Heather BailieThe Friday Follow Twitter Interview series is enriched with many wonderful and inspiring guests and Heather Bailie is no exception. Heather has great ideas regarding education technology integration, social media and the value of tools such as Twitter within the sphere of education. Please grab a brew, make yourself comfortable and enjoy taking in Heather’s words of wisdom…

1. Please share a little about yourself with the readers.

I am a teacher-librarian, ICT Coach and IT teacher at Mill Park Secondary College which is a large two-campus school in Melbourne’s north. I’ve been teaching for over 20 years but this is my first year teaching IT – I don’t have any formal qualifications in this area. As Leading Teacher ICT Coach my role is to work with teachers to build their capacity to use ICT in their classrooms. I think my appointment surprised a lot of people but I must be doing something right because I’ve just been re-appointed for another three years. Here in Victoria government schools are currently implementing a Learning Management System called the Ultranet so a big part of what I do is involved with trying to make that happen.

Outside of school I have a busy life with my husband and two daughters, 12 and 9. We love to travel, and to cook and eat good food. I have a secret (not any more!) ambition to be on reality TV and I’m thinking about applying for the next season of Masterchef. My sister and I unsuccessfully applied for Amazing Race Australia last year – sadly we are just too easy going and lack unresolved conflicts…

2. Describe the role played by social media in education.

There are lots of fabulous educators using social media to connect, share and learn and I feel privileged to be part of this community. The opportunities that are available to everyone are truly amazing. I wonder these days how I ever found out about “stuff” pre Twitter, blogs, the internet…

That being said I don’t see social media having a big role in my school on a day to day basis. I know of only one other teacher here who actively uses Twitter as an educational tool. Lots of teachers are on Facebook but purely for personal interaction.

I made a start a couple of years ago setting up a Ning network for year 12 teachers and students. It was very successful with some teachers and students. It had a big boost as a result of our school being closed for a week due to swine flu – for the first time teachers could see the advantage of being able to connect with their students online. We haven’t continued the Ning this year because the Ultranet should fulfil that role. Unfortunately, for all its good features and tools, the Ultranet is not social…and its level of take-up is, I think, a reflection of that.

I think our students use social media extensively but again they are not taking advantage of what it has to offer for their education – the emphasis is entirely on the social.

My latest project is to develop ways for teachers and students to connect using Facebook AND the Ultranet, it’s a work in progress…

3.Tell me about your relationship with social media. How do you feel about social media?

Love it! I’ve been using Twitter for nearly three years. I was reluctant at first but once I joined I realised it is one of those things that you have to do to get. I was immediately amazed by the power of the connections – how quickly I learned and understood more about the people whose blogs I had been reading for some time.

Twitter for me is almost exclusively a professional tool (although I’ve been known to share ridiculous photos of my whippet or give my opinion about Masterchef). Seeing one of my tweets quoted in The Age about 12 months ago was a good reminder that it’s not just my followers who read what I say.

Facebook I see as being part of my personal life. I have about 50 friends and they are all people I knew in real life before joining Facebook (compared with Twitter where I’ve only met about 30 of the 800 I follow, many of them after or even as a consequence of following them). It has allowed me to reconnect with people I studied with, worked with, shared houses with and provides an extra form of communication with relatives. It allows me to have that sort of “over the fence” chat that time and distance often rule out. Having a smart phone has made me a keener user of FB but I’m on the verge of unfriending some people who only play games…drives me crazy.

4. What do you feel are you strengths?

I am easily excited and engaged with new ideas, particularly anything ICT that I can see a use for in my library or classroom. I’m always willing to try new things but I’ll discard them quite quickly if they don’t improve a way of working or promote better educational outcomes. I’m not a techie – technical talk about network protocols or equipment specifications makes my eyes glaze over. Because I don’t speak techno-talk but actually get excited about the applications and what can be done with them I think I relate really well to teachers who are a bit scared of technology; they know I won’t speak down to them or try to baffle them with my brilliance (which I’ve known plenty of IT teachers and technicians to do).

I love to play and I’ve never been scared of breaking things – I’m very much “I wonder what this does…” and when it all blows up I learn from the experience and move on.

I hope never to be counting down to retirement, too tired and cynical to be interested in new ideas. If I ever say “I’m too old to learn/do that” I hope someone just shoots me (unless it’s bungee jumping or some other silly physical thing where you’re expected to jump out of a perfectly good aeroplane or whatever, that I always was too old/sensible for).

5. What advice do you like to share with people?

If you want to get the most out of Twitter and you are following new people, usually with the hope that they will follow you in return, make sure you have filled out your biography on your profile. And don’t block your updates! I don’t know what the ideal number of people to follow on Twitter is and I suspect it is different for everyone. I haven’t set a limit for myself but I’ve become a little choosy about who to follow back. I look at their biography, where they are from, at their recent tweets and what followers/followees we have in common. I’ll follow teachers, librarians and anyone interested in education, libraries and technology pretty much automatically, plus anyone else with an interesting biography and recent tweets.

6. Are there any questions you would like to ask?

Not sure you will be able to answer…When will education authorities and network administrators realise that blocking websites and restricting access to services behind firewalls and proxies is not the answer to concerns about cybersafety?

Great thoughts Heather! I hope that I actually do not notice that I have retired and that it is merely a seamless evolution from one stage in my life to the next. Like yourself I like trying out new ideas and exploring new avenues. I am sure such an approach assists one to stay young and also stops the brain from atrophying. Firewalls, filters and proxies are not the blanket answer to cyber-safety. It is education.

Readers, please remember to add Heather to your Twitter lists and to hop aboard Bailie’s bus with Heather at the wheel!

Heather on Twitter: @hbailie
Heather’s blog: Bailie’s Bus