Saturday, November 28, 2009

RSS & Blogs

After a long semester of either teaching, or being a student (as is the case this year) I always anticipate and look forward to my Christmas holidays. I especially cherish the first few days of “down time” where I can cozy up, relax and read for pleasure. My ideal day would be to laze in the couch that faces the front window, with its spectacular view of the snow-capped mountains, wearing my down booties, drinking endless cups of tea and have my dog fetch whatever magazine, newspaper or book I so desire. The only unfortunate thing with this image is I don’t have a dog. I do however, have RSS!

Reflection on the process of learning about the tool

“RSS” stands for really simple syndication and is a web-based aggregator that collects many different blog or website feeds and stores them in one place for me to read at my convenience. Instead of visiting my favourite websites and blogs each day, the content that is new is delivered to me instead. Kind of like having a well-trained dog bring you all your reading material at your every whim and waiting patiently for you (minus the slobber and drool). Since I already had a Google account for email and my blog site, I decided to use Google Reader as my aggregate. It was incredibly simple to set up. Since I already had an account, all I had to do was add my subscriptions. I did this in the third week of classes this semester, as I hadn’t yet learned the wonders of adding them through and tagging. Instead, I added my 10 subscriptions that we were required to follow by using the “Add Subscription” link and typing in the names of the blogs. It was as easy as clicking the “follow” button when they appeared. Later on, when I started to choose my own sites and blogs to follow, I often just used the RSS icon that was on my favourite website to add it to my list of subscriptions. In the beginning, I added the daily newspapers that I like to read, then my favourite magazines and finally, more educational sites to build my personal learning network. I am now up to 30 subscriptions, and am at the point where I now need to make some folders to organize them into “news”, “education”, and ‘climbing’ categories.

My biggest challenge with this tool was working it into my daily routine. At first, I would check it randomly throughout the day, usually after I’d checked my email account. Now I am in the routine of checking it mid-morning (around 10 am) when I’m taking a tea break and again later in the evening before bed (around 10 pm). I hadn’t noticed this until I looked at the ‘trends’ page and saw my habits clearly displayed in the bright orange bar graph (another neat feature). I also realized that I haven’t ever checked it on a Monday (which I consider my ‘day off’ schoolwork). I am a creature of habit more than I realized! The other feature that I really like is when I log into my home page, it displays the new feeds that I haven’t read yet, so it’s easy to ‘skim’ through them all by scrolling down the expanded view, stopping to read the ones of interest and starring, tagging or emailing them to friends. If I don’t get through all my articles in a given day, it will remember where I left off the next time I log in. It only takes about 20 minutes everyday to read through my customized personal newspaper that Will Richardson refers to as “The Daily Me”. In the last 2 months I’ve read over 540 articles, showing that one of the best benefits of using this tool is being able to read more content from more sources in less time than it would normally take (Richardson 2009).

View at

I tried another neat feature of Google reader this week and that was doing a Google news search for any items mentioned on the CN rail strike. As this strike will heavily affect the town that I live in, I was interested in reading differing viewpoints on what was being published, without having to subscribe to or search every website for all the newspapers across the country. It was remarkable to have up to date information delivered to my reader without actually having to do any work. I have used the email functionality of Google reader to share some of these articles with him, but the one thing I have not yet used my reader for is sharing with a wider audience. Until now I have kept it as my own personalized information aggregate, but I do appreciate that sharing the posts that I find most interesting will help develop a broader personal learning network. This is what I hope to work on in the future.

This blog was started as a requirement for my Web 2.0 course that I am taking as part of my masters program at the University of Alberta. Similar to RSS, I chose to use Blogger since I already had a Google account set up. Each week we’ve been asked to use and experiment with a new Web 2.0 tool, research it and reflect on it’s use in our personal and professional lives. The last 14 weeks have gone by incredibly fast for me. As soon as I felt I’d learnt the basics of one new ‘tool’, it was time to start learning about another. I feel like I had barely enough time to ‘play’ with each tool, read and research their purpose and process the new information before writing about them in my reflections. Luckily, I got to use Blogger every week to post these reflections.

It has taken me the full semester to feel like I know the intricacies of Blogger and at this stage I am much quicker at editing and embedding different types of media. Over the course of this semester I have build a “home base” on this blog with links to all my personal Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Picassa, YouTube, podcasts, voicethread and sites and some of the Blogs and sites I’m following with RSS. Through this blog site I have now interconnected all of these tools.

