Thursday, 29 July 2010

Building up my PLN…. one Tweet at a time

When I started my MA last September, the acronym ‘PLN’ was (like many others) a new one to me. As my course mates talked about getting useful information from their PLNs, I speculated they may be referring to some sort of handheld iPhone style device. When they later mentioned expanding their PLNs, I assumed it was some web application I hadn’t heard of. It was only when members were mentioned that it finally clicked – Personal Learning Network. As I explored the area further, it became apparent that my PLN basically consisted of my work colleagues and fellow MA students and I thought I should expand it. At first everyone was signing up for trial accounts on Google Wave but that never really took off. I also looked into linking to other ELT professionals on FaceBook but I found it hard to move away from the personal aspect of that particular site (not one of my favourite site anyway). Blogging looked like a good idea but getting connected beyond my existing contacts didn’t seem to happen.

Twitter was a possibility that came up on discussions with my fellow MA students but it was one I initially (and quite deliberately) overlooked: it seemed to me of all the ‘social networking’ sites to be the most pointless. 140 characters for an update – to say what exactly? It was described to me as being like the status updates on FaceBook but I’d already had enough of hearing that someone I went to high school with and have barely seen since had a hangover that was worth it or that my cousin was having relationship troubles again. I did sign up to have a look but I quickly arrived at the same conclusion as Ricky Gervais.

So what made me look again? Well, I set myself a summer project of developing my PLN and, yes, I have got a lot of spare time on my hands at present. But, it was actually the World Cup that got me into it (see? This is what I was talking about in my previous post: “When did you start using Twitter?” “Hmmm, World Cup in South Africa – must have been 2010”!) as the Guardian set up their Fans’ Network and I started to see the value of receiving various links to articles, stories and web pages I otherwise would never have seen. Around the same time, I also started to notice the Twitter feeds and ‘follow me’ buttons on a couple of the blogs I read. I started by looking up course mates from my MA and seeing who they were following and it all kind of snowballed from there. I found and started to follow other EFL teachers in Turkey, EFL and ESL teachers and teacher trainers around the globe, specialists in EdTech and K12, people in the field of ELT publishing, and even luminaries from the world of academic study, whose articles I had been reading and discussing over the course of the last year. Through their Twitter pages, I followed links to their blogs and through their tweets, links to various thought-provoking and informative articles, discussions, videos etc.

And slowly, I started to get hooked. I downloaded Tweet Deck to my PC and iPod Touch and set up a Twitter Feed link to this blog. My routine soon began to mirror that described by Vance Stevens (2008) in his ‘Trail by Twitter’ of checking tweets that had appeared overnight shortly after breakfast and following the various links throughout the day. I still think Twitter is a load of twaddle as a ‘social’ site but I now really value the ‘networking’ side of it. In fact, I believe it would be better if Twitter was referred to as just a ‘networking’ site rather that a ‘social networking’ one. I’ve also learned how to use Twitter effectively through links from various tweets. Here are some of my favourites:

7 Power Twitter Tips and Why I Like Them

Seven top tips for building your professional learning network with Twitter

How Social Media Can Make Us More Productive

…and this one I saw late last night – I wonder if this social media thing will ever catch on?
There are also many great tips out there for making use of Twitter in language learning. Alas, as my students are aged 8-10, I don’t think my school or the parents are going to be overly keen on getting them to tweet (they were even concerned about me telling my students to make use of the British Council’s LearnEnglishKids site last year!). However, when we are back to work in September I shall certainly be working hard to persuade as many of my colleagues as possible to start developing their own PLNs through Twitter and other social media. I’ve even made an early suggestion that it could be workshop material. I’ll let you know how I get on!

In the meantime, those of you out there in my PLN and beyond, any advice on how to further expand and connect? any comments and advice welcome!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I just have to check Tweet Deck…..

Sunday, 11 July 2010

A Brief Overview of My Life According to the World Cup

The World Cup 2010 draws to a close tonight with a Spain v. Holland final. It’s been a good few weeks of football, with the exception of any game involving England that is…. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve anticipated and followed each World Cup eagerly and a good portion of my brain stores facts, stats and stories from those festivals of football. My wife is often astounded by my ability to tell her not only which team won and who the star players were but also the locations, surprise teams, the qualifying campaigns, the history…..

