Professional Development, Reflections, Social Media

Taking a Tech-cation

As a student, educator and professional in higher education I am usually “always on” and connected. This serves my research and practice well, however I often find I need to preserve space to unplug. 

An NPR  Fresh Air episode “Digital Overload: Your Brain On Gadgets” describes how the psychological rational, intermittent reinforcement, is the reason why we check our e-mail constantly, rely on applications and glance at our mobile devices at inappropriate times. Information Overload is Not Unique to the Digital Age, however society has consumed more information than ever since it is easy and accessible online. It is now easier than ever to fall victim to what Matt Ritchel identifies as the “screen invasion.” The NYT’s spent some time examining the impact on how individuals juggle information through their series known as, Your Brain on Computers. Much of what is talked about in both journalism pieces includes the following concerns: stress, impatience, limited memory, mediocre performance, and developmental issues/concerns.

In order to prevent burn out from life and professional work, I often take what I call self-imposed “tech-cations.” It’s true:

Here are a few suggestions on how to break from the constant information flow. Be sure to shut down all screens and then go forth (which includes all forms of computers, TV,  & mobile devices). Here are a few suggestions of activities for a screen-free holiday:
  • Take a break for self-care – eat well, exercise and just BE
  • Read  – there has to be at least 1 book at your house/local library you have wanted to read
  • Listen to a podcast and/or radio show
  • Play a game – cards, Scrabble, Chess, Apples to Apples, etc
  • Go for a run, walk, hike or sit in the park – get some fresh air!
  • Pen to paper – when’s the last time you have reflected in a journal?
  • Clean your space & de-clutter – house, office, car, closet… you decide.
  • Try a new recipe (and taste it).
  • Go exploring – Visit a local museum, art gallery or tourist attraction.
  • Hang out with friends … sans your mobile. Yes you CAN do it!
These are just a few suggestions to help you re-charge and re-fuel yourself from the connected world we live in. Being connected is great. I am huge proponent of connection and connected activity, however digital consumption is good in moderate doses. To be effective and purposeful in education, it is necessary to step away from the screen and just be. 
Learning Technologies, PLN, Social Media, web 2.0

Being Purposeful with Social Media

Earlier this week, Jeff Lail posted How I Use Social Media and Leslie Dare followed up with a blog post of her own on the same topic. This got me thinking about how I engage and interact with the social web. Last year I talked about what’s In My Toolbox as an educator, however I think I should share how I use these tools as an educator, professional, student… and then some.  

Flickr photo c/o Luke Mahan

I try to be Mindful with Social Media and how I use it. I strive to be intentional and purposeful when I engage with social media. I am the musician, these resources are my instruments – so here’s how I make my music on the social web:

