The Art of Engagement

Becoming a connected educator is the new vogue. It allows you to explore the world of education from the comfort of your favorite internet enabled device. There is a downside to it which is illustrated here and here. Both authors I believe would agree that the positives of being connected far outweigh the negatives because they are still connected educators. This blog is not about why it’s fantastic to be connected. It is about how to engage with people once you are connected.

Let’s dissect the ways we can become connected and how we engage with those people we become connected to. The best way to become connected is at conferences. This could be edcamps, ISTE, district conferences, or anything in between. The art of engagement at conferences are where most educators shine. These connections run very little risk of miscommunications. You are face to face. This allows you to see the person, hear their voice, and pick up on exactly what they are saying as well as how they are saying it. I would imagine most educators are somewhat effective at this type of engagement. We learn how to become active listeners early in our career and practice it every day with students, staff, parents, and other stakeholders.

The next way a lot of educators become connected is Twitter. Twitter has a ton of communication limitations. You only get 140 characters to write, no one can see your face or body language, anyone can see what you post, and there is no tone of voice to gauge where the writer is coming from. In addition to all that, people are jumping in and out of your conversation all the time giving their opinion or versionof the truth from their perspective. I have personally run into multiple problems when discussing sensitive topics on Twitter. People either don’t understand what I am saying or my message comes across in an entirely different manner than I meant it.

I thought this was other people’s problem at first. I know what I was saying and how I meant it. If they knew me they would know this as well. That is where the problem lies. We don’t intimately know the people we interact with. We assume everyone understands what we wrote and why we wrote it. When we engage on Twitter we have to understand that what we say can be taken in from anyone in any number of ways. Different subjects have different levels of sensitivity to different people.

Every tweet must be analyzed from multiple perspectives before we send it out. If your tweet offends someone or a group of people you must look at it and figure out exactly what happened and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Also be aware that Twitter can become emotionally turbulent very quickly. It is hard to emotionally regulate yourself when multiple people are questioning you and your posts. Do not let things spiral out of control by allowing yourself to lash out at people. You only look bad. When you feel emotions start to spiral out of control, step away from your device and comeback later. This will save you a lot of shame later.

Another way people connect is through Facebook, Linked In, or Google plus. This medium allows more characters when posting. Communication may still become a problem when you are engaging with your PLN. You may limit who can see your posts in most cases though. This allows you to control much of your audience. We know with social media though that there is nothing that can’t be viewed by people though. When engaging with your PLN continue to follow all the rules of Twitter. Be aware that not all people know what you are saying and that things can be misconstrued quickly.

A very popular way of collaborating is through Google Hangouts, Skype, or Appear.in. These are all awesome ways to engage because you can see a person’s face when they are talking. This allows you to get a much better idea of how they are saying things. Psychologically (don’t have my psych degree) I think it reminds you that you are interacting with a person. This is not a name with a picture you are typing to. This relieves some of the digital detachment that I myself feel when I interact through the written word.

There are much fewer pitfalls when we engage in digital face to face situations. Emotions seem easier to regulate, the audience you interact with is usually small, and you are able to read you PLN’s facial expressions to get instant feedback. The drawback is that you can only engage with eight people live at a time.

Voxer is my favorite way of communication. It alleviates a ton of the limitations that Twitter has. You can write messages as long as you want, you control who sees your original message, and people hear your voice. Voice inflection is the game changer here. People can hear what you say and how you say it. This assuages much of the communication problems the above mediums have. Jokes and sarcasm come through much clearer. Voxer is where I have had my perspective challenged and changed. It is much easier to have deeper conversations and debates when you don’t have to worry about character limits, abbreviations, or the tone of your message not coming across.

Voxer does have some engagement issues to be aware of though. Any message or conversation could be forwarded by someone in your group to the outside universe with or without your consent. Your voice does convey much more of your message than the typed word but it still doesn’t replace body language. Voxer also allows a much broader stream of consciousness than a lot of the other communication tools. That isn’t always the best thing!!

The art of engagement is much more than the norms of appropriate, responsible technology use. It is really focusing and concentrating on how to get the most out of your PLN in a positive and constructive manner. Engaging with your PLN is an art that has to be fine-tuned. You constantly refine what you say and how you say it. I know I am still working on perfecting how I engage.

Q1: What is your favorite medium to engage your PLN? Why? #slowchatpe

Q2: What is your least favorite medium to engage your PLN? Why? #slowchatpe

Q3: What struggles have you had using social media? #slowchatpe

Q4: What do people do that gets your emotions boiling on sm? #slowchatpe

Q5: Who is in your PLN that you model your PLN engagement after? #slowchatpe

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