Power of Social Media

I enjoyed reading Jamie Forrest’s post about the Power of Social Media.  I have a similar story.

While walking at the Nature Center where I work, I found and photographed a flower with which I was unfamiliar.  I took it back to my office and put it on Flickr in the “ID Please” group.

European Frogbit
European Frogbit

Within 20 minutes, I had my answer! It was a non-native, invasive plant from Europe. No wonder it wasn’t in my field guides. Before computers, I would still not know what that plant is!

I’ve used the ID Please! group on Flickr a LOT to assist with research. Sometimes, I think I’m being lazy. But the Girl Scout in me says I’m just “using my resources wisely!”

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You Got That Right! (But…)

No one single tool will accomplish all the goals that I have for communicating with my students. – Danielle Stinson (link)

Wow.  Did that one sentence resonate with me!  My dilemma is not communication with students, but communication with a host of people:  members, friends, volunteers, staff, donors, etc.  Some want a phone call, some prefer a postcard.  Others will just read it in the newsletter and put it on their calendars and be there.  Some like an email reminder.  A few will look it up on the website.  And we do it all.  In addition we make posters and flyers and send news releases to papers and local radio and TV.

And I still frequently hear the words that make me cringe:

I didn’t know about it.


On the one hand, I think Lisa should go ahead and use Facebook, because it is a sure(r) thing.  On the other hand, at what point do we insist that people take responsibility for attending to their own information-gathering?  If you are a responsible member of a learning group, shouldn’t you be expected to check the class wiki if that’s how the instructor gets information to his or her students?

Teachers a busy people.  They can’t be expected to put it out there in every format for their students.  If the teacher says, it’s all in this printed syllabus and that’s it… then they better not throw that syllabus out.  And if the instructor says, all handouts will be on the class website, then the student should be responsible enough to go look there… or set up an RSS feed so the website notifies them when changes are made.

I have to be accomodating because I’m always trying to recruit and retain new folks… I’m willing to put it out there in a bunch of different formats.  But teachers who have students that are signed up for their classes, I don’t think they should have to chase after them to be responsible for their learning.

Just my 2-cents.

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Online Learning

This post is inspired by Linda’s post which included a link to an interview with Will Richardson.

Linda asked us to describe one of our student-centered learning experiences.  Ever the over-achiever, I will describe two:

1 – Becoming a Blogger

Monarch Sips from Joe Pye Weed

Monarch sips nectar from Joe Pye Weed

A friend of mine blogs about the natural world.  One day, he suggested that I should blog.  I laughed and said I really had nothing to write about… but I started a blog anyway.  I quickly discovered that writing a blog isn’t creating a platform for teaching.  Writing a blog is a way of creating for myself deep learning.

I’m a naturalist – largely self-taught.  I tramp through the woods with my camera photographing whatever catches my eye.  I return to my desk and use field guides and other references to learn about my finds.  Then I have words – which are googleable.  I search the internet looking for more information.  Then I craft it all into posts on my blog.

I do all this, not because it is assigned, but because I am driven, because I am passionate about my personal discoveries.  Writing about them may end up teaching others… but that’s not why I blog.  Writing about them helps me make sense of all the inputs – natural, book, and web.  It helps me remember what I’m learning… or at least know exactly where to go to find my notes on what I looked up!

The interviewer asked Will Richardson if he was concerned that web technologies would diminish students’ abilities to engage in deep reading and deep thinking.  It hasn’t worked that way for me.  I find I read more sources, become more discerning about what are the reliable sources, discover who is copying from whom, etc… all because, as Will stated, I am passionate about the content; it is relevant to me.

2 – Digital Photography Class

Last fall, I enrolled in a traditional lecture-based class at the local community college in order to learn more about digital photography.  The approach taken by the teacher, combined with my insatiable thirst to follow after the bits and pieces that resonate with me made this class one of the richest I have ever taken.  Linda described that in this class – EC&I 831 – she is learning more and faster than ever before.  That was the case with me last fall, too.  (And it’s happening again for me in this class.)

Barbed Wire 04

Man and Nature


My instructor did not require the use of web technologies.  He did, however, use web resources to teach us not just about our cameras, but about photography as an art form. 

Will mentioned in the interview that if he were going to teach teachers about having a web presence, he would offer a blogging workshop in which the PRE-REQUISITE was to go start a blog and learn how the software works.  Then in the workshop you could talk about how to use blogs in education.