  • To Blog, Or Not to Blog?: WordPress, specifically TechKNOWToolswas designed to be a reflective space of what I learn, research, read and more throughout my studies. I’m a transparent and open learner/educator. I hope that these posts help support my writing and nurture my research goals. TKT serves as a journal of my PhD & academia journey. Blogger was my first introduction to the blogging realm back in 2006 as I started my travel/work adventures in France & the UK on the Souvenirs of Canada blog. Many of my friends & family follow this to keep track of my happenings – and some asked that I keep sharing what is going on to stay in touch. I have two blogs because I have these different sets of readers. Most of my personal contacts prefer not the get all my research and geek info from TKT blog, and it helps to share more “off off the blog” info when we chat on the phone, Skype or IRL.
  • The NEW & Improved Home Phone: Skype – This VoIP service has not only allow me to maintain relationships far, far away – it has also allowed me advise students at a distance, present training sessions with the screenshare option and conference with colleagues new & old for a variety of projects.
  • Saying Cheese:  Photography has been a part of my life since I was little. Photos were always snapped during special occasions, on road trips, spending time outdoors and more with my family. For me photography captures memories, shares a narrative, and provides a perspective by someone or into the life of others. As a visual learner Flickr helps me to archive and catalog my experiences. I have used Flickr for a few professional conferences, however I first started using it to scrapbook my life and give both my Mom (and other friends/family) the latest and greatest “Laura happenings.”a I like photos in my blogs and I like snapping neat finds. I am pretty sure I was a curator in a previous life.
  • Customized Subscriptions: RSS and Google Reader is my friend. This is a key tool I use to follow news, blogs, podcasts and people, and trends. The convenience of accessing this information in one location and being able to read them on my computer or phone helps me stay engaged. I’m only as smart as the information I am connected to.
  • Micro-conversations & Micro-sharing: Twitter – I have to be honest – when I was first introduced to Twitter in Summer ’08 and I was somewhat skeptical. Why would I be interested in a personal update? What value would this bring to me personally/professionally? Over the last few years this #SM tool has grown on me both a professional in higher ed and doctoral student. With my experiences in open learning courses, conference backchannels, Twitter lists, hashtag communities, and a few of the many Twitter Chats I have participated in – I can now attest to its professional development and educational potential. To help me organize my Twitter streams and followers I want to give a shout out to Hootsuite & Seesmic, two third-party clients I use most on my computer and phone. 
  • I heart The Google: Beyond search, Google is a great productivity and learning tool for me to collaborate and connect to others. My favorite Google applications include: Gmail, Docs, Forms, Chat, Voice, Scholar, Calendar, Maps, Translate, Realtime… need I go on? This is a must have tool for any graduate student or professional. Are you still using Hotmail? That’s so 1990s. I recommend you switch to Gmail to kick-start your productivity resolutions and then other Google applications will follow. [Note: I may have a bias to Google as my phone is smart with the Android platform.]
  • Saving It for Later: Delicious, specifically My delicious, allows me to archive resources, articles and interesting finds online. When I share a URL on Twitter it automatically archives to my delicious via  I later go into my account to add any notes or highlights that might be relevant – especially if there are articles I might use for a literature review or paper. I also value my Delicious Network contributors who save and share interesting links.
  • My Networks Have Always Been Social: For those of you who know me, I have always been a social person. The creation of online social networks just allows me to continue to be social when I live far away from friends, family and colleagues. I use Facebook primarily for my personal friends and family, however as of late more professionals from Student Affairs, NACADA and other networks have been connecting to me on here. I have created a few different lists to organize my friends on here. More of my sharing is personal & some professional/student information. I have begun to use this #SM tool a lot less as of late professionally – it’s more to stay in touch with far away friends & family. Other networks I use for more professional and academic networks include Twitter, LinkedIn and Mendeley. Depending on my social network, I choose to share different information. I tend to use LinkedIn for professional interactions, and Mendeley for research/publishing contributions, whereas Facebook would primarily be for personal updates, photo sharing and individual conversations. Twitter seems to be my “go to” for information sharing, knowledge consumption and trend watch for #highered, #edtech, #acadv, #phdchat, #sachat, and other lists I follow-with a few personal updates or location-based check-ins scattered in from time to time.
  • Establishing A Brand: To aggregate my many online spaces I have started using About.Me as my virtual card and personal website. I’ve opted to let my personal website URL go and use this and other FREE options to house all things social web and online for me. My digital identity exists already. I have developed my own Google Profile as well. Have you Googled yourself lately?
  • All Things Wiki: I am partial to PbWorks (since I first used it when it was PbWiki), however I have also accessed Wikispaces and Wetpaint for a group collaborations at the office, assessing vendor options with a group, training/learning seminars, professional association planning, pre-conference presentations, online community space, and doctoral research group meetings and publishing. The current wikis I’m clicked into are for my scholastic endeavours: ATPI Research Group and the #phdchat wiki. Future wiki plans: develop my dissertation proposal on a wiki to share with my faculty advisor/committee and design a wiki for an online course I’m instructing at the University of Manitoba this Fall.
  • Now Presenting: I stop by YouTube to watch an effective TED talk, Khan lesson or In Plain English video and more – then I “favorite” the good ones for presentations and/or course resources. As an instructor/trainer/speaker my key tools would be SlideShare and Prezi. I use my personal SlideShare account to share previous presentations, and also encouraged our UNT advising group, UCAN, to initiate their own account to store monthly meeting resources.
  • Checking In: I started playing around with Foursquare and Gowalla over the last year to find out what this location-based mobile application was all about. Some use it for education programs or marketing communication, I primarily use it to archive where I’ve been – restaurants, travel locations, historic locations and such with my personal network. I have also appreciated the location “tips” and discounts when I arrive at each spot. Yelp & TripAdvisor are a few other travel/location referral websites I frequent to read a restaurant review or plan a vacation. 
Phew! It seems like a lot – I know. But I use the above tools for different purposes AND at different times. Keep in mind that THESE ARE JUST TOOLS. During social media training workshops, I often recommend that participants new to the social web “try one or two on for size” to find out what works for them. The bottom line is – it has to serve a purpose, be used intentionally, and help you be a better you. If you don’t use, then you should probably loose it.
There have been a other social media tools I have tried out, but as you can see they haven’t made my frequent flier list. I suggest figuring out what is right for YOU and decide what YOU want to make time for. If you understand the what/purpose (content) and the where (social media application), you will be able to find your social web zen. Social web participation and engagement has to make sense. Be sure to ask yourself:

