Social Media Tools - Gathering the Loose Threads

Copyright 2009 Miguel Guhlin

"Could I just use my air card [AT&T or Spring wireless card] to connect my netbook to the Internet?" asked a new teacher at a recent new employee orientation I attended earlier this week. What a teachable moment to explain Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) and how such use would not be encouraged by public school districts. Yet, the question made me remember a visit to a Dallas/Ft.Worth school district where the education technology consultants used a Sprint wireless card to get access to school district blocked web sites. With easy access to mobile learning devices, what tools should an educator use to connect to the unauthorized network available to them?

This article shares a list of some downloadable social media tools so that teachers, and dare one suggest, students, can access the network of ideas, information that school districts now block. For school district administrators shuddering at the possibilities, you are strongly encouraged to review these resources online:

  1. Social Media Guidelines (http://socialmediaguidelines.pbworks.com/) - a collaborative wiki on policies for the use of social media in schools.
  2. Guidelines for Educators Using Social and Educational Networking Sites (http://snipurl.com/dougguidelines) - a document of suggestions to share with educators, especially new teachers, on the use of social media.

DEFENDERS OF CROSS-CULTURAL FREEDOM
Many of our smart phones fall into two categories--Blackberry devices and iPhone/iPod Touch devices. While web-based access to social media sites is blocked by expensive content filters school districts spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on to put in place and maintain, many social media sites now allow for application programming interfaces (API) to connect a smartphone program to a social media tool at no cost to you. For example, Twitter and Facebook--two popular social media and networking tools--are accessible via an API that pulls and pushes information from your mobile device to the Web. With your mobile phone, you can access rich content that can positively impact your education practice.

There are also other great tools--Ping.FM and FriendFeed.com--that you can use that consolidate a wide variety of social media and network web sites into one interface--facilitate sharing of ideas, information, and questions with your professional learning network (PLN). Professional learning networks are composed of people you choose as your guides in areas you may be familiar, or unfamiliar with. For example, some of the people who are my guides include Doug Johnson, Wes Fryer, David Warlick, Dr. Scott McLeod, and many others around the world who are constantly sharing fresh approaches to teaching, learning and leading. Since I choose who to follow and communicate with, I decide the quality of my learning network.

TAP INTO YOUR PLN
Sitting in a computer lab on a Saturday, I recently found myself facing a technical problem. To get a prompt response to the question, I decided to tap into my PLN and see what I could find out. Unfortunately, all the social media tools I would use to share were blocked. I knew the answer was out there in the network, but because of the content filtering, I could not access it. However, with a smartphone and one or more of the tools below, my search for solutions would not have ended so abruptly. Here is a quick overview of powerful social media tools you can use for sharing education problems and connecting to others:

  • Facebook.com - A social media site that many classify as "social networking," however, many educators are connecting to Facebook via other services that share their updates. Those updates include links to educational resources, conversations about valuable services available to educators (such as a discussion about Schoolwires, a content management system I knew only a little about. A teacher sent me five paragraphs about the service, raving about how easy it was to maintain her classroom web page), and much more. Facebook allows for longer dialogues than other social networking tools (e.g. Twitter and Plurk) that can be limiting.
  • Twitter.com and Plurk.com - Two "micro-blogging" services that involve sharing what you are doing, or as I like to describe educators' use, "what are you learning now?" These services are a key part of sharing just in time professional learning opportunities, such as live broadcasts via uStream.tv of keynote presentations from around the globe, quotable quotes regarding education and reform, links to blog posts where people explore topics in depth and videos. For example, one example of just in time professional learning include this link to Classroom Technology Overview of presentations (http://classroom-technology.weebly.com/), a must-visit site.
  • Ping.fm - While you have the capability to publish at will using blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Delicious.com/Diigo.com social bookmarking sites, share what you are reading online via Google Reader, the list of tools can become overwhelming. Ping.FM is one of two very powerful tools that allows you to share EVERYTHING you're doing online via Twitter, Plurk and/or Facebook. However, it's not the perfect tool because it can only do a handful of things.
  • FriendFeed.com - Recently acquired by Facebook.com, FriendFeed is the ultimate way to manage the myriad social media services. Want everyone to see a "tweet" you sent out, not only your Twitter account, but also Facebook, Plurk, your blog and other places? Want to share what you're reading, bookmarking using Delicious.com/Diigo.com with others in one motion? Then, FriendFeed.com is the tool to use. This all happens via the power of RSS and API to connect everything to ONE account.

Below, please find a list of tools for two popular mobile devices:

#1 - Blackberry Social Media Tools
  1. SocialScope - Provides access to Twitter and Facebook on your Blackberry. Available online at: http://socialscope.net/
  2. UberTwitter - Provides you with the ability to share pictures and video to a site dedicated to serving ÜberTwitter users. You can also update Google Talk status with your last tweet, "making your tweets reach a wider audience then just people following you on Twitter." Available online at: http://ubertwitter.com/
  3. Facebook for Blackberry - This provides you with access to Facebook for your Blackberry. Available online at: http://snipurl.com/rkysw
  4. BlackPing - Ping.fm on your Blackberry. Use this to send information and/or questions out to your professional learning network. Available online at: http://snipurl.com/rkyta
  5. Pinglet - Ability to select default and custom triggers for posting; Input for title and a message body for post; View recent posts; Auto detect Direct TCP, MDS or WiFi connection. Available online at: http://pinglet.mobi/

      • 2 - IPhone/iPodTouch Social Media Tools
  1. BuddyFeed: a premium client for FriendFeed junkies. Very powerful and comes with everything you need to take care of your FriendFeed account. It’s the best Friendfeed client by a decent margine. Available at: http://www.codewalrus.com/buddyfeed/
  2. Pingle: a client based on Ping.FM that allows you to update your FriendFeed page fast. Available at: http://curioussquid.com/home/pingle/
  3. Statuso: a great little app that lets you update your FriendFeed or Facebook status easily. Available at: http://www.statuso.com/
  4. Nambu: an applications that lets you manage your FriendFeed account. Available at: http://www.nambu.com/
  5. Tweetdeck: a fantastic application that lets you post updates to Twitter, as well as view and search. Very nicely done! Available at: http://tweetdeck.com

Desktop Applications
If you do have access to social media tools that you can install on your computer, I encourage you to explore the following tools as easy ways to get the word out via your professional learning network. Some of my favorite applications include the following:

  • Twhirl - Provides Friendfeed and Twitter access. These are the two essential tools. Friendfeed can gather the various loose threads of social media sites and share them via Twitter. Now, when I bookmark a web site, post a blog entry, I know that FriendFeed will work as my social media agent to share my information with others. Available at: http://www.twhirl.org/
  • Tweetdeck - Provides Twitter and Facebook integration. Although it does not work with FriendFeed, it can complement your FriendFeed use. Available at: http://tweetdeck.com

CONCLUSION**
As we begin to realize the promise of collaborative, professional learning networks through strategic uses of social media tools introduced in this article, it becomes even more important that we learn how to employ them with an economy of motion. One voice, one message shared via many avenues. That is the power of social media to connect us, empower conversations previously impossible. Learning how to do that is a matter of jumping in with the right tools on your mobile device. I hope these lists will be helpful to you.