Why teachers need to be on social media

G Plus CommunityFor our 1,500-member post-CELTA support group, which has been using a private Yahoo Group since it was first set up in August 2004, we're gradually moving on to private G+ communities (logo, right), which has generated a number of concerns about privacy.

A G+ Community (very like a Facebook group if you aren't familiar with G+) can be either public or private, a choice you have to make on set-up and cannot then change. Privacy issues ought to be among the first concern of teachers considering using technology and, with a private Community, what is posted there stays there, and is shared only with members of the community — so that "Private" is the choice I've made for all the Communities I run, no matter who the community has been for, teachers or for language learners.

For anyone reluctant to join our new group (open only to people who take their CELTA course at IH Barcelona) — or concerned about using social media in general, for that matter — I've put forward the same arguments I've used with language learners:

  • By being on the internet at all, you've already surrendered a certain amount of your privacy
  • We have, nevertheless, done what is possible to make our community private
  • You do need to concern yourself with what you share with whom…
  • But, in the 21st century, you probably do want a professional digital footprint on the internet

A professional digital footprint
In the world of work — which, after all, English language teaching is part of — you probably do want to hide certain things. Who can access what on your Facebook page, for example…? Can a potential employer…? What photos can other people find and see, not just on Facebook but elsewhere, too…? Picassa, for example, is a site where I discovered I was unwittingly "sharing" photos I never meant to.

Unknown userBut you probably do want to be on LinkedIn, for example, with a carefully crafted profile and an attractive profile picture — for the job offers you can obtain through it and so that recruiters can take a good look at you. And yes, for that reason, you want a profile image, not some faceless default image (see example, right).

Somewhere like about.me is another quite good place to post your curriculum (and a good place to link to in your paper or digital CV). Here, to provide an example, is my about.me page — still a work in progress and note that I'm not looking for a job as an English teacher: if I were, I'd most definitely change things there.

Being able to show examples of what your learners have done is also interesting, perhaps work that they posted online (and again, you'd want to concern yourself with privacy and obtain their permission to make use of it). If it's not posted publicly, screen captures on paper in a portfolio would be one way to go.

And you probably do want to be "on" social media, with a blog and/or a Twitter account that you can also show to potential employers (always assuming that what you're posting isn't going to immediately put them off you as a candidate!).

By following other people on Twitter or on blogs or via RSS (my tool of choice: TheOldReader), you (1) get yourself some informal, ongoing social learning — which has got to have a positive effect on the classes you teach — and (2) arm yourself with an immediate answer to the question I'd personally put to all candidates for jobs in education today: "Describe your PLN to me…"

Coming next | Why teachers should use social media with learners

My top 12 sites for language teaching and learning

2 for the price of 1: song clips that tell stories…

These, in fairly random order, are a dozen of the sites I always recommend language teachers on pre-service courses like CELTA, and on others too.

They are sites I believe all language teachers should know about, though you'll notice that most are intended for the learners, rather than the teacher, to use.

