Using social media for personal learning

Today I ran a short session where I shared how I use social media to enhance my learning. I've blogged previous about this topic in the post Social Media for YOUR learning but now I've refined my thinking and developed a better presentation about this I thought I'd share my thinking again.

I decided to represent my thinking in the below pearltree.  Pearltree is a website where you can create mindmap-type groups of bubbles which links to websites.  I've started using it as my main bookmarking site.  It took a bit of getting used to but its good if you want to group things and is certainly more visually appealing than a normal bookmarking service.

Making sense of how I use social media to aid my learning is a tricky business.   However, I have a sort of system and this what I wanted to share.  Although the process is iterative some types of activity do present themselves.  An important point is that different aspects of the same tool fit into the different categories I identify.

  • Seeking and consuming knowledge - This is mainly my RSS reader and twitter.  I use google reader and have a carefully refine list of blogs and learning technologies news services which I subscribe to.  With twitter, I don't spend as much time as I could or should on this.  I'm following 170 or so people and it purely about learning technologies.  I have a seperate account for fun stuff as it's useful to differentiate between my learning and social life.  In the pearltree below I've also included google and linkedin as these are also important places I look for things.
  • Aggregation - Very closely associated with seeking knowledge is the aggregation of knowledge.  You need to aggregate before you can consume in a discerning fashion.  RSS and the process of subscribing are fundamentally components of this.  Gradually twitter is muscling in on my time but I still love my google reader.  Also included below are evernote where the different folders I create and the notes I take are a form of aggregation for review later and diigo.  I use diigo because it allows for groups which, along with the normal tagging, allow me to easily find types of bookmarks.
  • Website note-taking - I tend not to do this in its purest sense but it deserves its place as there are a host of services which can be utilised for this purpose.  Of the sites listed in this pearl below, my activity is mainy confined to evernote which I use to copy/paste the best bits, the golden nuggets of knowledge I find.  By creating a note for each set of such nuggets, I can include a weblink and tag for future reference.  The important point here is that you find time to review later - that's the learning.  I also ensure that when I bookmark in diigo I write a few words to remind myself what the site is about.  However, with bookmarking proper tagging are key.  Bounce and scrible are note-taking on the website tools.
  • Knowledge sharing - This is an important part of the ethos of social media and web 2.0 - you share as well as consume, you give as well as receive.  My chief forum for this is twitter where I get benefit from articulating the key points in a tweet and from generating more contacts to follow and be followed.
  • Brainstorming/sense-making - Here I've included a drawing tool and a couple of mindmapping tools.  I use mindmapping tools a lot to helping create relationship between concepts and play with my ideas.
  • Text-based dialogue learning - This will be different for everyone.  My networks for this include a couple of learning technology groups and some linkedin groups, but I've also included my blog where dialogue can occur in the comments.
  • Writtern reflection - This completes the circle.  It's what I'm doing now and it a vital component for my learning.  The fact that I've not done much blogging over the last few months isn't good and I know I learn less when do less blogging.  The process of articulating for an potential audience is right at the heart of learning.  By refining my words, I refine my learning.

I would be interested in hearing anyone's thoughts on my PLE and hearing about the tools you use.

Tablets: Finally a technology for the classroom

I wanted to blog again as it's been a while.  Amongst all the different facets of my work recently, the area that is most stimulating my thinking is ipads and the potential of tablets in formal education.

I feel strongly that tablets have the potential to have really positive impact on our formal education in the classroom.  Internet based technology have a duel function within formal education.  Use within the classroom and as the hub of activity for homework assignments.  Now with tablets and the excellent ipad, we finally have a technology with the potential to widespread use in the classroom.  It's in the classroom where technology can truly be blended into the learning design.  Homework is fine but formal education is 99% face-to-face.  Rightly or wrongly, this is our reality.  And technology that can fit seamlessly and unobstructively into this environment is what is needed.  Ipad provide this.

Within my training event 21st Century tools for teaching and learning, I don't really talk about the context for use but I'm aware that widespread use of the internet within the classroom is difficult logistically for most educational institutions with current hardware.  The only way it can work within the classroom is within laptops/notebooks - until now. 

