Disclaimer: This post is written for my EdTech543 masters course. We were asked to attend 4 live twitter chats and 4 live webinars related to our personal professional development. Below you will find a description of each event I attended and also proof in the form of screenshots and embedded Tweets to attest to my participation.
This year we have spent a considerable amount of time at my school discussing how to help teachers begin to develop their online PLE. We decided as a team that Twitter would be a great starting point and once we have that established we can move into other platforms. Although I have used Twitter for professional development I wouldn’t say I am fluent or accomplished in its application. As a result I was excited when I saw that we would have to do some real time live PD online for this assignment. As part of our assignment we needed to post about what we learned. Originally I intended to discuss the actual content that I learned about while completing this activity (and I will a little bit) but what I quickly realized while completing this activity was that the real learning I was doing was about the process of live PD and what worked best for me and not the content being consumed. And so the focus of this article will be about what I enjoyed most about online PD and what types of live PD I will continue to consume going forward.
We had to attend 4 live Twitter chats and 3 live webinars. I decided to start with a Twitter chat. Our professor provided us with some great resources including this Google Sheet that lists a bunch of live Twitter chats related to education. I quickly perused the feeds and realized something that I had suspected. Most of the chats were based in the US and therefore most of the chats were set for the evening on either the east coast or west coast. This presented a bit of a challenge for someone living in Saudi Arabia which is 7 hours ahead of the east coast and 10 hours ahead of the west coast. Now there are also a few chats each day that are scheduled around lunch time in the states and so in the end I had to be a little more selective if I planned to get some sleep each night. As I narrowed my search I found one that I thought would be a great starting point.
Before I attended my first live Twitter chat there were a few more things I needed to think about. How would I attend? Would I use the normal Twitter client and just follow the hashtag? Would I add a new column in my Tweetdeck for the hashtag? I ended up choosing a third strategy which was tweetchat.com. Tweetchat.com links to your twitter account and on your screen you only see the feed you are following. The best part is every time you post from the site it automatically adds the hashtag for you. I highly recommend it if you are going to do live Twitter chats. Alice Keeler who hosted the first LiveClassroom2.0 webinar I attended talked about another great strategy for following Twitter chats where you create multiple columns in your TweetDeck. 1 for the chat and 1 for each of the moderators. Also before I started I thought a little about my participation. I decided that as a noob I would just kind of hang out in the background. I’d add a tweet or two to the discussion so that I could prove I had attended but I really just wanted to figure what this whole Twitter chat thing was about before I jumped in head first. Didn’t work out so well.
So the first chat I attended was #iolchat. iol or inside online learning is exactly what it sounds like. Our topic was
I quickly realized that there weren’t to many participants. The host and maybe 2 or 3 other people. As time went by there would be a tweet here or there and the host was doing his/her best to keep the conversation moving. I realized that hanging out in the back wasn’t going to work out and so I decided to jump in on one of the questions and I was really surprised by what happened. I felt like I was part of a real conversation. The 4 or 5 of us shared back and forth and we talked about resources related to online learning and more specifically the topic of the week which was online grading. I learned some ideas about using forums for grading with Moodle and also shared a personal favorite resource of mine Hapara Teacher Dashboard. An hour later I had sent 11 tweets (sure felt like a lot more than that). I was convinced that this was a revolutionary and easy way to participate in PD with others around the world. I later found out that the reason this particular chat was so effective was a few things. 1. The host was very skilled. They asked good questions, had great follow up questions and was genuinely interested in what people were sharing. 2. It was a small group which really allowed us to feel like we were involved in the discussion. Proof:
Next up I decided to tackle a live webinar. I’ve done some in the past with mixed results. I encountered the same issue with webinars that I had with Twitter chats. There just weren’t that many that were happening during a time when I was awake. However, there are still some great choices.
Powering Student-Focused Digital Initiatives in Cherry Creek with Schoology’s LMS
I found that edweek.org offered webinars at a good time for me. When I saw the webinar about Schoology I knew I would be interested because I don’t have much experience with LMS’s outside of Moodle. I wanted to learn about an alternative and find out how schools were using it. What I really liked about the edweek.org webinars is that they were entirely web based. I didn’t need to download and install any software on my computer which was great. Below is a screenshot of the interface.
