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The Dark Arts of Twitter

There is a strange means of communication which has arisen over time, drawing from the days of yore where the cackle and banter of the gossip competed with the holler of the Town Crier, when word of mouth was the key to the support or demise of whatever plan happened in the village … except we are now a global village and word of mouth is as fast as you can type. Within education circles it has meant people have been able to connect, discuss and share with a wider range of contacts than ever before. In political movement we see the support for uprisings in the Middle East, within modern culture we see new artists and musicians hitting a wider audience and for the news agencies … they rarely beat twitter to the story, even if they do usually get more of the facts right (back to gossip again, I’m afraid). Most of this is with the aid of other aspects of Web 2.0 and social media … whether it is blogs or youtube, uStream or Instagram.

But where does this leave me and twitter? Well, I have said it is a dark art … and whilst for many they would read that as the art of making an impact, for me it is simply the art of managing followers, conversations and ideas.

I am lucky enough to be following over 2900 people. I am, in turn, followed back by 2635 followers. And this is where we hit the first problem. Twitter, for very valid reasons, limit the amount of people you can follow. If they didn’t you could hog their lines and follow unlimited numbers … and so you have to earn the right to follow a lot of people. Twitter set a limit of 2000 followers and explain why in detail and to follow more you have to be followed in return. There also seems to be some formula (it used to be mentioned in the twitter help) which also looks at the number of replies you get, times you are RTed, RTs you make and so on … which leaves me in the position that whilst I have a significant following (I am no @stephenfry admittedly) I also follow a heck of a lot of people … and I frequently hit the limit when trying to follow back others.

I was asked why I would follow someone one who doesn’t follow me back, because surely that would solve the problem. That is fine, except I also follow a number of ‘broadcast’ tweeters. automated tweets from blogs in schools (I would not expect them to follow back as they do not need to), big name tweeters (@stephenfry and @mrsstephenfry are a fantastic partnership), company twitter accounts, noted folk from within education (I’m just grateful they allow me to see what is sometimes protected accounts) and also some people who, whilst I might like to see their tweets, have no real interest in my tweets … which can be a tad varied as to what they cover and I do tend to RT a fair bit … which some view as spam.

So, I am always going to follow more people that I have followers … and I will always hit a limit as to how many I can follow as a result. The simple answer has been to have a 2nd account, a ‘read-only’ account, where I can follow those broadcast tweeters and generally just keep up to date on what they are doing or search the stuff they have been tweeting. I have moved more over today and if these accounts do follow me I have sent a DM to explain why the swap … and have asked them to keep following my main twitter account too. I still can’t follow all the people I want to, even from those who follow me, but I am getting there. When I do hit my limit I then suffer from the problem that should one of my followers decide to drop me then I do not fit into the formula … and twitter seems to drop one of the people I am following … but it is a random person … I have no control and it most appear that I am bizarrely snubbing them (in fact I have had a few people who it has happened to use those exact words) and something which is a surprise to them as it is not in what they think is my nature … and they are right.

I will continue to plough through those I am following over the next week and cull or move a few. I don’t like to remove them completely as you never know when one of them might have an idea or spark one in me … I realised a long time ago that I can’t follow *every* twitter conversation but I hate to remove the chance I will come across a good one.

So if you suddenly see me unfollow you then it is unlikely it is intentional, check to see if I am following you on @grumbledookfeed instead and feel free to give me a nudge and I will follow back as soon as I can … limits permitting.

From the depths…

After looking at a number of friends setting up auto-tweeting tools from their blogs, something I already do, I spotted that they are also digging out posts from their archives … sometimes it can be a little confusing as there is no indication that it is an old post, but it has been fun to revisit some of the posts anyway.

And so I am now looking at similar tools and finding that the best option is for me to choose a post, update it and ensure that the tweet has in it [blog archive], the short URL, the title of the post and the original date. Since I am going to be selective about the posts from the archive I don’t mind spending some time doing this … but will look for ways to automate it.

I also know that my blog and my tweets get viewed by a number of different audiences and different times of the day. Would it be too much to tweet it more than once? The best times for me are 9am, 1pm and 8.30pm … is three times too often? Only a small proportion of my followers will see it more than once.

I will also be using one of my other blog spaces to republished some archives too … this is so it is part of the #NorthantsBLT, #4Northants and #HETUP projects. These will go out via http://grumbledook.bltnorthants.net …

Also, if you find a post in my archives you think others would like reading then please let me know.