I'm started to find blogs reflecting on ipad trials (e.g. and  I'm going to keep and eye on these as I start this new strand to my learning process.  Now I own one myself I was try educate myself on the apps.  The apps are the focus but use of internet tools not packages in apps should not be ignored as ipads are an excellent browsing tool.  The key affordance is the potential for engagement - annotation, highlighting, interaction, creation etc.  So dynamic content can be created, delivered and actively engaged with by each student.

I see this as an introductory post on a subject which should occupy my thinking over the coming months so plan to explore different aspects in future posts. 

Discussion activity templates

In our rush to  promote knowledge and understanding of dynamic, creative and engaging internet-based technologies within formal education, it's easy to lose sight of the importance of core text-based interaction tools like discussions or forums.  Such communication channels can be a really good way of eliciting a reflective dialogue when setup and facilitated effectively.  The key point is that the asynchronicity allows for reflection and considered articulation of your thoughts (something I've reflected on in Asynchronous = Time and space learning , The difference between asynchronous and synchronous learning activities and The learning cycle and the power of asynchronous learning activities ).  For me, the process of rearranging and retyping words in a forum post is as close to a manifestation of the learning process as you can get.  Your knowledge and understanding is being refined and crystallised based on the thoughts of other learner's. In addition, you are presenting your position and making a conscious effort to get your point across.  In addition, regular engagement in text-based learning activities have a really positive effect on developing a learner's written articulation skills.

I work in UK Higher Education where its rare for courses to make use of learning technologies not to design in some discussion based learning activities.  A common technique for those involved in helping educators design such activities is to use representations of practice.  This could include case studies, or pedagogical templates.  Quite often, learning technologies come up with their own and I am no different.  I try to use representations which have pedagogical rigour but are also easily digestable.  The level of abstraction needs to be somewhere between being too abstract for easy application and too specific to be adaptable.  Also, a consideration for easy digestion is the length of the representation.  Basically, its not good to be too long.
Below are a set of representations that can be used for any online discussion tool.  Each box represents example wording that can be adapted for use within any learning activity using this tool.  You will notice that there is lots of process support in each wording.  This covers how the learners should engage with the activity and explaining how the tutor/facilitator will engage.  Such process support is a vital part of the design of online learning activities and often overlooked.

Ideally I use these activity wordings as part of learning design consultation.  It helps educators new to e-learning visualise how such activities could work.  It also highlight the different types of discussion you can have.  I've grouped the wordings within a scaffolded learning process - it happens to be Salmon one but I could have used others.  The point of this is to show how discussions can be used at different stages of a scaffolded learning process.  What's interesting is that other tools like wikis are more suitable for later stages in the learning process whereas the discussion tool is a versatile and can be used within lots of different contexts. 

I hope you find these useful.

Collaborative bookmarking in education

To continue the series of posts on the theme of internet-based tools for teaching and learning, here is my latest thinking on collaborative bookmarking in education.

Firstly, the term I'm using is collaborative bookmarking rather than social bookmarking.  This is because I'm trying to put it within a educational context.  The emphasis, therefore, is collaboration or co-construction of knowledge and understanding and using an online bookmarking service as part of such a pedagogical design.

The best way of experiencing online bookmark is to experience it for yourself and, unlike other online tools with potential for education, there is a clear rationale for personal bookmarking as it's a much, much better than saving website links than the old favourites, folders way.  Part of this is about digital literacy, we really need to help our educators understanding and experience key social media concepts for themselves to help them comprehend how formal can utilise such tools.  For example, for social bookmarking tagging is key.  The power is in the multiple tags you can put against single sites so that sorting and categorisation can be nuanced and flexible.  Although tagging exists across all social media, it's amazing how it isn't used by the vast majority in most tools/services.  With bookmarking you pretty much have to tag, so it's a good way of forcing people to learn this skill and experience its benefits.  This is the folksonomy concept.

The learning context is simply - group creation of a relevant weblinks so that the workload is shared and the useful resources people find can be built up into a bank of resources for groups in the future.  The principle is sound so what are the tools?
I've used two services: and  Delicious has changed much over the years.  As a pure bookmarking tool, in its current version, this is my favourite.  It's brief marriage to yahoo didn't do it any favours (I went elsewhere whilst this occurred) and its progress has been set up a few years as a result.  It's strength is its simplicity and the stacks feature is a good one.  I can see how stacks could be utilise for student activities where they are asked to find and present as a resource relevant websites on a particular topic.

However, for a group learning context its not ideal.  For this I would recommend as its more geared towards education.  A free education license ( gives you the ability to create accounts for students in a group.  You could use such a group to share resources and I've helped a number of colleagues do this for their courses.  What's good is that you get a url for your group area which you can share and post to your vle area websites.  Also, with diigo you can make notes against each bookmark or make notes on the webpage itself.  I've used diigo to plan sessions like this one with colleagues.

So what's my experience of bookmarking in my UK HE institution?  Overall, I would say the courses I've helped with haven't made much use of their group bookmarking facility. Its worth reflecting on why?
  • Usability has an impact as it's not great.  Ok, there's a diigo toolbar but what if your educational institution won't let you do this? Well, you are left with their rather cumbersome usability. Also, access to any diigo requires a login.  Although you can create this for students its still an extra step.  I advise where possible you duplicate other logins they may have.
  • There's an ethos of sharing at the heart of social media and when shoehorned into a formal education context it often doesn't sit well.  There's an element of competition, an element of selfishness ingrained into the mentality of learners who have come through schooling and have arrived at higher education - at least at the moment.
  • The common context for use has been as a course wide sharing of readings and references related to the writing of the assignment.  Technically students should be collecting these throughout the course.  However, its common for this to occur in a mad rush at the end.  There's no time or use for sharing resources at this stage.  It would be preferable to relate the sharing of web resources to a particular learning activity so that the rationale and incentive is clear and you can quickly reach large number of bookmarks.  It's only when you have lots that you see the benefit of having a dedicated bookmarking service.  Otherwise, students will simply paste via a forum or email.
I've had a section within my session 21st Century Tools for Teaching and Learning on bookmarking since I started it a 3 years ago.  I've been able to create a diigo create and hand out logins for people to try out the uploading process.  It's worked well.  At the last day I did on 7th Feb there were interesting ideas of using it for sharing resources amongst staff and parents.

I'd welcome any comments about your experiences of bookmarking in education, whatever the context.

Using forums/blogs/wikis to facilitate learning: A summary

As usual for me, I'm breaking away from an existing train of thought in these posts for something different.

When you work with VLEs/LMSs you deal extensively with the text-based communication tools that exist in all systems.  The 3 biggies are the discussion/forum tool, the blog/journal tool and the wiki tool.  Explaining how each can be used to facilitate learning within learning activities is a key challenge for the Learning Technologist.  What's really important is that you articulate clearly the subtle differences between these tools and what their pedagogical affordances are. 

Here are my attempts to sum things up:

Discussion/forum tool
Use the asynchronous online discusssion tool for engaging students in a text-based dialogue:
  • to facilitate a meaningful learning dialogue amongst students
  • to develop students‘ written communication skills
  • to allow time and space for tutors and students articulate clearly and thoughtfully when engaging in a dialogue
  • to flexibly engage with students
Blog/journal tool
Use the blog/journal tool:
  • to facilitate reflection amongst students
  • to facilitate individual feedback from tutor to student through private journal/blog structures
  • to develop students‘ written communication skills
  • to allow time and space for students articulate clearly and thoughtfully when reflecting on their learning
  • to flexibly engage with students
Wiki tool
Use the wiki tool for co-construct text:
  • to facilitate collaboration amongst students the editing and refining of eachothers words within a group project context
  • to facilitate co-operation amongst students through the allocation of tasks within a group project context
  • to allow time and space for students articulate clearly and thoughtfully when writing on a particular topic
There's much more to it of course.  However, I'm trying to summarise here and give the key messages.  I welcome the views of others.

Backchannels in the classroom

I thought I'd write a series of posts articulating my current thinking on different types of internet based tools and their use within education. My expertise in this area is largely based around finding things, playing with them and assessing their potential for teaching and learning. My last few posts have been based around this subject in some way or another.  However, I've not done much about specific types of tools. 

Firstly, backchannels. This is a where you use a micro-blogging or chat based tool to facilitate a text-based dialogue within a live session.  My focus here is an its potential for the classroom, but they are primarily used within conferences.  For the classroom, backchannels lend themselves to a context where mobile device are used - so smartphones or tablets or laptops. 

I would guess that many readers of this blog would be familiar with backchannels at conferences. Mostly, this would occur using a twitter hashtag - #. This is appropriate for conferences because conference organisers would want dialogue around their sessions to be public. Also, the only people that would entertain participating in such a dialogue would be active micro-bloggers and they would already have twitter accounts.  I've been a few sessions where it's been a pointless exercise to even have a backchannel as its ignored throughout.  However, I've also been to events where dialogue on twitter forms an integral part of the event.  They have people monitoring it and feeding into the face-to-face conversation.  Of course, it works best if the speakers are involved in this.

Within formal education, you want your own space for the dialogue, a space that a teacher can setup and control.  So twitter is probably not the right environment.   There are a number of services where you can quickly and easily set up a backchannel and embed or link to within your website/VLE.  The only one I've actually used in a real class situation is worked well.  There are other similiar tools like and  I nearly used as I liked the tidy interface but the 140 character limit meant I shied away from it.  Generally, you want the freedom to write more than a few words but todaysmeet and other micro-blogging alternatives still have use as its a good skill to have to articulate your points within this character limit.  I've not mentioned edmodo because this is more than a backchannel, its more of a virtual environment where a number of things can occur.

But why do this? What are the benefits? Here are some obvious points:
- Question asking/question answering
- Feedback
- Communication amongst students
- Alongside and in reaction to a spoken event, video, image or presentation

However, you can do all of this anyway using this thing called a voicebox - I hear you cry.

For me, this extra communication channel CAN add value to any learning context - it's called Technology Enhanced Learning.  The degree to which this occurs will vary from student to student.  The main logistical point is that it allows for engagement without having to wait for the end of any presentation of content - allowing the student to articulate their thoughts as they occur to them.  I have found this really powerful during conference presentations.  Being able to bang out tweets greatly increases the value of such sessions.  It's about contextualising the learning, putting it in my words so that the knowledge gets subsumed into my understanding. 

The variety comes with the comfort level an individual student has with using a backchannel - with engaging by typing short messages.  For some, they will be more comfortable engaging via a backchannel than by raising their hand and speaking.  For some, the opposite will be true.  What's important is that educators don't close their minds to tools which wouldn't suit them - your students might not be the same. 

So, you could sum up by saying backchannels:

- Engage students who otherwise might not contribute
- Evens the playing field for involvement
- Can't be dominated by the loudest voice
- Allow students to ask questions on the fly without interrupting
- Allow teachers to see and answer questions quickly
- Give teacher feedback on the level of understanding or confusion in the class
- Provides a record of the dialogue for future reference
- Demands engagement with the material to participate

An important point which should not be overlooked is the development of writing skills.  It will improve writing and a student's ability to articulate themselves quickly using text.  There's also the development of keyboard skill if laptops/tablets are being used. 

The difficult with a backchannel is in the management of it.  It's important to work out protocols for use AND how you, as the teacher, will engage with it and when.  It's important you are clear about the use and benefit of the tool.   You want to avoid false expectations and feeling overwhelmed by the dialogue.

In the only session where I setup and managed a backchannel, I found that I would have to manufacture its use.  Some valuable ideas were shared which I could then share after the session, however it didn't flow as well as I liked.  This might have been due to the room setup and the fact that we were using desktop computers but I wonder what the different would be if I was teaching children rather than adults?

Teaching without powerpoint - Using a website creation tool

There's lots to reflect on when you teach.  Rarely do we get a chance or have the inclination to do this fully.   For my role as a Learning Technologist in a Higher Education institution (Institute of Education, London, UK), I don't do a massive amount of teaching.  There is some but mostly the help and advice I provide is done informally in one-to-one meetings.  Anyway, I want to reflect on some teaching I did recently as I'm looking to improve and develop this particular session.