As you can see the chat window is on the left, there is also a place to ask a question and a large screen on the right for the presentation. I arrived a little early to make sure I was ready and the chat window was busy with people sharing where they were from and also discussing the different 1:1 and BYOD programs their schools used. It was great. I was able to share with others and hear a little about what they were doing with tablet programs. At 7:00 the presenters joined and the chat room stopped. Almost nothing in the chat window for the next 20 minutes. It felt like a traditional classroom. All of a sudden the teacher was lecturing and all the students were listening or at least attempting to listen. While the content was good and I did learn a fair amount about Schoology I left disappointed because I didn’t feel involved in the process. Towards the end of the presentation the presenters asked for questions but because there were so many people attending online there was little opportunity to ask questions that pertained to my particular situation.
I decided to give edweek.org another chance and jumped into my next webinar the very next day.
Fueling An Innovative Change Movement Around Instruction
This webinar was in the same format and was hosted by Discovery Education. I was excited because they were talking about training and delivering PD. Something that I am now responsible for related to technology at my school. I was hoping to find strategies to use to make training more effective and long lasting and I did. However, the format was mostly the same. People chatting when we first arrived and then once the presenters started the discussion stopped and they began. The worst possible thing happened to. The video they kicked off with lagged badly and seemed to be having troubles loading. It felt like the bandwidth they were using was not sufficient and to make matters worse in the chat they told us it was probably our individual machines! Right there they lost all credibility with me and I had a hard time focusing for the remainder of the presentation.
Proof: I also decided I’d had enough of edweek.org webinars. What I liked was that they were web based and easy to load. Also the chat at the beginning was great and where I did most of my learning. What I didn’t like was the traditional classroom feel. We talk and for the most part you listen. Wait for the designated question period. I just didn’t feel like it was personalized to me. I decided it was time to head back to Twitter. This is where I encountered a few challenges using Twitter chats. I picked out two Twitter chats that I wanted to attend. I set aside time in my schedule and showed up only to wait 10 minutes past the hour for both to begin and realize they weren’t happening. Disappointing to say the least. Of course lists need to be constantly checked and updated and sometimes things come up but there is nothing worse than showing up to something that isn’t going to happen. What I started doing was checking the feeds for Twitter chats a couple hours ahead of the scheduled time to see if there was a tweet confirming the chat was happening and this seemed to help. Also I found @chatsalad who tweets about live Twitter chats that are coming up or happening live.
After my first experience with Twitter chats I was really excited to jump back in. I decided to try a chat that was discussing how to manage passionate communities. While it wasn’t specifically talking about education it was talking about building and maintaining online communities which is very important at our school. It wasn’t only a Twitter chat but also a Google Hangout. So I got the best of both worlds. Only I quickly realized this wasn’t like the last Twitter chat I had attended. There were a lot of people involved and the Twitter chat flew by with all the posts. Also the people who were participating in the Hangout were the 8 moderators. They did talk a lot about community management and I learned some great strategies for maintaining communities including sharing images, giving away swag, consistently responding and most surprising supporting ‘mild brag’. I think this format had lots of great info but again I didn’t feel involved in the discussion or topic and often found myself off task.
Next up I joined satchat which was broadcasting live from the edscape conference. Not only was there a Twitter chat but also a Google hangout and a live broadcast on YouTube. They also mentioned they were using Storify to archive the Twitter chat. Near the beginning they mentioned there were about 300 people on the hashtag. Based on my last experience with a chat I was a little concerned by this. How would it be personalized for me and what I wanted to learn? However, as the chat picked up I was really happy with what was occurring I was listening to the YouTube channel and reading the Twitter feed. I found it difficult to follow both at the same time so I mostly focused on the chat. I found this chat as successful as the #iolchat for many of the same reasons. They did a really great job engaging people in the chat. They tweeted out the questions which were related to philosophies of education and game changers in education. Because it was so busy it was hard to read all the tweets and also to engage in any extended dialogue but you could pick and choose some tweets to read and garner more information. Questions came fairly regularly and it was interesting to read different peoples opinions. At the same time they were interviewing people on YouTube. I didn’t pay much attention to the YouTube channel until my 1 year old came over for some attention and I wasn’t able to read the chat. At this point I could switch over and listen. In a few minutes when she moved on I was able to hop back into the chat. I liked the opportunity to participate or at least absorb in multiple ways although it was impossible to follow everything. They also did a good job on YouTube of sharing some info from the chat and also to announce when a new question was posed.
