Blackboard Feature Request: Customizable Course Communication Dashboard Home Page

For quite some time, I have been frustrated with the lack of options within Blackboard for customizing the entry point of the course. While an instructor can set any tool or content area to be the default entry point in a course, there’s only so much that can be done in a Blackboard content area or page using the current built-in functionality. When Blackboard introduced the “Home Page” as the new default entry point, students were given access to a variety of information streams when logging into the course. However, these information modules are still primarily system driven and can not be easily customized or new modules setup by the instructor. With a few further customizations, the Home Page could become a much more useful tool.

For years, the Announcements page was the default entry point in Blackboard. With the release of Blackboard Learn 9, the Home Page was added which includes various information modules for the user, such as: Needs Attention, What’s New, My Tasks, Alerts, etc.

Home Page

Home Page in Blackboard Learn

 

While the Home Page tool was a step in the right direction, it is still very restricted and falls short in allowing faculty to customize at the level in which it can be a true “Communication Dashboard” for the course. I’ve shared this feedback with Blackboard product developers at BbWorld and the Blackboard Idea Exchange over the past nearly 2 years, but since I’ve yet to see my suggestions implemented, I’m sharing them here as well so that perhaps others can echo the value of such a feature enhancement.

What follows is my rationale for why I’ve desired a more instructor-customizable communication dashboard as the entry point for a Blackboard course as well as a sample of my “homemade” solution. In future posts, I’ll then share more specifics for how to create a customized communication dashboard in Blackboard and incorporate a variety of different information sources within the dashboard.

Needs

In my teaching, I’m often introducing in-service teachers to new technology tools and practices that they can apply into K-12 classroom teaching. My students and I use 3rd party blog, sms, calendar, and other tools in addition to Blackboard and I would like to be able to provide information about accessing these tools as well as streams of information from them in a single communication portal. Basically, I’ve simply been looking for a customizable and yet visually appealing area within Blackboard where different information sources can be embedded. In particular, these are the tools that I use and want to easily share with my students:

Latest Blog Posts – During the course, my students and I each setup and post to individual 3rd party blogs. Even though my students are instructed to subscribe via RSS to my blog as well as the blogs of their classmates, I want to display clickable titles of the last several posts from my blog.

Course Calendar – While Blackboard’s Calendar is greatly improving with the release of the new Blackboard Calendar in Service Pack 11, up until this point, the built-in calendar hasn’t been acceptable and I create a Google Calendar for each class. I would like for a version of that calendar for the upcoming 7 days to be embedded and viewable by my students.

Texting List Sign-up – In my teaching, I use Remind101.com and encourage my student to opt-in to my texting news list powered by Remind101. I would like to provide the information for signing-up to join the texting list.

Course Podcast Player – I’ve setup a podcast for my course and would like to embed a player so that right from the course entry page, students can listen to the most recent episodes of the podcast. I’ve previously shared steps for how I setup my podcast using Dropbox.

Class Blogs – The students in the course each setup their own blogs and post to throughout the course. I would like to include links for each of my students’ blogs.

Instructor’s Tweets – Twitter is another important communication means used during the course. I would like at the outset of the course to include a Twitter widget displaying the latest tweets from the instructor, with the widget to be changed after Twitter is introduced to students and they begin tweeting, to display latest tweets using a course hashtag.

Dashboard

With a little HTML and CSS know-how, I’ve gone ahead and created this course communication dashboard that I now use in my Blackboard courses. It includes the communication streams and information sources that I want my students to see when they login to my Blackboard course. Students have commented on how helpful having such a communication dashboard available upon entry to the course has been and as a result, I’ve continued to include my homemade version in the courses I teach.

Course Dashboard

The dashboard is a simple html page (more details to be shared in a future post how to setup) set as the default entry point for the course. For this particular course I’ve shared, the dashboard contains the following information items:

Class Photo Roster – Students were requested to provide a digital portrait during the first week of the course. These photos are displayed along with their preferred first name to be used during the course.

Announcements – Latest several course announcements, also posted and sent via email using the Announcements tool in the course, are displayed for students.

Latest on Dr. J’s Blog – Utilizing a simple javascript RSS embed utility, Feed2JS, an embedded script that displays the latest 5 blog post titles from my blog that students can click on to go directly to those latest posts.

