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Coping with social media, professional development and information overload

FelicityJane

Meet Olga. Olga teaches English several hours a day. Apart from preparing her classes, teaching, and marking assignments, in the course of a normal week she also does the following things:

  • She accesses the online staffroom of her school to download material to use in some of her classes.
  • She reads daily digests of e-mails from the five online professional development discussion groups belongs to. Sometimes she contributes a posting to the group on a topic she is interested in or knows something about.
  • She notes down the date of a free webinar in her calendar, which she plans to attend next week.
  • She checks her RSS reader and catches up with postings on two or three blogs written by other teachers around the world.
  • She posts to her own professional blog about a new podcasting project that she has started with her elementary class. She usually posts once a week to her blog.
  • She listens and responds to the podcasts her students have contributed to the podcasting site.
  • She logs into Twitter once a day, to see what colleagues are up to, and to quickly follow a few links or articles recommended by her Twitter network. She sends a few tweets, including one about how her new class podcasting project is going.
  • She bookmarks a few recommended sites from Twitter for later reading. She will add the really useful sites to her social bookmarking account (she uses Delicious).
  • She catches up on postings and coursework from the free online course called ‘Digital Storytelling’ she is currently taking. She attends a video conferencing tutorial session with her online course colleagues and tutor.
  • She updates her ePortfolio with the name, dates, length and a brief content description of her online course ‘Digital Storytelling’. Next week she’ll add a description of her class podcasting project and a link to what the students produced.

Olga is a teacher who knows how the Internet and social media can help her develop as a teacher. She is also Superwoman.

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How many of the above things do you do? How many do you plan to do, but not have time for? How guilty and pressured does this make you feel? And admit it, are you one of those people who can’t get through a meal with friends without checking for new email or tweets on your phone surreptiously under the table?

Web 2.0 has brought us many varied and wonderful opportunities for professional development. This we all know. What is less talked about is the psychological stress that being exposed to an endless stream of information causes us. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a technophobe. I love technology, and adore the vast range of options that technology brings to my teaching and training. Hell, I even have my own blog! But I also feel a bit stressed out. A lot of the time I feel as if I’m only just keeping my head above water. I also feel that everybody else knows a lot more than I do. Everybody else seems to be so much more active on their blogs, on others’ blogs, on Twitter, on Facebook, on YouTube, on discussion lists, on …

And worst of all, I worry that it’s just me. Am I the only one who feels unable to cope with all of this information? Am I the only one who wakes up at two in the morning thinking about that article I only half read last night, because I just didn’t have time to finish it? Am I the only one worrying that I haven’t logged on to Twitter for two days, and have probably missed lots of really important stuff? Am I the only one wondering how to juggle my normal workload (large), my family life (demanding), my social life (meagre) and all this extra stuff?? I suspect I may not be the only one, but I don’t hear a lot of my colleagues talking about it.

So let’s talk about it. Let’s share some coping strategies, some tips & some advice for how we can best manage all of the rich resources that Web 2.0 provides. Below are some of the strategies I (not always successfully) try to use.

7 Tips for coping with social media:

Tip 1: Accept the inevitable. You will never know everything, and you will never be able to fully keep up. Be very Zen about this.

Tip 2: Make a list of all your ongoing online professional development sources (Twitter, discussion groups,  blogs, webinars…). Prioritize them. Choose just a few to focus on each week or month.

Tip 3: Put your list on the wall above your desk (yes, on paper – I do!) so you don’t do too much. Relax – you will cover those other things on your list, but all in good time.

Tip 4: Use time management – allow yourself to log on to Twitter, say twice a day for 15 minutes only. Allow another 20 minutes a day to check your RSS feed, read a few new blog posts by colleagues’, and comment on one or two. No more. One or two comments a day is plenty!!

Tip 5: Use personal management tools to help you organise incoming info. For example, use some sort of ‘read it later’ application or strategy to deal with fast incoming info from a source like Twitter. Send tweets with useful-looking links directly to Evernote, to Instapaper, or to Read it Later, to check out when you have time. Or mark the tweets as favourites (eg in Tweetdeck, where you get a separate Favourites column) and read them later, in your 30-minute daily Twitter slot.

Tip 6: Be selective about links you save permanently. And make sure you use social bookmarking, NOT your old Firefox or Explorer Bookmarks! Very passé (those folders!) and only accessible from one machine. You want your bookmarks accessible from anywhere, and searchable by tags – by you and your network. Delicious and Diigo are two popular options.

Tip 7: Finally, when in doubt, ask your Twitter network for help. Here’s the advice some of my Twitter colleagues gave me for coping:

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None of my tips are rocket science. But sometimes it helps to sit down, set things out, and take a good look at them. Then to make a plan, and (try to) put some strategies into practice.

Please add any tips or advice you may have for coping, in the Comments section below, and help me not drown in information overload! :-)

Nicky Hockly
The Consultants-E
May 2010