“…make sure you’re connected…”

I wish I’d taken some screen grabs of the stats pertaining to my social media use and rankings just over a week ago because things have changed very quickly. As per my WordPress avowal, I have spent a lot of the last week actively improving my social network presences. I’ve updated my website, refreshed my LinkedIn profile, created a company LinkedIn page and have tweeted daily, using HootSuite to autoschedule these and to also post them onto LinkedIn.

The results – in just a week – have been staggering. In 7 days, my profile ranking on LinkedIn has risen by 35% and I’m now in the top 12% of my (now 500+) connections:


In terms of my ranking in the sector in which I work, I am now #4:


From averaging 3 or 4 views per week, this week my profile was viewed 62 times:

profile views

I know a little bit about who’s viewed me too; their companies, their location and their sector:

profile views company

profile views sector

And my Klout score has risen from 10 to 48.5.

klout sat

Alongside the stats there have been lots of positive immeasurables: old colleagues have reconnected, clients have liked and engaged with my tweets and my updates, and new connections have been made. I have been able to send links to my website with a little more confidence; rather than be embarrassed about the paucity of content on there, I now know that it looks busier and therefore I appear to be busier and more in demand.

However, as per Velda’s insightful comment, so what? In terms of what these statistics mean, they mean that the social network is creating a social network; it feels a little like a hermetically sealed world.  I have played its game and, like any game-player who puts in the effort, I have risen through the ranks. However, the real proof that I will need to convince me that it ‘works’ will be when I can prove cause and effect; when I gain some work as a direct or indirect result of my LinkedIn activities. The problem is, I’ve now created my own social media monster which needs feeding…

“If you make sure you’re connected,
The writing’s on the wall
But if your mind’s neglected,
Stumble you might fall…”

Stereo MCs ‘Connected’

Helen Walker

I had some inclination as to what I might find when I embarked on this week’s task to search for my own online tracks and traces. Having previously been a senior leader in a secondary school, I occasionally Googled myself to check that all was well. I used to be in the local media a lot as I was the lead on a high profile new build project; however, that presence is no longer in the present and I wasn’t sure if those echoes and traces of my past role would remain.  In recent years I have adopted a coward’s stance when it comes to social media, so I wasn’t entirely sure about what confusions, absences or presence I might find.

The majority of the first page of the Google search was as expected. I knew about Helen Walker the actress and her car wreck…

Helen Walker

However, as I scrolled down the page, I was surprised to see my face:

First page of Google - bottom of page

This was a link to my one and only Google+ post, made earlier this year:


I know that Google are likely to promote posts from Google+ but it was really interesting to see that minor networking activity could result in such presence, especially as I didn’t get to one of my curated personae until page 4 of the Google search; I’m the second one from the bottom in this screen grab:

Finally my work

Clicking through on the Facebook and Linkedin links on this first page yielded the sort of results I would have expected; as these sites know it is me, I appear at the top of the results.


Linkedin - top 25 profiles

As for the rest of the Helen Walkers out there, they seem to be a very studious bunch, which is useful to me; I’d be happy to be confused with Dr. Helen Walker or to be thought of as an astronomer. If there is identity conflation and confusion, the other Helen Walkers aren’t letting the side down:


I had a play with some of the other search tools which were recommended to us. QuillConnect yielded some fascinating information about my Twitter story:


I found the information about my followers particularly enlightening; as I consider how I can build a more effective online presence, it’s good to know who is ‘influential’ so that my efforts can, perhaps, be more targeted:


It was also heartening to find out that our micro-network is a positive one:


I tried Wolfram Alpha but got a repeated error message:

WolframKlout was interesting though. Klout claims to measure influence based on your activity, connections, etc. across a range of social media sites. I tried it first with Facebook and got a rating of 10/100 (apparently the average is 40):


This, however, didn’t concern me too much as Facebook is very much a personal medium. I treat all my posts with caution (as though I was standing in the middle of my town pronouncing forth with a megaphone) but I don’t use my personal page for professional networking. The Twitter result, when it comes though in 24 hours, will be of greater interest as I see that as my professional feed. I’ll be interested to see what Klout advises in terms of building a presence; I have some concerns that it may just be a clever way to get me to distribute spam.

Given my sense of guilt about my own control of my social media presence, I was relieved by what I uncovered in my searching; my presence wasn’t large but nor was it negative. I found little that was historical and nothing created by anyone other than me. What I did find was recognisable as ‘me’; I didn’t feel the sense of disconnect or disjunct which Clara, Marshall and Nicola discussed. It will be interesting to repeat some of these activities in a few months time to see what impact my efforts to reinvigorate my social media are having.

My Forum of Failure

One of the projects which I have been attempting to breathe some life into/resuscitate is an online forum for nominated ‘Digital Leaders’ from a number of schools within a multi-academy trust. The forum was established to support these DLs in the roll-out of new technologies, software and curricula within their schools by providing them with the facility to share experiences, resources and ideas.

I met with them in Manchester in July and we spent two days together, discussing and plotting e-learning initiatives and developing and extending their plans for the delivery of the Computing curriculum. During those few days, I introduced the forum to them and we began to use it as a collaboration space: resources were shared, conversations were started and plans were hatched. All left enthused and promising to keep in touch via the forum. And then…well, very little. A few more posts dripped through and then there was silence. Partly this was due to the summer break but my attempts to reinvigorate this digital space since then have failed. And the reason is that we/I haven’t created an effective community and the reason for this is, primarily, a lack of teaching presence.

I took a ‘field of dreams’ approach to the development of the forum…’build it and they will come’. Unfortunately, creating a space does not encourage presence. As the facilitator, I provided no ‘rules of engagement’: participation was informal, voluntary and unstructured. I had not effectively designed, directed and informed the transaction:

‘One of the difficulties with early computer conferencing was sustaining participation and high levels of discourse (Gunawardena 1991; Hiltz and Turoff 1993). Low levels of interest and participation were rooted in a lack of structure and focus resulting from an excessively ‘democratic’ approach. While there must be full and open participation, for a purposeful educational experience there is an inherent need for an architect and facilitator to design, direct, and inform the transaction.’ (Garrison and Anderson, 2003, p.29*)

I have been reflecting on this forum failure and contrasting it with the success of our engagement with the various digital environments we have been using during these first weeks of the course. We have been part of the successful development of what Garrison and Anderson term a ‘community of inquiry’, ‘a learning community’ which is ‘a fusion of individual (subjective) and shared (objective) worlds.’ (ibid, p.23). The key to the success of this is that there is ‘the right balance and blend of collaborative and individual learning activities’ (ibid, p.24). Our blog has enabled us to develop ‘cognitive independence’ (ibid, p.23)and the forums, Skype and Twitter have developed our ‘social interdependence’ (ibid, p.23):

‘It is the juxtaposition of both aspects of this seemingly contradictory relationship that creates the spark that ignites a true educational experience that has personal value and socially redeeming outcomes.’ (ibid, p.23)


So, my Forum of Failure can be turned around. And the key is not to look at the space but at the structure of the community, at how I can, through effective teaching presence, foster social and cognitive presence to deliver a meaningful and purposeful experience.  I need to define and share a programme for engagement and develop a blend of activities for participants to engage in. I also need to incentivise their participation – to provide a reason to be present. Our presence on the course is goal-driven: we are working towards an MSc. The incentive I can use with the DLs is the Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE) programme. All of the DLs are, in November, to begin their engagement with this programme and this will provide the ideal framework through which we can inculcate a community of inquiry, to realise ‘personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes’ (Anderson et al, 2001 quoted in Garrison and Anderson, 2003, p.29)

*Garrison, D. and Anderson, T. (2003), E-Learning in the 21st Century.  Routledge-Falmer, London

Losing the thread…

When I started this course, I was lucky enough to have a few weeks off work. This proved to be invaluable: I was able to become familiar with the different information and communication streams, spend time on the discussion boards and kick-start my blog. As a learner, I felt, in the main, in control and on top of things.

The asynchronous nature of the discussions in Weeks 0 and 1  served to reinforce this sense of ordered, systematic, linear learning. I was able to approach and engage in discussions as and when I could and, due to the slow pace of the threads, I didn’t feel that I was left behind or out of the loop. The one-off synchronous Skype discussion in Week 2, although frenetic, was also manageable: it was a commitment of one hour and I felt fully ‘present’* and part of the conversation.

This week, we’ve been using Twitter. In theory, this medium shouldn’t prove to be too different to using a discussion forum. I can log onto Twitter and participate on my own terms and in my own time; I can review tweets in a conversation in the same way as I can read posts on a discussion board and respond (or not) as and when suits me. So far, so like the discussion board.

And yet, so different.

Reflecting on why, I think Twitter is a more demanding technology:

  1. Twitter has, as part of its cultural norms, a demand for greater immediacy than discussion boards.
    • SO: once the first tweets started appear about the readings on Monday, I started to feel a sense of exclusion. I hadn’t yet got to the readings and yet there were conversations emerging about them which I didn’t feel equipped to participate in. This anxiety is, I acknowledge, is my construct, but I didn’t feel it when we were contributing via the boards.
  2. Twitter demands 140 characters or less.
    • SO: it’s often easier to convey your point by linking to other content, resulting in an ever-increasing list of things I felt I needed to read, watch or do.
  3. To follow and participate in the threads, Twitter demands a #.
    • SO: I spent a lot time deleting tweets and then tweeting them again with the #added
  4. Twitter demands more actions to view and follow conversations, especially via the mobile app.
    • SO: I had to work to find the start of conversations, in order that I ‘jumped in’ at the right point.
  5. To respond to others, Twitter demands a @.
    • SO: I spent a lot time deleting tweets and then tweeting them again with the right combinations of @ added.

Some felt differently:


But it was heartening and reassuring (if a little sadistic) to see that others also felt some sense of exclusion:



And that others were equally bemused and confused at times:


One of the anxieties I didn’t have which others expressed was that of our discussions being more broadly public:


Rather, I felt that the hastag provided a ‘walled garden’ for our learning community.

So, all bad?

No, not at all.

In spite of Twitter shifting me out of my controlled, linear, preferred PLE, it is an incredible tool for learning. This week, it has proved to be a brilliant way to crowd-source (albeit an overwhelming amount of) information, ideas and links. But, more importantly, I really feel that this week we’ve been able to develop more of an identity for our learning community by developing a greater sense of the identities of those who make up that community. At the start of the week, I reflected on the fact that it if ‘off-task’ activities that help us to build connections.



And Twitter is the ideal medium for off-task interchanges. These reached their inevitable zenith this week with a silly cat video. Susie rocks.


*I acknowledge the many caveats that should come with my use of that term…