Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Using Twitter as a PLN

Back on Twitter again (like my brother-in-law says, I'm like a dog with a bone....but I DO try to be discerning when choosing my bones).  
It seems to me that too many of my colleagues in this country tend to see social networking as only being for social purposes. If you do not understand the potential it has for professional growth, you may be missing the boat!

Experiencing the power

In the past few months, I have had the opportunity to get a taste of the excitement and power of Twitter. The first time was when I was at a rally, where there were tens of thousands of people (albeit, Israelis, mind you, who have NOT yet jumped on the Twitter bandwagon for the most part).  At one point one of the organizers told everyone to take a selfie and Tweet it with the hashtag #רוציםשינוי (wewantchange). I did so, and sent it out into the electrified cyberspace surrounding me.  Within seconds a stream of hastags flooded my Twitter stream! THIS is social networking - not that there will be any follow up for that hashtag, but there COULD be. 

And the thing with Twitter (unlike Instant Messaging such as Whats App, or Facebook IM, for example) is that tweets are public, permanent and searchable. So when I went into my Tweetdeck and did a search for the hashtag mentioned above, I found lots of tweets that had used it since (especially leading up to the Israeli elections) but when I went 23 days back, I could see the entire stream of Tweets that were sent from that rally (including my own ;-)

Another experiment I participated in not long ago was a campaign that Hamas leaders ran in order to harness the power of this tool for their own propaganda purposes. (Sidenote: the motivation I had for delving into Twitter in the first place was the war this past summer, and how I witnessed a young girl from Gaza gain a worldwide following of thousands - 181,920 currently - by tweeting from her home about the situation during the war. I realized that this was a line of communication that needed to be developed by people on our side of the border, as well.) 

The week-long campaign that a few of the leaders of the Hamas in Gaza ran was with the hashtag: #AskHamas and the unfortunate title of "Truth from the mouth of the horse". The campaign was apparently an attempt to disavow the label it has on it as a terrorist organization, however apparently the vast majority of the tweets were hostile to the Palestinian group. I popped in a few times to see what was going on with it and for the most part found that it had blown up in their faces. They were FLOODED with cynical questions from opponents from around the world. I saw it written about in a few online papers (and if I am not mistaken, reported about on a few TV stations, as well.) So although this was not what I would call a successful campaign for achieving what they had intended,  it DID demonstrate for me the potential this tool has for sharing opinions and crossing all borders!

Of course, it also demonstrated some possible pitfalls, but then again, from my own personal experience of trying to be an advocate of national, political issues, I have had the unpleasant experiences of being picked up by trolls spewing hate, whom I usually just ignore.

Harnessing the energy

After trying (without much success - yet ) to get my Israeli students onto Twitter, I have decided to focus on a different direction: the one I, myself, truly find Twitter useful for: as a PLN for EFL teachers here. 

A PLN (Personal Learning Network) is a network that " allows educators to seek advice, trade best practices, or simply network with other professionals". Part of my PLN is the group on Facebook EFL Digital Pedagogy in Israel (which you are all welcomed to join) as well as other FB groups on the subject. But as I have discovered, Twitter is a fantastic way to learn from professionals and their experiences from all over the world! (And as English speakers, there is a virtual universe of help, ideas and learning to be discovered out there!) 

Albeit - Twitter has room for only 140 characters (including punctuation and spaces) but most of the professional topics and ideas that people are sharing are links to articles and podcasts, so 140 is more than enough!

I access podcasts (which I admit I do not often have time to watch), but mostly I check out blogs and articles about digital issues that interest me, and I want to learn more about (favorite tools, best practices, ideas for projects, etc.) Seek and ye shall find!

My personal favorites

Here are some of my favorite names and their Twitter Handles (call names):

These are all educators or companies which are run for and by educators (many are language teachers - but not all. Many are EFL teachers - but not only).

If I am interested in learning more about a specific topic, I write the topic after a hashtag (no spaces). For example, I want to learn more about projects that people are doing with students on Twitter with EFL (English as a Foreign Language - which is what I teach). I wrote the two topics (with a space between them) in the "Search" window:  #EFL #twitter and came up with this (the ones I framed in red are those that I will click on and follow up):

Top results for search for #EFL #Twitter

Basic Twitter techniques

I can also "call out" to people by writing their Twitter handle, to get their attention (for example if I want to write to Silly Sally, I will write:  @SillySally . It will be visible to her and to those who follow the both of us. 

If I put a period (.)directly before the "at" sign @ (for example:  .@sillysally ) it will be visible to ALL of my followers in their timelines.

I can also write Direct Messages (DMs) to people whom I am following and who are following me (it must be reciprocal). These messages are still limited to the 140 characters, but they are private and others will not see them. 

I have just opened a collaborative twitter account and hope to get the team I work with at REED on board to experience the potential for learning through Twitter. I will let you know how THAT progresses - I am feeling optimistic that at least now that we are off school for two weeks, my colleagues might be tempted to experiment. 

If I have managed to entice YOU into giving Twitter a go for developing a PLN (or at least enriching your professional toolbox a little) the list of names and Twitter handles I provided above is a good place to start.  You can also follow me @AdeleRaemer and our team @EnglishREED !

And DO let me know if you get hooked! (Maybe I will follow YOU! ;-)  At any rate, don't let the ship sail without you!

Happy Passover!!!!!

Digitally yours,


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Programs that can encourage your students to write

Practice makes perfect. In order to improve your writing, you need to write. And luckily, today we teachers have more tools at our disposal than in the past to try to coax that writing our of our students. There are LOTS of digital options to use (Googledocs, and CNN iReports, which I have written about here, before) but it is really exciting to get your students to write a book! This can be done on any level (even the  most basic) of language acquisition. Your students can write books that are based on pictures, or they can write books that have more text in them. 

One of the platforms I was aware of before is called Flipsnack, where you can upload files that are written in Word, saved in PDF and uploaded. 

Another option which I discovered more recently, is called OurBoox. It is an Israeli-based platform which claims to be the simplest platform for uploading and sharing books. You can read more about them in their "About" section. In order to make a book with OurBoox, you do not need to use PDF files. You can just have your students write their stories in Word or Googledocs, gather the photographs or graphics they want to use (be sure they have the rights to use the graphics and do not infringe upon others' copyrights) and then easily upload and publish them on OurBoox. 

As a counselor for Digital Pedagogy for teaching languages, I have made a tutorial that shows just how easy it is to make a digital book. The tutorial is in Hebrew. 

Have you ever had your students sharpen their writing skills by producing a digital book? What do you think of the idea? If you DO experiment with this idea, please fill out the feedback form so I know how it goes!

I hope you find this adds to your digital language teaching toolbox!

Digitally yours, 

P.S. If you have any questions about the OurBoox platform , Mel Rosenberg is happy to provide support (in English or in Hebrew). Just drop him a line: