Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Stumbling into Relationships -- Reflecting on Twitter and SMS at #BbWorld13

Look on my works ye mighty and despair!
Blackboard World is in Vegas!
Decided to end my self-imposed blogging hiatus with #bbworld13. I should have a post about why I went offline for a month (standardized testing depression mixed with catastrophic data failure) and some posts focused just on Google Glass (yes, I have them. Feel free to be jealous) coming up soon. But this week is devoted to Blackboard World...or at least the random thoughts that occur to me as I attend the largest corporate bash celebrating educational technology vendors! This year I am going to try more posts that don’t take quite the commitment to promises...I might decide to get Ranty.

Session 1: Twitter!

So, there is this new thing the kids are using called Twitter. Maybe you have heard of it? It is, like, all the rage - Taylor Swift is even on there. Cheryl Boncuore and Aurora Dawn Reinke from Kendall College presented their experiences using twitter in their classes, focusing in particular on a capstone project class.

Two quick impressions:

Sharing the results of a semester of Twitter
1. given the amount of time we spend talking, blogging, and sharing about the use of Twitter on #edchat, #patue, and #edtechchat (as well as so many other places, conventions, policy meetings), it was a little bit of a disconnect to hear people talking about this fresh and new -- it was a good way to revisit this little microblogging service with fresh eyes.

2. They had data! Bless the college folk and their need to actually prove the things that we talk about anecdotally all the time!

Major Takeaways:

The Good
  • Twitter is awesome! (woot!)
  • Twitter is very useful for finding and sharing research in particular fields
  • Twitter has the potential to allow students to connect to industry leaders and interact with them on a limited basis -- some leaders respond enthusiastically to this interaction, particularly if it is authentic and does not appear forced.
  • Twitter is a powerful tool for engaging students and forming relationships between students and faculty. It is a quick and easy way to encourage positive behaviors and affirm students (through favoriting and retweets).

The Bad
  • Twitter should NOT be used as homework reminder system. This leads to negative impressions of the platform and decreased engagement (note: while I know teachers in my school who do this, it is not exclusively this or a majority -- will be an interesting discussion for next year though).
  • Twitter should not be used to stalk students. Focus on the classroom aspect and not what the students did over the weekend. Unfollow if necessary. (another note: There was very little in this session about my personal obsession with developing #digcit skills in students. Thus, there was a high level of comfort with “have students create a professional account” rather than “talk to students about why their drunken dancing should not be broadcast on Vine” -- not sure if this was due to the college environment or if there is some other disconnect).

And the oh-so-very-ugly
There was a conversation at the end about the appropriate way to assess the use of twitter. I actually heard the comments “It is just not feasible to grade every single tweet.” It is cold comfort that it is not just the k-12 set that has become obsessed with testing culture.

Session 2: SMS Marketing for Prospective & Current Students
(note: I only attended part of the session. Had to get ready to live-tweet the keynote)

This session gave some of the most staggering number about the sheer amount of texting that is done worldwide, in the US, and by kids. A few interesting tidbits out of the gate: the US now leads the world in texting. there was a period of time when that was not true, but it is a reality now.


The session focused on the sheer practicality of texting. This included using short-codes to encourage the downloading of apps or to facilitate engaged responses. Using SMS for follow-ups during the decision making process in order to accurately gauge yield of students from the accepted pool, and using responses to establish communication lines that could encourage a student to come or at least give the real reason why she is attending somewhere else.

On Reflection: Stumbling Across Relationships

What struck me about both of these sessions is that both sessions started with the hard-hitting numbers: Metrics for engagement, potential audience, yield, etc. But both of them ended up focusing on the the environment that is created when adults communicate informally and personally -- both sessions talked about relationships!

“60% response rate -- that is incredible. And you get that response rate because you are having a conversation with a real person. It starts with a simple text, but when the response to a question is personal -- that means something to the student” 
“A student gets a favorite, or even better a retweet, and that student is excited that something they did was noticed” 
“Students were able to go beyond what was required -- they wanted to”

In Jesuit education, the foundation of the system lies in the relationship between the student and the teacher -- understanding their context, creating an environment where they feel empowered to seek out Truth and have the time and resources to reflect on their experiences and ask questions.

In each of these sessions, the real revelation was partly obscured by the numbers and the data and the metrics: students learn better when they are known by their teachers. Students want to attend a school where they feel a personal connection with another human being.

It is easy to paint technology as the dystopian-disconnector of our modern age. I have certainly had discussions with the 8yo and the 11yo about the siren-song of TIny Castle and Candy Crush Saga. But in reality, most of time that teenagers are engaged with technology, they are also engaged with people.

Our responsibility is, in part, to help them engage appropriately and effectively. But as educators, the takeaway from this is that learning happens with most students not because the textbook is so riveting or because the subject matter is so enticing -- learning happens because someone with whom they have an authentic relationship cares about something enough to share it.

...And that beats sharing tomorrow’s homework assignment anyday.

Up Next: Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shirky, and the irony of leveraging freeware in Vegas