Medium – A Social Networking Experiment

On a phone call today, my boss mentioned Medium, a social writing platform by Twitter that I had never heard of. I checked it out and found it extremely user-friendly and I was intrigued to see how it functioned. Something my boss said resonated with me: people who use Medium have higher readership than those who publish their blog content to standalone sites.

I love my WordPress site, but let’s be honest – there isn’t a ton of readership.

wp_dashboard

So I wondered, what if I took my best post and added it to Medium as an experiment to see what reached the furthest? Would it have more action? Would there be people who commented on the post?

After investigating, my “best views ever” post on this blog was called “Digital Learning? That Might Be Scary…” In that blog, I reference a friend and former colleague, Geoff Krall, who has a massive social media following. This is probably why I had a whole 68 views courtesy of his networking capabilities. Still, as the school year heads back into session, it might not be a bad content to tweak (not being Digital Learning Day and all) and seeing what happens to both his numbers and mine.

Enter the experiment. About an hour ago, I published that same blog piece on Medium. After a conversation with my blogging buddies, I realized that I needed to clarify what exactly I was testing, which in turn, had me thinking about the goals of my writing in general. In the past, I was focused on writing to share my thoughts and opinions on the edu-space, particularly in the blended and digital learning realms. But that really isn’t the purpose of this experiment.

Here, I really want to see the effects of reach, connectivity, and readership.

Medium allows three tags to classify your writing. I chose “EdTech”, “Education” and “Blended Learning”. I can do more than that in WordPress, but I am not sure it gets me the reach I am hoping for. So for reach, how far does one post go based on a limited tagging structure? To determine that, in three weeks, I will check stats by views, reads, and recs. Remember, the goal is to get more than 68 views.

I can also see who has recommended my story and choose to follow them if I’d like. Again, similar to WordPress, but it feels more networky because Medium is letting me know what type of action (including highlights, comments, and shares) that person is doing. I am also curious about the impact that the Medium post has on other social channels – including my blog space, my Twitter account (which I have linked in Medium), my new Medium network, and potentially even the impact it has on Geoff’s blog. How does the same post from my blog where I have to generate the readership compare to the embedded networking capabilities of Medium?

Does Medium spread the message to a wider audience? If so, how far? Could we possibly see the increase for both me and Geoff? What are the advantages and disadvantages of using Medium from a user standpoint as well as from a reader standpoint? Those are the sheer numbers questions I plan to look at as well. Depending on the results, I may be reevaluating where I share content in the future – just my blog, my blog and Medium, or ditch the blog altogether?

Do you use Medium? Sound off in the comments below with your thoughts on the product.

Road Warriors

I am sitting in a hotel room in Tulsa, Oklahoma tonight. The room is full of native American art and is a departure from the typical Hilton/Marriott/IHG hotel that I usually frequent. After two delayed flights, I made it at a reasonable hour but am still waiting for two colleagues to arrive – both of whom have delayed flights as well.

tulsa

This is a pretty typical story for the wonderful people I am and have worked with in the past. We are road warriors who have ‘travel’ as part of their job description to support thousands of teachers across the country. Even though most of our time is spent at home virtually working with people, there are always advantages to meeting face-to-face. A video conference just can’t compare to seeing and feeling the emotion in the room when teachers are learning something new or struggling with a problem or puzzle of practice.

Sometimes our partners, kids, and friends sound like broken records. “Are you really going to be gone again?” “Where are you going this time?” “Didn’t you just get home?” “I thought teachers had the summer off?” Little do they know that late Spring through the beginning of the school year is really the busiest time of year for those who support teachers and that teachers really spend most of their “time off” getting ready for the next year.

Despite all of the challenges that come with travelling for the job, we wouldn’t change it for the world. We are passionate about helping teachers get better at their craft in order to make classrooms better for kids. So this post is dedicated to all of my friends and co-workers who have spent countless nights away from home with many more to come – here’s to you as you are in the thick of travel. May your flights be on time, your coachees be full of excitement, and your hotel beds be cozy.

Get Your Networking On!

I never really understood the importance of all this until my former social media guru showed me how to build a network. Now, I find it a useful part of my education world, and also my blended one. For education, it really makes a difference in connecting to like minded people across the country. But it can also be really overwhelming to keep up with different accounts for personal and professional reasons. So the following tips are designed to help make it more manageable as well as more personalized. You get to be selective when using social media for professional reasons. Go ahead and jump in!