Course Calendar – Google Calendar I’ve setup for the course.

News & Reminders – Details for how students can sign-up to opt into our course texting group.

Course Podcast – Embeddable player using BigContact to play the latest episodes of the course podcast.

iTunes U – Details for how students can sign-up to try the iTunes U version of the course being made available as an experimental trial during the course.

Class Blogs – List of all class members’ blogs.

Tweets from Dr. J – Instructor’s tweets, to be adjusted later in the course to instead display most recent tweets using course hashtag

Ideal Solution

This “homemade” dashboard I’ve created isn’t ideal, but it is closer to my ideal course entry point than the current Home Page tool in Blackboard. It’s conceivable that Blackboard could develop a customizable dashboard, based on the Home Page tool but redesigned, which could take the information modules already in the Home Page and build in additional flexibility of the layout (2 columns, 3 columns, 1 wide column & 2 narrow columns, etc.) as well as include module types where faculty could embed various other information sources, images, scripts, or HTML.

Students could still perhaps add other personalized modules, but the instructor should have much more flexibility in how the Home Page is formatted and be able to embed other types of content or information streams. I envision this communication dashboard being much more instructor-driven than the current Home Page tool, affording the instructor the ability to develop “social presence” within the course by featuring at the login page the various communication streams for the course. I hope this solution will eventually be considered by Blackboard Product Development and I welcome any opportunity to provide further input.

What entry point do you use for your Blackboard course, the Home Page, Announcements, or something else? What features would you like to see in an ideal course entry point? Leave a comment with your suggestions!

Why I Picked Feedly to Replace Google Reader

By now, you likely may have already heard of the announcement from Google that Google Reader will be shut down as of July 1, 2013. Since the announcement, there has been much commotion online from loyal Google Reader users expressing their disappointment in Google for “pulling the plug” on yet another service that had many education uses. I thought I’d use this opportunity to reflect on my own use of Google Reader and RSS to this point, reevaluate what steps I will take moving forward to transition to a new solution for reading and sharing news online, and share the steps I have since taken to begin my transition away from Google Reader.google-reader-shutting-down

How I Use RSS Today

I began using Google Reader back in 2005 when it was first released as a Google Labs experimental project. At the outset, Google Reader was my sole solution for subscribing to blogs and also for setting-up and following Google Alerts for topic-specific news headlines. Over the years, as Google allowed through APIs for other services to access and manipulate RSS contents, I began to try other RSS aggregators and apps, most recently Reader, Flipboard, and Mr. Reader, that provided a better overall user experience (better UI, more sharing features, mobile-optimized, etc.).

Yet, Google Reader remained my central hub for news and information online. Subscribing to blogs and other news sites in Google Reader, it became the primary source for me to read and share news with others. I would star articles, search through my subscriptions for articles I had previously read, and share articles from Google Reader to other social media services using tools like Buffer. In fact, if you follow me on Twitter, the vast majority of the links that I’ve shared over the years came directly from Google Reader. the most compelling use of Google Reader.

Google Reader had become the “plumbing” for my online consumption and sharing of news and resources with others. While I was using other apps to manage my Google Reader subscriptions, read articles, etc., I was able to seamlessly move from one app to the other to read and share news as it happened, with the services I used syncing through Google Reader.

Why I Chose Feedly

While there are indeed many different options for subscribing to and consuming news content today, what I was looking for most was a great experience on my smart phone, tablet, and desktop computer which all would synchronize so that I could continue to move from one to the other as desired. I find that today I primarily read my news on my iPad, but also at times my iPhone when my iPad isn’t handy.

In my searching, I came across Feedly’s promise for a seamless transition for Google Reader users to it’s Google Reader clone, Normandy. In addition, I saw that Feedly already had mobile and tablet apps along with a desktop browser plugin that would all synchronize my activity for now over Google Reader, and eventually its new cloud-based synchronization platform Normandy. That was enough to convince me….I decided to give Feedly a try!

Thus far, the experience has indeed been seamless and I recommend that those looking for a replacement to Google Reader definitely try Feedly.

Getting Started with Feedly

If you already have a Google Reader account, getting setup on Feedly is simply…just login with your Google account that you used for Google Reader. I’d recommend then taking this brief guided tour as well as viewing the following tutorial to get an understanding for how Feedly is similar, yet different from Google Reader.

I viewed both, and in no time I felt right at home in the Feedly mobile app as well as browser interface. I was able to setup my Pocket (used for saving select articles for reading later) and Buffer (used for time-delayed sharing on Twitter) accounts within to easily share to either of those services directly from within Feedly.

In short, so far I am very pleased with Feedly and do hope that Feedly takes advantage of the opportunity created by Google Reader’s demise to grow their features and API integrations with other services. Only time will tell…

Have you tried Feedly? If so, what has been your experience thus far? Or, if you are considering a different news reading tool, which one and why? Leave a comment with your thoughts!

My First Impressions of iPhone 5

iPhone 5
On Friday, 9/21/2012, I was able to get my hands on the new iPhone 5. I thought I’d share a few of my first impressions here. But first, a little bit of background…

Background

As a long time Verizon customer (primarily because I have not AT&T coverage at my home and Verizon is the only carrier that provides reliable coverage both at my home as well as our cottage in WI where I spend much of my summer) I was among the first users of iPhone 4 where it finally came to Verizon back in April 2011. As a Mac user and one who is comfortable in the Apple ecosystem, the iPhone quickly became the essential technology device that I use constantly throughout my day. Because I was one of those “early adopters” on Verizon, the 2-yr contract that I signed on for included unlimited data on 3G. As I often have found myself in situations where I need Wi-Fi access, I also have the tethering option (2GB/month) and frequently am using my iPhone as a Wi-Fi hotspot over 3G.

The announcement of iPhone 5 was exciting for me, primarily because I was eligible for a discounted upgrade on 10/11/12 and I’ve been longing for LTE speeds. The iPhone 4 has been, and continues to be, a fantastic mobile device and I do still highly recommend it. For me, since I do rely on the hotspot capability frequently, and the fact that I live and work in areas that have LTE coverage with Verizon, the promise of much faster download speeds was the feature that ultimately was enough for me to upgrade.

I went ahead and sold back my iPhone 4 to Gazelle, so in order to receive the offered amount, I need to have it in the mail back to Gazelle by Oct. 1st. I figured I’d just go a couple weeks without a phone so that I could get the most possible cash for my current iPhone.

I called Verizon and they confirmed that on Oct. 11th I’d be able to upgrade to the new iPhone 5 with the subsidized amount. Yet, because I am a grandfathered unlimited data user, if I were to sign-up for a new 2-yr contract (needed in ordered to purchase iPhone 5 with the carrier discount), I’d have to forfeit my unlimited data plan. Instead, I’d be signing-up for one of Verizon’s “Share Everything Plan” that would end up costing me more per month than what I’m currently paying for data and tethering. While I don’t often go over 2GB of data on my current iPhone, the unlimited data perk is one that I didn’t want to give up if at all possible.

In my discussions with Verizon, I learned that if I were to indeed pay full retail price for an iPhone and in essence not extend or renew my current contract, I’d be able to keep my unlimited data plan on the much faster 4G LTE. While my tethering option of 2GB of 3G data on my current plan for $20 would need to be upgraded to LTE data for an extra $10/mo, I would then have UNLIMITED tethered data over LTE! Basically, for $10 more per month, I’d have not only unlimited data over LTE on my iPhone, but also unlimited tethered data over LTE when using my iPhone as a hotspot. For me, the promise of continuing to enjoy unlimited data was well worth paying the extra several hundred dollars for the full retail price of the iPhone.