Diagram: Building a PLN. Sue Waters

RSS and Blogging as tools for my own personal learning

I absolutely love my Google reader. It allows me to stay up to date and discover new information and it simplifies my reading experience at the same time. I love that it brings the content I want to read directly to me and that each morning when I log into it I know it will only be filled with information that interests me (because I subscribed to it). There won’t be any advertising or spam to go along with it – just new content. It allows me to read more content from more sources in far less time than it would normally take me. I simply wouldn’t be able to process as many articles and new items of information as efficiently any other way. I like the ability to tailor my personalized subscriptions so much (ok, I know this could be perceived as lazy) that I actually convinced the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) to add an RSS link to their Mountain Conditions Report two weeks ago so that I could also have that information in my reader each morning. So far I’m their only subscriber, but I suspect that as more skiers, climbers, mountaineers and people who venture out into the backcountry find out about the beauty of RSS feeds this will quickly change. Frankly, I couldn’t think of a better use for RSS than spreading critical safety information that changes throughout the day. I’ve also used the Google News search function to collect information on the current CN strike, from a variety of sources, and it has completely revolutionized the way I look at researching now. It has given me an incredibly powerful tool that will search 24/7 in addition to the other information retrieval strategies I typically use. More importantly however, is the ability that Google reader has to recommend articles to your friends and share them instantly on your public page. When used in conjunction with a personal blog, it has an enormous capacity to build a personalized learning network that is catered to your interests and the ideas that you are passionate about.

My blog has undergone many changes since the start of the semester, and I think it’s going to continue to evolve until I can find a core purpose that I chose to build my posts around and with which I start to build my own personal learning network, or sense of community. When I started this course, I saw the purpose of the blog as being a ‘home base’ from which I could learn about Web 2.0 tools that are new to me and reflect on how I might use them personally and as a teacher and librarian. I thought it would be extremely helpful to document my learning of these tools, so that I would have a reference to look at, should I forget how to implement them when I go back to teaching next year. As we get nearer to the end of this course, I now see the purpose of my blog shifting from a ‘home base’ from which to experiment with new Web 2.0 tools to becoming a means with which I can build a personal learning network. However, I can see that there are some steps that I still need to take in order to attract more people to my blog and build a sense of community.

In developing my blog and trying to find my own ‘voice’ I have tried to follow Rowse’s advice and interject as many personal characteristics as I can by using my own name, sharing personal stories, pictures, videos and using examples from my own life whenever possible. However, it still feels and sounds like my blog posts are far too summative when I write about my ideas and reflections every week after reading the articles and researching other viewpoints. Right now, when I read what I've written, I can see that I haven’t asked enough questions or left space open for discussions to ensue. Part of this is due to having a structured format to follow and knowing that it will be assessed each week for grades. I know now that I need to ask more questions and show that I value readers’ opinions and hopefully draw them into the conversation by asking them to reflect on what I’ve written. My goal is to build a bigger, more interactive and productive comments section as my blog continues to evolve and become a part of the ‘bigger’ conversations that are taking place on the web.

RSS and Blogging as tools for teaching and learning

RSS can be a powerful and flexible tool for reading and sorting information while blogging can be a very effective tool for writing and expressing one’s thoughts.

For educators RSS feeds can simply help making teaching better. If your students are using blogs, you can collect them in your aggregator. This makes it much easier and more effective to scan the posts to make sure the content is appropriate and make comments (Richardson 2009). You could also provide student Weblog feeds to parents, counselors or whoever else is interested in that student’s work (Richardson 2009). It would also be very convenient for teachers to set up a homework blog with an RSS feeds that students could subscribe to so there are no more excuses “I didn’t get the assignment” (Gardner). Another way that teachers can utilize aggregators is to teach students how read in the digital environment and find content that is relevant and useful for them (Parry, as cited in Richardson 2009). Finally it could be used for “reputation monitoring” to make sure that you are aware of what is being said about you in the digital world (Johnson).

For students, RSS feeds will completely change the manner in which they gather information and sort it for its relevance. They can use aggregators to subscribe to news sources for current events or use search feeds to look for information on specific topics. For example, if they search using Google News for any information on “H1N1” it will bring any news about that virus to the aggregator as soon as it’s published. As Richardson comments it will be “like doing research 24/7, only the RSS feed does all the work” (2009).

For educators, writing a blog keeps you current. Posting regularly to a blog encourages you to actively engage in the process of information seeking and current awareness (Schwartz). They can also be an extremely valuable method of developing a community in which to engage in meaningful conversations with others that share the same interests. The can also be a great advocacy tool for exposing issues that are important to teachers and be an effective means of expressing your ideas (Schwartz).

For Librarians and libraries, blogs and RSS feeds can be a very effective marketing and communication tool. They can be used in a variety of ways as suggested by Fichter. First, they can be used to promote library events and programs. Second, they can support the users by giving updates or alerts about new books, CDs or DVDs that have been added to the collection. They could also be used to communicate with the community by posting new book reviews or award lists or by creating a book discussion area to make recommendations to other readers. Blogs and RSS feeds could also be used to support the community by giving information on local events or by streaming important news and information to the community. Blogs could also be used to build new ties with community members by offering blog posts in another language or promoting a newsletter for a specific group of members (Fichter).

Blogs have become a highly effective way to help students become better writers (Jackson). Research has shown that students write more and in greater detail and also take greater care with spelling, grammar and punctuation when they are writing to an authentic audience over the internet (Jackson). Blogs also allow students to share their ideas with a larger community, receive feedback and engage in discussions about their work. Blogs are also a means to collect and archive student work, which they can easily retrieve and use as a means to show personal learning and growth.

Perhaps the most important aspect of RSS and Blogging is the ability for people to create their own Personal Learning Networks. As Will Richardson pointed out in an interview, “it no longer matters where we are in physical space. What matters is that we can find and connect in some way and begin conversations about thing we really want to learn about.” (PLN,YouTube). Essentially, we create our own spaces and learning environments and find our own ‘teachers’ to engage in conversations with that involve the topics that we are interested in and passionate about. I have found this to be particularly true this year, as I am studying in an online format in a fairly remote location. I am also on a leave of absence from my school district this year, and my professional contact with my colleagues is very minimal. I have found that my professional learning has become much more individual and relies solely on the contacts I make through my online discussions.

As an educator, I believe Will Richardson is right when he says that we need to help our students understand and prepare for creating their own Personal Learning Networks. Students need to be taught to read in an online, digital environment and be literate in the uses of hypertext and connected reading and writing environments (Richardson, The Future). Students today need “to be literate at developing their own connections around the world to be life-long learners in the truest sense” (Richardson, The Future). As David Warlick says “This is magical. We are able to not only access flows of information, but actually redirect it, re-combine it, further working the information to make it more valuable and to improve our own capabilities.” There is no doubt in my mind that using RSS feeds and blogs in this manner is how students and teachers alike are going to be learning in the 21st century. See if you agree with me after watching the short video below which summarizes some of the most important characteristics of students today - how they learn, what they need to learn, their goals, hopes, dreams, what their lives will be like, and what kinds of changes they will experience in their lifetime (Wesch).

Fichter, Darlene. (Nov/Dec 2003). Why and How to Use Blogs to Promote Your Library’s Services. Marketing Library Services. Retrieved from:

Gardner, Traci. (June 10, 2008). RSS: Bringing What’s New to You. NCTE Inbox Blog. Retrieved from:

Jackson, Lorrie. (November 13, 2008). Blogging? It’s Elementary My Dear Watson!. Education World. Retrieved from:

Johnson, Doug. (August 27, 2008). Don’t Underestimate the Importance of the Aggregator. Blue Skunk Blog. Retrieved from:

Richardson, Will. (2009). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press

Richardson, Will. (December 7, 2007). Personal Learning Networks. YouTube. Retrieved from:

Richardson, Will. (December 7, 2007). The Future. YouTube. Retrieved from:

Rowse, Darren. (October 28, 2009). The Power of Being Personal on Your Blog. Problogger. Retrieved from:

Schwartz, Greg. (October 8, 2007). Blogs for Libraries. Webjunction. Retrieved from:

Warlick, David. (June 25, 2009). Gathering the Conversation at NECC. 2 Cents Worth Blog. Retrieved from:

Waters, Sue. PLN Yourself Wiki. Retrieved on November 24, 2009 from:

Wesch, Michael. (October 12, 2007). A Vision of Students Today. Youtube. Retrieved from:

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Tweet Tweet: A Twittering Assignment

What is Twitter? It is a free social networking and microblogging service that allows users to send messages called ‘tweets’ that are up to 140 characters in length (Wikipedia). That is the ‘dictionary definition’, but the best description I’ve heard about Twitter was by Charlene Kingston we she said:

“Twitter [is] like a huge cocktail party. It’s like walking through a large party and eavesdropping on conversations as you walk past people. You invited these people to attend your party for a specific reason. However one they arrive, they are free to talk about anything on their mind”

Reflection on the process of learning about the tool
I got invited to my first Twitter ‘party’ almost a year and a half ago. A friend of mine, who was instrumental in getting me to join Facebook, also invited me to join Twitter.
Well, I can agree with the sentiment “The one thing you can say for certain about twitter is that it makes a terrible first impression” (Johnson). When I finally arrived at the ‘party’ is was a lonely, frustrating experience. It was like showing up to the opening of a new club that is hyped as being ‘all the rage’ but when you get there, it’s obvious you don’t know the dress code, none of the music is familiar, no one will converse with me and I can’t even find the bathroom. I felt like I was literally ‘dancing with myself’. I simply didn’t ‘get’ what this was about and decided to leave, feeling like a party-pooper.

Over a year later, I was re-invited back to the club to attend another ‘twitter party’ when I started this course on Web 2.0. After my first experience, I was reluctant to try again, but signed in once again in September (after forgetting my old name and password) and started sending the odd tweet. I still felt like I was standing in the middle of an unfamiliar room randomly babbling inane comments to myself, hoping someone would hear me and respond back. Since we were required to add a dozen or so people, I did so as soon as possible, but felt a little strange following people I didn’t know and ‘lurking’ in on their conversations. The random, short 140 character messages seemed very cryptic with their abbreviations and symbols and I had a hard time understanding what was being said. It felt like there was a radio playing in the background that I wasn’t quite tuned into.

The conversations started getting clearer and the party started to liven up a bit once I listened to Mack Male’s illuminate session from this past summer at U of A and I followed Joanne’s trailfire with its extremely helpful hints on how to get started with Twitter. The symbols stated to make sense (# is a hashtag that helps to categorize messages, RT stands for ‘retweet’, @username allows messages to be sent directly to another user). I also learned how to maximize the 140 character limit by shortening URL codes using the services tinyurl, and

I realized that if I wanted to have more fun at this party, I was going to need to invite more people and try to entice others to follow me as well. I tried to update my settings page, by adding a photo of myself. The first three photos I tried were all too large, even when I attempted to resize them. I got very frustrated and decided to just change the design of my background instead. On Mack Male’s advice, I also decided to check out to find out if anyone in my tiny town (population 3, 000) were also on twitter. I got frustrated again when I realized I didn’t have the Adobe AIR version 1.5 to support it and simply didn’t have the patience to download yet another program. Instead, I tried a quicker approach of searching using the hashtag #Jasper to see what was being said around town. Sadly, it was all advertisements from local hotels. (I’m not sure what I expected really, there is only 1 main road through town, and elk walk about freely downtown – it’s not exactly a thriving metropolis!). Since none of my personal friends (other than the initial person who invited me to join) is using Twitter currently, I tried twitter’s ‘yellow pages directory’ next to look for people with common interests. I found 444 people who listed rock climbing as their favourite activity and started following a few. I also checked out the Twitter4Teachers Wiki that Joyce Valenza recommended, which was created to help educators find other educators that teach in the same content area. I found a few interesting people to follow there as well.

The busier the party started to get, the more overwhelmed I started to feel about the hundreds of messages I was receiving. It was “like being at a party and hearing every conversation talking place”, exactly as Steve Hargadon described. I needed help organizing these messages into something that was manageable for me to follow, and I was finding the Twitter website very inefficient. I decided to download “Twitterlicious” which is a much smaller pop up screen that hides in the system tray when it’s not needed. It also displays the status of the messages, so I know which tweets are new and which ones I’ve missed.

I am now just starting to feel like this party could turn out to be very interesting! I also am starting to feel like my tweets are progressing from inane babble and useless updates on my daily routine to more purposeful messages with pass-along value. I still feel like I need to work on my social etiquette and personal ‘style’ and continue to build my lists of people I follow and who are also following me.

