Karyn Romeis is wondering how people got started with social media and what it's meant to their professional practice. This is part of her dissertation, which she is actually writing on a wiki--a strategy I think is pretty interesting. So here's my story. . .
I've been online since 1995, participating initially in email listservs and forums. I also dabbled in teaching classes with what we, at the time, called a "virtual office"--a website we set up where people could download class documents, listen to "podcasts" (although they weren't called that then) and discuss issues in forums.
In October 2004, I became deeply immersed in creating art. (The illustrations here are mine--you can see I was a little angsty then). I spent a lot of time online looking for techniques and resources and in that process, stumbled upon several artists' blogs. These intrigued me, so I got myself a Blogger blog and started sharing my own art online.
Through that process I got comfortable with the conventions of posting, commenting on other blogs, etc. It was a "no-risk" environment because I blogged anonymously and I was blogging in an area of personal interest, not in the professional realm. I felt little pressure to "produce" daily posts, in part because my posts were based on whether or not I had art to post, which tended to happen in spurts.
Interestingly, I was not at all intimidated by the technology. I had glitches and frustrations, but they were problems to solve, not barriers, and in some ways they drew me in more deeply. I also didn't do a lot of reading about blogging, so what I was learning was through trial and error, without measuring myself against some yardstick of how to run a blog or how it should perform. This was probably a good thing because I felt no pressure and could see each thing I learned about what to do on my blog as a little personal triumph that I'd figured out myself.
As I continued to blog, my posts began to evolve. I went from simple uploads of art with a commentary on what media I used and the circumstances under which I produced a piece into more contemplative posts on the nature of creativity and how to handle dry spells (which should sound familiar to readers of The Bamboo Project). Blogging became not only a way to share art, but also to reflect on the artistic process.
Fast forward to Summer 2006 when I started The Bamboo Project. Initially I ran the blog with a friend, but eventually I took it over myself. I think one of the first places I landed when I started blogging professionally was at Beth Kanter's blog. This immersed me immediately into a whole new world of Web 2.0 technologies. Within a few weeks, I was into RSS, tagging and all things social media. Within a few months, I had started my first wiki and was blogging almost daily.
I think the next evolution in social media and my professional practice occurred when I wrote about my PLE in April 2007 and began exploring the whole issue of personal learning environments. That's when I first started to get more deliberate about using social media for learning.
Things went to the next level with my participation in the 31 Days to Building a Better Blog Challenge. This was my first major learning experiment. It also connected me to a world-wide community of bloggers from a variety of niches that I've continued to build upon and learn from in ways I never imagined when I first started blogging in 2004. Part of what has happened is that their comments and posts have pushed me to continue to examine my own professional development and practice on a regular basis. When I run out of questions to ask or things to think about, I can always count on my network to push me along.
I can't even begin to describe how this process has transformed my professional practice. Through it I've met amazing people who have wonderful ideas. But in some ways even more importantly, social media has made me far more reflective and deliberate about ongoing learning. Having a blog has encouraged me to write daily. To do that, I've had to read and research more and interact with the ideas that I'm encountering in order to write my posts. I've become more aware of what I do and why I do it and better at articulating those things for myself and for others.
Social media has made me more experimental, too. I make up projects for myself or join what's going on with other people. I play around with new tools and processes to see how they might work in a number of different settings. I've always been a learner, but I think that social media has made me be a more deliberate learner. Instead of just reading a book or magazine article, I actually interact with what I'm reading and seeing--writing posts, commenting on other people's posts, and creating various projects that allow me to further explore aspects of my profession and various ideas that emerge.
At this point, I can't imagine NOT using social media. Although I burn out from time to time, the benefits far outweigh the problems. Social media has become an integral part of how I do my work and has made me a far better practitioner and thinker in the process.
So that's my story. . . what's yours?