After deciding that I wouldn’t renew my contract, there was no need to wait until October 11th to purchase the new iPhone. However, by the time I had made my decision, there was a 4-week wait for pre-orders. I decided I’d try to get a phone when they went on sale on Fri, 9/21

Buying Experience

On Fri, 9/21, I needed to be at a meeting in Indiana at 12PM and would be driving from my home near Rockford, IL. Despite all the reports of people camping out waiting in line for the new iPhone, I decided I’d try just showing up at an Apple store and see if I could perhaps get a phone without an overnight wait. So, I chose to stop at the Apple Store at Woodfield Mall, Schaumburg, IL and arrived in line at 7:45AM, just 15 minutes before the store was scheduled to open. While I didn’t count the number of people in line, there were easily over 150 people in line before me, some had chairs and obviously had been waiting quite a while, while many others like me appeared to have just arrived that morning.

view of my spot in line
View of my spot in line

At 8AM, the store opened to cheers from the employees and those in line and quickly the line started moving. It was remarkable how quickly the line moved. As the line moved along, I was able to see that there were several Apple associates who had a box of what looked like small cards. What I learned they were doing is asking those in line what carrier, size, and color they were in line for and would then give a card for the device they would be purchasing. Some were buying 2, but most were just purchasing 1.

When it was my turn to state which device I was in line for, I asked for a Verizon, 64GB, black, but they only had white still available. While I was hoping for black, I opted for white so I could still walk away with my phone that day.

my card
Card I received for my white, 64GB, Verizon iPhone

After a few more minutes of waiting, I was finally in the store and minutes later, I walked out with my new iPhone. In total, I spent 55 minutes from the time I stepped in line, until I walked out of the store with my iPhone. I opted for the AppleCare+ coverage as well. All in all, I was so really pleased to have been able to leave that day with phone in hand.

Unboxing and Setup

As I didn’t return home from traveling for work until Saturday afternoon, that was my first chance to get my phone setup. I personally still backup my iPhone via iTunes on my laptop and so my first step was to do a full backup of my iPhone 4. I had already updated my iPhone 4 to iOS 6, so I’d be able to easily setup my new iPhone by doing a restore from my iPhone 4 backup.

My next step was to unbox my new phone and restore from the iPhone 4 backup. The process was seamless and within a matter of approximately 15 minutes my iPhone 5 was setup.

The final setup process was to call Verizon and activate. Because I had the unique unlimited plan, I needed to call and speak to Verizon customer service rep and ask that they simply replace my iPhone 4 on my plan with the new iPhone 5. While one the phone, the customer service rep also updated my tethering plan from 3G to LTE. It was just a matter of a couple minutes, and my new phone was activated and ready for use. Everything transferred over, including previous voicemails, messages, etc…completely seamless! Now, it was time to start trying out the new phone 🙂

First Impressions

While I’ve only used iPhone 5 over LTE on Verizon for just 24 hours or so, here are a few of my first impressions:

I like white. While in line, I talked with two different Apple Store associates, each of which said they had purchased one color themselves, but now wish they’d purchased the other. Coincidentally, one purchased black, the other white. Now that I have the white, I do like the color, especially the aluminum back.

white and black

LTE is fast!. I had heard from others how much quicker LTE seemed as compared to 3G, and it is true that the speed difference is amazing. The speeds are definitely comparable to broadband access that I have at my home.

The 4″ screen size is perfect. I was a bit skeptical when Apple announced that the screen size would be enlarged, as I really don’t want to have to use 2 hands to operate my phone. The slightly larger screen size is the perfect length for me to be able to reach both the top and bottom of the screen with my thumb. I don’t have overly large hands, so I suspect the same will hold true for most people. The experience of using a thumb as Apple advertises is exactly what I’ve experienced.

iPhone is fast. Apps load notably faster than on my iPhone 4 and it overall seems even more responsive than before.

AirPlay mirroring is great. The AirPlay mirroring over Wi-Fi to my AppleTV works just like advertised. It just works, and does so flawlessly.

Camera is faster. On my iPhone 4, there was a notable delay after taking a photo, before the camera was ready to take another photo. On iPhone 5, the camera is much more responsive and I’ve been able to take photos in rapid succession without delay.

Those are just a few of my initial impressions of iPhone 5. Overall, I’m really glad to made the upgrade.

Have you also upgraded to iPhone 5? What was your experience like? What were your first impressions? Feel free to leave a comment with your experiences.

10 Tips for Getting Started Teaching with Twitter

In response to my recent post sharing reflections of my students concerning Twitter chats in a recent blended course I taught, I was interviewed by Jennifer Funk from the ed tech blog edcetera to share more of my thoughts on the use of Twitter for developing a personal learning network. The resulting article is available here and below I’ve included the full interview transcript.

