Let’s Look Behind the Cloud of the #ontsm Tag 16

“#ontsm Visualized” by aforgrave, on Flickr

There is a wonderful opportunity for Learners and Learning lingering behind this visual representation of participants who used the #ontsm Twitter tag over the past 60 hours or so. Dig into the conversations and tweets, and join into the conversation yourself.  While this cloud capture image was made last night, there’s a whole related, yet untagged story developing on Twitter today and the emerging collection of blogs posts that have arisen since yesterday’s Pearson social media “summit” event. More will follow.

While I hope to find the focus and the time to extend my thoughts again on this blog in the coming days, at this point I’d like to float out some initial points that (I think) folks need to let resonate a bit:

 What’s Going On?

  1. the traditional publishing industry is undergoing a need-to-survive process of redefinition in the age of the Internet, web 2.0+, and mobile devices; education publishers are part of this larger group
  2. social media is a rapidly growing force in our society, of which we are only beginning to understand the effects;
  3. educational institutions, governing agencies, and schools are at varying stages of an initial response to the recent advances in technology that are already exerting a massive influence on informal learning;
  4. connected educators are actively seeking and wanting to help education evolve in response to the same forces;
  5. the institutions of learning will be required to undertake the same need-to-survive process of redefinition that newspapers, the music industry, television, and other “published” media have had to address since the high-speed Internet connected world has arisen — post-secondary institutions are already at it — ask them about MOOCs.

I fear that too few educators and educational institutions are as yet actively engaged in real conversations about where formalized learning is headed in the medium-to-long term. (Envisioning where we’re headed takes research and focus, we don’t yet get support for Google 20% time for innovation in our line of work.)  Our parent partners and our society in general are not yet asking this question loudly enough — but one day, they will.  Our learners, from their own perspective, ask this question on a daily basis.

Economics and Learning

There is a not insignificant tension between the decisions made in an effort to influence / respond to economic pressures on one hand, and the laudable goal of educating ourselves and our children on the other hand;  one need only look at recent decisions within the province of Ontario related to the provincial deficit and contracts to see this at a superficial level. However dig below that and ask questions about how closely what schools do relates to the larger economic picture (standardized training for jobs, the factory model of learning, corporations the provide education content) and one can see that there is a close intertwining of the two. Stepping back and educating for the love of learning and creativity and art is hard to do from a standpoint of a business case. It’s much easier to design teaching for concrete results, than it is to create an educational environment that support learning for creativity.   Please note that I use the words teach, teacher, student, schooling distinctly from educator, learner, etc.)

Get Involved

The Pearson get-together yesterday was only one instance of a gathering of educators in one space where the beginnings of conversations about the future of learning, social media, technology, communities, pedagogies, business took place. Conversations at grass-roots edCamps are continual (to date, there have been eight instances in Ontario, edCampHamilton takes place this coming weekend), conversations at events like the annual ECOO conference (#ecoo13 bringITtogether.ca October 23-25 in Niagara Falls) are in preparation, and the conversation is ongoing during the in-between times at events like the annual August Unplugd.ca retreat in Algonquin Park. And of course these discussions occur all the time online, and at other events outside the boundaries of our province.  Anyone should feel that it’s okay to share their thoughts on these issues.

Unfortunately, it is all too easy to marginalize / ignore / dismiss / avoid that which we do not understand, or that which we fear, or not to focus attention on that great big elephant over there in the corner of the room in the hopes that it is just a figment and will go away if we wait long enough. It can be too easy to say, “that’s not my job,” or “that’s above my pay grade,” , or to feel ignored, or to delegate our collective responsibilities to someone appointed to “deal with it,” or, after countless attempts, to give up in frustration and stop trying to make a difference.  That we develop and exercise our voice as part of a collaborative effort remains one of the most important — and social — potentials that social media provides for us. For this reason, it is important — dare I say, critical — that educators understand and act to see that it clearly understood by our learners (and, by extension, society) as we move forward. Why should we let our learners be subject only to the dominant Voices of the traditional institutions and publishing agents? Should we not seek to empower everyone with an educated Voice?

Perhaps it’s time to see and ensure that our role as educators extends beyond the boundaries of our classroom walls — in the same way that we seek to integrate the external world within them.

Where is Learning going?

I invite you to join in this conversation, here, and with the authors of other posts written in conjunction with this event.

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16 thoughts on “Let’s Look Behind the Cloud of the #ontsm Tag

  • Royan Lee

    I really love the way you captured the naunce and dissonance everpresent before, during, and after this event. I’ve never had such a challenge [as this in] processing my thoughts and feelings myself. My feeling is that many of the conversations, debates, and compromises coming out of the symposium were matters that were lurking beneath the surface for a long time anyway.

    The only thing I know for sure is that, if learning was the goal, it was definitely met.

    Thanks for your continued efforts as a connector of ideas and feelings.

    • aforgrave Post author


      I hope I have correctly interpreted your comment with my minor edit [ ] above.

      While the question being asked regarding the role of social media in education is such an important one (and kudos to Pearson for facilitating the opportunity to discuss it), one has to ask, “Where is the leadership on this issue from educational institutions like the Ministry of Education?”

      The recently released OPSOA document A Vision for Learning and Teaching in a Digital Age (which you and other Ontario educators such as @dougpete, @peterskillen, @brendasherry and @msjweir contributed to last fall) is now calling for feedback from the wider collection Ontario educators, and presumably the general public. The opportunity exists for all educators to engage in the discussion, and to contribute towards the evolving vision of how these pieces are going to fit together in re-defining our education institutions for our children.
      Read the document, then Reply to the Survey.

      The social media bit is only one piece of a larger, intertwined social challenge. And it is one, I think, that can only be unravelled within the context of a larger unravelling and re-weaving, with the involvement of the full range of stakeholders. In isolation, or addressed only by a subset of those involved, it will likely NOT have the potentially transformative effect on learning and society that it could.

  • Jane Mitchinson

    The whole event from the inside and the outside really has raised some great opportunities for learning about social media and our relationships within.

    I hovered over my first tweet for about 5 minutes before I pressed the button. I knew I would be entering a firestorm, but I also knew I had no reputation to lose as I realized I didn’t even have one. It had been wiped out, just like that. So I stated a simple point, “it feels like I’ve been excluded from the party”. Maybe it was even my fault. Maybe I just don’t know how to navigate the very media landscape I’ve been studying and participating in for the last 4 years. I was naive in thinking I knew what this space was all about. I came in here with a basic understanding of social etiquette and reputation-play nice and share. But, there’s posturing going on in here too. If I were a new teacher coming into this space today, I’d run away in the opposite direction as fast as my legs could carry me.

    Luckily, I’m not a new teacher in this space. I stayed and asked some tough questions and took some hits for it, and I learned lots in the process. I took up an invitation over Twitter to come out and enjoy the sun with some other Twitter friends. I’ve had supportive DMs and tweets and invitations to read blogs and post responses. I now have a clearer view of not just my PLN, but my support network too. I am richer for it.

    Which brings me back to the social media landscape. Because this is a social media space, reputation is inherent. It is in any social space, whether it is virtual or physical. And it’s where exclusion hits the hardest. Made even harder when I hear of teachers comparing their rank in a social media metrics system like Klout (see Doug’s blog). It gives me a sick and uneasy feeling. These metrics say little of influence and more about engagement and interaction in just two virtual spaces. And really, that’s it. It makes me think of the girl who is proud to be called a “10” by the boys lining up in the hallway at school shouting out a number as each girl walks by. The number 10 doesn’t think she’s been objectified or debased, judged on criteria that says little about her as a person, or her accomplishments. The number 10 doesn’t think about the others who have been devalued.

    I have to tell you I felt the exclusion from the Pearson focus group hard. Judging by the other Twitter action going on this weekend, I’m not alone in this sentiment. I felt all my long hard hours of research, dissertation, essays, interviews, and presentations dismissed with one closed door by some people I had grown to respect and trust in my PLN.

    So now you know. It was never simply about the petulant child who doesn’t get invited to the party. If you truly are in a position of influence, you need to be careful with people’s reputations. With power comes great responsibility.

    • aforgrave Post author

      Jane, you make some incredibly important points, and I am glad you are sharing your voice. The twitter discussion I referred to at the outset (“a related, yet untagged story developing on Twitter today”) is a part of this deeply intertwined puzzle that can only be unraveled to everyone’s satisfaction if folks join in and sort it out. I do not believe there was any intent to exclude or marginalize anyone on the part of the event organizers — and if anything, due to the nature of the topic being discussed (and the medium being used), Pearson did (and does) have the potential to tap into a larger focus group than just those who were physically present on the Saturday. Perhaps, if they host another such session, they will engage a different group of Ontario educators and draw in a different set of voices.

      1. Learners need to feel supported and included (educators in a social media space need to feel welcome and belonging) and this is something that schools strive to bring to learning. Social media spaces should seek to do the same. Stepan Pruchnicky’s post following the #ontsm event, Real People Hatch Out of Eggs, incorporates nicely his recommendation to Pearson in the context of this discussion — get to know and see your audience as a person, not an avatar.

      2. Likes, follows, pluses, klouts, grades, marks, scores and ranks that avoid the specifics of achievement or discourse are of limited value for learning. There was a blog post circulating on Twitter yesterday by Bill Ferriter Are Grades Useless?” that raises the question again in a school context. Perhaps you have gotten used to seeing tweets decrying “top 10 lists” just as much as I have gotten used to reading blog posts that espouse the benefits of writing them to draw in blog readers? That we didn’t do away with percentages and grades in place of levels and achievement indicators in Ontario schools fifteen years ago was because that wasn’t what the audience wanted to read. (Not our choice, but theirs.) But ranks are comparative, and don’t tell much about the story. Go for the qualitative.

      One aspect of conversation that I would like re-emphasize is that while Pearson hosted a small group to discuss the role of social media in education, for me, the larger question is that of the role of social media and learning in society. How does your experience on the weekend translate into the larger question of learners, in general, participating in the building (Ontario) society? Is it a fallacy to think that individuals and social media will co-develop to the point where inclusive, participatory conversations will allow for the development of supportive, shared spaces for voices? Can we take this happening and turn it into a beneficial result? (Learning as we go?)

      🙂 Andy

  • Lisa Noble


    I loved the visual (proof that I talk too much, even on Twitter). the way you broke these ideas down really made sense to me. It’s, as ever, a new road we’re walking. Neil Gaiman says that anybody who tells you they know what’s going to happen in the next 10 years is lying, because nobody knows (he was speaking to the publishing industry). He also says this gives us the chance to “fail in interesting ways”. I’m not at all willing to call Saturday a failure in any way, but it, and the following discussion, have certainly been interesting.

    Everything is in upheaval, and I was actually kind of impressed that Pearson was willing to go to this model of “brain-picking” to do some figuring out about where they go next. I’m not sure that I agree that there was a closed door to anybody, in the sense that this was only a beginning, not an end by any means. It was a first discussion.

    My husband made an interesting point, that in the past, nobody would necessarily have known who was there and who wasn’t, because we wouldn’t have been inviting people into our learning through SM. Would that have been any easier? We certainly wouldn’t have had the amazing discussions and reflection we’re having now.

    • aforgrave Post author


      Well, if the event is designed to provoke thinking, ideas, sharing, conversation, collaboration — then you’ve got to be talking to do that. And I’m not calling you out for talking too much! It’s not a race, quality, not quantity, etc.

      I like your point that Pearson invited connected educators and didn’t keep the event secret, knowing that there would be tweeting and conversation beyond their walls — the choice of padlet before, during and after the event (the pages are still live) keeps the conversation much more open than it would be if they had required we only share on chart paper (of which there was none) and had squirrelled it away afterwards. That would have felt much more like we were having our contributions “brain-picked” and taken away from us. Heck, I think all of the artifacts generated are out in the open — tweets, padlets, blog posts, and comments.

      While Gaiman may be right in our not being able to predict the next ten years, I think the evidence is mounting that resources and tools for learning are rapidly evolving, and that learning institutions, educators, and society in general need to carefully and thoughtfully ask questions about what kind of learning we want as we move forward.

      You’ve no doubt noticed the cautionary articles and editorials that have appeared in the #ontsm stream since Saturday… I’m including them in The Pearson #ontsm Event on scoop.it, as they do provide one side to this important conversation.

  • tk1ng

    I’m glad Jane said what she did, and I missed her at the meet up. Had it been my choice, she would have been there. There were a number of others there who have been all but invisible in the process, minimally participating. Jane would have weighed in, and seeing the dissonance in the room, I suspect she would have appreciated how questioning people in the room were – but she wasn’t there.

    I’ve tried to suggest that we could apply metrics to this (Klout, etc) in order to justify choices, but even this prompts a negative response. Oddly, many educators don’t like having their own efforts assessed, personally or statistically. Perhaps this is another aspect of social media – it’s such a personal expression that trying to assess it is inherently offensive.

    What I objected to was a subtext in many comments from educators that we were somehow being unprofessional in being there. This was one of the most effective professional developments I’ve experienced around soc-media – mainly because it was organized by two people who understand how to get the most out of this particular herd of cats. That those same people can advertise for and attend events by other multinationals without batting an eyelash smacks of hypocrisy, and that gets my claws out.

    EdcampHamilton is a doors wide open event, run by educators for educators. I’m supporting it with my presence this weekend. Is this inconsistent behaviour from this corporate ‘shill’? I think not. As @acampbell99 suggests, I’ll do whatever it takes to understand this emerging social behaviour because it is vital to my understanding and teaching of students. If that means going to Google, Pearson and then #EdCampHam on three consecutive weekends, I’ll do it to amplify my professional understanding. That I’m doing PD on my weekends because what my employer offers me is so minimal or ineffective in terms of leading edge technology and sociology is a whole other matter.

    • aforgrave Post author


      Thanks for joining in this conversation! I know that there are educators who would have liked to have been at the event, but were unable to attend for a variety of reasons — that the conversations are continuing online and this coming weekend (edCampHamilton will be rocking) is a testament to the depth to which folks care about these questions and their wish to be consulted. Dare i say we need to have more folks engaged in these conversations, and one would hope that no one will act to turn any away.

      I must confess that I seem to have missed seeing much of the subtext that arose out of the initial confusion around the purpose of the event, but I do know that my driving buddy @colinjagoe and I expressed our concerns to one another in the car ride in to Toronto around the issue of corporate sponsoring. Your post from the previous Google Summit weekend was fresh in my mind, as were a couple of recent readings that I’ve been reflecting on related to educators and too-close affiliations with companies. As I’ve stated earlier, however, I found the event to be pleasantly benign, Tania and Royan did a great job, and and we have an excellent kick-start to some much needed conversation.

      And kudos to you, brother, on your self-directed PD. I’ll see you in Hamilton!

  • Alana Callan

    So much to learn from Saturday’s event – thanks for sharing your thoughts and voice Jane! As always you push me and my thinking.

    The voice and participation of new teachers (or teachers new to social media) was a topic on most people’s minds at the event and in general. SM is already a difficult landscape to navigate without the fear or experience of being excluded.

    There were several times during the day when I thought of you and what you would contribute to the conversations and discussions, and in my ignorance just assumed that those who weren’t present were so by their own choice.

    I guess that’s another lesson for me as well, there is a danger in being naive, especially when it comes to social media and the affect it has personally and collectively.

    And as you stated… now we know

    Thanks Jane!

    • aforgrave Post author

      Hi, Alana!

      Engaging and involving and processing input from all comers is a challenge that the technology of social media has yet to answer. While it is possible for folks to share in pockets, or have their thoughts seen by a larger number (via Twitter, say), joining together the conversations that take place in different locations still takes an engaged and dogged human process. Taking the time to listen to one another, and taking care to carefully communicate one’s thoughts are necessary parts of this undertaking.

      I wonder how technology might help us with this as we move forward? At recent count, I have tracked down approximately a dozen blog posts from the 50 attendees at the #ontsm get-together, in addition to 4 other articles that seem germane to the topic. Attached to each of these items are comments from various participants. Getting a clear picture of all of the bits is tricky at best.