This photography class was sort of like that.  There were a few brief lessons on which buttons to push  and why; for the most part, though, we were expected to learn how to work our own cameras.  The bulk of the course was an overview of some masters of photography… forcing us to consider why we want to make photographs in the first place.  Every photo Mark showed us, every name he dropped, I googled later to learn more.  I created a learning blog to record what I was learning.  I spent SOOOO much time on this class, because, again… I was passionate about it.  It was relevant to me.  Every once in a while, I go back and post more to that blog, even though the class is over.

This Class

I’m not spending quite as much time on this class as I did my blog in the early days, or as I did on my photography class.  Still, I spend more time on this than housework and other things I “ought” to be doing!  And my brain is constantly busy.  I know how the web can work for my own personal learning.  Now I want to know how I can use this for extending the mission of the organization I work for… How can it work in informal learning environments like nature centers and museums?

I recently attended the NAAEE (North American Association for Environmental Education) annual conference.  I attended several workshops and presentations that involved technology.  One was about distance learning – where the instructon was still based a bit heavily on the talking-head model, though some interaction with the audience occured and students were encouraged to go out and explore their own environs after the lesson.  One showed how Google books can be used to perform research that was never possible when I was in school!  Wow!  (The presenter searched Thoreau’s books for flora and fauna lists in order to compare what he was seeing with what is there now.)

By and large, however, the majority of the participants do not believe that technology is useful in getting kids connected to the natural world.

I don’t agree.  I think I will have to play the role of the early adapter and lead the way.  I’m just not sure how to get started.

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My “Final” Project

I find the concept of a “final” project amusing.  This class has opened my eyes to sooooo many tools and ways of using the internet that it will take me months… years!… to explore.  This isn’t a “final” project… just one project of many that are bound to come out of this class!

JAS Projects Wiki:  http://jasprojects.wikispaces.com/
I’m trying to get the staff at Jamestown Audubon to use this space to record progress on various collaborative projects.  They have been trying to use a regualr white board, but I just think this space is so much more useful!  If they find books or products that might work for one of the new programs they are developing, they could provide links right here.

High Impact Programs Wiki: http://highimpactprograms.wikispaces.com/
I’ve also created a spin-off wiki to address one specific project we are working on that may be fundable via a grant.  I’ve created pages for each of the key elements of a grant and am hoping I can get my staff to look at it and contribute their ideas directly to the space.

These aren’t my “final” projects!  This is just the beginning!

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Online Identities

When a friend suggesed back in 2007 that I should write a blog, I scoffed and said, “Me?  I don’t have anything to say!”  Still, I was intrigued by the concept of blogging.  I tried a couple of different platforms, settled on WordPress, and proceeded to write a post just about every day for months and months.

I still post at http://winterwoman.net, but not as often as in the beginning.  I have thought a lot about the identity I portray on that blog.  I think I am just as guarded there as I am in person.  You know, when you first meet people, you don’t share everything.  There are parts you don’t mind sharing with strangers, but there are other parts that remain private.  It’s no different on my blog.

I should call it my main blog, because I have created lots of spin off blogs that reflect different parts of me.  For example, there is my high school class reunion blog, my photography blog, my hiking blog, and my online learning journals for classes I take.  To learn about the full and complete Jennifer Schlick, you would have to read all of them… even the private ones, if I trust you enough to give you access to those…  Each blog reflects a different facet of me and all together – they probably still don’t paint the full picture.

More dimensions of my identity come together all in one place at Facebook probably more than any other platform.  The community there is such a mixture of friends, family, and professional acquaintenances.  I’m still somewhat guarded, but I share things that don’t show up on my blog.  Like the fact that I experiment with recipes, or meet with friends for a beer at our local brew pub.

A college intern we had at work was thrown for a loop when his labor department supervisor decided to communicate with the group of interns via Facebook.  He didn’t want his “boss” to be a part of that aspect of his life.  We had a conversation about it.  I suggested he may want to create a separate Facebook account for his professional identity.  Or maybe I should have spoken with the Labor Department supervisor and suggested that Linked-In might be a better platform for building professional networks…

The interesting thing about the internet is that you can be whoever you want to be online.  In some cases this leads to deeper intimacy.  But I suspect that in many cases people are just as guarded online as in person.

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Makin’ Movies

Even though I am a non-credit student auditing this class, I’m trying to complete the assignments given to the credit students.  One such assignment was to make an introduction “video”.

My little point-and-shoot camera has a video mode.  I knew I could simply set it on a tripod and talk to it.  But I noticed that my computer has a program called “Windows Movie Maker”.  So I decided to give it a whirl.

But not by making an introductory video.  My boss at work had given me another assignment:  give a 5 minute report at the next staff meeting about the conference you attended.

So, I rationalized that (1) part of the purpose of the class assignment was to practice with (and/or learn) movie-making software, (2) the credit students aren’t really all that interested in meeting me anyway, and (3) I’m really strapped for time, so what the heck.

The result?

  • I created a 5-minute “video” made up of stills, text slides, and voice-over that summarized what I did/learned at the conference.
  • It took me 5 hours to create it.
  • It took me 1.5 hours to find equipment that would run it and get it hooked up with projector and speakers so I could show it during the staff meeting.
  • I learned a great deal.  I learned the basics of using the software.  I learned that to create a good end product takes an enormous amout of time.

After presenting at the staff meeting, I also learned that sometimes, the medium is simply not appropriate.  People got a lot more out of the other naturalists’ presentations which were all simple in-person story-telling.  (Though two of them definitely went over their 5 minute “limit”.)

All of this has me pondering appropriateness of the technology.  We must take care not to use technology for technolgy’s sake, but to employ it when it truly enhances the experience.

(I have some ideas for ways to use movie-making to promote the center, and perhaps create some online resources for teachers… for example, a pre-visit video that students and teachers can watch in the classroom before coming on a fieldtrip.  Hmm…  What else?)

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OK.  Whew.

Last fall when I took a digital photography class, our teacher encouraged us to find some way to record our learning and reflect on it, etc…  I (of course) chose a blog.  It was so fun for me to put my lecture notes up there, to look up every photographer mentioned in the lecture and include links to those websites, to find my own resources online for the topics we were covering (rather than buying the textbook)… 

I was the only one in class using a blog for this purpose.  So, it worked for me.

In THIS class, I am spending so much time trying to view all the resources being made available, read other students’ blogs (and comment on them sometimes) that I barely have time to keep this blog up to date…  Then, I start feeling like I have to post reflections of all the videos I’ve watched and blogs I’ve read in the order I experienced them… but I don’t have time…  Argh!

I gave up.  Instead, I’m just going to post whatever is on my mind when I have time to post and today, it will be answers to Alec’s mid-course questions.

It occurs to me that the questions might be answered differently in different contexts…  For example, if I were an elementary school teacher considering the use of this technology in my classroom, I would have one set of answers.  These answers are from the perspective of an addicted life-long learner who has always been fascinated by education and technology.

  1. What are your thoughts so far on open and networked learning?It is challenging and invigorating.  As a busy wife and mother with a fulltime job, I love the flexibility that this type of learning offers me.  This is the first official, organized “class” I have taken in this manner.  Most of my learning using these methods has been informal and (somewhat) random.  Blogs, videos (love TED), You-tube, websites, and much more more to choose from.  My “Passion for Nature” blog is essentially my learning journal for exploring the natural world.  My “Digital Photography” blog was my learning journal for a traditional classroom-style course.
  2. What are the pros and cons of this type of learning experience?

    For me, the biggest pro is flexibility.  I can attend lectures in my pajamas, check others’ blogs at 2am when I can’t sleep, re-watch things that really interest me, skip around.

    One of the down sides is not getting to meet people in person.  Also, the flexibility sometimes leads to tangents and difficulty staying focused on the tasks at hand.  It can be hard to keep up with the sheer volume of opportunities.

  3. How can we improve this learning experience?
    I’m not sure yet… Ask me again later.
  4. Does any of this inform the way you teach or learn (or could/should teach and learn)?
    I am taking this class to explore technologies I haven’t yet tried and to see if there might be ways to use them at the Nature Center where I work.  We have a huge outreach program to area schools, but as budgets become tighter, I wonder if there are different models to teach environmental education that don’t involve bussing kids many miles to our Center.  Also, I wonder if there are ways to deliver our classroom programs without going to the schools.  I wonder if there are classroom teachers who would be willing (and able) to work with us on some innovations…
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