On Tues, 7th Feb, I ran a session called 21st century tools for teaching and learning.  I've blogged about the planning of this session before if you are interested - .  There's much to reflect on, but I wanted first to think about how I structured and presented it.  The biggest challenge with this session is the amount of different websites I ask the participants to visit throughout the day.  There are lots of different types of tools to demonstrate and practice using.  To facilitate this process I have always create a website to act as the hub for the day.  In the past I've used a social networking facility like or  However, this time I switched to a normal website creation tool.  The reason is that the social networking services are geared towards communication and don't present content particularly well.  As participants weren't really using the communication tools within the sites during the day (despite my encouragement) it seemed preferable to display the content as dynamically as I could using a tool more suited to this task.  I chose mainly because I've used it before and it allows for embedded outside tools, videos, documents etc.  So I created a website with a different page for each type of tool I was teaching about:
  • Backchannels
  • Web 2.0 technologies in education
  • Noticeboards
  • Word clouds
  • Drawing tools
  • Mindmapping
  • Collaborative bookmarking
  • Tool exploration
  • Multimedia Posters
  • Digital Story-telling
  • Choosing an online tool
  • Creative Commons/Copyright
  • Map Tools
  • Timelines
  • Game sites
  • Quick Feedback tool
  • Application first steps
Within each page I had a consistent structure of a short presentation, embedded or linked example and activities.  The activities were setup so that the participants could practice using the tool within a relevant context.  Unfortunately, I can't share this website with you.  It was paid for session so it seems silly to give away for free what others had to pay for.  However, I've duplicated the word cloud page and it's available here if you are interested in seeing how the pages were structured:

Overall, the system worked well.  Some reflections:

- Some of the ICT co-ordinators were interested in the tool I'd used to create the website. 
- I'm not sure the presentations I embedded onto each page were necessary.  It didn't feel quite right presenting from slides in this context and environment.  I would be better served simply talking about the subject matter from memory when I visited each page. 
- Having the weblinks on the relevant pages worked well and made the navigation and structure very clear for all. 
- The website serves as a resource after the session for participants.  They simply revisit the site to download anything relevant and revisit the tools I've highlighted.  They seemed to like that idea.
- I didn't give them much paper as everything was on the site.  Any presentations were added as files to download.
- The activities mostly worked well although I will reflect about specific tool-types in later posts.

Had I used a normal powerpoint I would be forever toggling between the internet and my slides it would have been chaotic.  I can recommend using a free website service like weebly to act as the hub of any workshop you do involving lots of internet based activities. 

21st Century Tools for Teaching and Learning: rules for practical/hands on teaching

This post continues reflection on the learning design process I am currently engaged in for a session I run a couple of times a year and am running again on 7th Feb: 21st century tools for teaching and learning.  In a previous post on my blog, A learning design process using social media: Brainstorming and Aggregating, I wrote about using a noticeboard tool and a bookmarking tool to help in the design process.  I created a noticeboard representation of the existing session to help me reflect on where I was at and where I need to revisit the learning design:

(I'd advise you to right-click and open the above in a new tab/window)

Looking at this allowed me to see that there isn't enough practical components.  I wanted more and, following a scoping exercise, I added a few bits:

(I'd advise you to right-click and open the above in a new tab/window)
Teaching internet-based tools for teaching and learning in a practical way requires careful thought. 

Here are some golden rules I follow:
  • Simple or no account creation - you can’t have participants spending 5 minutes creating an account. Email validation is a big no-no too. There is fine for real life personal use but if you want participants to try things out, it needs to seem easy. Always make the point that there are many examples of any tool type.  Of course, it needs to be free, see Choosing social media/web 2.0 tools for use in teaching and learning for more on this.
  • Good usability - I try to teach tool types not specific websites.  Therefore, I try and show a few different examples.  For them to practice I choose the one with the best usability, the one with the lowest learning threshold so they can have a go as quickly as possible.  Once you've done this you can share the pros and cons of the different services you have identified.
  • Learn the processes inside out - This is a logical point but an important one (as are the others really).  Teach them the basic usability by doing it yourself and float and help whilst they play with it.  It's vital that each click is explained, mistrust of new online tools is quick to take hold so it needs to appear as easy as you can make it.  With their personal ICT skills you will get to know who to concentrate on, but in the beginning don't assume anything.  This is biggest problem people have with any hands on session involving computing.
  • Give them an authentic task - I've struggled with this in the past.  The more you know about their context the better but there is a usually a generic type of activity you can think of so that they start inputting into a particular tool in an authentic way.  One way of doing this is by requesting participants bring content to the session.  However you do it, it's important to try and get participants to think about its use in their teaching context.  The best way to do this is with them performing an authentic task using the tool.

A learning design process using social media: Brainstorming and Aggregating

Here are some reflections on using an online noticeboard tool and a collaborative bookmarking tool as part of a learning design process.

21st century tools for teaching and learning is the title of session I run a couple of times a year and I'm running it again on 7th Feb.  Its a workshop where teachers in London can come and learn about a various of internet-based tools which they use in their teaching.  What I'm doing is aggregating what's out there, making sense of it and then articulating what I've learnt for those in schools.  If you are reading this post then you are probably minded to go out and find these things for yourself.  However, this session is aimed at the majority of educators who do not have the time or the inclination to do this.  I last ran it in May, 2011 and reflected on it here.  Its really interesting to reread past reflections on teaching so that I can remind myself what worked well and how it felt about it.

My long term plan for this session is to break it up into1 hour long chunks and offer them after work so that there are easier and more managable for busy professionals to get to.  Anyway, that's for another time because this post is about the learning design process currently underway for the session.  For a session like this it's imperative that you keep learning in a fast changing world.  I'm not looking for cutting edge software instances of tool types that are quick and easy to use with clearly identifiable applications in education.

For the second time, I'm lucky to have Isobel Bowditch help me with the session.  Firstly, we decided to examine what we've got and brainstorm ideas for the different tool type we wanted to cover and roughly how we are going to cover them.  Looking at the previous session programme, we had some practical elements where we get participants to practice using an instance of a tool type.  The others bit are demo or me talking.  There is 4:30 hours to fill.  I wanted to visually represent what we have so that we can make sense of it and easily play around the various components.  I chose one of the noticeboard tools - and added a stickie for each element.  (Previously I've used  but I've found it to be unreliable on occasion.  The hard part is judging the timing and I've estimated 15mins for practical and 5 or 10 mins for demo/presentation elements.  We started by representing the existing programme. 

Then, there was a scoping exercise.

For this we used various sites/documents which list or describe different tool types. This is pretty unscientific process which I described in the post Choosing social media/web 2.0 tools for use in teaching and learning.  So that Isobel and I could aggregate what we found, I decided to use a collaborative bookmarking service. This way we could both add things as we found them and then review together. I used My preferred bookmarking service has swung back and forth from to a couple of times. The current delicious is good because of its simplicity. Its a pure bookmarking tool and adding something is very easy. Diigo's usability isn't great but it does groups which is what you need for this sort of exercise. So I created this group:

And we started adding things and putting our comments on their suitability for our session. This meant that when we got together for another brainstorming session we could review the diigo group, visit and discuss the different tools and edit the linoit noticeboard.  This is the finished product.  I've used yellow for practical bits and blue for demo/presentation bits.

The next stage is to start fleshing out the design of the session.  Some of the tools that make the final cut need to studied so that we can teach others about them.  Also, in some instances we've identified that we want to do a practical bit on a particular tool type but have yet to identify the most suitable instance of that tool to use.

Using linoit and diigo combined with face-to-face meetings we moved smoothly through the brainstorming portion of the learning design process in an organised and efficient way.  I can recommend both.   

Social media for YOUR learning

Happy new year.

We are learning all the time. Structuring and directing this learning doesn’t need to be confined to courses and formal education. For an individual learner it is possible to construct your own personal learning environment utlitising different online tools for different purposes. It’s always been possible but social media tools make it far, far easier than previously possible. I’ve conceptualised some of the possibilities in this mindmap:

I’ve divided it into two categories: Personal Learning and Collaborative Learning. However, because social media is inherently social there are opportunities for communication and collaboration throughout. It’s important to think about the type of learning activity a particular tool ‘affords’. I find affordance a useful concept when thinking about technology and learning. It basically means what a tool lends itself towards doing. Mindjumpers is all about articulating for companies what each social media tool affords for them in terms of marketing; for me, its learning. So, in the above mindmap, I don’t just say blogging, I say written reflection; because this is the part of the learning process that this social media tool affords.

I could sum up the personal learning side of the mindmap by saying:

You can use different social media tools to seek out knowledge/content, aggregate it so that you can store it/find it later in an organised fashion, reflect on this knowledge perhaps using visualisation tools and articulate it in writing.

This post continues thinking from