types of leadership on Twitter, as well as on his bigisthenewsmall blog. She follows the Connected Principals Blog and shared it with her own new principal.
“In education I like to follow my content providers and the vendors we purchase from, for instance @brainpop , @PrometheanUSA, @easybib, and @Thinkfinity, as well as the various Google apps. I think it’s also important to follow your local public libraries.” Johnson follows the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore @prattlibrary .
Next to Twitter, “I love Diigo. I love the fact if I favorite something in Twitter, it goes right into my Diigo bookmarks when I use Diigo’s Save Favorite Tweets feature. I always use it to search for links and topics and I also like it because I do a lot of training and teachers get easily comfortable with it.”
Johnson belongs to several Diigo groups:
- Classroom 2.0
- Ed Tech Crew
- Teacher Librarians,
- iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch Users Group
- History Teachers
- Interactive Whiteboards in the Classroom
- Web2.0 at School
- Google in Education
- Technology Integration in Education
- iPad for Education
- AD4DCSS (Advocates for Digital Citizenship, Safety, and Success)
- Digital Citizenship in Schools
“And I cannot live without LiveBinders,” says Johnson. “It was the first tool I learned about on Twitter. I shared it at school, with students, at a librarians meeting in our district. It simply went viral. And my first LiveBinder, my Library LiveBinder, became a featured binder and I was asked to be a LiveBinders advisor. They’re good for students. They demonstrate the power of collaboration. And when you create one you never know how it might help others.” Johnson notes that teachers and students identify with physical binder. The metaphor creates an easy transition. Her students now ask her to create new binders and they have started creating their own. Johnson’s LiveBinders shelf is a truly fabulous resource. And the Google Binder she created for teachers now has over 30,000 views.
And, Johnson can’t live without Youtube, which she sees as a self-directed learning tool. She uses it in her own teaching and shares what she discovers with her faculty. “I like the power that creating playlists and channels gives you and I like to explore other peoples’ channels.”
Johnson recently joined the ASCD. “As librarians we need to step up and assume leadership roles.”
Miller, @shannonmmiller, is the librarian at the PreK-12 Van Meter School (IA). “As a professional I have a process I use,” says McClintock. “I now have everything go to my email. I carefully organize my email. It’s like my headquarters. I don’t use my Google Reader anymore. I rely on Diigo to organize my links. I can shoot a list out whenever I get a question, like ‘What are your favorite slideshow creators?’ I show my lists to students during orientation. We also have our own Van Meter Diigo Group.” McClintock herself belongs to more than 50 Diigo groups and maintains 191 public lists.
What does this networking look like for McClintock logistically? “The first thing I do in the morning is go through my Diigo email and try to send at least one good link out to teachers and suggest some way they can use it. I love the way the Diigolet, lets you store links really easily. “
McClintock sees Facebook primarily as a place to share things. “I’ve recently started adding authors as friends. I love to see the pictures folks are sharing and I like that I post on both my own personal page and my library’s page.”
McClintock won a Shorty Award for connecting people and, in my mind, functions as an unofficial Twitter hostess, at the nexus of several communities. Her tweets emote and make you feel like a member of the network. So, whom does this connector follow? Among the 4,000+, she follows authors: John Green, aka @realjohngreen (He is so edgy!), Cory Doctorow @doctorow and Neil Gaiman @neilhimself. McClintock also loves the quirky little things she reads on the @BoingBoing stream, as well as tweets and posts from @Mashable, @SLJ, @PublishersWkly,@Salon.com, @Huffington Post Blog, @TechCrunch, @SimplyZesty, @anitasilvey, and Anita Silvey’s Childrens’ Book Almanac. Silvey writes about books each day and allows McClintock to share with her students what’s coming next.
McClintock uses her iPad to connect with personalized news and media apps like Pulse, Zite, and StumbleUpon. She also appreciates that these versatile apps can be read across multiple devices. McClintock follows education, technology, library, and news feeds. Zite, is her clear favorite, “for its interface, you can browse so quickly and scroll so easily without flipping a page. “
For McClintock, “What’s really important is talking to people, building your network, knowing what people are interested in, and knowing that people know what you are interested in. We’re all starting to know each other even better.”
Stephens, @wsstephens, the librarian at Buckhorn High School in New Market, Alabama, calls herself an eclectic Anglophile. Among those eclectic interests are youth reading and culture and design. “I understand education and teaching as a process, and I am frustrated when it is reduced to a formula. It’s much more alchemical.” Stephens loves to share really interesting stuff with the kids in her advisory class, and all the kids in the library. She relies are a number of tools to feed her particular current awareness needs, to find relevant RSS feeds, book blogs, and tech blogs.
Stephens inspires me to connect with teens using very practical strategies. “You see, I don’t feel much older than my teens. Our interests overlap. And I am interested in nostalgia, in revisiting my own youth.”
Stephens’s Twitter favorites have little overlap with the other librarians with whom I chatted. “I don’t follow the people who are retweeting the same stuff. For instance, why should I retweet Buffy Hamilton? Everyone who is following me is following her.”
On Twitter, Stephens likes to follow journals like @wired, @ALANorg (Assembly on Literature for Adolescents), @LuckyMagazine, and @ReadyMadeTweets. One of her favorite individual Tweeters is Laura Koenig @2nickels, a “charming children’s/young adult librarian and blogger from Boston Public.”
Stephens prefers to get out of the library and education echo chambers. She joked that none of the news sources she follows–nearly all the British newspapers—warned her of the recent tornado.
She reads Longform.org, a blog that posts new and classic non-fiction articles, curated from across the web, that are too long and too interesting to be read on a web browser. The editors recommend using read later services like Instapaper and Read It Later.
Although she finds the education stuff interesting, it won’t serve her practice as well as something like Style Rookie, maintained by funky teen fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson, who has just launched Rookie Magazine for teenage girls.
Stephens’s other fashion and design faves are:
- Persephone post, a beautiful artsy British blog
- Design Sponge, @designsponge, the design blog run by Brooklyn-based writer, Grace Bonney. and considered by the New York Times, a “Martha Stewart Living for the Millennials”
- Obsessive Consumption, Portland educator and illustrator, Kate Bingaman Burt has been drawing something she has purchased everyday since February 5th, 2006.
- Fallen Princess, blog of former editor of Sassy magazine, Christina Kelly.
- Among the other sources that feed Stephens’s youth culture hunger are:
- Supercade, which offers a history of video games
- XKCD.com, an alternative comic feed, your mouse over reveals a different interpretation of the comic
- @FoundMag, an online magazine that collects stuff of all sorts–love letters, birthday cards, kids’ homework, to-do lists, ticket stubs, poetry on napkins, doodles
- Metafilter—for its crowd-sourced variety of cool tech stuff
- Post Secret, the anonymous secret sharing project
Stephens’s absolute favorite app is Wired for iPad. “It’s beautiful. Better than the magazine.”
A final network confession
Though the librarian in my regularly challenges myself to weed and organize my own networks, the learner in me regularly chases and cannot stop chasing discoveries of intriguing writers and useful links.
This article merely compounded the problem for me. Thanks a lot, network! I mean it 😉
Joyce Kasman Valenza loves her work as the librarian at Springfield Township High School (PA)! For ten years, she was the techlife@schoolcolumnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Joyce is the author of Power Tools, Power Research Tools and Power Tools Recharged for ALA Editions. (PowerTools Remixed is currently in progress.) She currently blogs for School Library Journal. Her NeverendingSearch Blog (now on the SLJ Web site) won an Edublogs Award for 2005, was nominated in 2008, and won again in 2009. She was awarded the AASL/Highsmith research grant in 2005. Her Virtual Library won the IASL School Library Web Page of the Year Award for 2001. She has won her state’s PSLA Outstanding Program (2005) and Outstanding Contributor (2009) Awards. Joyce is active in ALA, AASL, YALSA, and ISTE and contributes to Classroom Connect, VOYA,Technology and Learning, and School Library Journal. Joyce speaks nationally and internationally about issues relating to libraries and thoughtful use of educational technology. She earned her doctoral degree in Information Science from the University of North Texas in August, 2007. Resumé.Full C.V. Contact Joyce at email@example.com