Twitter as a tool for my own personal learning
When I first started using Twitter, I just didn’t ‘get’ it. It appeared to be senseless babble in an overcrowded room and I couldn’t understand how to make sense of it all. With all of the tools that have been introduced to us this semester, Twitter is the one that I have struggled with the most. It may have something to do with my first negative experience, but it could just be that I am currently very happy using the social networking tools that I currently use (mostly Facebook) and didn’t see the need for adding more conversations into my life. However, as Charles Arthur points out “As with any other social network, [it is] whatever you make of it”. Have spent more time using Twitter and reading about it, I can now understand and see its incredible potential for spreading “as it happens” news, asking questions of colleagues and peers, following people or topics you’re interested in, passing on interesting things to read, observations about life or linking it to advertise my new blog posts.

I’ve come to realize that the quality of Twitter experience depends entirely on who I follow and what my personal goal is in using this social networking tool. In the beginning, I only added friends that I knew, figuring it was a simple social networking tool that would allow me to talk with friends and family. Then I began to follow people in the entertainment industry, and comedians to get my daily laugh. Once I realized how incredibly useful it can be to find current news and information, I added several media outlets as well like NY Times, Life and the Huffington Post to get my daily news fix. Finally, I have added several educational journals and experts in the field of technology and education to keep me updated on the trending information in the field of education. It’s incredibly interesting and helpful to hear the latest ideas and conversations that are happening in this field. I’ve tried to keep the list of people I follow fairly broad in variety, but manageable in number so I still have enough time to read the posts and respond. Currently, I have more people I’m following than followers, so I’m listening more than speaking right now and not fully utilizing the whole resource to the best of its (and my) ability. As Phil Bradley comments “Twitter is a resource to encourage discourse, to share ideas back and forth”. To become a more active participant is one of my goals over the next few months.

The other unique ability that Twitter offers that is a great benefit over the other social networks is that it can be accessed on a mobile phone or other devices, making it computer or web free. I have not yet explored this option yet, as my cell phone is exceptionally old, but my boyfriend purchased a new phone yesterday, and I can’t wait to try!

Twitter as a tool for teaching and learning
Although Twitter is currently blocked at our school, I can see the potential for its use in the classroom. I would encourage many of my science students to follow current news stories and real-time updates of space exploration with NASA’s astronauts or participate in events like NASA's Space Station crew tweetup that occurred on October 21, 2009 (Wikipedia). To connect with NASA on social networking sites try this link: . Social studies teachers could use it to follow current events and “as it happens” news items like the 2008 Mumbai attacks, or Public Health Department updates on H1N1 flu. Language teachers could use it as a hands-on activity for students to practice succinct writing (without abbreviations!) and converse in a second language. It could also be used as an alternative means for students to communicate their ideas and opinions.

Dr. Monica Rankin, a history Professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, has her students ‘tweeting’ in class as a means of expressing their views and opinions. It is a large class of 90 students, and this has been a very productive means of sharing a lot of information very quickly. The restriction of 140 characters forces the students to focus their messages on a central point that the teaching assistants collect, and respond to at a later time. The other benefits noted by the students are that this collection of comments can be used as a study guide later and they can follow the conversation remotely if they are not physically in class that day (YouTube).

As a teacher, there are many ways that I could see Twitter benefiting my practice. It allows for many open conversations and could be treated as a ‘virtual staffroom’ where teachers can access in seconds a stream of links, ideas, opinions, and resources from a hand-picked selection of global professionals (Walker). It could also allow me to get information on conferences, or even ‘attend’ them remotely (College@Home). Twitter could also be a great brainstorming tool since it is ideal for sharing ideas and getting instant feedback. You can gather a huge range of ideas and constructive criticism very quickly (Walker). Using Twitter could also help me stay on top of the latest technologies as well as the latest news and best practices from other professional in the field of education. Finally, I could also see using it as a means of reflecting on my own teaching practice. “Teachers on Twitter share these reflections and both support and challenge each other” (Walker).

As a librarian, there is a multitude of ways that I could use Twitter to promote what is happening in the library. It could be used to produce updates on newsletters, reviews on new books, information on author visits, winners of contests, post updates on fundraising activities or update the calendar of events (Scott). It could also be used to highlight general information about opening and closing times, give information on staff, link to images of the library, share best practices with other libraries, take feeds from BBC, CNN or other news alerting services or raise awareness of new resources the library has to offer (Bradley). The possibilities are seemingly endless.

