In support of social media

It seems like social media goes through periods of praise and periods of pain. These growing pains aren’t unknown to those of us in the education field. After all, at its simplest, learning is all about periods of failure and success; it is the true balance of these extremes that allows us to improve continuously.

As we come close to ending one year and beginning another, and as social media continues to evolve before our eyes -- sometimes, it seems, in the simple span of one sole eye blink. I’ve taken the opportunity to reflect on just how much influence social media has had on my work and my life.

With that in mind, I’ve put together an homage to social media by briefly contemplating how three tools have drastically changed the way I lead, learn and live.

Twitter

Twitter isn’t a new tool to the social media world, but it is the one that has impacted my work most deeply. I began using Twitter in March 2011 when I was on paternity leave with my now eight-year-old daughter. I was looking for a way to stay connected while I was at home taking care of her. Originally I envisioned it as a personal tool, and I spent a number of months using it as a platform to test out writing and humor. I then realized the tremendous educational value it contained through reading about, reflecting on and connecting with ideas that so many inspirational people shared. Since my initial exploration, Twitter has become a staple of my craft. I regularly use it to gain insight into what is happening around the world educationally; connect with local and less local educators to engage in conversation, questioning and reflection; and, to networking with potential consultants. I can’t tell you how helpful the tool has been in opening the door to phone calls, face-to-face networking and bringing in leaders and learners with tremendous expertise into the region I serve.  I would be a much less informed and much less effective educator without having Twitter as a resource and without learning, over time, how to leverage it as a tool to grow my work and to help me grow.

Voxer

We all need a community of learners to help ground us in our work and our own lives. We can get that community in several ways. I have a few face-to-face groups I belong to through my organization and through outside sources that provide me with friendship, community and opportunities to reflect. I’ve found, at least for me, that the more of these communities I belong to, the richer my growth as a professional and as a person is. Generally speaking, what hasn’t worked for me, though, is text-based community and interaction. As friends and colleagues tell me, “I have a texting problem.” It doesn’t seem to be that I don’t like the written word; rather, it seems to be that I can’t commit myself to the text message as a means of building community. Even group texts don’t work for me. Enter: Voxer. While Voxer adeptly utilizes group text to allow communities of learners to connect, it evolves interaction by incorporating a voice component. By recording voice messages that get stored in the shared chat, members can share what they are working on, how their day has gone and their questions for reflection to the group at large. Hearing the emotion in someone’s voice, the laughter after a great joke and the emphasis on words and phrases adds a dimension to the conversation that I clearly need to feel invested. Having this group that I can reach out to at any time, when I’m in any place, and knowing that I can get differing perspectives and ideas in a matter of moments has been career- and life-altering for me. It is a tremendously valuable asset to help round out the communities of learning to which I already subscribe.

Hangouts/Adobe Connect/Lync, etc.

Some might say email has made it easier to connect. To that I might say, “Maybe.” The fact is, email has made it easier to get things done while also complicating the interactions we have with others. On some level, email, as a medium, lacks personality. For that, we need to be able to connect with others face-to-face, or as close as we can get. While it isn’t feasible to meet up with someone across the country for a lunch meeting, it is feasible to meet up with them virtually, using any of the myriad of virtual meeting tools that exist out there. I don’t have a favorite; truly I like them all. And I like the fact that they have allowed me to leverage all the positives of face-to-face conversations (facial expressions, eye contact, overall body language) without requiring a red-eye flight, hotel stay or any other assorted travel ingredient. Education is truly a worldwide profession, and to be able to connect worldwide allows us to learn more, and accomplish more, than when we operate out of our geographic silos. Online conferencing tools have helped me to connect with those across the street, and across the pond, in a way that validates all that face-to-face brings.

There are more social media tools that have had tremendous impacts on my work. For instance, I’m able to share workshop images through Instagram. The three I’ve highlighted above – Hangouts, Adobe Connect and Lync -- likely have had the largest impact. What is so interesting about social media is that we don’t quite know where it will take us. While a blog post on this same topic next year might be exactly the same, it also might be entirely different.

Part of the value of social media in general is understanding that we may have a very limited time to learn from it before it disappears. In some ways, that’s just like life. In both cases, the more we’re willing to explore what is out there, the more likely our work and our lives will be all the richer for it.

Fred Ende (@fredende) is the assistant director of Curriculum and Instructional Services for Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Fred blogs at www.fredende.blogspot.com, Edutopia, ASCD EDge and SmartBrief Education. His book, Professional Development That Sticks is available from ASCD. Visit his website:www.fredende.com.

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