#PeriscopeEDU: Initial Reactions (<24 Hours In)

My mind has been freaking blown.

I took a philosophy class at some point in college, and the question was posed, what if our existence is just an extremely sophisticated virtual reality historical simulation from the future?  I never really bought into this, even though it was cool to think about.  However, I always wondered what it would be like to play a live action version of The Sims, with real people?

That probably sounded way creepier than intended.

Anyway, today I can stop wondering.  Last night, on Voxer, my good friend Ashley Hurley told us about the Periscope app.  Two minutes later, I heard about it from Joe Mazza, and then from more teachers in separate groups.  I had to see what all the hype was about, so I downloaded it, and made a test video from my hotel room, while watching Friends. To my surprise, people watched and interacted with me.  This was crazy!

The way Periscope works is that you link it to your Twitter account, but the whole world can see it.  You can set it to private if you want, but I think it’s more fun if you don’t.  You also have the option of turning off location.  I would highly recommend this.  Also, you have the option to tweet out the live link.

On the home screen, it suggests new videos that you can watch in real time and interact with the person filming.  It operates very similarly to Instagram, where you tap the screen to give a heart (similar to a like), or you can chat.  For the “broadcaster,” you have the option to save to your camera roll, but I haven’t figured out how to save all of the comments and hearts, as you can do on the replay.  I’ve heard the video only stays up for 24 hours.  People can watch live or asynchronously.

One thing I noticed right away is that people tend to have an obsession with fridges.  I have no idea.  Anyway, the comments I got last night were a bit inappropriate at times, but mostly fun and supportive.  People asked me questions, and suggested that I did stuff, so I played along.  It was a blast.

In the ITS EdTech Voxer group, we spoke about how it could be used to engage students, but they would have to use privacy settings, or perhaps an edu version could even come down the pipeline at a later time.

In the New UnitEd Tech Voxer group, one of my friends told me about how similar this app was to something called Meerkat.  This was echoed later today in ITS EdTech Voxer group, so I decided to check it out.

While Meerkat is cool, I prefer Periscope.  Periscope is more user-friendly, and appears to have more functionality.  I honestly haven’t dug that deeply into Meerkat, but I’m going off of initial impressions.  What I like about Periscope is that so many members of my PLN have jumped aboard, so it engages me to connect with people that I actually know.  I love watching their videos!

On Meerkat, you can also save videos to your camera roll, but it doesn’t seem to save videos on the app itself so that others can watch later.  It appears you have to catch them live.  I did see one live video, and that was pretty cool, so I’ll keep an eye on Meerkat.  It’s definitely valuable, but I am more drawn to Periscope.

Today, at Edcamp South Jersey, I used the Twitter stream feature of Periscope to document the opening.  Imagine my surprise when, instead of strangers, I now had friends from my PLN participating with comments!  Many people reported that they felt as if they were there, and reported the same when I live-streamed the lunchtime raffle.  Joe, Rusul, Judy, Kimberly, Amy and many other educators were using the hashtag #PeriscopeEDU on Twitter, which got me thinking about educational implications.

On the way home from the EdCamp, I made a video about how we could use it with students, which I hoped to try with the new Swivl (model one) that I just got.  I’ll still need to chew on this and formulate how this would be any different from livestreaming via something like Google Hangouts on Air.  I’ll probably revisit this idea at a later time.

On an even lighter note, I’ve been obsessed with using Periscope for silly reasons, just to satisfy my own curiosity.  I referenced The Sims in the introduction, and that was for a reason.  Back in the day, I would stay up late at night and wake up early in the morning to play this game.  With the Periscope app, there are tons of people making videos every second, and they want you to interact with them.  I can’t believe I spent five minutes trying to convince a guy in Europe to eat a pepper (he did it).  I constantly tap the screen to give people “hearts” in hopes of influencing them to follow my suggestions, much like you’d do on The Sims.  Something about this feels slightly sinister, but it’s all in good fun…hopefully everyone will use it for good purposes.

I really like the fact that you’re not totally anonymous (for now), as your handle is tied to your Twitter account; however, I worry that over time people may start creating fake Twitter profiles.  There are actually quite a few red flags that pop up, given the types of comments one may encounter on sites such as YouTube; but I think the potenial benefits outweigh the risks.  When it comes down to it, the risks inherent in Periscope are the same that you’d find on most other social media, particularly those including video.  I’m excited to see the growth of micro-streaming, and what it holds for the future of education and communication.

#BeYouEDU with Your Students

When I first stepped into a classroom 10 years ago (as a teacher), I tried to put as much distance between myself and my students as possible.  I was told this was the only way they would respect me.  Baby-faced and nearly fresh out of college, I looked more like a student than a teacher.  Many of the kids in my fifth grade class were barely a decade younger (and already a couple of inches taller) than me.

“Don’t smile until Christmas,” veteran teachers advised.

“Wear dress suits…with shoulder pads!”

“Be a disciplinarian!”

In other words, be everything, except for myself.  I was totally fake, and the kids saw right through me.

Dr. Will recently launched the #BeYouEDU hashtag, after a discussion a few of us had regarding the need for educators to recognize what they do well, and share that expertise with the educational community.  The same can also be said for our interactions with students.

In Teach Like a PirateDave Burgess expressed that passion is contagious.  When we share our passion with students, this gives us the opportunity to connect and build relationships.  This is clutch, because as the late, great Rita Pierson said in her 2013 TED Talk, these relationships help to create a climate conducive to learning.

The teacher-student dynamic is very different than any other professional relationship.  It’s much more personal, and often takes on even familial elements.  For example, in a small K-8 school, some teachers see the same students year after year.  I’ve had students refer to me as “godmommy,” “auntie,” “big sis,” and even “granddaughter” (inside joke).  This is all in good fun.  However, in other situations, in schools all around the world, educators must sometimes step in to meet the basic and/or emotional needs of students, much like a parent.

Building positive relationships with students isn’t a given.  As educators, we must respect our students enough to get to know them as people.  On the flipside, it also helps if we build upon commonalities.

First and foremost, your students need to know that you care about them and have their best interests at heart.  Take the time to listen to them, and ask them about their day.  Give them a safe space to share their successes, challenges, and concerns. Show them how much you care about and believe in them.  Be open to teaching them what they want to learn, and if you don’t know all of the answers, that’s ok.  Help them find out.  Teach them how to learn for themselves.  This paragraph is the most important in this entire post.

Once you have done the above, here are some further ideas to connect with students.

  1. Laugh with students.  Life (and learning) doesn’t always have to be so serious.  Give yourself permission to cut loose and crack a joke or two.  My fantastic colleague shared yesterday that she gives her class comedian time to share his jokes and stories with the class, during warm-up.  There’s a time for work, and there’s a time for play, and there are plenty of times when they can overlap.  Speaking of playing:
  2. Play with students. Athletically inclined?  Get your fitness fix in by shooting some hoops, playing football, or kicking a soccer ball around with your students at recess.  Or maybe organize a students vs. teachers sporting event.  For the super-adventurous, you can even sign up to coach a sport…maybe lol.  Any gamers out there?  Bring in your video game console and invite kids to an after-school Rock Band or Dance Central tournament.
  3. Create with students. Whatever hobby you may have, chances are some of your students will also be interested.  Maybe it’s music production, or public speaking, making, or reading.  Sponsor a club, and learn along with your students.
  4. Get jiggy with students. If you’re into music, volunteer to DJ school dances, or a karaoke event.  If that doesn’t appeal to you, chaperone.  Brave souls may want to even jump in on a line dance, or even challenge your students to a battle.  Many students love a battle of any kind, be it dance, rap, or even a poetry slam.
  5. Support students. Figure out what makes your kids tick.  They probably talk about it nonstop in class.  Maybe they are part of the Quiz Bowl team, play rec league sports, dance, or play piano.  If they extend an invitation to an event, attend and show your support.  They will appreciate it more than you’ll ever know.

These five ideas are very simple and very surface.  Much more goes into establishing positive relationships.  We must operate from a place of care, understanding, and respect to help students reach their potential.  Additionally, one of our strongest hooks is connecting with them as people.  When they know that you care, they will often go that extra mile.

Be yourselves, and shine together!

Is “Branding” a Dirty Word?

Branding.

This is one of the most passionately-debated concepts in the educational community.  There are opinions on both sides of the spectrum and everywhere in between.

Personally, I fall slightly left of middle, having come from the far right (anti-branding).  Sitting in on Tony Sinanis and Joe Sanfelippo‘s Branding session at EdCamp New Jersey in 2013, and further conversations with my friend Dr. Will, have changed my perspective, my career trajectory, and quite honestly, my life.

From these gentlemen, and Saturday from Joan on Twitter and Benita Gordon at EdCamp Arlington, I have learned that we are all branded, whether we like it or not.  It is up to us to take control of telling our story the way we want it to be told.

Saturday morning, I attended EdCamp Arlington.  As I was getting ready, I had a “showergem” moment, inspired tangentially by a Voxer conversation in the New UnitED Tech Voxer group.  I decided to use the opportunity to gain clarity on this issue, by bouncing ideas off of other educators in attendance.

Prior to arriving, I decided to throw the topic out on Twitter.  There, we had a rich discussion with Mr. C, Rob Patin, Joan, Mark Samberg, and Walt Sutterlin.  Ryan Jackson also shared a great thought on the topic.  In the EduMatch Voxer, group members also shared ideas.

At the edcamp, I put the topic up on the session board, and we brainstormed in Session Two.  Many great thoughts were shared by Tim Stahmer, Benita Gordon, Michelle Haseltine, Katharine Hale, Chris Gallaway, Gisella, Molly Toussant, Laurie Sullivan, and many, many more!  (Sorry to anyone I may have missed.)  These ideas really got my gears turning, and even more so when we discussed it further in New UnitED Tech.

I’ve been reflecting on branding since November 2013…I even blogged about my struggles with it once before.  Today’s great discussion has reaffirmed my stance that:

this isn’t about me.  It’s about networking and growing my PLN.  We are all in this together.  By increasing my PLN, I’m learning more and more…about more and more.  Then I can take this new knowledge and regurgitate it to other teachers who want to know more, like a mother bird feeding her young.  Or something.

Ok…this…but maybe not as yucky.  In the session, Michelle made a great point stating this, in a much less cringe-worthy way 🙂  Branding does help us connect, and as educators, we should not be afraid to put our own message out there.

As we discussed in the session, the media tends to cast our profession in a negative light, while ignoring many of the positives.  We rarely see stories of how much good happens within our collective four walls.  No, it’s not fair, but we can begin to change things when we put our stories out there, and uplift our students and colleagues publicly.  We have the power to do this.

After a full day of conversations, certain themes of the pros and cons of branding recurred:

Pros

  • Branding helps you tell your story the way you want it told.
  • The media generally portrays educators in a negative light.  Branding is an alternative from a grassroots level.
  • The ideal model of branding would be to promote a positive message while uplifting others.
  • We encourage students to build their brand responsibly, so we should lead by example.
  • If other people have the right to do/say what they want, and teachers are people, we should have the same rights de facto.
  • We need to share our stories to help each other learn through our successes and challenges.

Cons

  • Some people use branding to do the equivalent of yelling, “look at me!” (These tend to be the same people who demonstrate an unwillingness to collaborate, once people do look.)
  • It’s not about us, it’s about the ideas.