Do *You* Know A Technical Champion?

Last year, in Northamptonshire, we tried something slightly different. With all the work that goes on nationally through TeachMeets, Unconferences, and other alternative CPD events it was clear that there is so much educational expertise that doesn’t seem to stick its head above water too much. Now, we all know about the success which is EdGeek.net. It is fantastic to see them at BETT each year and I am the proud to be the only member who has been to every conference (it helps that I used to organise them, I suppose), but when I moved to the county council team it was hard to pinpoint exactly what benefit it gave the county.

There were a number of regular members who were absolutely fantastic and who went out of their way to help others … but the same was true of folk in the county who weren’t members. Since I was running the half-termly meetings for IT Managers and IT Support Providers I was able to see that the unconference style would not be the best thing in the world to bring everyone together … but what would? What really drives the technical community together? Other than ranting about users, the chance for free food and a some of use doing the stereotypical thing of speaking geek about the latest gadgets … what would help?

Well, continuing the group meetings was a start. In spite of it sometimes being the Tony Sheppard show there were frequent speakers from the schools, talking about implementing disaster recovery options, deploying windows 2008, tailoring the EMBC filtering for local control based on user-groups, layer 3 networks, purchasing and procurement, data protection, BCS, security …

But were there people out there who could make more of a difference? I definitely thought so … and still do … and so I looked at what funds I had available for projects and I put together a plan … a cunning plan … a plan so cunning you could put a tail on it and … hmm … we are going into stereotypes again, aren’t we.

Let’s see what we can do to find the Über Network Managers … the people who are technically inspiring; who have a fantastic grasp of managing the impossible (remember folks, miracles we can do today, the impossible requires at least 24 hours notice!); who can communicate with children, staff, middle and senior leaders; who can check over a budget spreadsheet and find the erroneous double entry for an ink cartridge; who can provide a healthy discourse on Bloom’s Taxonomy and why it had to be converted for the digital world …

Where can we find this wondrous being?

Well, you can’t … or rather you can, if they are given a chance … and sometimes there is not a chance because the top people can still have to spend their time fire-fighting, bailing people out of stupid ideas and trying to do the impossible in *less* than 24 hours.

So what could I do to help them? Give them the knowledge and tools to help themselves, or even give them the time and recognition needed to fine-tune their existing skills. And so the idea of the Technical Champion was born. Someone who has been fast-tracked into a management scheme aimed at middle leaders, but from a technical angle. And where do I find a course for this? Can there be something out there that takes a healthy dose of service management, project management, change management and shoves it all together with some processes to get the ball rolling?

Yes … FITS does this and since I had been banging on about how it would be the bedrock for good practice across the county it was about time we had some folk with real experience of the training. So, we funded four Network Managers, joined by a member of staff from ULT and myself and a fellow NCC Harnessing Technologies Manager … we did both the practitioners’ and managers’ courses.

I now had a core of 5 people representing schools, who could either share their experience and expertise directly with other schools, or who would feed it to schools through me.There are case studies to be written up over the coming 3 months and still more work to do with them.

And so, a year later … I am now expanding the group. I am now funding 8 more Network Managers, IT Technicians and ICT Coordinators through the FITS Practitioner course, being mentored by some of the existing Technical Champions too. The themes this year will be Communication and Change Management. They will have their own Moodle-based community to discuss and plan things together.

And the really exciting thing? For me … there is very little work. Gone are the days when the LA adviser was the High Priest … we are not the fountain of all knowledge. Instead the expertise in each school is key. As much as I have a fairly big ego, I happily hold my hands up and say that my hands on knowledge on technology is not as up to date as those working on it each and every day.  Then again, there is no Network Manager who is an expert on every bit of technology out there … or an expert in how it can be used most effectively either.

It also helps if you remember that each school is slightly different and will respond to the same problems or requirements in different ways. Helping the group to understand how to be flexible is important too. The best way of doing that is to get them to share … but accept that there is no single ‘best way’ of doing something …

So, the deadline for applications for the next group is Friday 29th October. We already have more applicants than places and so each applicant (who already has the support from their school) will have to write a short pen portrait of themselves and say what they will bring to the group. The existing Technical Champions will make the final decision and the FITS Training will be in December.