  1. YouTube There's just so much brilliant material for language classes on YouTube (and see also Vimeo, in the next item below). Particularly great are song clips that tell stories [above and here's my favourite example], giving you 2 for the price of 1 — the song and the story (can your learners tell the story, explain and extend it?) | More ideas for using YouTube.
  2. FilmEnglish If you want lesson plans to go with your YouTube clips, then Kieran Donaghy's brilliant FilmEnglish is the best of a number of similar sites (see "Video lessons" in the sidebar, for more), partly because the choice of clips is always so inspired (many in fact don't come from YouTube but from the classier Vimeo).
  3. Google Drive Formerly known as Google Docs, Google Drive is brilliant because you will never ever again have to concern yourself with which is the right version of your document: there is only one version, up in the cloud, accessible from any device; brilliant because you can share documents with people (colleagues, students…); and brilliant because your learners can create the documents and collaborate within them, including in real time (in a chat window… oh, wow!). Absolutely amazing for creative, collaborative writing projects; great too if you have your learners make presentations. And all that without having to fork out for Micro$oft Office! | See also Getting started with Google Drive
  4. Edmodo | I just love Edmodo, and every class I know that's tried it has loved it too — provided the teacher has seen it for what it is: a kind of private Facebook group, one designed for education (and not for sharing every detail of your private life). An Edmodo group is for learners to do stuff, share it and comment on it; it doesn't work nearly as well if you see it as a place to provide the answers to "exercises" and little more. It gives your learners a digital space in which to do things. Welcome to the 21st century!  | More ideas for using Edmodo.
  5. Blogger For a more complex digital space than Edmodo, on which things can be kept looking more organised, a blog is a great option, with Blogger being easier than the very popular WordPress for anyone new to blogging. Fantastic for project work of all kinds | More ideas on blogging.
  6. WhatsApp Absolutely my favourite app for taking advantage of the technology learners come to class already equipped with — and with the app already downloaded, installed and familiar to them. Absolutely great, and addictive, for randomly sharing whatever, and great too for sharing photos on an agreed theme.
  7. SoundCloud | My second favourite app, Soundcloud turns your learners' mobile phones into audio recording devices (which they already are) for podcasting but also gives them somewhere in the cloud to store the files and do various other things with them (like commenting and linking). Podcasting I'd say is definitely one of the most successful uses I've ever had learners make of technology in language classes, though note that I don't recall ever having actually made a recording myself for use in class. | More ideas, information on podcasting.
  8. Twitter It took me a while to see the value of Twitter but I recommend it because it brings me ideas and materials (like the outstanding images on 500px); not to mention ELT job offers; and stuff (unrelated to work) that I just like and enjoy; because having learners "follow" someone — a celebrity of some kind — is a great way for them to get more, self-motivating reading practice; and because I've also seen it used a bit like an Edmodo or WhatsApp group, for sharing things between the members of a class , with one of the best examples being this project by Daniel Rodriguez (content in Spanish) | Me on Twitter (and check out who I follow for more ideas on who you could follow!)
  9. TeachingEnglish.org.uk Especially — but not exclusively — for newly qualified language teachers, Teaching English is a must-have favourite. Everything your CELTA course forgot to mention (and lots that it did) is there. Got a newbie question and you don't have a colleague at hand to turn to? Go there! If you're on Facebook, they also have a Facebook page that is well worth "liking".
  10. OneStopEnglish In many ways very like Teaching English, OneStopEnglish requires subscription (currently 42 GBP, or €53 pa) for full access, though if you're lucky, your school already has school access to it. Another great site to turn to when the DoS gives you classes (business English, exams…) that CELTA didn't prepare you for!
  11. Cambridge Exams And talking about exams, all teachers should know about them, acquire knowledge  of them and experience of teaching exam classes. In Europe, the Cambridge Exams are the most popular, and schools want teachers that have that knowledge and experience. Here's where to acquire at least the former, which is a definite plus to your CV.
  12. Tech ELT Blog I've left technology till last as I think it's the least important (but still vital) ingredient in a language classroom. I going to recommend my own blog here  (!!!) as a site to bookmark because — I hope — virtually everything here is (a) easy to put into practice in a language classroom; (b) interaction- and language-rich but technology-light, and not the other way round: and (c) involves learners rather than teachers using technology — which is as I think it should be. You want alternatives? Look at some of the "Blogs I learn from" (see sidebar).

What must-favourite sites for language learning do you think I've missed? Tell us in the comments…

Edmodo: transforming the way we teach

If you're not familiar with Edmodo, it describes itself as being "a secure social learning network for teachers and students" — a sort of private Facebook, if you like, which it certainly resembles in appearance and functionality. The video here comes from their "About" page.

In the video, Edmodo co-founder Nic Borg says "Everyone is connected everywhere they go now except for within the classroom. They enter this void where the tools that connect them to one another don't exist any more". It may not (yet) be true that everyone is connected everywhere, but it's certainly crazy for the "technology" used in language teaching still to be limited to the printer and the photocopier.

Since first starting to use it on our Cert ICT course last year, Edmodo has become my favourite Web 2.0 tool. Again in the video, Jeff O'Hara says that for teachers "Edmodo is transforming the way they teach".

One change using Edmodo has meant for me is that, since I set up my first group I've never made another photocopy. I'm old enough to remember the pre-photocopier days when we cranked out copies on a mimeograph and I later spent years swamping my learners with bits of rainforest pulped into photocopied A4 sheets, which were handed out, used, but never seen or used again.

No one ever "replied" to a photocopy. Edmodo changed that.

Argh! Bloglines to close, October 1

Bloglines, a popular RSS reader [definition] is to close October 1, as it says "being locked in an RSS reader makes less and less sense to people as Twitter and Facebook dominate real-time information flow".

Thanks to Twitter and the like, people don't read use RSS readers any more, in other words (though over 70% of Mashable's readers do — or at least they did, a year ago).

To follow lots of blogs (and a huge etcetera), however, an RSS reader is indispensable — and has at least one huge advantage over Twitter and Facebook: you choose who or what you want to follow, and you don't finish up swamped by garbage.

Switching over to a different RSS reader is simply a question of exporting your feeds from Bloglines and importing them into a new one… but which one? The new, social media version of Google Reader was the obvious choice (though I much prefer Bloglines) — but further dependence on the Evil Empire aka Google, that's bad news, too.

An introduction to social media

This one comes from Jane Hart's Pick of the Day blog…

If you've been living on a desert island for the last ten years (or have just been quietly enjoying life and been way too busy to concern yourself with cyberspace), and have no idea what social media is — or social bookmarking or social networking or blogging or RSS or Dimdim or Elgg, etc., then Jane has a neat introductory guide to the field.