Twitter app
photo CC-BY hankenstein

Q: From a pedagogical standpoint, what is the value of integrating Twitter into the curriculum?

Twitter broadens the conversation beyond the confines of classroom, allowing for others who also may have insights and resources to share to be included in the conversation. In a social-constructivist approach to teaching that relies upon students actively engaging with the subject matter and sharing their ideas with others, any venue whereby students are able to easily share their ideas, additional resources they may find, as well as converse with one another and their instructor is worth considering. Twitter is indeed a fantastic tool for students to not only share their perspectives on issues, but to also to share links to additional resources as well as to engage in conversations with experts in their field of study.

Since one of my goals in my teaching is to help my graduate students (who are all in-service teachers) build their own individual personal learning networks that they can continued to develop long after they finish my course and even their graduate program, I currently see Twitter as a must-use tool for my students in building their personal learning networks. When introducing students to Twitter, they are often hesitant initially to setup a new social network account. However, after becoming familiar with the tool and understanding how “tweets” can be far more than just text status updates, but include links, photos, and even video, I find that my students truly embrace use of Twitter and find it to be a valuable tool in their own professional development. As they follow other educators, they build a network of colleagues and resources that they continue to learn from and learn with the rest of their lives!

The fact that Twitter is such a dynamic tool and it is optimized for mobile devices is another compelling reason for incorporating it into the curriculum. With the proliferation of mobile devices and preferences for many students to use their mobile device in place of other traditional desktop and laptop computers, technologies that are designed for mobile use are much more likely to be easily incorporated into the curriculum. No matter what mobile platform a student may have, there is guaranteed to be a mobile app available that makes it easy not only follow, but also contribute to a conversation on Twitter, anytime, anywhere!

Twitter is also very flexible and can be utilized in numerous ways, both within the classroom as well as outside to continue a conversation. Faculty who teach large lecture sections could incorporate Twitter as a backchannel for students to ask questions, reflect on their learning, and engage in a dialogue during a lecture. Those who teach smaller sections, labs, or online courses can make use of Twitter to provide news and updates, provide links to additional resources, or even simply seed thoughts for discussion. While Twitter is primarily an asynchronous form of communication, the ability for real-time updates and search of what others are contributing right now make it a fantastic tool for current events and following public conversations in real-time. If one wishes to keep their tweets private and restricted to only a few select followers, that capability is also available. The true value however in Twitter is that conversations are public, allowing for anyone/anywhere to contribute.

Q: Realizing that fear (loss of control, loss of time, etc.) is a deterrent for many professors who might be otherwise interested in using social networks with students, what hesitations did you have about using Twitter with yours, and most importantly, what policies/procedures/strategies did you put in place to minimize the risk factors?

A cautious approach to using social networking tools with students is certainly advisable. In deciding to try using Twitter in my teaching, there were a number of hesitations that I needed to overcome. First, I was concerned about protecting the privacy of both my students and myself, not wanting to give too much personal information. I didn’t really want to see personal tweets from my students, nor did I want to merge my own personal social networking activities with those for my teaching. I also was unsure as to how I might best encourage my students to participate. I did want them to regularly participate on Twitter, but also needed to maintain the graded discussion activities hosted within the learning management system (LMS).

I also wasn’t sure if I would need to, or how I would, manage the volume of posts from students. I was used to years of teaching primarily with the discussion board tool and was conditioned to always reading every post that student would make. I wasn’t sure how much students would make use of Twitter and as a result, how much extra reading would I need to do in order to keep up with the conversations that were taking place.

Overall, I needed to come to grips with the realization that I could not “control the experience” in the same way as I had traditionally controlled discussions within the LMS. While I could provide guidelines and expectations for the students, they ultimately could post anything they wanted and there was a risk of the discussion diverging from it’s intended path. While this “risk” always existed within the LMS, the difference was that the environment of the LMS is controlled (with only the students and myself being able to view the conversations), whereas the public nature of Twitter potentially exposes any conversation to be access by anyone.

After deciding to try using Twitter in my teaching, there were a number of decisions that I needed to make in terms of how I personally would interact with my students on Twitter. I decided I would keep sharing personal “what I’m doing now” types of information to a minimum, but wouldn’t completely abstain from all personal information. I would occasionally share a photo or a more personal bit of info so students would feel as though there were able to connect with me on a more personal level.

I selected a hashtag for the course, beginning with the # sign, that wasn’t already being used prevalently on Twitter that I would post all course-related tweets to and would instruct students to do the same. Hashtags that I have used include: #edt6030 #edt6040 #edt6060 #wd1231

I scheduled regular times each day to check Twitter, generally once in the morning, around lunchtime, and in the evening. I found that I was able to quickly read and respond to the latest tweets from my students and didn’t need to spend as much time reading and responding as I typically spend within the discussion board in the LMS.

I drafted detailed expectations and instructions for my participating. I included these expectations in my syllabus and discussed them with students during our first class meeting together. I found numerous examples already online for how other educators where using Twitter in formulating my own approach. I recommend taking a look at available Twitter rubrics, such as the one shared by the University of Wisconsin – Stout here. In my most recent course section taught, I required students to tweet, with details of my expectations and a summary of the feedback that resulted from my students here. However, I’ve also in other courses made Twitter simply an optional mode of communication that students can choose to engage with me in if they wish.

I informed students prior to our first class meeting together of the expectation to “tweet” for the course and asked students to sign-up for Twitter accounts prior to class. I encouraged students to bring their mobile devices to our first f2f class session and introduced Twitter to my students during that first class session. We discussed together the options for keeping their accounts private or public, but after we discussed the value of allowing others from outside our class to participate in the discussions, the unanimous decision was made to keep our accounts public.

At several different points throughout the course, I specifically asked my students how the experience using Twitter was going and I we were able to work through a few additional questions that they had. The students found Twitter to be very easy to use, once they understood the basics and by the end of the course, students in the course where they were required to tweet each week, had unanimously found Twitter to be of great value to their own personal learning.

Q: You write that one of your goals in creating the Twitter assignment was to “expand the discussion beyond the scope of the typical Blackboard discussion space”; what is your reasoning for moving conversations outside of controlled environments and into public social networks? In what way can this kind of activity not necessarily replace what you do on Blackboard, but instead support it?

There were several reasons why I wanted to move certain conversations outside of the controlled environment of the LMS and into a public social networks. First of all, using a public social network allows others from outside the class section to contribute. For example, in the instance where more than one section of a course is being taught, students can engage in conversations with students, and other faculty as well, from across the various sections, but even beyond to students from around the world interested in that subject matter! Having a single conversation that students from multiple sections, as well as other faculty or experts who may wish to contribute, poses some fascinating opportunities for conversations and resource sharing!

Another reason I chose to make us of a social networking site was that conversations within a social network live on after the course ends, whereas conversations within the course discussion board end when the course does. I didn’t want the resource sharing and collaboration activities to end when the course did, but wanted the experience to have the potential of being more transformative in that students would develop personal learning networks that they could continue developing after the course was over.

I did not abandon the secure discussion boards for the course. I still find secured discussion within the LMS to be effective for more in-depth, academic conversations where students are honing their academic writing skills and expressing their ideas in more substantive way. Many LMS’s have integrated assessment tools that aid in the evaluation of contributions to discussion boards, still making them very efficient and effective for in-depth conversations. But, for select discussion activities that are more surface-level, using Twitter can certainly be a viable alternative

Q: How long had you been a Twitter user before integrating it into your curriculum?

While I had been using Twitter for over a year before I finally began integrating it into my curriculum, that amount of use prior to incorporating into the curriculum isn’t necessary. After just a few weeks of use, one should be comfortable tweeting and be able to begin considering ways to implement. A familiarity and comfort level with the features of Twitter is all that is necessary.

Q: For those faculty who have not yet familiarized themselves with the platform, what resources or strategies do you suggest they employ prior to attempting to use it with students? Or, do you believe there is value in learning alongside students?

I do believe there is value in learning Twitter alongside students, but a basic familiarity is helpful and will greatly increase the likelihood for a successful integration in the curriculum. For that reason, here are a few resources to review and recommendations from my own experience that I would pass along to any educator getting started with Twitter in their teaching:

  1. Become familiar with Twitter yourself first. You don’t need to be a Twitter expert and can learn to an extent alongside your students, but I feel you do need an initial familiarity with the process of posting to Twitter, following others, retweeting (aka: forwarding tweets from others), following hashtag searches, and sending direct messages. A good place to start is to view the “Twitter Basics” and “Extending Twitter” tutorials. For even more resources, see jasonrhode.com/tag/twitter
  2. Install the Twitter app on your mobile device and start using Twitter consistently (daily). While you can login to twitter.com to check see the latest tweets in your stream, if you do have a mobile device, you will likely find that accessing Twitter via an app is a quicker and equally effective way to follow the conversations of your students.
  3. Follow several other educators on Twitter and see how they are using Twitter. There are many great directories of Twitter users you might consider checking out where you can find other Twitter users to follow, such as wefollow.com, twellow.com, or tweetfind.com. You also can feel free to follow me @jrhode.
  4. Read the book, “Social Media for Educators: Strategies and Best Practices” by Tanya Joosten. This book is a fantastic primer for anyone looking to incorporate social media, including Twitter, in their teaching. You can grab a copy of the book from Amazon here.
  5. Let others know that you are on Twitter. Include your Twitter username in your email signature, in presentations you give at professional conferences, etc.
  6. Setup a saved search for your course hashtag that you can then follow. I mentioned earlier the importance of selecting a course hashtag and instructing students to include the course hashtag in any course-related tweets. To easily follow just the course-related tweets from your students (and not necessarily all the tweets from your students), do a search for your course hashtag and save that search either on your mobile Twitter app or at twitter.com. In doing so, you’ll be able to quickly select that saved search and see the latest course tweets.
  7. Setup a private list each course section you teach and add students to that course-specific list as well as a separate list of students. Lists within Twitter are wonderful for creating a subset of users that you wish to follow. I recommend creating a list called “students” where you can add all your students as well as separate lists for each of the sections you teach. Add students to whichever list corresponds to their section. As long as you keep your lists private, you will be the only person who can see the collection of tweets sorted by either all your students or just the students for a particular section. If you ever need to see all the tweets from a subset of your students, or from all your students, you’ll then be able to do so by accessing your lists.
  8. Don’t feel like you must read every tweet from everyone you follow. Twitter isn’t like email where you have an inbox that fills up with emails you receive from others. Rather, Twitter can be compared to a stream that is continually flowing. The more people you follow on Twitter, the harder it will become to read everything that those you follow post. That’s ok! Twitter let’s you see what individuals are saying right now. It is for this reason again that if you want to engage with students via Twitter, I suggest that you login on a daily basis to keep up with the flow of conversation.
  9. Add a Twitter widget to your course. Make it easy for your students to see the latest course-related tweets when they login to your course. One way of doing this is to create a Twitter widget and and embed within your course that will scroll the latest new tweets for a specified hashtag. See the quick video tutorial here for creating a Twitter widget and posting embedding it in Blackboard. The process would be similar for any other LMS.
  10. If you blog already, feed your blog posts to your Twitter account. Now this is an advanced recommendation, but if you do already have a blog, consider using Twitter as another means of sharing with others the content that you are blog. You can use a free utility like IFTTT.com, twiterfeed.com, or some other tool that will allow you to automatically share your blog contributions on Twitter. These new tweets that are automatically posted to your Twitter account from our blog will contain a link to the blog article, driving followers back to your blog.
  11. Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

    Let me just encourage you again to give Twitter a try! I’d love to hear more of your experience using Twitter in your teaching. You can “tweet me” @jrhode

My Personal Learning Network #edumooc

As our attention during Week 6 of EDUMOOC turns to the notion of personal learning networks (PLNs), while there have been many fantastic diagrams and descriptions shared of what PLNs can consist of, I thought I’d share a little of my journey to development my own personal learning network (PLN) as well as the particular tools that I leverage today in building my own PLN.

My interest in the notion of personal learning networks began over a decade ago when as a graduate student I was looking for ways to share what I was learning with others as well as to form a process by which I could continue to build upon my learning after I completed my coursework. My thoughts at the outset were to chronicle my learning and scholarly activities in preparation for the eventual comprehensive exams and dissertation that I new were lying ahead of me but I also saw the opportunity to leverage the newer online technologies that were emerging to expand my own learning beyond the “walls” of the courses that I was taking.

