Category: social media

Welcome, Science Borealis!

ScienceBorealis_badgeFirst, a big thanks to Science Borealis for highlighting my blog as today’s #cdnsciblog. I’m flattered to be in their company and happy to contribute.

I write mostly about teaching and learning science at the university level. This blog started as a way for me to archive interesting things I’d seen or done while working in the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative at UBC. It was for me, so I wouldn’t have to rely on my fading memory and chicken-scratch notes. Then other people started reading it, and leaving comments. Wow! There’s a community out there!

I’m hoping to combine my passions for science education and science communication at the next Science Online Together meeting, February 26 – March 1, 2014 in in Raleigh, NC. If everything goes as planned (c’mon, program committee, you really like my proposal, right?) I’ll meet you there!

And just in case you’re wondering about my Twitter handle, @polarisdotca: that’s Polaris, the North Star for my love of astronomy, and “dot ca” to let everyone know I’m proudly Canadian. Strangely enough, dot CA also work here in my new home, San Diego, California.

Thanks for dropping in. And again, to the Science Borealis team for igniting this community.

Drink without drowning from the Twitter River

With some software, you can divide the Twitter River into drinkable streams (Image: River Itchen Weir by neilalderney123 on flickr CC)
With some software, you can divide the Twitter River into drinkable streams
(Image: River Itchen Weir by neilsingapore on flickr CC)

For the past few weeks, I’ve been participating in #etmooc, a massive open online course (MOOC) about educational technology and media. This is a cMOOC, where the goal is connecting people and building a community, as opposed to an xMOOC where you watch videos, do assignments and so on. And so, there is a lot of online community building occurring through Blackboard Collaborate, a Google+ community, hundreds of blogs and, my tool-of-choice, Twitter.

In addition to the the #etmooc backchannel that lights up during the live, Blackboard Collaborate sessions, there are weekly Twitter chat sessions #etmchat.

There are many new twitter users participating in #etmooc – getting on Twitter is part of the course. New users, suddenly surrounded by 100’s of like-minded folks, do a lot of following. And I see the same kind of tweet flowing by every few minutes: “I’m overwhelmed with tweets! How do I keep up?” I’ve been using Twitter for 3 or 4 years and I feel I’m getting pretty good at it. In response to these cries for help, I thought I’d share how I drink from the Twitter River without drowning.

Step 1: Get a program to access Twitter

Use something other than a web browser pointing to to access your tweets. For a desktop or laptop, I highly recommend TweetDeck for your Windows laptop /desktop computer and the Hootsuite app for your iPhone, iPad or Android.   (If you’ve got a favorite solution for other hardware, I hope you’ll leave a comment below, thanks.)  These programs have something in common: columns. (Well, they’re called streams in Hootsuite. How fitting.). Columns are filters that take the gushing river of incoming tweets and break it into drinkable streams.

Screenshot of my iPhone on Hootsuite.

In both Hootsuite and Tweetdeck, you can have separate columns for

  • home feed – the full Twitter river of tweets from all people you follow
  • @mentions – never miss another tweet sent @you that flies by in your home feed
  • DMs – your private, direct messages are pulled aside so you don’t miss them
  • sent tweets – I like to have these handy so I can see who and what I’ve recently tweeted
  • any Twitter list you’ve created – you can put anyone you follow onto a list you’ve made up, like “#etmooc folks”, “education folks”, “hockey fans”, “conference attendees” and so on. These lists are part of your Twitter profile housed at so both TweetDeck and Hootsuite can access them. That means if I add someone to a list while using TweetDeck, she’ll be on the list when I look at in Hootsuite.
  • any search term – this is very powerful because you can create a column that fishes from the Twitter River every tweet with a particular hashtag, like #etmooc, #etmchat or #thatfunnyhashtageveryoneistalkingabout

I have about a dozen columns in TweetDeck and Hootsuite that filter all my incoming tweets into easy-to-access streams.

The first 4 of the dozen or so columns I have in TweetDeck.
Four of the dozen or so columns I have in TweetDeck.

Step 2: Create a First list

Once you get going on Twitter, it’s hard to stop following people – they are all so damn interesting! Even with lists and #hashtag columns, there may still be hundreds of tweets flowing by. Sometimes it feels like you can’t jump out of a Twitter chat because you’ll miss something important. Here’s my next best piece of advice, a trick I learned from Derek Bruff @derekbruff.

Make a list called First (or something memorable) of the handful of people whose every tweet you feel you need to read. You don’t want to miss anything these people say. (It’s a good idea to make this list private – you don’t want any awkward conversations, “How come I’m not on your first list? Aren’t I important enough?”) Then open a TweetDeck column or a Hootsuite stream using your First list. Every time you go back online, you can quickly and completely read your First list. Jump out and jump back in? No problem, your First list has all the important tweets.

Enjoy your drink

Some software with columns and a First list will organize your incoming tweets and remove all the burden of keeping up. It makes following a chat like #etmchat simple because you don’t have to continually pick out the chat tweets from the rest of the river flowing by. Instead, you can devote all your cognitive load to participating in the chat and joining the community.

Do you have any other tips for wading through the Twitter River without drowning? Drop a comment below. Or tweet me at @polarisdotca – I’ll see it!

Gearing up for #etmooc

(Image adapted from picture by Ed Yourdon on flickr CC)
Let’s use technology in class for learning. (Image adapted from picture by Ed Yourdon on flickr CC)

You know what makes me cringe? When a professor complains about his not paying attention in class “because they’re on their computers [dramatic pause] facebooking!”

My instinctive response is to ask

  1. Do you know their on facebook and not working on an essay or checking their email or watching sports? Don’t presume to know what your students are doing when they’re not entranced by your presentation.
  2. And just why do you think that is, anyway? Why don’t they need to be engaged with the concepts you’re lecturing about? Hint: it probably has something to do with “you’re *lecturing* about”.
  3. Why do you believe laptops and smartphones in class are evil?

I don’t actually say these things, though. Bad for recruiting faculty into committing their time and energy to transform their instructor-centered lectures into student-centered instruction.

Instead, I just grimace, shake my head a bit, and say,”—” Honestly I don’t really know what to say to spark the conversation that is the first step of changing their misconceptions about computers and smartphones in the classroom.

I have a vision of what I’d like to see in university classes when it comes to technology:

I want every student so engaged with the material and actively constructing their own understanding that they have neither the time nor the desire to disengage to check their smartphones, or

I want to see everyone using their smartphones and laptops for learning: googling things, running simulations, writing a googledoc with the rest of the class, tweeting the expert in the field, finding a Pinterest collection,…

That’s a long way from a grimace and a head shake. What I need are the words, concepts and tools that can bring technology into education in an effective and efficient way.

(etmooc badge from

Which is why I’m so excited about #etmooc. It’s a massive, open, online course (mooc) about educational technology and media, starting in January 2013. I’m interested in the content and tools we’ll be exploring. (Psst — and secretly, I’m interested in watching how the thing runs. If there’s anyone that can figure out how to make a mooc effective, it’s Alec Couros @courosa and the team he’s assembled.)

Each participant (there are over 1200 of us now) will be using their own blog to post reflections, opinions, whatever else he’s got in store for us. I’ll be tagging all  my posts with etmooc so their easier to find.