E-ntertain, e-ngage, e-ducate?


I was thinking yesterday about a recent event where I found myself standing up for 25 minutes in front of a potentially negative audience of colleagues. My brief was to give them a look at what is “out there” in terms of future online/e-learning possibilties that might be significant for them.

The contemplation was triggered in part by elements of a long conversation between myself @mgraffin and @philhart when we met for lunch in Perth yesterday. As seems inevitable when “e” minded educators meet we touched upon the issue of encouraging our emphatically non “e”, non tech colleagues to at least explore the possiblities and dip a toe in the water.

Consequences of Shyness

Later on when Phil and myself were cooking dinner we returned to the theme and diversified into some of the underlying personality traits, ideas and strategies that inform how we interact with students and colleagues. As a child and teenager I was paralysingly shy, would rarely speak in any group situation, and always hid at the back. However I also took part regularly in school drama productions! I found I could do this by adopting a different persona, in a way I was standing outside myself and becoming consciously an entertainer. The shyness is still there especially when I meet face-to-face with new people although I can now mask it fairly well. It fascinates me that I am far less shy in my online persona particularly on Twitter and in Elluminate. There are many possible reasons for this that I should talk about another time.


The tendency to stand outside and watch myself has carried over into my role as an educator. I think that one of the reasons that I am not generally good at reflecting in writing after an event is because I am constantly operating a very short duration reflective cycle during a class or immediately afterwards. This is especially so with respect to “critical incidents” so by the time I get near a keyboard (trying to handwrite reflections kills them stone dead for me) and have time to write everything has already happened in my head so writing it seems unnecessary.

Educator as Entertainer?

Anyway enough of these digressions, Phil and myself were discussing how we work with students in different contexts. As an illustration of the way I adopt a different persona I talked about the recent two day professional development forum for lecturers in my organisation. In my experience across a number of organisations both here in Western Australia and formerly in the UK these sorts of events are generally disliked for various reasons including: information overload; the time taken; and the fact that not all of the sessions will be relevant or interesting to everyone. So to be asked to speak almost at the end of the two days about a topic that is certainly not “dear to the hearts” of many of my colleagues was a daunting prospect.

I decided right from the start that whatever I did: had to be fast-paced but also conversational in style; had in some way to entertain as well as to engage; and also had to have some degree of interactivity. Being up on stage with a microphone and data projector is not the ideal situation for generating engagement or including interactivity but it can provide opportunities to entertain! Because several colleagues expressed an interest in the slides and links I had used within them I have uploaded them to Slideshare.

I work in vocational education albeit as a literacy/numeracy educator. Because of the context the vocationl skills of my colleagues are very highly valued and constantly updated so in my session I tried to draw a parallel between this and the need to have comparable skills in the teaching strategies and e-tools that suit the needs of our 21st Century learners. I also raised the issue that while we try to make learning as flexible as possible for our students using numerous blends often customised for the individual our own professional development is still tending to follow the old model of all sit in a room together and listen to speakers talking about subjects often chosen by others not ourselves. Developing and accessing a PLN, attending webinars and blogging about educator related topics are easily recorded and tracked these days so there is no reason why these shouldn’t form part of our recognised professional development. The session generated some interest from colleagues as several have arranged to catch up with me next term and talk about some of the possibilites for some of the “e” strategies in their own teaching areas.


When I consider how I work with my regular students I think it is critical to try and engage them but it is less important to entertain them. However when I am trying to bring colleagues on board with something new being entertaining becomes vital in order to generate a positive memory of the message.

Yammering Away!


I have recently (in the last two weeks) initiated a Yammer network in my workplace. A few weeks ago in one of our Serendipity unconference webinars Yammer came up as one of the Web2.0 tools that someone was using in their organisation. As a committed Twitter user who has gained a huge amount both professionally and personally from my Twitter stream and how it fits into my PLN I thought that Yammer might be a good tool for my organisation. We are distributed over several campuses, people are often off campus for a variety of reasons and “corporate knowledge” is widely distributed and fragmented. A network such as Yammer provides opportunities to seek immediate answers to those quick questions we ask colleagues many times a day and to share ideas, information, knowledge and links about all aspects of our work.

What I did

To start with I initiated the network by signing up and then inviting four colleagues to join. Since then I have invited another three, and am about to invite a further three. My hope is that this will grow organically – I am totally convinced that trying to force adoption of this type of innovative (for many organisations including mine) approach to networking and sharing is counter-productive. Already several of my colleagues have invited others and at the moment we have 14 members and a further 13 who have been invited but not yet joined.

Only two of my colleagues are (to my knowledge) at the moment on Twitter, they are both new to it – and I am sure they won’t mind me saying that they are a bit apprehensive about networking in this way. When I started using Twitter I felt much the same way and it took me a while to “get into it”. However as none of my colleagues have used this type of networking strategy before I find myself “yammering” various suggestions and thoughts that might help people experiment, learn and ultimately enjoy this form of networking. So it seemd to me that it might be useful to post about these and then I can just use the link rather than filling the Yammer stream with all those suggestions on a frequent basis, so here are some of my ideas. These come largely out of my own experience with Twitter but with some modifications because in some ways an organisational Yammer network is very different from Twitter.

Tips for getting the most out of Yammer

StartingGetDesktop1. Get the desktop app – this is a narrow window with tabs that you can leave on your screen all day and it updates pretty much in real time. It doesn’t matter if you minimise it or bury it under other windows you can take the occasional look to see if anything of interest to you has appeared or if anyone has asked a question that you might be able to help with. YOU DON’T HAVE TO LOOK AT IT! Ignore it, hide it, close it – the choice is yours. At least it’s there if YOU want to ask a question!

Follow2. Follow people – otherwise you will miss their yams unless you watch the “Company Feed” instead of your own “My Feed”. If someone follows you you don’t have to follow them back but hey why wouldn’t you? We all need each other’s knowledge and support.

YammerDesktop13. Participate – join the convo (conversation); start a convo yourself; share a link; share an idea; answer a question; ask a question. Participators usually seem to get more out of these kinds of networks than lurkers (those who just observe and take useful things from the network without contributing).

4. KEEP IT SHORT! no more than 150-200 characters is best, OK we will all go over that occasionally but don’t let it become a habitl The global network Twitter limits to 140 characters – teaches us to be concise J.

5. Remember the social dimension – it oils the wheels of the professional interactions! It’s not a hanging offence to say social things – we all say social things in face-to-face situations, online networks are no different.

Reply16. If you like something then click “like” and then “reply” to tell the person who posted – we all appreciate being appreciated.

7. You can aim a message at a particular person use @ in front of user name (message is public) or use the user name without @ and the message is private

8. Fill in some of your profile info – not necessarily all of it but preferably include an avatar (pic or image to represent you) it doesn’t have to be a photo, any image that feels right to you is fine as long as it doesn’t offend others.

9. If you share a special interest with some colleagues make/join a group. Your messages can be public or private

10. If you want to give Yammer your best shot – remember anything new is hard at first. Give yourself a goal eg skim the stream at least a couple of times a day and post something at least once each day.

Invite11. Invite someone else – send an invite to a colleague & learn about Yammer together.



For any Manager or Administrator out there who thinks that this is a time wasting toy and not appropriate for work – just a reminder that it can:

  • help to collect and disseminate the sort of corporate knowledge that organisations have spent much time and money trying to preserve and share for many years not least through Communities of Practice
  • save time spent trying to find the person with the answer to a particular question
  • make useful links more easily accessible to more people
  • increase collegiality

Yammer is what you want it to be and what you make it for YOU!