It doesn’t just extend to the sporting details either. World Cups provide me with important anchors in time. Ask me where I was, what I was doing, what was going on in life in 1995 for example and I’ll have to think for a little bit before I can tell you. Ask me the same about 1994 and I’ll say “USA 1994: just finished my GCSEs, enjoying an early summer with the luxury of being able to stay up late for those late kick-offs, making crucial decisions about what A-Levels to take and experiencing my first extended period in the world of work.” The same runs true for the European championships to an extent but there’s nothing quite like the World Cup and I’d like to indulge in a bit of personal reflection of my lifetime:

Argentina ‘78 took place weeks before I was born and I was too young to pay attention to Spain ‘82. I don’t think anyone in my family was into those tournaments much either with England in the international wilderness in the late 70s and my dad not really being into football that much. Strange that: most people talk about their love of football and a particular team coming from their dads but for me, I discovered football by myself and my dad only started to take an interest after I did. (That’s my excuse for supporting Man Utd and not my local team Stoke or my dad’s local childhood team Blackpool.)

Mexico ‘86 is the first tournament I was aware of and I remember recreating games and playing out upcoming matches in the playground with my friends. I also have a clear memory of begging my parents to let me stay up and watch England v. Argentina but being told it was on too late (a fact not helped by the fact that we were in Cyprus at the time meaning the match was even later local time). I also remember my first encounter with the controversial side of football as Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ contributed to England’s elimination. As an 8 year-old, it was difficult to accept the injustice of it all and the thought of another chance being 4 years away was hard to bear.

4 years passed and Italia ‘90 came with my family living back in England and coming to terms with the recent death of my grandfather from leukaemia. This was the first time I followed and watched a World Cup closely and it helped to distract me from the loss of Grandad. Again, there are good memories of role-playing the games on the playground as Cameroon shocked the world with a win over Argentina (served them right for ‘86!) and got all the way to the quarter-finals where they were knocked out by England, who came so close to getting to the final. Then there was Gazza's tears, the previously unknown Toto Schillaci lighting up the competition with his goals, Rijkaard and Voeller exchanging spittle as Germany and Holland clashed in more ways than one, Jack Charlton’s Ireland side reaching the last eight and Carlos Valderamma’s hair… Such great memories, which made me all the more surprised to hear years later how Italia ‘90 is often viewed as the worst tournament since the whole thing began in 1930 (but at least someone out there shares some of my more favourable memories of the event).

USA ‘94 was covered above but those decisions I made then affected where I found myself for France ‘98 as I was preparing for my final year of university in Newcastle. I was studying Ancient History back then, a path I had chosen after electing to take history as an A-Level subject and being encouraged to take my studies further by my teacher Mr Bowman. On that Ancient History course, a classmate would inform me about a career’s talk for teaching English abroad and, well, I assume you know where that led me! By the time of the Korea/Japan World Cup in 2002, I was in Turkey establishing my reputation as a teacher and facing some choices and decisions about where my career and life was going. Germany ‘06 was proof that the right decisions and choices had been made as I found myself happily married and watching the games with a 3 month old baby boy on my lap!

Which brings us all to South Africa 2010. What’s the backdrop to this World Cup? What are the associated memories going to be in the years to come? Well, I’m happy with where I am and what I do and trying to further my career and better myself through my MA studies and looking into getting an article or two published. I also now have a son aged 4 and watching him grow up is a joy. I don’t remember Spain ‘82 from when I was 4 but, as I said, my dad wasn’t into football that much. Maybe as I am into football in a big way, my son will remember something about this one as we have watched some games together and kicked a ball around in the park as well. One things for sure though: he won’t have much of an England performance to remember. The England v. Germany game did give him his first taste of footballing injustice, however. I mean, he’s just 4 with only a basic grasp of what football is and even he shouted ‘goal!’ when Frank Lampard’s shot bounced off the crossbar and over the line…. Oh, well, for me at least it was easier to take than Mexico ‘86.