Tag Archives: blogs

Thank You, FaceFriends (or, Why I Love Social Media)

First, a bit of catch-up… I’ve been off the blog for a while. A few things have happened in my life since the last time I blogged here:

  • I started a new job as Administrator of Educational Technology in Waltham, MA
  • I bought a house in Newton, MA, and moved into it
  • I had a baby girl

Needless to say, life has been a little distracting, but one of my many goals for the new year is to make time for one of the most important things in my life — my writing — which has taken a backseat to work, family, and running over the past year and a half or so. With a few papers that need to be revised, a book on digital PD that’s been slowly creating itself in my imagination, and a grant project that’s practically begging for some collaborative writing, I need to get my act together. So here’s a promise: I’ll be here more often this year.


Now, for today’s topic: a thank you to my Facebook Friends and a bit of reflection on the role of social media in my (and our) lives. I recently celebrated my 31st birthday. It was a special birthday, in that it was my first birthday as Mommy. It was a completely unspecial birthday, in that nobody really cares that much about the number 31, nothing particularly exciting happened, and I was really too exhausted to celebrate in any way other than getting a few more hours of sleep.

But something struck me on that 6th day of February as I nursed my daughter, talked to my husband, and dinked around on my smartphone: I know the most incredible and amazing people. As they chimed in to wish me a happy birthday on my Facebook wall — a social media tradition I’ve never thought about much — I couldn’t help but notice the diversity of these people and reflect on the experiences that brought them into my lives. My FaceFriends live all over the country — no, all over the world — and I am able to continue knowing them because of social media. This makes my life richer, fuller, and more exciting. This makes me an empathetic human who understands many different walks of life, in different places, through different lenses.

My partner and I are now living in our fourth state since we started dating back in 2002. At each step of my career, I have met incredible people. I have tailgated on muddy, grassy fields at 7am with them. I have established conference traditions that involve 5am runs in new places with them. I have seen some of them only once every other year, others I haven’t seen in nearly a decade, but their lives and experiences are important to me. We swap war stories, we share career wins, and we celebrate life’s milestones together. Sure, we post and comment, but we also message, text, and playdate with our puppies and, now that I have one, our babies.

Many have argued that social media renders relationships “meaningless,” or worse, that social media actually undermines human relationships. See here. Or here. Or here! Or here. Research from my alma mater has even shown that social media can make us “unhappy” (there is also research to counter this argument). These narratives posit that because of social media, we have fewer and less personal face-to-face interactions, we empathize less, and we become obsessed with a “perfect” version of life based on others’ curated social media personas. I’m not here to argue that these perspectives, some of them based on solid research, are false. I’m here to offer an counter-narrative.

Those of you who know my research know that I am particularly obsessed with social ties, what they represent, and how they influence our actions. My dissertation focused on how teachers’ colleagues, friends, and social learning impacted their teaching. As part of this research, I statistically examined not only teachers’ face-to-face relationships, but also their digital ones. This research and my personal experiences have led me to believe that social media, though certainly fraught with problematic issues related to cyberbullying (especially for today’s youth), can be a force of good in this world. Technological deterministic views would have us believe that social media is making us less empathetic and more detached. I take a more constructivist view, believing technology is what we make it (especially considering we made it to begin with).

As I have moved from state to state juggling work, school, and social, I have sometimes struggled to make and keep human connections. We live in such a mobile society, and my life with my partner is an excellent example of just how mobile, and in some cases “uprooted,” we have become. We have never lived in one place for more than four years. We have never really felt “settled.” We’re hoping to stay put this time, but who knows where life will take us? We have followed our careers across state lines and, ultimately, across the country. My social media life has allowed many of my connections to remain stable, and has even fostered new face-to-face connections. Here are just a few examples of people with whom I have digital/face-to-face relationships that social media has either started or kept intact:

  • The woman who taught me to love English
  • The woman who taught me to teach English
  • The new mom down the street
  • A bunch of new moms in my town
  • My running friend from north shore
  • My running friends from Indiana
  • My teacher friends in Michigan
  • My teacher friends in Indiana
  • My college friends
  • My former high school students, who are now doing things like getting married and having kids (what?!)
  • My professor friends in Ohio, Arkansas, Indiana… really all over the place
  • My family in Illinois, Connecticut, California, Ireland, Michigan… really all over the place

…you get the idea.

Many of these relationships would have fizzled, or never existed, without social media. The people I know and keep in touch with online hail from Connecticut, New York, Tennessee, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, California, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Florida, and Ohio. They are teachers, professors, students, parents, researchers, and administrators. Some of them, I have only met once — some of them are my best friends in the world. Some of them went to high school with me, and some of them I met last week. Some are coworkers, some are cothinkers, some are cowriters, and some fill many of these roles.

A few times, people have asked me why I display so much of my life on social media. Certainly, I understand why many people keep quiet. There is evidence that posting about your vacation on social media increases your risk of being robbed, for example. Others simply believe that one’s family life should be very private, not for the eyes of friends who wouldn’t otherwise participate in your day-to-day life. I not only understand these perspectives, I agree with them. The “me” that’s on Facebook is only “part” of me, not the whole me. I even curate for particular audiences: some only see the “professional me,” others see the “family me.” The pictures I do post of my family show our joyous moments, because I believe in spreading joy. They show our raw moments, because I also believe in #keepinitreal. They document our story, but only a shred of it. In and of themselves, my posts about my life and my interactions with friends in comment threads, while representations of relationships, rarely constitute the entirety of my social ties with an individual. These posts and comments are glimmers of relationships that have history, that mean more to me than a passing comment on social media or a photo of my dog. My social media self keeps up with my not-so-little-anymore cousins in Illinois, shares pictures of my daughter with her grandparents in a single click, and engages in academic discussions with my friends from graduate school.

Certainly, my anecdotal account is just that. It fails to represent the very tragic things that happen on social media. Teens and adults alike, and increasingly younger children, struggle with being tormented and sometimes are, unwittingly or knowingly, tormenters of others in spaces that feel falsely “anonymous” or safe. Social media can be used to harm one’s self-esteem, one’s public image, even one’s entire life. I won’t rehash these stories here — many of my readers are educators, and could tell ten of their own stories. Others of you have undoubtedly heard more than your fair share of these narratives on the news.

I offer my counter-narrative because I believe it shows how purposeful use of social media — use that spreads positive messages, that shares carefully-chosen moments with curated audiences, and that uses social digital spaces to bolster, not replace, “real” relationships, can be powerful (even beneficial) to our lives and the development of our social intelligence. I also believe this narrative has implications for today’s youth, who rarely hear such narratives. Instead, they hear horror stories about how social media sharing can harm, hurt, or humiliate them. They hear much about how not to use social media, and little about how to use it as productive members of a digital and global society.

So what if we changed the narrative?

Thanks, FaceFriends, for shaping mine.

Capacity and Creativity

It has been over two months since I’ve written here, and I have nobody to blame but myself. While I could point at a thousand “reasons why” I haven’t been blogging — among them the fact that I am blogging, just on other blogs — they are excuses. To be honest, I haven’t had the mental or emotional energy to think reflective thoughts over the past few months. At least not reflective thoughts that I deemed cohesive enough to turn into a blog post.

Then I had my first “official meeting” with my writing group the other day, and was reminded how important writing here is for moving my work and thinking forward. One of my writing buddies noted that when it comes to her dissertation, she returns to it each and every day, even if that only means writing a few sentences or doing a few minutes of analysis. It inspired me to be more purposeful about making the time to write something down, even if it lacks cohesion and coherence. 

For me, such writing has often taken place here or in other online spaces, where I publicly process my thinking in order to make visible the messiness that is the work of teaching, learning, and composing. So, while I likely won’t be able to leave a mark each and every day (I don’t know how she does it!), I can at least re-dedicate myself to finding the time and place for doing some writing, even if the thoughts are messy and incomplete. And today, I have some messy and incomplete thoughts about building capacity while leaving room for creativity.

Building Capacity…

I am so tired of this phrase. Education these days feels like it’s all about building capacity as resources dwindle. At the same time that articles in the popular media and from the DOE argue that teachers need more support, not less, much of the focus these days seems to be on doing more with less. Less time for teachers to plan, learn, and collaborate, because they have more kids in their classes and more demands on their time than ever before. Less money for district programs to fund the purchase of devices, the hiring of more teachers and support staff, or the facilitation of engaging and effective professional development.

Our response? We need to build capacity. And what builds capacity like moving things online? After all, I can reach a lot more readers a lot faster with this blog post, which I can Tweet out, share on Facebook, or link to in an email, than I could with a print text. Similarly, one can reach more learners in a MOOC than in a face-to-face workshop. When working under the physical limitations of things like space, place, and the very reality of getting one’s body from one point to another (which trust me, is not so easy in Boston right now, what with all this snow piled up around us), it’s much easier to invite people to view a live Google Hangout than it is to ask them to schlep across the city at the end of a long school day.

Is it important that we “build capacity?” Certainly. We need to be able to reach more teachers with more resources so that they can access those resources anywhere, anytime, from any device. We need to supply them with the physical means to access these resources, too (which is why our district provides teachers with laptops). We need to support them in building their digital literacies, so that they can in turn translate those literate practices into their classroom pedagogies. Part of this involves building capacity, extending our reach, and re-thinking how we design digital and physical spaces for learning. Which brings me to the question that’s plaguing me tonight: how do we build capacity without losing sight of the very time-consuming, non-linear, inefficient nature of creativity?

…While Fostering Creativity

I have been back in K12 education for about 5 months now, designing digital learning resources for teachers and students, building online courses for teachers and school leaders, and working with a team that wants to think deeply — and help teachers think deeply — about what it means to teach in the digital age, preparing students for colleges and workplaces that do not yet exist. More than once in those 5 months, I have found myself frenzied, overwhelmed, sometimes frustrated, and unable to articulate why, exactly.

I’m okay with all of those feelings (if I weren’t okay with frenzy and frustration, I never would have made it through a PhD program), but I’m not okay with not being able to reflect on or pinpoint what is causing them.

Chances are, these tensions stem from multiple sources — not least among them a major move across the country (I’ve never done well with major life or career transitions). However, I think some of my “frenzy” and a bit of my “frustration” lies in the space between my desire to constantly be creative while also being productive, which is sort of at the heart of “capacity-building.”

<aside>

In the second year of my PhD program, I joined what would later be called “The E-book Project that Wouldn’t Die.” Our team had grand visions for a set of e-books on multiple topics, an offshoot of a larger book series for practitioners on the Common Core that we had written the previous year. These e-books were going to be epic. epic.

Our vision for them included the development of multimodal texts that included annotated podcasts of kids reading aloud, video clips of teachers talking about their practice, and interactive tasks and invitations to engage with other educators. And the ultimate e-book (yes, one e-book) that we created actually included all of these things.

But it took us 3 years to videotape, clip, and caption the interviews, to thematically code them to come up with the book’s structure, to clip and annotate the podcasts, to integrate all of this media into our written text and design the layout, to figure out what platform to build the book within (we ultimately outsourced this), to complete the editing and revision on a collaborative team of busy graduate students, and to finally — finally — publish the damn e-book.

</aside>

One of the luxuries the academy afforded me — and my team of e-book compadres — was the space to be messily creative, to get sidetracked, to do it wrong five times before doing it right, then to decide that we actually did it right the third time.

I love designing digital content. There is something thrilling to me about hitting the “publish” button, about sharing a digital resource I’ve created, about designing a course website, social network, or space for learning and collaboration (sometimes all at once!). Part of why I love creating digital content is because I get to not only teach, but design. I love to make, create, then share and disseminate. It thrills me.

But dammit if it isn’t hard. And time consuming. And often, quite frustrating. And inefficient. 

Take this blog post, for example. I have been composing it for two hours (so far) while also doing various household tasks. I have been designing it in anticipation of a reader’s eyes, thinking about how my argument evolves and where my paragraphs break, what my sections will be and how they will unfold for my reader. I’m not even integrating hyperlinks and images, as I normally might, because my goal here is to reflect. I am, however, thinking about the accessibility of my post for diverse readers, whether my musings will make sense, whether they will prove coherent enough for this space, for this moment. It’s taking so much longer than I thought it would. 

And therein lies the tension. The digital world holds such promise to build capacity and creativity, all at once. The interwebs give us a magical, dangerous, terrifying, beautiful space in which we can create, connect, compose, publish, explore, and interact. Where we can be messy in affinity spaces of our peers who provide feedback and help us push our craft forward, or where we can present our most polished versions of ourselves in online CVs and portfolios.

But for me, at least lately, my desire to take the time to be creative, meandering through a project for as long as it takes to do it well, comes into dissonant contact with my desire to reach more teachers, more quickly, with more learning opportunities and resources. The immediacy of this work — its relevance to teachers and students right now — was the very thing that drew me to it. And yet, I wonder, as we search for more ways to build capacity in education, do we sometimes lose sight of the inefficiency, the outright disastrous mess, the productive but capacity-defying reality, that is creative design?

And to take this line of questioning a step further — what does it mean for teachers, who design learning opportunities and resources for students, that the modern rhetoric of K-12 education revolves around concepts like efficiency, productivity, and capacity? I am consistently searching for ways to encourage teachers to be designers who take risks in their planning and practice as they engage in the very creative work of teaching our young people. Do they share my feelings of frenzy and frustration? Is there a balance to be struck between capacity and creativity? What does that balance look like?

And with those questions, I leave this very inefficient, messy, but entirely #worthit blog post to the wandering eyes of the interwebs.

Why I’m Not Writing

Scratch that, I am writing: this counts, right?

drawing of person face-down on table with sleep "z's" above their headMy plan for tonight was well-hashed. I was going to leave work around 4 and head straight home, knowing full well I’d beat my spousal unit home by a couple hours. I was going to carve out some time to write. And by write, I mean work on an article that received a revise (handily) and resubmit about a month ago, before conference season blew up my calendar (#NCTE14 and #LRA14 were pretty epically worth it, though).

By the time I had gotten off of the train and sprinted to my bus (I made it… barely), I was ready to fall asleep in the seat. There’s something weirdly calming about looking out a bus window on a cold, dark night that makes me comfortably drowsy. By the time I got home and took the pup out for a walk in the freezing cold wind, I was ready for a pot of chamomile tea. By the time I made the tea and sat in my overstuffed recliner, my phone had alerted me to 13 new emails. By the time I sorted through emails, my tea was half gone and my muscles were becoming one with the chair. I opened up the article, tweaked a few sentences, and tried to wrap my head around a shift in my theoretical framework before I gave up and decided to write about why I simply. can’t. write. right now.

To be clear, I’m not complaining. After a somewhat taxing end to last week, today was optimistically productive. Collaborations are rolling, people are communicating well with one another, and I’m excited about the work that promises to fill every minute I’ll let it. So before I launch into my reflections on how my life simply isn’t allowing me to write right now, let me just say: the choice to work in a K-12 institution post-PhD is not one I regret. 

<aside>

When I was first considering taking a job in K-12, I met with one of my mentors at my university: someone who knows me well and whose opinion I trust. She was, to say the least, a little surprised… until that moment, I had always voiced wanting a job at a research institution. But at the same time, she was not surprised. She knows me well, and knows how much I enjoy working directly with educators.

She provided me with three warnings related to taking a job in K-12, one of which I forgot. Here are the two I remember, because they’ve proven true: (1) Your time will not be as flexible, and (2) It is hard for such institutions to make the space for you to write and research.

The flexible time thing doesn’t bother me, because I thrive on a busy routine. The research and writing time thing, on the other hand, is proving a bit of a struggle. 

</aside>

Why the struggle to write today? To some extent it’s about being tired at the end of a long day, about there never being enough hours for all the things, and about the fact that I should know better than to check email before I sit down to write. However, it also has to do with a number of other things:

  1. I’m still processing the defense. Even though revisions are submitted and accepted and I officially receive my degree on Sunday, I’m still thinking through the comments and conversation that took place in late October as a room full of really smart scholars helped me further complicate and contemplate my work. I need time to think more about their ideas and comments before I can launch meaningfully into the revisions of the article I’m working on.
  2. I’m still in conference mode. “Conference mode” looks like building and fostering collaborations — thinking ahead to the next project, the next study, the next connection. In the past three weeks, I have developed ideas for future conferences, outlined a few new papers in my head, and even planted the seed for a book (it. will. happen. I don’t know when, but it will.) “Conference mode” makes me look forward, which is making this article-derived-from-the-diss a little mind-numbing at the moment.
  3. Writing is hard. This is obvious, right? No. No it’s not. Good writers make it look easy, but for realsies, peeps, writing is hard. Writing articles is really hard. Revision is when writing gets real, which means revising articles is really, really, really hard. And as you can probably tell from my use of super descriptive adverbs like “really,” I’m feeling particularly articulate tonight (*snerk*). Which brings me to my last point:
  4. Forcing it is futile. Sometimes you’re in the mood to think deep theoretical thoughts, to synthesize those thoughts with concrete data, to process the feedback from anonymous reviewer person who wrote you another article’s worth of comments. And sometimes you’re just not. And guess what? It has nothing to do with how awake you are (not very), how much tea you brewed (three cups), how many miles you ran that morning (none), how many busses you rode today (two), or how many inspiring people you talked to today (five)… it just ain’t happenin’. If there’s one thing that writing that book-shaped thing called a dissertation taught me, it’s that forcing it is entirely futile.

So that’s why I’m not writing. Er, why I’m writing about why I’m not writing. I will need to find ways to work this whole writing thing into my new normal one way or another — even on days when it’s a struggle. Advice, anyone? Tweet me (@lizhoman): how do you make writing happen when, in the words of one of my mentors at #LRA14, “your time is not yours?”

Connected Educator Month: A Post Series

Mark your Calendars!

October is Connected Educator Month! I know you just ran over to your calendar (or, perhaps more appropriately, pulled up your Google Calendar) and excitedly marked the first day of October with a giant orange circle. I mean… this is really exciting stuff, right?!

In honor of #CE14, I’m going to do a post series here on Gone Digital exploring digital professional engagement and the use of social media (both as a professional and in the classroom, with students). This is something that has been on my mind over the past few years, as I became twitterate (twitter literate) and developed different digital practices and identities on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn, and eventually (but only intermittently) Instagram. And these are only a few of the big ones — new social media spaces are popping up faster than you can download the apps. According to this list of the 15 most popular social media sites based on web traffic, I am only familiar with the first 10, and I only regularly use 7 of them (though I use many that aren’t on this list, as well).

I used to find this frustrating, wishing the digital world would slow the heck down, already. After all, as a Digital Learning Specialist, it’s sort of my job to stay abreast of new technologies and to think deeply about their role in teaching and learning (and that extends far beyond social media). But now, I embrace the high-speed, can’t-catch-up whirlwind of new digital tools, searching out new (preferably open-source) technologies that might do more than enhance teaching and learning, and actually transform it.