I setup a blog, a rather new tool at that time, and began posting my own insights as well as sharing resources that I came across throughout my studies. Over the years, I’ve continued to build my own personal learning network and while I’m using different technologies and approaches now than when I first began, my underlying purpose remains the same … to continually expand and enrich my network of colleagues whom I can learn from and with as well as share knowledge I’m personally constructing with others.

In my teaching today, I encourage my students to see themselves as lifelong learners and to continually be developing their own individual personal learning networks so that long after they finish my course, they have opportunity to continue to grow and learn while learning from one another. How one

From a professional development angle, the concept of personal learning networks is a powerful one for faculty to grasp as in academia we are continually making new discoveries and through sharing our constructed knowledge, learning from one another. As I work with faculty, my encouragement to them is to continually be looking for ways to expand their horizon and learning network using whatever technology tools are the best fit for them.

My Personal Learning Network – August 2011

Here’s a glimpse at what my PLN consists of currently and the technology tools that at present I’m using.

  • My Twitter Network. When Twitter first came on the scene in 2007, I was among the doubters who wondered how microblogging in such short bytes of information would ever be useful. I’ve since found Twitter to become my primary professional networking tool in building my PLN and keeping current on what is happening in my field. I tweet @jrhode for anyone who would like to connect with me there!
  • My Shared Online Bookmarks (Diigo Library). As I come across online resources that to bookmark for access later, I use the Diigo social bookmarking tool and have found it to be a fantastic tool for not only creating my own personal online library of resources but also in sharing those resources with others. While I initially used Delicious as my social bookmarking tool, I’ve migrated to Diigo and use it instead because of the many added features and specific features for education, like private groups. I have linked my Diigo and Delicious accounts, so that anything I bookmark in Diigo, Diigo will automatically add to my Delicious library for anyone who is still following my Delicious bookmarks. Also, using Packrati, any links I post to Twitter are also bookmarked should I wish to access later.
  • My Shared Academic Resources (CiteULike Library). As I find scholarly resources (ie: journal articles, books, etc.) that I may want to make use of in the future, I bookmark the item in my CiteULike library. CiteULike creates a unique URL for resources for each particular tag used in organizing the resources and users can share scholarly resources in a public or private group. I personally find CiteULike very useful when needing to share a list of scholarly sources I’ve bookmarked on a particular topic, such as social networking (click here).
  • My Facebook Page. While I’m not all that active on Facebook, I do have many students and colleagues who are and would like to connect with me there. Instead of adding acquaintances and students as “friends” in my personal Facebook profile, I’ve setup a separate page at facebook.com/jasonrhodephd where students and colleagues can connect with me. I use Selective Tweets to post select updates from Twitter automatically to my Facebook page.
  • My Google Reader. My RSS subscriptions to blogs and other news sites continues to be my other primary means for keeping current. The Reeder app on my Mac, iPhone, and iPad is currently my preferred way to read and share items from Google Reader. I star particular news items that I may want to come back to later and can easily search from within the app or the Google Reader directly.
  • My Podcast Subscriptions. As an auditory learner with a 40 min. daily commute, podcasts are another tool for me to learn and keep current. I subscribe to a number of podcasts and listen to them to/from work. I prefer audio podcasts since I can speed the playback on my iPhone 2X.
  • My Professional Association Listserv Subscriptions. I am subscribed to the listservs of several professional associations that I am a part of. Email still has a place in my PLN, even in 2011!
  • My Personal Connections (Hashable). With the rise in Twitter, as I’ve met individuals at conferences or other gatherings, I’ve begun using the Hashable app to keep track of who I’m meeting and where. It’s the most recent addition to my PLN and the jury is still out on whether the tool will be around long-term or how long it will be useful. But, for now, it’s been a fantastic tool for helping solidify the connections I’m making with others.

There are other social networking tools that I do use, but these are the ones that have become the primary means by which I am continuing to build my PLN. I’d love to hear what tools or approaches are working for you in building your PLN.

~ Jason @jrhode