Confessions of a Twitter Chat Lurker

As I’ve been exploring Twitter over the past few months I’ve come to value it as a professional learning tool. I will admit, I’ve become semi-addicted to checking my twitter feed to see what’s going on in the world and the lives/work of the people I ‘follow.’ A course I’m taking this semester, Digital Literacies (#diglits), has been using twitter and discussing ideas of networked publics, digital spaces, authorship, etc. Recently, I’ve found myself saying that there are weeks where (it seems like) I learn more from twitter than from grad school. Twitter Chats, however, are one aspect of Twitter where I have not been an active participant.

What is a Twitter Chat?

For those of you who reading this who are completely confused, let me rewind for a bit. Per its homepage, Twitter is… “a real-time information network that connects you to the latest stories, ideas, opinions and news about what you find interesting. Simply find the accounts you find most compelling and follow the conversations.” Twitter chats are, usually, based on a topic of interest and occur on a specific day/time each week. Here is a list of Twitter Chats compiled by Tom Murray (@thomascmurray) Director of Technology and Cyber Education at Quakertown Community School District.

What’s the Value of a Twitter Chat?

To answer that question, I’ll defer to some twitter chat experts.

Why Lurk?

I’ve recently been lurking in a bunch of twitter chats. These include: Parent-Teacher Chat (#ptchat), Standards Based Grading (#sbgchat) and Iowa Ed Chat (#iaedchat) to name a few. I’m curious to explore subject-specific chats as well as those related to school librarians. This being said, my current work schedule is not conducive to many twitter chats. This may change in the future, but for now I end up reading archives of chats and/or lurking for the last 20 minutes or so of live chats. I’m also hesitant to enter into content area chats as I don’t necessarily identify with one subject matter. I tend to prefer interdisciplinary approaches to elementary, language arts, and social studies topics.

Lately, I’ve been wondering if twitter chats are unique to education. My perspective is limited in that I primarily follow education/library affiliated folks.  Do other industries conduct regular twitter chats? I would love to find one that involves public and/or academic librarians. If anyone has suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

The Principal Story

The Task
As part of an educational leadership course, groups were challenged to create a rubric for evaluating educational leaders based on readings from the course. Our group identified ten areas that we felt were necessary components of an effective school leader. Categories included:

  1. Organization
  2. Communication
  3. Action-based/follow-through
  4. Relationships/rapport-building
  5. Instructional expertise
  6. Situational awareness
  7. Visibility
  8. Data-driven/evidence-based practice
  9. Climate/culture development
  10. Professionalism/ethical behavior

The Principal Story

The class then viewed the film The Principal Story and was challenged to apply our rubrics to the two principals chronicled in the film. Not surprisingly, differences in opinion amongst group members emerged when deciding if the principals were “good” leaders. While it’s very easy to say that you ‘know a good leader when you see one’, it is increasingly difficult to isolate characteristics of that individual that make him/her so exceptional. Translating theory and research into practice is anything but a straightforward process. Our rubric could have listed twenty, fifty, or one hundred characteristics. Would this have made a difference or led us closer towards consensus? Would a different format (i.e. mind map, chart, etc) have been more helpful? Do these graphics/lists further strip away the human aspects of leading that can’t be captured in a rubric or checklist?

What’s the Goal?

This leadership course began with emphasizing the need for leaders to build a shared vision among those they are leading & to design a clear mission. What’s the goal of the school leader? As a teacher, my goal as a leader is to create an environment and design learning activities that are focused on the needs and interests of my students.  The students come first and are at the center of the goal. I would venture to say that the goals of the two principals in the film were similar to mine as a teacher. BUT if the focus is to remain on the students, it then context is critical. The needs and interests of groups of students varies tremendously. So, can the we then use the same metric to identify universal characteristics of an ‘effective leader’?

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about standards based grading and competency-based learning. I wonder what would happen if it were to be applied to the learning of  teachers and/or school leaders. I fear that rubrics like ours reduce a complicated and highly individualistic process of educational leadership to a checklist that attempts to be universal. Would the goal of the leader then become to receive the maximum score on the evaluation tool instead of focusing on what’s best for the students? Are there some critical aspects of leadership that can’t be captured by a rubric or checklist? I’m not sure. What do you think?

Recap-PLA Virtual Spring Symposium


Photo Source: 2013 PLA Virtual Spring Symposium

This week I had the opportunity to ‘participate’ in the Public Library Association (PLA) Virtual Spring Symposium. This was a very interesting experience to sit in rooms with other local public librarians yet connect with and ask questions of presenters along with a nation-wide audience. Conference hashtag #plavss13 in case you’re interested in thoughts thrown into the twitterverse during the conference.

YA Programming (Makerspaces!)

My first session was Hands On! Innovative YA Programming led by Steve Teeri from the Detroit Public Library (DPL). The discussion focused on the DPL HYPE Makerspace which is possibly one of the most innovative library spaces I’ve seen. Let alone one devoted entirely to YA (young adults ages 13-18) patrons. The HYPE Makerspace evolved from semi-regular arts/crafts programming that was later combined with grant money, community partners, and local ‘expert instructors.’ Some of the (weekly!) workshops offered include Bike Tech, Crafternoon, Graphic Design, and Electronics/Robotics. I absolutely loved the idea of having teens become (paid) apprentices or assistants to help the instructors lead the different workshops. I also appreciated the acknowledgement of starting small with introducing any of these initiatives. While the libraries I currently work at are located within pretty affluent communities, in thinking about the costs associated with the HYPE exemplar, there is really no comparison to our YA programming budgets.

Makerspaces vs. Hackerspaces?

I asked a question during the session, as did others, about the difference between Makerspaces & Hackerspaces. After raising a similar question during my Digital Literacies class, I couldn’t help but notice that Steve did not use the two terms interchangeably during his presentation. The definitions provided were that makerspaces are for DIY crafts, hobbies, etc. while hackerspaces are designed more for the tech. DIY projects/enthusiasts. I’m not sure I’m totally sold on that distinction. I am wonder if the two are/are not mutually exclusive. Do they have to be? To me, the HYPE Makerspace is an example of one physical space that bridges the two categories by offering traditional and tech. projects. Thoughts?

Marketing Trends & Innovations

One of the afternoon sessions that I attended focused on big data, content marketing, mobile marketing, social media, and crowd-sourcing, as they apply to libraries. Presenters Alison Circle & Jim Staley provided both an overview and specific examples of how they & their libraries are using marketing tools in innovative ways. A key take away for me was the need for libraries to shift their focus from counting and reporting data to analyzing and acting based on data. I loved the KPI dashboard that was shown. What a neat way to have all of your different data collection (facebook/twitter/blog stats, GIS data, etc) in one place. Having been a fan of Google Analytics for a while, I was also interested to learn how Mid-Continent Public Library uses the in-page data to find out what’s NOT being found on their site.  I also loved their branding initiative focusing on access. Broadcast message- Access Your World. Narrowcast message(s)- Access Your Community, Fun, etc. Also found it fascinating the different mental images created by the language surrounding libraries and their usage. What do you think of when you hear library card versus access pass? (Also check out their fabulous videos on homework help & digital/music services)

Overall, this was a truly thought-provoking opportunity. Each of the sessions I attended provided lots of points for discussion among the members of the libraries and communities I work with. The next step would be to figure out how to adapt these national exemplars to best fit the needs (and budget) of any local, public library.

*I also attended a session on content management systems for library websites-which will (hopefully) be the topic of a future post…once I do some homework on CMS managed library websites.

Lessons Learned from L.E.A.R.N

For the past few months, I’ve been involved with planning parts of the L.E.A.R.N Annual Conference, this year entitled, The Debate for America’s Future (#LEARN2013). Panel discussion topics included: restructuring school systems, teacher evaluation systems, district-charter collaboration, technology, & school intervention/turn around models. The overall goal of the conference was to assess ‘solutions’ currently being offered to address issues in each of those areas & determine what is/is not working in public education.

Per their website, “L.E.A.R.N., the Leaders in Education Advocacy & Reform Network, is an interdisciplinary organization that seeks to create a forum for graduate students interested in improving the quality of education in America’s schools.  We aim to foster dialogue about pressing issues, increase knowledge of and access to career opportunities, and engage students in service opportunities in the field of education law and policy. The organization is a joint effort between Penn Law, Wharton School, Graduate School of Education, and Fels Institute of Government. While I may not always agree 100% with the mission and/or approach of the organization, I am grateful to have had to opportunity to have had a hand in building this conference.

My role, specifically, was conference manager for the ‘Technology in the Classroom’ panel (#LEARN2013tech). I had the privilege of bringing together a fabulous group of panelists & moderator; some of who I had previously only known through Twitter. The panel was a very interesting discussion about different issues and terminology used within conversations about edtech. From the opening question of What is the most interesting use of technology inside the classroom and out? to those of how technology fits within our current assessment and teacher preparation structures, all of the panelists offered unique perspectives and resources that they are using in their work.

What will I take away from this experience?

  • Behind any and every event similar to this one, there are a bunch of people working to ensure that everything runs smoothly. I am indebted to the conference team, all of whom put in many hours to make this event a success.
  • Discussions like these, about the future of education, should not be limited to or privilege certain groups. It is imperative that all ‘stake-holders’ are included in the conversation & feel as though their voices and contributions are valued.
  • There needs to be an acknowledgement that (1) Students are people, & teachers teach students, not subjects (2) Learning environments exist within and beyond the typical classroom (3) Regardless of personal opinions/interests, the overall mission of education needs to be focused on what’s in the best interest of learning.

LEARN Conference Team Photo Credit: Adam Dunn (conference photos available here)

High-Tech vs No Tech

In working on my thesis & an upcoming panel on technology in the classroom-you could say I’ve been tech-obsessed lately. However, I think it’s important to stop and consider the difference between viewing technology as a shiny new tool versus a means of enhancing student learning. Adults get so caught up in focusing on the new and shiny and loose sight of what we actually want students to learn by using technology.

This reminded me of an awesome story I came across a while back about a kid named Caine. He is a 9 year old boy who built an elaborate cardboard arcade in his dad’s used auto parts store. See the story below:

So what can we learn from Caine? I think in our tech-obsessed culture it is important to reflect on how our students are actually using technology. If the goal is to help kids develop their skills in critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity, do we absolutely need technology? I would say that Caine’s arcade is an example of how those skills can be developed in kids with out relying on any technology.

The One Best Systems

No, it’s not a typo. This post is intentionally titled ‘The One Best Systems.’ This semester I’m taking a course that looks at schools from an organizational/management perspective. We’ve recently been discussing Tyack’s One Best System (1974). In looking at the evolution of the American education system, I could not help but draw parallels from Tyack’s account to the current education landscape & the never-ending search for that one best system.

In looking at the historical progression of American education, I find we are perpetually looking for the silver bullet, the one best system/model of education. Once a framework or philosophy has been found to work in a school, the immediate response is to expand that program or framework to all schools. The idea being that after all, it worked in one school, why shouldn’t it work in schools across the board. Yet the ‘best systems’ that have been introduced seem to only be temporal constructions. There has not been one best system that has been able to be sustained over time. We keep looking for that magic fix that will solve all the perceived problems in education. Why?

In thinking about our current predicament, I am reminded of a talk by Ken Robinson, “Changing the Education Paradigms.” It begs the question ‘Can we do better?’ What would happen if we essentially blew up the current ‘one best’ system of education? If we were to essentially start over, would the goal be to re-create another ‘best system’ or is there a lesson to learn from our history? Is it possible to blend centralization and local autonomy to create a network of best systems?

We know that children learn differently. We are imploring our teachers to differentiate their instruction to meet the needs of their diverse learners. Why would we settle for the one best system? It would only seem logical that we create a variety of systems, so that students could select a school that was the best fit for them, as an individual learner. Yet we are then faced with the roadblock of how to ensure that all students are actually learning; an issue currently addressed by standardized tests to generate outcome measures upon which comparisons can be made across schools. But what if different types of learning aren’t best measured by a standardized test? Does a network of best systems require a network of best assessments?

The Power of Picture Books

Lately I’ve been thinking about picture books, and the collective power of children’s literature. Having semi-recently switched jobs from children’s to reference librarian @ local public libraries, I’ve missed being surrounded by kids, their books, excitement, curiosity, and yes, sometimes reluctance.

About a week or so ago, I had the opportunity to meet with the owners of a fabulous local, independent, children’s book store. Meeting with them  got me thinking about the power of children’s literature. Reading a book as a child can have a profound impact on who that child grows up to become, influencing them in a way that reading later in their life cannot. Their store creates this sort of magic. By connecting children with books and characters that are ‘just right’ for them on an individual level.

In the learning environments I’ve worked and taught in, I’ve attempted to create those connections too. I absolutely love anything remotely related to children’s literature and am always looking to infuse it into my students’ learning. I love the challenge of finding that ‘perfect’ book for the reluctant reader who would rather be doing just about anything else but then becomes completely captivated and engrossed in his/her reading.

I have spent entire summers teaching, where every single lesson was somehow connected to a piece of children’s literature-picture books, read-alouds, etc. We had tons of fun and I would venture to guess that those kids learned a few new vocabulary words along the way. Yet many of school environments I’ve encountered don’t share this enthusiasm towards creating readers (students who are proficient in reading is another story).

I cringe (and sometimes create compelling research-based arguments) when a school I’m spending time in decides to cut their time spent reading aloud or independently in favor of skill/drill tactics to improve their test scores. Do you remember a favorite book or character from something you read or that was read to you as a child? I bet that that memory does not involve a character found in the pages of a test at school. If the only characters and stories that children are connecting with are found in the reading passages of standardized tests-what kind of people are we hoping to build?

Web Literacies (vs. Fluency)

This weekend I had the opportunity to attend Educon 2.5. A fabulous conference/set of discussions about the future of innovation & technology in schools. One of the sessions I went to was ‘Web Literacies: Redefining the Continuum of “Literacy.”‘The conversation was jointly facilitated by Mozilla & the National Writing Project. Notes from the session show the general direction in which we were heading. The Radio Rookies video from the beginning of the session is definitely worth watching. It’s a very thought-provoking piece on many levels, and provides a context for the discussion that followed about what competencies and skills were used by the students in its creation. What do we want our students to be able to do with digital tools? How are we going to get them there?

Working in small groups, one of our tasks was to use the Mozilla Web Literacies Framework to create a tree of dependencies web literacy skills. In doing so, our group spent a lot of time talking about the difference between the terms web literacies and web fluency. Is there a fundamental difference between the two? Does web literacy indicate that a student has command over different digital tools in isolation but only becomes fluent through their seamless integration? Is knowing how to juxtapose different medias to tell a compelling story indicative of fluency? Where does coding fit into all of this? At the end of the day, is the goal for our students to be web literate, fluent, or all of the above?

“And I will love words for their own sake…

…like hyacinth and piccadilly and onyx.”

So today begins my journey into the blogosphere. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a while but never seem to find the time. A digital literacies course (#diglits) I’m taking this semester involves blogging, delving into multimodal texts & uncovering some new (at least to me) Web 2.0 tools. I’ll be discussing the course and some of its topics in future posts.

In the meantime, today I also received the go ahead from the powers to be on the topic for my master’s thesis. With that comes the beginning of my crazy concept mapping & outlining. (I am a huge fan of transmediation)


I’m planning to look at issues of access, equity, and integration of technology in K-12 classrooms & schools. How are they impacted by policies at the national/Federal, state, and local/school levels? Can this impact be measured? If so, by what? I’m hoping to chronicle the research & writing process as the project progresses. Here goes…

Bonus points if you can identify the quote 🙂