Archive for November, 2009

ETA Conference: The Backchannel

Friday morning will see Darcy and I braving the stage prior to the opening of the annual English Teachers’ Association conference ‘Hit Refresh‘.


Because for this ETA conference, for the first time, the conference is going web 2.0 – we’re stepping up the interaction, participation, and networking by providing some seriously cool online spaces for teachers to wet their toes in, and hopefully also dive right in to!  So, we’ll be getting up (in our awesome Twitter t-shirts 😉 ) to show the folks at the conference how to get involved in communicating with others, and how to use the backchannel.

What is a ‘backchannel’?

You know when you’re sitting, watching a keynote or presentation, and if you know the person in the next seat you might make the odd remark in their ear?  Well, a backchannel is like doing this on a mass scale – it’s like having a silent ‘channel’ on in the background for anyone who wants to make comments or ask questions that the rest of the audience can see, and if they want, silently respond to.

It’s like passing notes for grown-ups.  Ones that you know the teacher can read too if they so choose (so you can be critical, but must also be polite!)

From wikipedia:

The term “backchannel” generally refers to online conversation about the topic or the speaker

…it is the practice of using networked computers to maintain a real-time online conversation alongside live spoken remarks.

What are we using?

The most effective way of paticipating in a live backchannel during the conference is to join Twitter, and post short 140-character messages called ‘tweets’.  Anyone who ‘follows’ you can see your comment or question – and some people might also respond.

Do I have to have a lot of followers for this to work?

(or ‘yikes! but I’m not that famous yet!’)

If you are new to Twitter, never fear.  If you tag your tweet with the ‘hashtagETAConf09, then the comment that you tweet will also be seen by anyone who has searched for that tag – not just the people who follow you.  This means that even if you have NO FOLLOWERS, you can add to the backchannel discussion, and people can tweet responses to you.  Here is an example:

Wow! I thought Kelli and Darcy did a great job explaining the backchannel! #ETAConf09

To which another user might reply:

Does anyone know where I can find the video they showed at the start? #ETAConf09

You see the potential here?  And it’s easy!

What’s this I hear about a conference ‘Ning’?

‘Ning’ is the cute name that the people over at made up to describe their online site that is used for NetworkING.  It’s a very easy site to use, and a great way to introduce yourself to online learning if you haven’t already.

ETA members (all of you – whether you are physically at the conference or not) can join the ETA conference Ning and add comments and questions there too.  Darcy and I will be monitoring the Ning as well, and it is another place that a kind of backchannel will likely spring up.  It’s probably less likely that this will happen during the sessions though.  I imagine a lot of people will be logging into our Ning on Friday and Saturday night, and for awhile after the conference, to send comments to friends, colleagues and presenters, and to share ideas and resources.

For the most effective participation in a LIVE backchannel, I seriously recommend you use Twitter.

Any questions?

If you have any questions, you can post them here as a comment, or ask them on Twitter.  You can find and follow me at, or Darcy at

See you in the Twitterverse!

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Facebook Note: Time to show your colours

While many teachers choose not to share their online spaces with students (in Queensland, where I have just moved, teachers are now officially prohibited from communicating with enrolled students on any social networking site), I do have about a dozen senior students (from NSW) who have added me as a ‘friend’ on Facebook.

My personal policy has always been to only add students in my HSC (final year) class.  Since going on leave, I have accepted invites from some in year 11 too.

Over the last few days I’ve noticed in my news feed a few of my students becoming ‘fans’ of the group “Your Gay” or “Thats Gay” is a excellent response to ANY situation.

So tonight I posted this in my ‘Notes’ section, tagged the students in question, and waited…

I’ve noticed a few of my friends becoming a FAN of the group:
“Your Gay” or “Thats Gay” is a excellent response to ANY situation.


You REALLY think so?

I guess you must not know anyone who is gay then, or have thought very much about how this might make a gay person feel.

Or maybe you really believe that everyone has ACCEPTED that the word ‘gay’ can be used out of context. Because no-one REALLY thinks that you mean ‘gay’ when you say ‘gay’, right? Like, you’re not actually saying that something is homosexual!

Buuuut…last time I looked, there were plenty of people out there, gay and straight, begging people like you to stop using this word. Plenty of people who are HURT when you say it. Plenty of people who understand the origins of this word being used as an insult, ON PURPOSE, in a very directed way, to literally mean that GAY = BAD. Plenty of people who have suffered verbal and physical (sometimes violent) abuse at the hands of viscious (as well as oblivious) homophobes, just because they are gay.

But hey, it’s just a word, right?

Ah ha! I know – maybe you think you are a postmodernist, and you believe that words should be detached from their historical meanings so they can be used again in new and exciting ways. Ironic ways! Contradictory ways! In ways that are self-reflexive, and therefore actually subtly critical of social institutions at large! (Wow, that would make you pretty smart…but I just can’t help but think that Derrida and Foucalt had other things in mind when they encouraged people to challenge social norms.)

