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Choosing a network – hint: its not the tool…

July 31, 2008

A lot of what happens on Plurk and Twitter seems to be ABOUT Plurk and Twitter. On its own, that seems a pretty silly way to spend your day investing in any kind of a network which revolves just around that network’s existence. For me, all of these tools represent more: a professional outlet to pass ideas, learn about tools and network about education, and secondly as a way to get to know personally and beyond the classroom what makes my PLN “tick.” Unlike an encyclopedia of links, social networking involves connecting PEOPLE and not just technology.

Twitter was great when it worked. It allowed the leaders in educational technology to keep their “followers” up on new projects and ideas they were working on. Post a URL to a new tool, and it was like Christmas as the viral thing kicked in. In some cases, you got to know those folks a little better. Maybe you “met” their families, saw their pictures, found new blogs you wanted to read. But it was rare that THEY got to know YOU.

If you were sitting on the “top” with thousands of followers and an entrenched friend list, you just couldn’t follow everybody. (Regardless if you agree with the tact of which one responds, it is nearly inhuman to be able to speak about experiences you’re too network-involved in to have.) Moreover, these new “rock stars” have been able to successfully translate their followings over to many services! (I see some on Plurk who signed up, plurked once, never came back but have 100s of followers.)

But how about those followers? Twitter doesn’t necessarily give everyone a voice, and certainly leads to confusion over ones place in the heirarchy. Without extensive friends who re-tweet, your thoughts and ideas require greater momentum to reach critical mass, and then it is likely they will be attributed to the person who re-tweeted your ideas, not you.

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

I don’t know about you, but I consider my Personal Learning Network to be a valuable part of my professional, and now personal life as well. I’ve come to love and appreciate the rock stars like so many of us have. I value many of these beautiful minds even when their exteriors can be rather abrasive. But as much as I can appreciate the steady stream of links and opinions they will shout at me, it is my PLN that I will go back to in order to discuss what works, and how, and where to lay the cornerstone to build something really great.

I like Dean Shareski. I think he’s far more approachable and easy to talk to than many who have managed to rise to the top. But I’m willing to bet that any awareness he has of me is probably pretty far removed, if any. After a few brief stops in Plurk, he posted: Shareski wonders about Plurk. Seems more like a chat room than twitter. Do I need that?

Two weeks later, the rest of us are still discussing it. But not Shareski. At least as of my writing this, that was his last plurk.

I’m an educator. I’m an administrator. I’ve ALMOST completed two decades in public education, longer if you consider my coaching and volunteer work for the better part of the decade before that. I know great teachers don’t stand at a pulpit and preach. Great teachers seed the process to inspire, create and awe. They guide.

I personally believe that there is no greater gift to give our students than to teach them how to communicate. A skill we often delude ourselves we’re good at because we can crank out a lot of blog posts, or deliver the same presentation over and over. But communication is a two way street.

Its not so important if you Twitter or Plurk or Ning, or don’t. Its the level of interaction we have amongst ourselves as we share the minutia of our days as well as the mountains we’ve climbed. Web2.0 is about connecting people, not technology. And those that choose to preach from the pulpit – well, I suppose if life were del.icio.us, I would tag you with “tool” and not “friend” – even if I respect your ideas but you don’t involve me.

It’s something we would all do well to keep in mind while we strive to be “great teachers.”

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One Comment leave one →
  1. August 5, 2008 1:51 am

    Dan,

    While I completely agree with your view of connecting people, I do think there is value in exploring the intent or purpose of a tool. I don’t see many of the so called micro blogging tools as conversational. Twitter is specific about it’s purpose. “What are you doing?”. It does a great job of creating presence and a less than great job of conversation. Plurk is for me a chat room. Not bad, just different. I don’t think of it as a place to have a great conversation.
    It’s like the staff room. You can have some good conversations but rarely great ones because you’re often limited by time.
    This space is where good conversations happen because we aren’t limited to the number of characters.

    Teaching our students about communication is important and certainly combined with context is more complicated that it may seem. When and how to use these tools effectively is something we’re all working at.

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