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A vision of technology part II: PD and the twitter revolution

February 2, 2011

I don’t know if there are trending schools, like there are trending topics in twitter, but if there were, I think my school might be breaking through. Most of this credit goes to my colleague J, whose formative assessmess using twitter experiment has been a smash success in the Junior High School.

I’ve also been deeply impressed the work @cookp and his colleagues at The Culver Academies are doing with their technology professional development. When budget cuts caused the school to eliminate their tech coordinator, the faculty banded together to create a faculty technology committee, and began to hold monthly “Teacher Techie Talks” where any faculty member could share cool things he/she was doing with technology. As I wrote in my last post about technology, I think this ground up, having teachers in the trenches showing us how to use technology really is the only way to get deep participation from the whole faculty in technology professional development.

So when I learned that our Instructional Technology Coordinator would be starting a lunch and learn series, I quickly volunteered to offer a session on using twitter, and managed to convince J to help me. J and I are seen as tech people, and one of my major beliefs about technology is that it catches fire not when I stand up and shout about it, but when one of our incredible veteran teachers gives it a stamp of approval. So J and I decided to recruit F, a 36 year veteran of my school, to make agree to let us make the following poster.

View this document on Scribd

The poster was a huge hit—it even caused a traffic jam in the Junior High Faculty room as my teachers crowded around the door to look it.

Since we have a strong contingent of faculty who are discovering new uses for twitter almost every day, I also wanted to make this presentation something that would be useful for them, and invited our veteran tweeters to come out and bring a friend. We also set up a hashtag #wmsnewtweet, so that veteran tweeters could have a backchannel during our workshop, and projected the tweetstream on a second projector using the awesome tweetchat.

So today, after sending a number of promotional emailed to get people to turn out, J and I were thrilled to see 40 people show up for our two sessions.

Here’s a link to the presentation we gave. And if you’re really a glutton, you can watch the video below:

Overall, I’d rate the event a huge success. Here are some things I think made this so successful:

  • All out promotion . Asking a faculty member to give up a relaxing lunch to sit in a crowded room and use unfamiliar and often frustrating technology is tough sell. F’s poster, and a few emails explaining how I once was a twitter skeptic, but have been persuaded by twitter’s awesomeness and specific things you will learn, made a big difference.
  • Taking time to get everyone on twitter. Tech PD fails if people are just watching you talk about technology and get no change to try it for themselves. Thanks to J for being sure to stop us and work with everyone to make sure everyone gets to feel the success of sending a tweet before the end of lunch.
  • Having a range of experience in the room. It was so helpful to have twitter veterans in the room to chime in and offer suggestions for how they use twitter, or help someone get started. Isn’t this the key to learning in many classrooms?
  • Handouts that explain how to get going step by step. Some faculty really need a piece of paper to take back with them to help them put what they learned into practice. Again, don’t most of our students need something to hold on to?
  • Prompt Follow-up earlier this evening, I sent the faculty an email with the handouts, and a link to a blog post that described the session, included the presentation, and the video so that anyone who couldn’t make it could still get a sense of what happened in the session. J has been fielding questions all afternoon from new twetters about how to use hashtags and get involved in our formative assessment project.
  • Backchannel I’m getting more and more comfortable with the idea of a backchannel. Today, it was a huge help, because as J and I were working to get people on twitter, other users were tweeting questions about hashtags, mentions and direct messages, which were being answered by some of the veterans in the room, and some even not in the room. I want to use this more in my classroom, and I really want to see us use a backchannel in our faculty meetings. Imagine how empowering it would be for faculty to add ideas and show support during presentations in these meetings.

And as always, with technology, there are sure to be frustrations. This time they were:

  • Network issues I’m not sure if it was our wireless network, which doesn’t have the greatest reception in the room we used, and can be unreliable, or the the twitter network getting jammed, but many faculty had significant problems registering or searching twitter because of these bottlenecks.
  • Faculty tablets In my experience, few thing put up more roadblocks for a novice faculty trying to learn technology than a slow, underpowered laptop. An old, underpowered, tablet PC with a tiny screen, running a 10 year operating system, burdened by all sorts of administrative software costs far more in faculty patience and willingness to experiment than the dollars saved by not investing in up-to-date technology that will be quickly responsive to faculty needs. Many faculty who came to the session were instantly put in a bad mood by having to wait 5 minutes for their laptop to wake from sleep, or 10 minutes to stop its never-ending synchronization with the backup server.

I saw this firsthand in my colleague K, a brilliant teacher who is one decent computer away from doing amazing things with technology. During this session, the stars seemed aligned against him, when once he got his computer going, the twitter servers seemed to be determined to keep him from creating an account, and he left our meeting without sending a tweet.

Later that afternoon, when I had a free moment, and there weren’t 20 other laptops in the room trying to access the wireless network, K and I sat down and walked through the process again, we closed out the day with a win:

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Anna Moore permalink
    February 3, 2011 10:10 pm

    I was so impressed by this meeting. Huge thanks to you and Jill for organizing. I’m relatively new to twitter, and I learned some great tips to simplify my use of twitter. And, as important for me, I have to say how uplifted I felt to be in a room with faculty, from elementary through junior high to high school… from folks in their 7th month as teachers to those who’ve been teaching for 30+ years… to be surrounded by folks willing to take risks, step temporarily into the unkown and try something new… all for the sake of exploring novel and rich ways both to engage and connect with our students and to more effectively teach content… it made me feel great. Thanks for all the hardwork you put into this.


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