Most teachers I have met are modest.  We did not go into teaching for the fame or the fortune, so yelling “look at me” is generally not the case.  I’m not saying that it never happens, but generally, the opposite is true.  However, as I’ve said before, it’s imperative to share.  You’re only as strong as your PLN, and you make it stronger by sharing.

The number one factor I heard (and have even experienced) that makes teachers reluctant to brand ourselves, is the fear of being judged by others.  We don’t want to be misinterpreted or even associated with “look at me” behavior.  However, branding done right is not “look at me,” it’s “look at this awesome idea,” or “look at how amazing these students are,” or “look at this great work by _________.”

At our recent SXSW panel (Cori Coburn-Shiflett, Rafranz DavisShelly Sanchez Terrell, and me), the underlying sentiment was that women in edtech are each others’ greatest resource, and should also be each other’s support system.  This idea can, and should, be generalized to educators as a whole.  Ideally, when we brand ourselves, we acknowledge the value that we bring to the table, and use this strength to, in turn, empower others.

Verdict: No, branding is not a dirty word, as long as it’s coming from a place of cooperation and collaboration.

#DearMe

Dear Me,

It is not ok to be ignored.

I was inspired to write this blog post on International Women’s Day, but I ran out of time. Then I saw this post by Rusul, which inspired this one by Jordan.

I struggled with writing my own at first, feeling that what I truly would want to say to my 13-year-old self would be more than I wanted to share with the entire world. However, the bravery and candor of the previous two posts inspired me. So here it is, slightly filtered, but still extremely raw.

Everyone has a different path. Growing up, I was blessed. I came from a strong, loving family. We weren’t rich, but we had more than enough. I had plenty of opportunities as a kid. Dear Me, you should have counted your blessings (lol).

My life at home was amazing. It was the outside world that was the problem. I grew up in a limousine liberal (and closet racist) community in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.  No, not everyone was racist, but keep in mind a few things: a) that was the prevailing mindset, particularly from those in power; b) there is a whole spectrum of racism (yes, it is possible to be just a little racist); and c) if you weren’t racist, then there was a good chance you were on the receiving end of it.

I’m half-joking on point C. In all seriousness, I had friends of all races. Some even stood up against injustice. But this was rare. Extremely rare. Most people were just fine with letting micro- and macro-aggressions fly rampant. As they say, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

Many of my peers may say that there was no problem with racial discrimination when we were growing up.  For them, that may have been true.  My area was very segregated de facto, with most people interacting with those of their same background.  As long as you “knew your place” (#sarcasm) and stayed there, you were fine.

Well, I was a black kid, in a predominantly white neighborhood, in predominantly white advanced classes, doing quite well.  A lot of people didn’t appreciate that.  It wasn’t my “place,” the neat little box where my skin color would define my academic track.

To add salt to the wound, I wasn’t just black…I was also Haitian. *gasp* This, in itself, could merit a blog post of its own…actually, probably even an encyclopedia.  But to provide a surface overview, many Americans were (and still are) extremely prejudiced towards Haitians.  In the mid-90s, as a Haitian kid, I was hit with nonstop with stereotypes of “boat people and AIDS” from my classmates.  Nevermind that my parents came over in the 60s.

Dear Me,

You should have never lost sight of who you are. Then again, I really can’t blame you.

You were only three when it all began. You didn’t know the word back then, but that’s when you first learned about assimilation.  You started to notice the differences between you and your friends: your different colors, the languages you spoke at home, your spirituality, even your sizes.  They started to notice, too.

Peer pressure can make quite an impact, even for toddlers.  I remember the first time I faced rejection over differences.  One girl in the neighborhood chose to stop talking to me because my family didn’t go to church, and convinced other “friends” to follow suit.  Yes, this was 30 years ago.  At that point, we were barely out of Pampers, but still, the message that we were different came across loud and clear.  And apparently, different was bad.