Are your social web interactions meeting your personal, professional and/or  learning needs? 

Collaboration, Learning Community, PLE, SAchat, Virtual Communities

Let’s Get Visual with Data

Fizz is one of the many ways to review and analyze online data. I am a visual learner. Naturally, I am intrigued with visual research and data analysis. The 2010 Horizon Report indicated that Visual Data Analysis will be  impacting technology and learning in higher education in the next four to five years:

Visualization tools like Many Eyes, Flowing Data, and Wordle are making statistics and data fun. These representations present actual facts and ideas in visual format to strengthen research and debates. Visualization tools help support learning and engagement for both educators and learners. Besides making meaning and giving access to facts, visualization allows learners to personalize and engage with data. A fellow doc student, Kevin Guidry, shared a great example of how to represent an online community in Twitter with his Visualization of #SAchat Data. Seeing this data allows more people to understand the dynamics of a community and how they connect online.

Another great proponent of visual statistics is Hans Rosling. Hans  is bring sexy back with statistics as he details his love of stats on the one-hour BBC documentary The Joys of Stats and his non-profit project Gapminder. For those of you who think statistics is a dirty word, I encourage you to take a gander at this one. If you are not afraid, I encourage you to get more visual with your research, learning and data. Here are a few resources to get you started – please comment and share more tools that you use & love to visualize data:

Collaboration, PLE, PLN

Talking About PLNs on #SALive

My good friend/colleague Eric Stoller invited me to join his latest adventure with Student Affairs Live (#SALive) last week to further share my thoughts on PLNs and how to breakdown the silo mentality in higher education. #SALive is an extention the awesome weekly Higher Ed Live (#HElive) video podcasts/shows offered weekly by Seth Odell. Both of these weekly shows provide interesting and engaging topics for students, professionals and faculty members working in higher education.

I thought I’d share a few of the show highlights & discussion points below…

What is a Personal Learning Network (PLN) for Student Affairs Professionals or others in Higher Education?

  • Professional development – learn from content-area specialists
  • Locate resources for your Student Affairs (SA) content  area – such as free websites, software, etc
  • Get ideas from experienced SA Pros & Grad Students – initiatives, programs, suggested practices in the field
  • Learn about new technology & how to integrate it into professional field and/or content area
  • Find collaborative solutions – crowd-source it!
  • Getting connected – to people, knowledge, information, best practices, opportunities
  • Staying current with the trends & literature in Higher Ed & SA: – interesting links, news, articles, journals, event
  • RSS feed of reading fun – blogs, news, people, podcasts & then some!
  • Having a bit of a chat – dialoguing & sharing
  • Support – motivation from peers in your professional network

General PLN resources shared during the video podcast:

This is just one of many Student Affairs Live episodes for @EricStoller – so if you liked the first few be sure to check it on Wednesday at 3 pm CST. The next #SAlive show on April 6th will be about the #NASPACPA Association Consolidation vote. Tune in live here: