Wednesday, 27 June 2012

How I use social media for my professional development

This has been a common theme to many of the presentations, workshops, webinars and seminars that I have been asked to do over the last few years, but however many times I try to present on this subject I never really feel that I get the message across as clearly and persuasively as I would like.

The issue of how we use social media for our own development as teachers and as digitally skilled individuals, is one that I believe is of vital importance though, not just because it can enable us to keep developing as teachers through the content, ideas, resources and above all people it gives us access to, but also because the way use digital media for our own development should guide and influence the way we use it with our students and build their digital literacies and communication skills.

So here it is. This my own attempt to outline my digital media learning experience, or at least part of it.

I’ll split this into 3 sections which I’ll call
  • Information in - This is how and where I find information
  • Information processing - This is how I process, engage with and capture information
  • Information out - This is how I share what I’ve learned or discovered

Information in

One of my favourite and most useful sources of information is Diigo. What I particularly like about Diigo is the groups. As you can see here I’m a member of quite a few groups.
The thing that I really like about the groups is that each group is set to send me a daily digest of any links shared within that group, so looking through these email digests is usually one of the first things I do at the beginning of each working day. These groups have really provided a very rich source of professional development for me and most of the interesting articles I read originate from here.

I also have a range of RSS readers for my different devices and these keep me up to date on the blogs and journals I follow. I’ve been using Netvibes for quite some for this, but on my mobile devices I also use Flipboard for more general information and Zite for more professional things. This video shows how Zite works.

Both these are very easy to browse when I have a moment spare and have great integration with both Twitter and Facebook.
Apart from those I also use Tweet Deck to follow specific topics on Twitter. I have it set up so that I can monitor the most useful hashtag related streams when ever I have some down time.

Information processing
It’s really easy to spend a lot of time sorting through information and links to articles, only to discover a few weeks later that you can neither remember or find anything you looked at, so i use a whole range of tools to make sure I capture and attempt to digest all this information.
I’ve had a Delicious account for years now and I configured it so that anything I posted to Twitter also automatically went into that account. However after a while i found that I wasn’t really going back there and when I din’t find it a very useful place to search through, though this has changed a bit since the introduction of Stacks (collections of bookmarks that have a more visual user interface)
For a while I used a great visual bookmarking tool called SimplyBox, but unfortunately that disappeared, so I was left to resort through all my link there and find better solutions (never a bed thing). My solution has been to spread things out a little.

I’ve been collecting a lot of infographics recently and I find the Pinterest is the ideal tool for these. It’s easy to collect and save them using the browser bookmarklet and they display well when I want to search through and find the ones I need.
I’ve also found that Pinterest is great for collecting YouTube videos and this has been a great way to access the videos when I need them.

Though sadly, although Pinterest grabs YouTube videos well it struggles with other web based video embeds, so I might have to look for something better for that.
For a long time I had all my links to useful web tools and resources stored in boxes on SimplyBox and it has taken a while for me to find a replacement for this. I have tried publishing my favourite tools for learners using a site.
 Although this is a nice way to share the tools it isn’t so handy when I come back to find them again. The answer to my problem came a few weeks ago when I discovered Meaki.

This looks similar to Pinterest, but it grabs a visual of the entire web page instead of just one image from it and the way the stored links can be accessed is much more user friendly for me, so I’ve been busy shifting links from my old boxes into this new site. So here are some examples (more to come soon)

This process of curation (sifting and organising links to useful content) may seem a little time consuming, but it doesn’t have to be. Once the initial sites are set up, you can just use  any short bursts of 5 or 10 minutes either at the start or end of the day or between lesson or other tasks. Let’s face it many of us find time for facebook in those short moments so why not something more productive?

Of course the most important part of processing all this information and making use of it is to put it into practice in my teaching, training and very importantly my writing. Trying to synergise all this information, make sense of it and formulate it into a rational strategy for moving my development forward is something I couldn’t do without blogging. The act of writing something down and organising it into a rational readable text on a blog to be published for others in your profession to see can really help you to focus on and confront your own ideas and beliefs and many postings that I have started to write have ended up in the rubbish purely because the act of putting those ideas into text convinced me that was where they belonged.

