Tag Archive for twitter

Of Mice, Men, and Instagram

Originally published on edSocialMedia


How can middle school students begin to recognize complexity and empathize with characters in literature? In a conventional approach, a teacher might pose thought-provoking questions to students and draw their attention to key passages in the story. However, this approach does not guide all students to deepen their understanding of the characters. Young adolescents are often still developing empathy during the middle school years, but the ability to appreciate the thoughts and feelings of a character is essential to understanding literature.


University Prep English teacher Carl Faucher uses social media to help students think about the characters in Of Mice and Men. To begin, students select one character to follow through the book and then create a new account in that character’s name on their preferred social media platform. As students read the book, they pay special attention to the character’s thoughts and inner dialogue. Students then write one post online for each chapter of the book.


Students choose a variety of platforms: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. They tend to like the familiar format and enthusiastically go about their work. Some post the minimum number required, whereas others write far more. Instagram users in particular find an opportunity to communicate visually, either by selecting stills from the movie version to accompany each thought or selecting more abstract, evocative imagery. Some choose to make the assignment social, following their classmates and liking or commenting on their posts.


Faucher asks students to avoid summarizing the text but rather write what the characters were actually thinking at different points in the book. Those who adopt the persona of the character show the most evidence of learning. Faucher notes, “students developed empathy for the character better than if they had answered conventional questions about the text. They got through the black and white of good and bad and explored complexities of the characters and their relationships.”


Conventional reading questions are grounded in the language of the discipline — academic discourse. Students better learn to think analytically and identify literary conventions such as themes and foreshadowing if they are provided with accessible steps to build upon. The social media introduction allows students to apply an established strength, “to speak the language that they are speaking outside of school.” Having gained some understanding, students are better able to build up to the more complex assignments later in the unit: a mock trial in which George is taken to court, and an expository essay that focuses on character analysis.


“With the advent of social media, our paths of communication are changing the ways we speak, communicate, and express ourselves.” While some may bemoan the decline of long form writing, Faucher takes advantage of the popular microblogging medium to help students achieve the learning goals of seventh grade English.

It’s all about social media, except when it isn’t.

I led a training session the other day to further integrate social media into our admission and development work. We considered a range of new uses: student bloggers, a dedicated Facebook page for applicants, Flickr and YouTube channels. Some potential initiatives were certainly exciting to consider.

Here’s the problem. None of the new ideas made the cut when we listed priority tasks for the upcoming year. I asked what were each department’s primary communication goals for the upcoming year, without presupposing the solution. In all cases, the identified goals suggested changes to our existing website, not our social media strategy.

Why? While we have a successful website, it has more room for improvement than does our social media strategy. The main website receives 3,000 visits each day. Our Facebook fan page has about 500 fans. Improvements to the main website will reach far more people.

Also consider that our main website allows users to more meaningfully transact with the school than does our social media pages. For example, you may sign up to volunteer, make a gift to the school, apply for admission, or comment on a student blog. Our Facebook and Twitter pages primarily push content out to people who may be listening and offer some opportunities for interaction. Our main website may have limited opportunities for social interaction, but it offers more opportunities further up the engagement pyramid.

I am glad that we  developed a social media strategy and voice. A small and growing proportion of our audience maintains contact with the school through that vehicle. It improves our ability to engage in a personal way with constituents. However, we will continue to parcel out our time and effort based on the audience size and quality of interaction with the school. We will be able to adjust these efforts as we track the growth in social media page membership and interactions.

Blog Use

Happy New Year! To commemorate the end of the year, I took a look at this blog’s web statistics. A comparison of the number of posts to the number of pageviews is very interesting.

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I wrote the most posts but received the least pageviews in 2006. I wrote the second most posts and received the most pageviews in 2008. In 2009, I wrote the fewest posts but received as many pageviews as in 2007, when I wrote twice as often. Without running the graph, one can see that the number of pageviews per post has increased significantly from year to year.

I don’t know exactly why this happened, but I can speculate that this blog has been carried along the wave of increased global readership of ed-tech blogs, or perhaps interested readers have simply found me. It is difficult to say for certain.

Before running the stats, I had wondered whether Facebook, Twitter, and Ning had taken all of the steam out of blogs. Does anyone really read blogs anymore? These results suggest that plenty of people at least came and visited, and perhaps even read, more than ever in 2009. On the other hand, did I post to Facebook and Twitter when I could have written more blog posts?

I can explain that I have written less frequently on my blog as I have become more deeply engaged at my school. In 2009, I built a new website for the school and assumed fourth and fifth grade teaching responsibilities. These are good developments that positively affect teaching and learning at my primary place of work. I know that I can support people more effectively through direct, personal contact than through blogging.

Nonetheless, I have picked up my blogging in the last three months and hope to continue this trend into 2010. Please do posts comments to keep up the conversation!

Good luck with your new year!

Getting close

I have had my head down working on our new school web site for the past few weeks, hence I have not written much here.

We presented new features to focus groups: three faculty, one parent-faculty association, and one board communications advisory group. We hired a local college intern to migrate content from the old site to the new. Two staff members are working on the photo directory, site copying and backup utilities, and an emergency contacts form. Our graphic designer sent us two graphic concepts, and our web site team met and sent back comments. We received the a second revision and are preparing to send back our comments on Monday.

We are gradually taking on real users as we build up the web site. Our athletics director has started entering competition dates for next year. The arts department recently met to build out their new “schoolwide” arts program section. This week, we plan to invite employees to update their emergency contact information through our new custom form. The week after, we will likely invite all parents to update their contact information and review their directory entries online.

Our publications director has been developing her Twitter “voice” and getting to know the Facebook Pages interface in preparation for that aspect of the site launch.

So far, we have committed about $5,000 of contracted work to the project. We plan to finish the project at less than $10,000 total.

Hopefully, I will find time after site launch in July to post more information about our project!

Social Media Tools and School Admissions

I attended the FinalSite social media webinar this morning. They now have a web site to help schools get started with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube. Here are a few notes of the most interesting examples I picked up from this session.

Northfield Mount Hermon
– 2,000 fans of their main Facebook page
– separate Facebook page for “admitted but not yet enrolled” students

Christchurch School
– Admission inquiry Facebook page

Urban School
– Facebook page for “accepted but not enrolled” students

Could LinkedIn replace our web site career network? I’ll test the idea tonight with our alumni board.

Social Media In Education

Thank you to Alex Ragone and Vinnie Vrotny for hosting me on EdTechTalk. Here is the audio recording. As a follow-up to the CASE webinar on social networks and school advancement, we talked Facebook, Twitter, and school communication strategies.

Length: 30:07 minutes (13.82 MB)

It’s not about the next big thing

No matter how many amazing technologies that educational technologists may personally enjoy, our work in schools is fundamentally about supporting teachers and students. We provide the tools and means for teachers with limited time and risk tolerance to try activities that apply modern pedagogies and use social technologies. We ourselves operate in a different world, immersed in social technologies at our desks and at home, able to spend far more time than can most teachers.

I spent an hour today with arts teachers from grades PS-12, focused on a single topic: posting multimedia content to web sites. If we post more content, students can exhibit more work, and visitors can learn more about the school’s arts program. Our teachers already have the media—digital photos, audio, and video. They just need help crossing that last hurdle to post the content online.

mask work

We have our share of early technology adopters. They build amazing lessons with technology tools: trip planning with Google Earth, language activities for homework with Voicethread, real-time group writing in Google Docs and class discussions in Moodle. Now we are grooming the second level of teachers who are eager to learn new technologies once they have seen others use it successfully, and the platform looks stable. This second wave of teachers is much larger than the first, so many opportunities exist to provide training, visit classes, and involve the innovators in providing leadership and guidance. The second wave will make student-centered classroom uses of technology commonplace, not just exceptional.

Many kids figure out how to post content on their own, especially in the higher grades. Younger students need more assistance, especially with audio, since the most successful commercial networks emphasize photos and video. Substantial online writing—especially collaboratively—is often a new experience for students. We have also found some success with students learning skills in one grade and carrying them on to the next.

Helpful in this endeavor is insideCatlin, our “walled garden” of social software open to the members of the school community. While I completely understand some educators’ insistence on teaching students to use publicly available tools, we find it easier to scale technologies to multiple classrooms when everyone uses a common platform that we can bind to our login system and customize to our liking. Intranet-based services also ensure that authorship of posted content is easily identifiable, helping teach responsible use within a community setting.

I have scarcely mentioned Twitter at our school. Does it have potential as a useful tool? Sure, but we’re better off using scarce teacher time to deepen one’s still-nascent understanding of the last few years’ inventions, to enrich their curricular applications and actually improve student learning. I’ll continue to tweet, but I won’t encourage our teachers to (at least not yet)! I may even get into Second Life (if someone drags me there), but I would not roll it out here in a big way. Teachers’ brains and schedules are currently full. Except for the rare few, they can’t give these new technologies the time they require to make them really useful in the classroom.

What successful experiences have you had scaling new, curricular applications of technology to the majority of your teachers?

Personal learning network power

My personal learning network is really coming through this week. I found out about the Berkman draft literature review on internet safety and Berkeley report on informal learning of digital youth. We are preparing two evening technology events for parents. Together, these reports will help us contextualize parent concerns about their children’s safety within a broader understanding of why kids value the time they spend online, especially on social network and gaming sites. Our administrators particularly appreciate the detailed, research-based studies.

One of our middle school spanish teachers proposed a session on Voicethread, in order to share teaching techniques with his language teacher colleagues. I invited Barbara Cohen, noted Voicethread enthusiast, to join us via Skype. What a great meeting that was! Barbara contributed her experiences working with a set of teachers in a different school, quickly solved some longstanding technical issues we had experienced, and picked up a few new teaching tips from us. We should include colleagues from other schools more often.

Voicethread training

From blogs and Twitter, I sent a number of links to teacher colleagues: tech ideas for the social studies classroom, Life’s archives online at Google Images, and Google Earth’s ancient Rome layer.

The BAISNet community came through repeatedly. When I was looking for a way to ensure that Macs prompt for network logins using the username instead of the real name, the network sent me a command-line statement to set this as a preference. As I consider how to apply Drupal to build our next web site, BAISNet scheduled a meeting on open-source software for January. This will be great place to try out some ideas and seek development partners.

As I suddenly found myself in possession of three long videos to post online, I recalled colleagues’ Twitter posts regarding Blip.tv and gave it a try. I have been so pleased with the results. Why should I necessarily evaluate a wide range of streaming video providers when others have communicated the results of their experiences (and I have a dozen other things to do this week)?

The network learns, and it knows far more than I do.