For my last Twitter chat I joined new teachers to twitter. The topic was Twitter Basics Revisited. What I found unique and really liked about this chat was that the moderators posted the list of questions online beforehand so you could see all the questions that would be discussed and start considering your answers. Again I really liked the community feel here. There were a fair amount of people online but I really enjoyed when I tweeted about being there for the first time and had a few RT’s and greetings. It made me feel welcome and confident about posting in the chat. I felt the same way in both the IOL chat and the SAT chat. This feeling of comfort made it easy to participate even if I wasn’t an expert or a veteran. I also noticed that there were many regulars here who did a great job retweeting, favoriting and communicating with everyone. They kept the chat moving and everything was positive. I learned a lot during this chat. People did a great job posting links to articles that helped me think about my Twitter proflie pic and also to update my profile information. Finally I learned some Twitter abbreviations I hadn’t known about before. Wow out of 4 Twitter chats I really benefitted from three and there were a few common trends but I will revisit those at the end of the article.
TwitterChats: What, Why, How, When?
Back to webinars. This time I decided to try a LiveClassroom2.0 webinar about believe it or not TwitterChats. There was an immediate red flag for me though. I had to download the Blackboard Collaborate software. I was lucky I realized this in advance as it was quite a large file. After it was downloaded it was easy to install and I was on my way. Based on my previous two experiences with live webinars I wasn’t filled with enthusiasm. However, I found I was presently surprised. Right when I entered I noticed why I had to download the software. There were a lot of features for Blackboard Collaborate. I followed along as the moderators explained how to set things up, which was a big help. Also I was pleased to see that there were 5 moderators each with a specific task. This really helped keep things flowing and organized. I also noticed one of my favorite parts of TwitterChats. In the chat pane everyone was introduced and then greeted by one of the moderators. Once the presentation began people were encouraged to participate and be involved and this continued throughout the entire hour. We even had an interactive part to play in the chat window. However, I still haven’t gotten to the best part. What I think Twitter chats have a really hard time doing is allowing one expert to share their expertise. This webinar was the perfect opportunity for Alice Keeler to share what she knew and the team of moderators did a great job creating the live binder and also recording the presentation for viewing afterwords. I definitely am beginning to see the benefits of both live webinars and Twitter chats. I learned a lot during this presentation. Tips on how to be more effective with Twitter and everyone was sharing a ton of great resources on using Twitter which I will have to comb over when I have more time.
What I learned about live PD:
1. To be effective it needs to active for participants and not passive. If you engage your viewers they will participate and absorb more of your content. A great way to do that is to welcome people to the chat pane or Twitter feed. Have moderators who are ready to encourage and support participants especially new guys like me!
2. Make it interactive. I really enjoyed the Twitter chats that had predetermined questions that were shared with the audience over time. Again I felt included and learned a lot from my peers and not just the moderators or experts. The best moderators know when to release those questions and how to encourage follow up.
3. Provide supplementary material. Providing links to resources or collections of resources really enhance the presentation. Its often difficult to follow everything that is happening during the presentation or chat. Having the ability to go back later and peruse things you might have missed can really enhance what you learned.
4. Content is still king. While having a great experience is important if you the content you are learning about isn’t valuable or the presenter isn’t knowledgeable then it won’t be a good use of your time. The great part about these collaborative events is that the weight to carry the chat isn’t solely on the expert or moderators.
5. Both webinars and Twitter chats have their place as long as they are well moderated. If you are looking to have an expert share mostly their expertise than maybe a webinar is the way to go. If you want the focus to be on the group and you want it to be easy to join and manage then maybe a Twitter chat is the way to go.
hmm don’t these all sound like effective classroom teaching strategies?
I’d like to end by saying that while there was some variance in the quality of different sessions I attended I did learn valuable information in every session and some of the variance is related to what I was looking to learn and not a knock on the presenters themselves. The best part of all of these live PD opportunities are that there is so much differentiation. What I wasn’t fond of will be great for someone else. I’ve really started to realize that the possibilities for PD are endless thanks to the web and thoughtful and hardworking people like iolchat, edweek.org, satchat, nt2tchat, cmgrhangout, LiveClassroom2.0 and Alice Keeler. I’ve even been contacted by one of the moderators of one of the chats I attended about setting up some collaboration opportunities! I guess its time for me to move from consumer of content into producer of content.