So having been through this process or collection, analysis, curation and reformulation the final step is to start to share those ideas.

Information out

Sharing is a really important part of the process. It’s important because if you create  something of value that can help you develop it can probably help others develop too. It’s also important because you can get some feedback from other teachers, perhaps even a little encouragement and appreciation and start to grow your network.

My main tools for sharing are firstly, as I mentioned earlier, which is where I store links to any interesting articles I find, and also a few that I write. is a particularly useful tool because it synchronises with other services such as
The Tumblr site, is something I’ve only started using quite recently, and only really to back up all those articles, so that if disappears or decides to start charging large amounts of money I haven’t completely lost everything.
As I said posts straight through to Twitter, which I mentioned earlier is also a great source of information in. I tend not to engage with people very much through Twitter though. For me it’s a great way to share links to content and find links to content, but it’s not a great platform for communication, so I also have a Facebook page which I find much more suitable for that.

So that’s it. My social network for professional development. It does take time to build up something like this, but it can grow organically just by registering on a few sites and then putting in 5 or 10 mins whenever you have time. In the long run, that’s far more time economical than going to a conference and certainly much cheaper, and best of all the network you develop is one that is absolutely specific to your own needs, so what could be better.

I’ll finish with a word of advice. This process can become quite addictive, especially for the social attention it can bring to you,  as you start to accumulate hundreds or even thousands of followers, but don’t let feeding this network take over as the purpose of the process. Always try to retain your integrity and focus on quality. Have high standards - If you don’t find anything useful or interesting to share or write about, then have a day off, never share something unless you have genuinely learned something from it and feel it has value.

I hope this is useful.

Related links:

Nik Peachey

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Developing Your Digital Study Skills

Making the move from our safe and trusted traditional literacy habits to newer digital skills can be quite a challenge, but as teachers I think we are really unlikely to be able to use technology and help our students use technology really effectively unless we are prepared to face this challenge. Technology needs to be more than part of the way we teach but it also has to be part of the way we ourselves continue to learn and part of our everyday professional practice.

Scrible is one tool that has been helping me to make this step away from my paper and pencil study habits and towards a more efficient and digital way of learning.

Scrible enables me to replace my highlighter, sticky notes and coloured pens and to work with similar tools directly on the computer screen.

As an information addict, I spend quite a lot of my time scanning through blogs and journal articles about educational technology and language learning and trying to keep track of useful quotes and information from around the web. Recently I have started using Scrible to help me do this.

Scrible is a simple browser plugin that I can activate whenever I find something interesting online. The plugin opens a toolbar which enables me to annotate and mark up webpages with different colour highlighters, sticky notes and change the colour of the text.

But is can do more than this, because it also enables me to save the articles and webpages I have commented on, along with my my annotations into a library so that I can come back and find them later.

Once I have saved the annotated pages I can also share them with others by creating a simple link. These links can be either as ‘read only’ (the students can see my annotations but not change them) or as ‘editable’ pages (students  can see my annotations and also add their own) that I can work on collaboratively.

For me this is a great study aid and really ensures that I can go back, find and review all the articles I’ve studied.

How to use Scrible EFL / ESL students
We can get our students to use Scrible in the same way that we would to study an online text, though we can also use it to focus them on language development too. Here are some suggestions.

  • Get students to identify and change the colour of all collocations. They can use different colours for different types.
  • Use the sticky notes to set up reading tasks and comprehension questions and get students to highlight the part of the text where they find the answer.
  • Get students to read a text and post sticky note questions about it for you to answer.
  • Get students to colour code different parts of speech within the text.
  • get students to colour highlight different verb structures. They could also leave sticky notes saying what the structure is or what use of the structure is being demonstrated.
  • Get students to use sticky notes to define words from the text.
What I’m not so sure about
  • The toolbar can be a little bit fiddly sometimes and it’s difficult to attach sticky notes to specific areas of images.
On the whole I really like Scrible and have found it really useful to help me move away from pen and paper in a way that makes much more sense as most of my studying is done online using digital resources.

I hope you give it a try too.

Related links:


Nik Peachey