Having tried Twitter for the second time this semester, I am starting to realize the potential it has in my personal and professional life. I not only recommend its use, but am starting to advocate for my friends and colleagues to use it as well. However, as Phil Bradley comments “the usual Web 2.0 caveat remains in force – if you don’t see a value in it, don’t use it, and come back in 6 months to try again”. I’m certainly glad that I did come back to enjoy the party.


Bradley, Phil. (January 29, 2009). Using Twitter in Libraries. Retrieved from:

College@Home. (May 27, 2008). Twitter for Librarians: The Ultimate Guide. Retrieved from:

Hargadon, Steve. (February 2009). Microblogging: It’s Not Just Twitter. School Library Journal. Vol. 55 Iss. 2 page 15. Rerieved from:

Johnson, Steven. (June 5, 2009). How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live. Time. Retreived from:,8599,1902604-000.htm

Kingston, Charlene. (April 2009). Twitter for Beginners. Crow Communications Ebook. Retrieved from:

Male, Mack D. (March 9, 2009). Twitter 101. Retrieved from:

Scott, Jeff. (April 29, 2007). Twitter Update or How I was Able to Exploit the
Latest Social Networking Site Without Really Trying. Gather No Dust: Libraries, Management & Technology. Retrieved from:

YouTube. (May 2, 2009). The Twitter Experiment – UT Dallas. Retrieved from:

Valenza, Joyce. (March 1, 2009). Meet Mr. Tweet and More on Applying the App. School Library Journal. Retrieved from:

Walker, Laura. (April 16, 2009). Nine Reasons to Twitter in Schools. Tech & Learning. Retrieved from:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Social Networking Assignment

The best costume I saw this year at Halloween was, hands down, a Facebook page. Yup, it wasn’t that fancy to look at, but it was a lot of fun for everyone at the party. A young man was dressed in laminated white Bristol board sheets, with a hole cut out for his head, where one’s profile picture is normally found. Underneath was his hometown, his birth date and his status (single, of course). He had included photos of his friends below that and had reserved the right side of the page as his ‘wall’. He keep updating his ‘status’ as the evening went on with a whiteboard marker that was hanging by a string, and partygoers were having fun writing messages all over his ‘wall’ with it as well. The costume kept changing and evolving all evening. Periodically, he would reach into the costume and pull out a stuffed sheep, or other miscellaneous item to throw at someone, or walk around ‘poking’ people. It was by far the best costume at the party, not because it was elaborate or aesthetically pleasing to look at, but because it was interactive and had, by the end of the evening, reached everyone in the room. He had very effectively created a large group of new friends and acquaintances by the end of the evening and that is the true purpose of social networking.

Reflection on the process of learning about the tool

I have long been an avid user of Facebook since I signed up 2 ½ years ago in June 2007. I was invited by two friends via email to join, and did so, not really understanding what Facebook was all about or what I was getting into. The idea of being able to ‘chat’ informally and the ability to post pictures easily were the two deciding factors in joining this social network. Over the past few years, I have slowly gone through various stages and emotions with this particular tool. In the beginning, I readily accepted any and all ‘friend requests’ that I got. However, my daily updates became so ridiculously long, I had to do some serious ‘culling’ a year ago. Honestly, I had no interest in keeping in touch with old grade school friends that I hadn’t talked to in 20 years, let alone be aware of every time they frequently updated their status with “I’m going to pour another cup of coffee” or “I have to change a diaper”. The old school pictures that they posted were a giggle at first, but I can easily do without those reminders of my ‘awkward’ years. I have tried to limit my number of friends to those people who are most important in my life and whom I would happily meet for a cup of coffee given the opportunity. I have also tried to limit the number of applications that I have on Facebook, since I went through a phase early on that I fondly refer to as the ‘crackbook’ phase. When I was playing ‘scrabulous’, I became so addicted that I suspect my real-life friends were about to stage an intervention. I am now at the stage where I check it once a day, along with my email. I think I have found a happy (and healthier!) balance.