      When you speak of folks new to social media, and specifically educators, I can only imagine that the task becomes even more of a challenge. I wonder how we can engage more folks and make a collaborative step forward? I think there is a partial answer coming, but it’s not over the horizon yet …

      And as for that naïve thing, I’m working on that too. 🙂

  • Jane Mitchinson

    Hi Andrew, I’m still formulating a response and have a class coming up any minute now. But, I wanted to quickly address your point about no one being purposely marginalized. I had addressed that point on Andrew Campbell’s blog and realize that I haven’t linked to it here. I realize my post here didn’t cover the “media literacy” component that I think we need to explore. Here’s an excerpt I wrote and the link for further contemplation:

    “It’s obvious there was no intended ill will on anyone’s part during the organization of the Pearson focus group. Still, there are some who have their backs up and rightfully so. It does no good to dismiss them. There are so many learning opportunities here. The ironic thing is that most of them center around social media use. So then, let’s have that discussion.

    In hindsight, what went wrong?
    Here’s a starter list and maybe some of you will care to jump in with solutions or even add to the list. Reflection can only move us forward.
    1. Selection process. See above. The in/out list still warrants more discussion as it has an impact on reputation. If you understand social media, then you know this to be true.
    2. Tweeting from a closed and corporate-sponsored focus group. Unlike the business world, dealing with proprietary information and contracts are not something educators are used to dealing with
    3. Hash tag -#ontsm was problematic as it suggested it was representing ONTario teachers in Social Media when really this was a corporate-sponsored focus group. Organizers need to have foresight on representation

    Lastly, I want to address the issue of “Klout”. The suggestion of using a metric like to justify anyone’s presence just doesn’t sit well. It raises questions around the effects of using such a medium. “Effects”. Blech. As a former member of the media, I hate that word as it suggests a problem with the tool, rather than its use. But I digress.

    This ranking says nothing about the way you use social media in the classroom. It says nothing pertinent about your action research on social media in education. What it does serve to do, it to provide data that evaluates in numbers your interactions within only two distinct virtual social spaces. If this is all that Klout tells us, then it just may say more about popularity than anything else. (Okay, Fred, now I’ve said it). Anyone still grappling with this should head over to John T. Spencer’s recent post, “The Danger in Quantifying Relationships”.

    • aforgrave Post author

      Hi again, Jane!

      I’ve been over and read the conversation you reference and think that I will let the conversation on that topic continue there. Your points as restated here are important regarding the selection process, the confusion over the definition of the event, the lack of clarity surrounding the hash rage. I’ve also just read John Spencer’s post and the chain of comments there, where I see you have also posted. There is no doubt in my mind that reducing things to numbers (be they student achievement or human relationships) can do a significant disservice and can only be a tiny part of the important picture.

      I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on the larger question of where you think learning is headed, what with the increasing influence of the EdBiz and Social Media and our own role as professional educators sitting potentially in the same queue that other professions have had to wrestle with.

      I know we’ve had a bit of a Twitter chat about Pearson’s impending role in Teacher Certification in New York State (a PDF document) — what role do you see for front line educators in standing up for the importance of autonomy, creativity, collegiality, social vision, and other human factors that aren’t likely to be “tested” via such an instrument?

  • Cathy Beach

    Wow. EdCampHamilton promises to be an interesting day!!! (-;

    I posted my further thoughts over on Andrew’s post, so I look forward to continuing the discussion and all other discussions with all of everyone there! Love the challenge and learning and dialogue with this group. Thanks guys.

    • aforgrave Post author

      Oh boy.

      Cathy, I just pasted a link to the comment that you reference above in a reply (to myself) that replies to Alana above. The two of you must have been talking. Together, we have, I think, unintentionally illustrated to ourselves the point we have collectively made. Tracking and connecting ideas made by multiple folks across multiple blogs and social media platforms is work! Would that the technology made this easier on us humans!

      Again. Oh boy.

  • Jane Mitchinson

    Hi Andrew, working on a blog post for the Association for Media Literacy to try to address some of these questions. Will be in touch soon. Looking forward to continuing the discussion at EdCampHamilton as well.