Here are a few pointers to get you started down your educational social media journey:

  • Pick one platform for work and keep the others separate. I like Twitter for work and I keep everything else separate for personal use. LinkedIn is a thing where I keep a resume, but I fully admit it isn’t one I use regularly, though that would technically be work related too. By selecting just one, you can feel like it is manageable and not consuming your life by being on too many sites.
  • Market yourself – especially if your company is a vendor. I have worked for two companies that are technically vendors. This is really challenging when you want to attend or present at a conference. Immediately they judge the RFP and assume that you will be selling something. So, sell yourself. Make yourself your brand and highlight your expertise. There needs to be a reason for conference committees to accept your ideas and knowledge; the more you can point to your public work – a blog, social media account, webinars hosted, etc.- the better your chances of getting to present.
  • Follow people who matter to you in the education world. They often can spark great discussions or give tips for your content areas. You don’t need to follow any and everyone…just those that matter to you. If you are a math teacher, Jo Boaler, Dan Meyer, and Geoff Krall are great places to start. If you are interested in the national conversation, try Ed Week, eSchoolNews, or Edutopia. Just start small and pick what matters to you. It’s not all or nothing. The great thing is that you can be picky.
  • Be bold. Reach out to people when you have a question. As part of a book club, I posted my results from an exercise found in Elena Aguilar’s The Art of Coaching. I mentioned her in the post and had a nice exchange as a result.

    You never know what response you are going to get. So throw it out there – ask and you shall receive from most people.

  • Know your communities. Sure I was pretty excited when for some unknown reason I received a notification that Taye Diggs was following me. Sweet! Still not sure why, but what’s better is when people who are part of my professional learning network (PLN) jump into my world. You just have to know where to look. Hashtags are amazing for educators! Instead of just getting sucked into a social media feed, be specific with your posts and search for what you need.

It’s always really fun to meet someone in person who you know from your social media channels. So, find great minds, be adventurous, and try to dabble a bit in an area of education where you’d like support. There are great people out there willing to help – you just need to network to find them. You might be surprised what you will find and what you can learn.

Share your tips for educational social media in the comments.

Blended Confusion: Personalized vs. Differentiated

The end of the school year has flooded my inbox and social media with inspiring stories, exciting graduation updates, and plenty of education related readings. While I love those stories, I am becoming increasingly more frustrated with the educational resources coming my way. More and more I am noticing that the stories in those readings – ASCD SmartBrief, Education Week, EdSurge, etc. – are mentioning blended learning, which is good, but their misuse of terminology is making an already blurry concept blurrier.

Titles like these are popping up everywhere
Titles like these are popping up everywhere

I am glad to see more and more districts rethinking how to integrate technology into their classrooms and curriculum. However, the rise of another buzz word as a method of blended learning – in this case ‘personalization’ – has me a bit befuddled.  Here is the confusion: why are educational resources misusing personalized learning as a substitute for differentiated? How is this helping the blended community clarify their message and methods? How is the public understanding these differences and making informed decisions about what they would like for their students?

To me, the confusion just increases without the educational community being more intentional about their word choice and the programs they are referring to. So what is the difference? When determining what type of blended program to use or describing the program already in place, what is the correct terminology?

I LOVE this resource by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey as a way to help understand blending learning programs.

What is the difference between personalized, differentiated, and individualized learning?
Click on the image to view in browser

Think about what you need from a blended program. What are your goals? What will accommodate your master schedule? Do you want to be more mastery based or do you need more summative data? What role will the teacher play? What role will the technology play? How will students demonstrating their learning? I think this chart does a great job of showing just how many differences there are between these three terms and can help you select the appropriate type of program for your blended learning needs and then communicate effectively about your program to your stakeholders.

After all, if we are going to help our stakeholders understand what we are offering and how it is different from current educational environments, then we need to be clear on what we, as the blended educational community mean.

The Connectivity Gap and Equity

EducationSuperHighway released a report this month on the status of technology in more than 1,000 districts across the U.S. The schools in these districts were evaluated on their progress toward President Obama’s “ConnectED” initiative. One of the goals is to have 99% of schools with access to high speed internet capable of supporting 1:1 learning environments within five years. The findings of the study are not entirely surprising – schools with higher per pupil spending on technology are on their way to achieving the ConnectED goals, while those that spend less, often cannot afford the cost of reliable high-speed internet. In short,

Connecting America’s Students: Opportunities for Action An Analysis of E-rate Spending Offers Key Insights for Expanding Educational Opportunity April, 2014, p. 5

 

If all students are to be aware, eligible, and prepared for college and careers, then we need to address the reality of access and equity in the world of online, digital, and blended learning. When it comes to online courses, if there is no high speed connectivity, then that option for education limits those who do have consistent, reliable access. In most cases, this means that traditionally under-served populations will continue to be under-served in the world of online learning. The same can be said for digital learning programs that are designed for remediation. If students are not provided a space and time during school hours, the chance of those students who most often need remedial programs having reliable access and time outside of school to complete the work is not guaranteed. I think there may be a slightly more optimistic view for blended programs depending on their type of implementation, but it still is cause for concern when the mere cost of internet in economically challenged districts is unaffordable. How can schools effectively implement innovative blended learning models without the structures to support them?

