Reflection on #connectedpd Session with Howard Reingold
On Friday night (4 November), I followed a link to the Website for Connected PD, an “experiment in “Community-sourced” teacher professional development”. The Events page had an announcement for a session on “Teacher Professional Development and Participatory Learning”, with guest, Howard Rheingold. The date for the session was Friday, November 4, 9 am PDT / 12pm EDT. Although that meant 5:00AM on Saturday morning in Dunedin, New Zealand, I made a mental note of the time. As it happened, I woke up at 4:50AM. I had my alarm clock (which, conveniently, doubles as an iPhone) beside me, so I sat up, launched the Twitter app and searched for “#connectedpd”. The session soon started, and I did my best to keep up. Contributing and following Website links is difficult on a phone, so I limited myself to simply typing comments, knowing that I could check the links that others posted later. The session lasted for one hour. You can see the moset recent “Connected Personal Development” conversations by searching for “#connectedpd” on ” Twitter. Because Twitter messages are soon lost in the (not easily accessible) archive of historic messages, I captured the posts of the discussion with Howard Rheingold for my own records. You can click on the link below to download the PDF file.
This event was an interesting, and useful, experience. As in face-to-face situations, one person can easily dominate a conversation in a small group setting, and I was embarrassed to discover how many of the tweets were mine. I spent a lot of my time typing, so I was not paying as much attention as I should have to who else was “speaking”. I read what I could as the messages streamed by, but there was no easy, quick way to “scan the room” and see how many others were present and might want to speak. However, this is no excuse, and I have posted a “note to self” to be more aware of others in conversations like this, and to hold back from “taking the floor” too often, or for too long.
My second observation was that the conversation was, indeed, useful, productive, and efficient – at least from my perspective (it may have been less satisfactory for those who had to see my avatar popping up all the time). A small group can use Twitter productively to have a discussion in the field (my phone worked fine for this) on a topic of shared interest. No one needs to “take the minutes” because a complete and faithful record can be easily called up (without waiting) using the same tool that is used to support the meeting. The ability to include shortened urls in a message, and to follow a link the moment you receive it, if you wish, enhances the usefulness of Twitter in this context considerably. Exchanging urls is a common practice for those who use Twitter for “work” – especially educators. In fact, many users are followed by others because they are good at selecting and sharing links to information and sites that are “on topic” and immediately useful. I will monitor the Connected PD website for future events like this.
The nature of the space that was created by this conversation is very interesting. The situation is a bit like a gathering of people in a community hall who have assembled for an open, public discussion on a topic of interest to the community. The differences, however, are significant.
First, you are invisible to others (you are outside the room) until your initial utterance exposes you. The tradeoff for speaking (participating in more than a passive way) is that you must remove your cloak of invisibility (just say the magic word – #connectedpd” and you appear!). Furthermore, this room is lined with two-way mirrors – anyone outside the room can see in, but those inside cannot look out and see who is looking in. There are multiple ways to take part, and it is impossible to know exactly who has “attended”.
Second, not only does everything you say to the group become part of the public record, but anyone (participant or not) can easily obtain their own copy of that public record. The surveillance cameras are auto archiving, and anyone can pick up a free copy of the tape if they want one. Sure, Twitter is designed as an immediate, transient form of communication, but that does not mean that a record does not exist, or that it is stored in only one archive. Indeed, you might discover that a tweet that you released long ago, thinking that it has disappeared into a distant cloud of half-remembered conversations, turns up, years later, caged and on display in a public blog post for everyone to examine closely. Although this is not likely to be a problem for the individuals who took part in the discussion that I am reporting on here, it may be an issue for those who use Twitter for both public and private conversations, without thinking carefully enough about the increasingly permanent and public nature of small group conversations online.
Before writing this post, I had a look at the Connected PD website, the hippocampus.org Website, and Rheingold U. There is much in these sites to comment on, but I will leave further discussion for future posts.