Transforming the Work of Teaching

And that’s what teaching is all about, right? Transforming the minds and experiences of young people? That’s also what connected educator month is about (at least for me) — exploring how teachers can transform their work by connecting with educators beyond the four walls of their classrooms. But don’t take my word for it:

My dissertation research illustrated to me just how transformative “connectivity” can be for today’s educators. Those teachers who maintain networks far beyond their classroom walls, who connect at conferences, online, or over coffee, find spaces to reflect, critique, and transform their practice. Certainly, teachers have always done this. But today’s teachers are “networked” in ways they haven’t been before. Their professional networks extend and persist in social media (as I explored in a recent article) and become more robust in online Professional Learning Networks (PLNs).

Yesterday, my coworkers and I started working on an online digital learning series for Boston teachers in celebration of connected educator month. This work got me thinking about what it means to be a connected educator, the role of social media in fostering connected education, and what exactly constitutes “connected” in a world where tweets come and go faster than you can read them, where tags archive and curate online content for future use, and where educators have a wealth of available spaces in which to present, share, store, create, and design content. In what ways are these connective possibilities transforming what it means to “be a teacher” in the 21st-century… if they are at all? And what role does social media, specifically, play in all of this?

The Series

Here on Gone Digital, I will focus specifically on social media, because I’ve had social media on the mind lately. Despite the fact that many teachers and students use social media constantly in their lives beyond school, many districts have locked down social media within schools. This is because, like it or not, unlocking social media is akin to popping the top of a giant can of worms. There are a multitude of issues surrounding opening up social media to students and teachers, and these include student safety, network infrastructure, and the availability of appropriate professional development. Mention opening up social media to 100 principals and teachers, and I would guess that half of them would shiver in horror while the other half would light up with excitement. It’s not as easy as hitting a button.

But that doesn’t mean social media isn’t transforming teaching and learning in meaningful ways. And that’s what this blog series is about — how teachers are using social media to both transform and make visible the work of teaching, and how they are using it with students to transform their digital learning and literacies. Starting next week, I’ll post once a week, focusing first on how teachers are building their professional networks both online and in f2f environments enhanced by digital engagement, then moving to ways teachers are using social media in the classroom to engage students.

If you have examples, ideas, comments, thoughts, musings, frustrations… whatever, tweet me (@lizhoman) or comment below. And stay tuned!

Invisible Progress

One thing I’ve learned about dissertation work in the past few weeks: progress is invisible. At least at this stage it is.

I have been stuck on some analyses of my network data, which means my qualitative data has taken a back seat as I try to specify this influence model, which is resulting in much (metaphorical) banging of my head against a wall.

But I don’t want to talk about that right now because it makes my head hurt. That, and all the (again, metaphorical) banging.

It’s hard on some days to feel like I’ve accomplished much of anything. Sure, I sat here with my computer open all day. Sure, I generated about ten thousand files of output (no joke). Sure, I stared at some numbers and wrote some notes and tried some things again and stared at some numbers and wrote some notes and… you get the idea. But then my partner comes home from his day at work at 6 or 7 (or 8, or 9), the dog greets him enthusiastically (helicopter tail time is one of the best parts of my day, too, Gertrude), I stop working to fix dinner and talk to him, and I wonder… what. in the world. did I accomplish today?!

Truth is, usually I accomplished a lot. I did some important and necessary thinking. I did some problem-solving (even if I don’t feel any closer to a solution). I cleaned up data sets for future analysis. I ruled out a few more possible explanations. You know, all that. I did all that.

But, and excuse my language here folks, all that shit’s invisible.

I could make a to-do list and check stuff off to make myself feel better, but that wouldn’t help me for two reasons:

  1. I suck at updating to-do lists
  2. Tasks I think will be short are taking me forever, so it would just make me feel worse.

So I’m writing this post to remind myself that I am, indeed, making progress. It’s just invisible progress.

I’m making a little bit of visible progress (and I’ve been trying to focus on that, too). For example, I got a paper accepted into the Journal of Technology and Teacher Education. And I was recently chosen as a permanent author for GradHacker, an awesome grad student blog that recently scored a partnership with Inside Higher Ed. The visible progress just doesn’t seem to matter as much as this dissertation thing I need to write. Which continues to elude me. You know. Because it’s invisible.