I love the idea of the “ConnectED” plan because I believe that access to internet will give students more opportunities to be prepared for college and career. But I don’t love the goals themselves because they only address the technical aspect of improved technology, not the more adaptive shift that is needed to truly make technology a powerful tool in the classroom. That requires dedicated professional development time that is not required or even guaranteed to be offered in districts who do meet the five year goal benchmarks. In some school systems, having access and the technology exists but having teachers who know how to use it well and harness the power of the tools is another question. Is it fair to assume that schools who can already afford to have high speed internet can also afford the training for teachers to more effectively use it? I think so. And conversely, the schools who can’t afford the internet are not going to be able to afford the professional development either.

Connectivity is not the entire challenge. It is step one in improving equitable access in schools and it must be closed. But connectivity only gets people so far. I wonder if the current push for more digital opportunities in schools without addressing the training and professional development needs of teachers using technology is actually increasing inequities for our students?

 

 

This Is How WE Do It

Collaboration. Communication. Agency.

Ask any New Tech Network member and they will say that these are just some of the skills that not only make New Tech unique, but that take time and practice to do well. They require scaffolding, support, clarification, and revision in order to achieve. As coaches, these are the things that we encourage from the second a facilitator or director enters into this challenging work. It will be hard and will require perseverance. In the words of Yoda,

 

Star Wars + New Tech. Let's do this.
Star Wars + New Tech. Let’s do this.

So the time has come to answer the driving question: what exactly does happen when 12 NTN employees start running in LA and end up in San Diego?

For months, we have been preparing for a Ragnar Relay Race. This race is 36 continuous hours of running between Huntington Beach and San Diego, California. There are two vans of six runners that will each run three legs to complete the distance. It sounds a little crazy. It probably will be. But it will also put to use all of the skills that we believe are needed to solve real world problems.

Agency. We are running 196 miles. Each person is running between 12 and 26 miles. That takes practice and determination. There have definitely been challenges for us as we have trained while travelling to support schools and built up the mileage and endurance to complete this crazy task. Personally, I have also struggled with having a growth mindset about running. It’s still a battle but now I know I can do 7.2 miles (my longest leg). I am the slowest team member, and I have had to learn to be okay with that. Definitely an exercise in my own agency – growing from set back and more internal battling conversations about my ability to continue than I would have imagined. I also imagine that on my third leg somewhere along the Pacific coast around 4:00 am Saturday, I will need to engage these skills to finish my last leg.

Communication. Have you ever tried to coordinate 12 people in a relay race who are geographically dispersed through four US time zones? And tried to make sure that the race rules (it’s really a 68 page book) are followed? Our fearless team captain @jennypieratt did a fantastic job organizing these shenanigans. This took unbelievable amounts of communication, via emails, chats, phone calls, texts, tweets, Facebook, a hot mess of a Google Doc, and even some last minute face to face shopping and item hand offs. All of that coordination requires amazing communication skills and almost all was done virtually. And it isn’t over yet. We will have to utilize these skills to ensure each van is at the correct exchange point at the correct time. And to hand off hotel room keys. And probably a bunch more ways that we have yet to discover.

Let’s add in content knowledge for fun. Math: There is a rather intense spreadsheet that exists to predict when each runner will be at the exchange points. Each runner needs to keep their pre-submitted pace so as to not get a team penalty for going too quickly or too slowly. It also adjusts for fatigue in the third leg. Now, how close will we come to the predicted finishing time? We will let you know Saturday. Science: How much hydration does someone need to complete this race? On long runs, how many gu like products should you carry? How funky will the van smell by the end of day one? Day two? All interesting science questions to investigate. Social studies: Van one has all out of towners and only one Californian. Maybe not our best plan, but our map skills will sure come in handy! Ragnar even encourages you to carry maps with you when you run. In case you get lost or someone turns, moves, or removes the course signs. Our philosophy on being lost? Hug a tree. We will find you. English: It’s called communication. Have I mentioned that we need to cheer one another on and communicate with the other van? And all the planning? Enough said. Art: costumes. Oh, have I forgotten to mention that we have costumes for this race? And that we need to decorate our vans too? You can find us sporting some Star Wars themed outfits, waving our Star Wars flag, and throwing Trix cereal on people.

It goes without saying that none of this could be accomplished without collaboration. This team not only works well supporting schools, but also rocks at supporting each other. We are about to demonstrate just how all of our New Tech Learning Outcomes work to get us from point A to point B. So, I invite you to follow us along this journey on the New Tech Network Facebook page or on Twitter and Instagram using #ragnarsocal or #teamjedimindtrix. If you follow any NTN employees on Twitter, you can check out our individual profiles to see what is happening. Good luck Team Jedi Mind Trix!