One method of differentiating PD – Twiducate to facilitate a back channel conversation

This year I was asked to walk a group of 60 educators and administrators through the steps to using our new “student success database”. The goal of the day was to have school-based teams collaborate on how to best use this tool to improve student success, including some actual planning. Some participants had already attended sessions on the mechanics of the database, others had never heard of it before. It was an extremely varied group. We wanted to encourage the discussion that resulted in having some experts in each team at the table and so were hesitant to split the group up based on experience. We also wanted to respect the “experts” time and allow them to move their own learning forward. However, we needed the large room to be quiet enough for those who had never seen the program before to follow along.

To differentiate for the group I decided to provide an “official” back channel conversation for the group. This is something anyone reading this post likely does naturally during most sessions you attend.

The dilemma was that many participants were not over technologically savvy, nor did they use twitter. To ensure everyone felt comfortable and confident, I searched for the easiest way to set up a conversation. I stumbled upon We decided that it worked because I could set up accounts for participants ahead of time and it was as simple as login and post comments.

After running into the common problem of blocking (anyone in the group who was on the guest network, not on the admin network was blocked), we got it going. I walked the group through using the database, while I heard the clicking of keyboards followed by giggles and snickers around the room.

The risks I took in having this conversation that I couldn’t follow easily were far less than the benefits. Everyone in the room was engaged. For the first time (I’ve ever witnessed) a certain Vice-Principal (friend) put down her blackberry and wasn’t texting jokes to someone at another table. 🙂 They were making comments about how they would use the database in their school, what improvements they would like to see and concerns they had. Of course, there was the required post about when drinks would be served and picking on one good-natured VP. Ultimately, it got us where we wanted to go with smiles.

And the added bonus? “What was that website?”, “Could you show me how to use that with a class?”, “Would you come and show my teachers how to do that?”, “That would be really cool in a XXXX class”, “What a neat site!”. 🙂

We demonstrated something new to some educators.

Twiducate served its purpose well in creating a place to chat for relative “newbies”. I think it is a good alternative when your entire group doesn’t use twitter, and they have laptops with them.

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