If you’re tagged in this note then you probably don’t think that “gay is just another word for happy” is a good reason to use the word ‘gay’ as an insult, because that whole argument just makes no sense whatsoever…and I’m not usually friends with idiots! No, chances are you don’t think that, anymore than you think anyone actually uses the word “faggot” in regular, non-woodsman-type life to describe a ‘bundle of sticks’.

MAYBE you’re actually a social activist, and you’re trying to reclaim the word ‘gay’ the way that black people reclaimed the word ‘nigger’, or the way the GLBT community reclaimed the word ‘queer’. But if you thought about THAT for longer than two seconds, you’d realise that no…using a word as an INSULT doesn’t count as reclaiming language. In fact it’s kinda the opposite. It’s more like how when people say ‘nigger’ as an INSULT they are being RACIST.
(Though perhaps you have never watched important historic speeches like Martain Luther King’s famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, and really been shocked at what African-Americans had to endure at the hands of the law, let alone at the hands of racists citizens, back in those days. Like, did you know that black people couldn’t vote! That they were made to ride on the back of buses! Kinda like how women couldn’t vote at the turn of the last century – or how they weren’t allowed to buy property, open bank accounts, or divorce their husbands! Or like how gay people are not allowed to get married, or adopt children as a couple, or work for schools owned by the Church! Oh…wait… that’s now. My bad.)

No, I DON’T think that “You’re Gay” or “That’s Gay” is an excellent response to any situation.

And friend, I don’t think you’re cool when you say that it is.

You know for a FACT that it is hurtful to use ‘gay’ as an insult, so now you have the choice – are you gonna do it anyway? How mean are you? How disrespectful to the struggles of countless others, their families and friends? How callous? How cruel?

Use your imagination and come up with a new word already.

It’ll take you awhile to kick the habit, but it’s worth it.
Swear if you have to.


The response was immediate, and resoundingly positive.  Many students who picked the note up through their news feed ‘liked’ the note without being invited.  Here are some of the comments that were posted:

“never thought of it like that, unjoined!!”

“thank you for showing me the light 8P”

“yer that is totally fair enough. i actually joined on account of an injoke with some friends, and the group related to the context of the situation, but fair point.”

I also got some lovely messages from fellow teachers who shared their stories and experiences, and the students would have read this too.

So…cost/benefits of dipping into the ‘teacher’ role on social networking sites?  You tell me. But I just got a whole bunch of students to leave that stupid group, and some are re-posting the note to their friends.  For tonight, 100% worth watching my online p’s and q’s to ensure I maintin my duty of care.


Teaching Excellence Award

It has been really nice over the past couple of weeks to get messages of congratualtions from friends and colleagues via Twitter, Facebook and email about the Award for Teaching Excellence that I recieved on the 29th of October.


My Highly Commended Award was in the Beginning Teacher category, and the other beginning teachers I met were truly inspirational, and humble.  Three out of the six of us were doing PhDs, can you believe it!  Now, don’t feel pressure anyone – it was a really skewed sample – but it sure was nice not to feel like an overqualified freak, just for a couple of days 😉

Kelli McGraw 2009 Teaching Excellence Award

Julia Gillard presented the Awards, and she came across as genuine and warm.  Her speech was quite uplifting, with lots of great comments about the quality of our teachers and schools, and a long list of what the Government was doing to make things even better.  Just a quick, camoflaged comment about improving schools by increasing “transperancy” raised my hackles, and the sudden bristling of many of those around me was palpable.

I did seriously consider taking a second on stage to mention to her what a bad idea we all thought school league tables were (even though this fact is well evidenced, and old news to boot, it reamins one of her goverment’s pet missions.  They even made NSW back down), but at the end of the day everyone was just being so nice and celebratory, it really didn’t seem right.  Guess that is me getting more wise and mature, huh.  Mum calls it ‘having a sense of occasion’…

Kel and Mum - Portrait Gallery Dinner

But I digress.

South Western Sydney had quite a big proportion of Award winners – from Macquarie Fields, Casula, Campbelltown and Macarthur.  This was not altogether surprising, as I have seen first hand the remarkable energy, motivation and commitment that comes from most teachers in this area.  I am so proud to be from and work in this region!  Only question is, as the region keeps getting better and better, will we lose our ‘underdog’ status?  And if so, will we lose some of our drive?

Some other people I met during the Professional Exchange sessions that were doing really interesting stuff included teachers and Principal’s from schools that were running a safe a supportive alternative curriculum for pregnant students and teenage mothers, and that had developed an authentic, problem-based and cross-curricular approach to teaching mathematics.

It was also delightful to run into someone from Youth Off The Streets, who had received an award for the program’s school-community work with Key College, and also worked in my local area.

Teachers and schools sure do work hard.  So great to see ‘what it is all for’ on such resplendant display.  Congratualations everyone!