What does this have to do with areas outside of Northamptonshire though? Well, I am pretty sure that we all know someone who could be a Technical Champion. They might be a regular on EduGeek, they might be someone who is a key figure in your local LA IT forum / meetings, they might be someone who always gets calls and emails from others for advice and pointers, it could be they are a regular blogger, it could be that they are a community figure who develops things for free …

I know that I can’t fund people to go on FITS training, but I would still like to hear from you if you think you are, or could be, a technical champion. This is not replace any other forum, group, website, etc … this is just to try and link together a core group of like minded people who would be interested in generating some case studies, sharing some experiences and helping each other with a little constructive criticism.

Sharepoint Articles

This week will see a few blog posts go up.

First will be one already writte, exploring a bit more about sharepoint and web 2.0, next will be talking about why we filter emails and what impact the management of it can have, then finally I will be asking around about how different people feel about the different between hosted and local solutions for sharepoint.

It should be a busy week of meetings as well (when is it not) but I hope to squeeze all three items in.

FITS will fit all your needs!

What a wonderful week it has been. After a chance to catch up with schools involved in a local Apple RTC project (lovely to see and hear of teachers and pupils excited and engaged by the chance to try something different) we had the first piece of training for our new Technical Champions.

The course is actually the “Level 4 Certificate in ICT Support in Education: Practitioner” and is delivered via accredited training partners using materials from The FITS Foundation. In Northamptonshire our training partner is NEOS IT and we had the pleasure of George coming to Lodge Park Technology College on Tuesday and Wednesday to deliver training to the Technical Champions plus a few others.

A key concept across the whole course was the use of the word management. I know that I joke (quite frequently) about that particular word … even to the point of never using it but substituting the word ‘manglement’ instead … but it is really important in a heck of a lot about FITS. Once you get past the first stage of a service desk pretty much everything else has an element of management in there and this builds into the idea of Change Management.  I’ve written about the importance of Change Management before but it is explicit in the training materials. Without it then any significant change or choice your school makes with technology and learning … well … it is likely to fall flat on its face and it will probably end up being the missing piece of management from the FITS materials … Blame Management!

Why will some technicians, IT Managers and SLT not like what this means? Well, it introduces a large amount of accountability via a group that is central to Change Management (often call Change Advisory Board or Change Advisory Committee) and is likely to contain people like the IT Manager, a member of SLT, whoever looks after finances and then we get onto representatives of the stakeholders at the school. The training was quite interesting when we discussed who should be a representative. Of course people remembered about teachers, some mentioned about admin / office staff, one person mentioned about governors but I was disappointed that I was the only one to raise the students. And this was with a forward thinking bunch too … it got me to thinking that we still don’t communicate 2-way with our students enough and that this is partly down to the ethos of the school more than anything else. At this point people really understood who deep FITS can be involved with school change and transformation … and people were excited by that, a little daunted perhaps but the excitement is important.

My question to those reading this is how would you set up a group to manage change at your school? Do you have one already? Does it also deal with IT changes? Who is involved in the group? If you have student representation how do they feel about being involved?

I know … a typical Tony-style blog … talks about stuff and then asks a heap more questions. Oh well, you should be used to it by now.

One of the things I will be prodding the Technical Champions to do over the next month s to set up their blogs and I will share their links here too.

Information overload, communication underload

I have a number of things to blog about at the moment after the NAACE conference 2009, but I am still aware I have a pile of notes from BETT to put up and some more sharepoint stuff too… too many conferences / shows, too much operational work and not enough time to sit down and think about what things mean and how things change because of them.

Oh well… for the moment I will just collect my thoughts from the last few days and see where we go from there. Perhaps a few more hours over the weekend to work a bit more on the generic ICT Vision Statement that Peter and I are putting together. NAACE 2009 definitely sparked off a number of things to put in there… but a number of things need to be taken out!

Web 2.0 – It’s Alive!

It’s true you know … there is a real world example of using web 2.0 for student voice and parental engagement. I couldn’t believe it when I heard it was something so simple, easy to duplicate and it only took the brave step of one Head to think that something that had been in place could truly be pushed to see how for it could go.

Many thanks to Andre Field for this example … http://opensourceschools.org.uk/utility-open-source-school-blog.html … I’m sure we can add to that over the coming weeks. We already have plenty of examples of use of twitter and wikis with students …