The other social networking that I was introduced to last year was the “Ning”. It is also an online social network platform, but it’s different from Facebook in that it gives members the ability to customize the features to meet the needs of a specific group of people (Gardner). The teachers in my school district (Sea to Sky) started a Ning ( to provide better opportunities for us to discuss issues, and share resources. I have created my profile page, shared photos and taken part in a few discussions, but I must admit that I haven’t yet used it to its full potential, as I took a leave of absence shortly after joining to begin my Masters. The other Ning that I just joined this semester is Joyce Valenza’s Teacher Librarian Ning ( which looks like an amazing place to share resources, read interesting and informative blogs, converse about ideas in the discussion forum, and keep updated on relevant events taking place. I just joined the group for High School Teacher-Librarians that was started by Joyce Valenza herself, and am excited to be a part of and learn from this knowledgeable community of colleagues over the next few months.

Social Networking as a tool for my own personal learning

Using Facebook and Nings as a platform to connect with friends and colleagues, has been incredibly useful and helpful to me both personally and professionally. In fact, Facebook has now replaced email as my preferred method of communication with friends and family members. I like the ‘Live News Feed’ that makes it easy for me to see what my friends are doing at a glance, and the reminders that I get to keep me informed of friends’ birthdays and upcoming events. I have used the ‘groups’ function on several occasions to plan and invite students and community members to fundraising events for our school and on a smaller scale, plan birthday parties and potluck dinners. It has given me the ability to easily share photos, videos and embed other interesting links as well as view my friends’ and to learn from their interests and musical tastes.

The two Nings that I have joined have helped me professionally as well. As the sole librarian at our school, with limited time allotted for my position, I was really feeling like I was working in isolation and didn’t have any colleagues to collaborate with regularly. These two social network ‘Nings’ have now given me a community to connect with. There are over 3, 800 members in Valenza’s Ning, and 45 different ‘groups’ to join, representing various interests such as: advocacy, Web 2.0 in the library world, visiting authors and promoting Young Adult literacy in schools. There are 319 members in the ‘High School’ group that I’ve signed up for, and so far some of the topics being talked about on the discussion forum include: discipline, online reviews, data tracking, organizational structure, support for new Teacher-Librarians and “Battle of the Books” competitions. I now have a huge support network of colleagues with whom I can ask questions, discuss topics of interest and share resources with. What a wonderful feeling that is!

In one of our group discussions, earlier in this course, we talked about teachers, the public’s perception of our profession and our public online ‘personas’. Through that discussion, I came to realize that we work in a profession that keeps us constantly in the public eye, and are often held to a higher standard of behaviour than the general public whether we are on or off the job. One thing that became apparent to me in our discussion is that since I don’t yet have a family or children to protect, I may be a little less reserved than some of my colleagues about what I post on social networking sites. I am also not in a position of administrative authority and don’t need to make disciplinary decisions that may be controversial or contentious to the general public. I also live and work in a very small town and it is unavoidable running into students and/or parents frequently and most often, at inconvenient times and it is difficult to avoid public scrutiny. Living where I do, I actually don’t feel like there is a big difference between my public and private lives. However, this discussion was a lesson, and ‘reminder’ to me to always remember to think critically about what we add to ‘personalize’ our spaces and whether or not it will be interpreted in the same manner as we intended when we placed it there, knowing that once added, it is part of the public domain.

Social Networking as a tool for teaching and learning

As terrific as social networking sites are for professional development for teachers, there are quite a few challenges presented by social networking sites, which have prompted many schools to block them. In addition to them being an, addictive ‘time suck’ as I found it to be on ‘scrabulous’, more serious issues have arisen. Cyberbullying of other students and of teachers has been the most high profile of the problems (Kuehn). In his article Renegotiating School Boundaries in the Age of Social Networking Kuehn summarizes the dilemma that is facing school administrators and officials when it comes to these social networking sites:

“The world of online social networking has developed so rapidly that conventions and boundaries have not evolved quickly enough to help everyone, but especially students and teachers, find the zone that provides both comfort and self-protection. School officials have a difficult time, in the new communications environment, knowing what tools they have to deal with conflicts that arise from social networking.”