A few days ago, I had a conversation on Voxer with one of my close friends, where we were discussing our shared experience of feeling the pressure to assimilate when we were the only person like us in a given situation.  She used the term, “being a chameleon,” and I knew right away what she meant.  My entire childhood, I tried my hardest to be a chameleon, despite the strong messages I was receiving at home (the ultimate symbol being my mother’s Afro, that she has proudly worn since the 60s).

It wasn’t that I was internalizing the b.s. dumped on me from the outside world.  I knew exactly who I was, but I was terrified to show it.  There was the normal fear of being judged and rejected by peers.  That was HUGE at age 13.

There was also the fear of harm.  It didn’t happen often, but the isolated incidents throughout the years set the tone that more could soon follow.

For example, there was always the impending fear of gang violence.  Sure, nobody wants to talk about it, but some of the biggest thugs around are those with a trust fund.  The Saved-By-the-Bell-wannabe gangstas in my neighborhood had no problem using such tactics as throwing rocks, setting their dogs loose on you, hurling racial slurs, chasing you with sticks, smashing your pumpkins on Halloween, toilet papering/egging your house, or threatening to run you over with their bikes.  They made it very clear that I was in their territory, and that I was wearing the wrong [skin] color.  Sometimes, their parents were even in on the action.  Of course, where else would they get it from?

Yes, looking back, I could have and should have told my parents more about what was going on.  Whenever I did, they had my back.  However, when you’re growing up, being a snitch is like the big kid version of having a very contagious outbreak of the cooties, so often I did not.

I figured that I couldn’t afford to lose any more respect from my peers, so I learned to mask my feelings, and tried to be as invisible as I possibly could.  I also became the ultimate chameleon, changing the music I listened to, the shows I watched, the way I spoke…not performing at my highest academic potential, probably subconsciously, so that I wouldn’t step on Richie Rich’s toes.

Still, it wasn’t good enough.  By eighth grade, I had fully internalized the negativity from my teachers, peers, and the community at large, and really hated myself.  I won’t go into great detail at this point, but my teenage years left many deep emotional scars, that are just now beginning to heal.  I felt that I wasn’t pretty enough. I wasn’t thin enough. I just wasn’t enough. Many times I wondered, why am I even here?

The only reason that I’m laying it all out there is because I realize now that I am not alone.  Especially as a woman of color, our society makes us feel that there is something wrong with us if we deal with these issues.  But it’s important to talk, because it really helps to know that other people feel this way, and we are never alone.  Yes, some women of color also battle things like suicide and body issues, although they are not as openly discussed.  My hope is that we pursue these dialogues, and help people of all colors realize that they are loved and supported.  We are all much more than enough.

This is one of the reasons why I am so passionate about getting others connected to the rest of the world.  Not only has it helped me become a better teacher for my students, but making friends around the world with whom I have so much in common has, quite honestly, changed the way I view myself and other people.

Anyway, the story has a happy ending, one that is still being written.  As soon as I possibly could, I fled my hometown for nearby D.C. and a different experience at Howard University.  Leaving my toxic environment was the first step to embracing Sarah.  As the years have gone by, I have matured into a woman, reclaimed my voice, and started to heal.

However, it is a slow journey, and now I’m finding it a welcome change (albeit nerve-wracking) that people actually listen now.  Yesterday, for example, as I spoke on a panel regarding diversity at SXSW, I kept having flashbacks to being that girl who everyone once wanted to silence…and the one who accepted it just to get by.

As a result, my filter is now extremely strong (one of my friends recently made that spot-on observation), and although I generally speak my mind, I choose my words carefully.  I express myself much more easily through writing, when I can go back and revise multiple times before publishing.  I’m working on my speaking, and it’s becoming a little easier every time I step outside of my comfort zone.

If I could go back in time, I would tell Mini-Me to be strong, be yourself, and not to accept being invisible/ignored.  That’s definitely easier said than done, so I applaud all of the young ladies (and gentlemen) who speak their minds and claim their respect, no matter what.

Dear Us,

#wematter