As a result, many school boards have simply blocked all social sites. However, Stephen Abram makes a good point when he states that the “schools that block social sites rather than taking advantage of a teachable moment are missing something”. Doug Johnson agrees with this sentiment, stating in his ‘Blue Skunk Blog’ that “schools DO need to teach safety and privacy with all social networking tools. If we don’t, who will?” He has a very valid point here. Blocking Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites is not going to stop students from using them on their own time. WHEN they use them is not as crucial as HOW they use them, as this will have an impact on the school environment and students’ relationships regardless of when they access these sites. This is especially true if they are using it as a means to ruin a peer’s reputation or for cyberbullying. These events will undoubtedly affect the school regardless if they are posted from home. Teaching students how to be safe, respectful, and using good ‘ol fashioned manners in a contemporary format is extremely important. I would encourage every teacher to show the following humorous YouTube video called Facebook manners and you!

The other serious security concern that I have with using Social Networks in the school environment is the manner that data is collected and shared about you, often without your knowledge. It is a bit daunting to know that the information we post about ourselves is part of a public domain that can be viewed by virtually anyone, is shared widely and without our being totally aware of who has access to it and can be retrieved even after it’s been modified or removed (Stoddart). However, I think that this presents another “teachable moment” with students about safety and respect. I believe it’s critically important to make them more aware of what happens to the information that they ‘put out there’ for the world to see. Here is another video, developed by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada that I would recommend teachers show their students as well regarding this issue.

As much as I love using Facebook, I became more aware of security and personal image issues related to using online social networks in our profession when I received my TC magazine from the BC College of Teachers last winter. In it was an article called ‘Facebook 101’ advising teachers and administrators to avoid using social networking sites. I was quite offended by this pronouncement not only because I felt that it undermined my professional autonomy to make my own qualified decisions regulating what I post, but I felt its blanket statement was not educationally sound. In Kyröläinen’s master’s thesis, he found the “existence of [a] sense of community in the Web environment, that it is not that far from the sense of community in real social environments”. When I had a discussion last year with one of my classes on why I would not add them as ‘Facebook friends’, it became apparent that many of them just wanted to see pictures of my twin sister and family members and I was more than happy to share selected photos with them. This made me realize the importance for students to be connected to their teachers as well as their peers whether it’s part of a virtual or real community. I truly believe that having a personal connection and building relationships with my students helps me be a much more effective teacher.

I agree wholeheartedly with Kuehn’s standpoint that there are too many educational benefits to using social networking sites and other web spaces to ignore or abandon them. Instead a “balance is key” (Kuehn). But what is that balance? For me the “Ning’s the thing” (Gardner). It allows for the same formation of an online, social network, but can be closely monitored by the teacher. Unlike Facebook, it allows for better control and management by the teacher. As Gardner outlined in her blog, Nings have the following safety features:
The teacher has the control to
• setup the Ning as private and open only to invited members;
• approve people before they join;
• approve all photos or videos before they are posted;
• delete any inappropriate groups or discussions
• ban members if necessary
• reverse any decisions with a simple click

So what are the potential uses and benefits of a school-developed Ning? Some of the ideas that are suggested by (Gardner) are:
• Set up discussion forums on literature circles or peer writing groups
• Create groups based on student interests like book clubs, mountain biking clubs or chess clubs etc.
• Use it as an upload alternative for podcasts, videos or photos
• Set up online journals or reading logs
• Post information for students and their families in a shared space

As contentious as social networking sites can be in the school environment, I think it’s important to teach our students how to use them safely, respectfully and for their intended purpose of communicating ideas and making connections with others. As Lee Lefever commented in his Common Craft video ( “networks get things done”. It allows you to see the connections network that is hidden in the real world. It is a new means to find jobs, new friends and even partners. As for the fellow in the Facebook costume? His was the ultimate in socially interactive costumes. He not only made a whole new group of friends and acquaintances- his status was no longer ‘single’ by the end of the evening! Mission accomplished.


BC College of Teachers. (2007). “Facebook 101.” TC Magazine. Retrieved from

Kuehn, Larry. “Renegotiating School Boundaries in the Age of Social Networking.” Our Schools / Ourselves. Retrieved from

Kyröläinen, Satu Suvikki. (2001) Sense of Community in Web Environments. Master’s Thesis. Department of Psychology, University of Helsinki. Retrieved from

Lefever, Lee. Social Networking in Plain English. Common Craft. Retrieved from:

Stoddart, Jennifer. (2007) “Privacy and Social Networks”. Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Retrieved from

Gardner, Traci. (September 3, 2008). Social Networking: The Ning’s the Thing. National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Inbox Blog. Retrieved from: