Ed-Tech in the age of Facebook


I’ve never had a Facebook account and I’m pleased about that.

I’m certainly not anti-tech. I was an early advocate for the internet, started blogging pretty much as soon as it was possible, built web-sites, built digital resources, helped establish online communities and took up tools like OneNote, with gusto. In fact, the raison d’être of this blog has been about the effective implementation of technology in learning.

But, I’ve had some second and third thoughts recently about the rise and rise of big-tech, in terms of the social manipulation we’ve seen bear fruit in data mining and election manipulation, not to mention the more personal but just as devastating bullying and manipulation that I see occurring daily on a micro-level between students.

And, I’ve seen more flaws in the glass than I would have expected and, moving from a school environment where technology flows like water, to a more typical, and more challenged, technology environment where I’ve been forced to reflect on what that looks and feels like for most teachers and students most of the time. Things don’t always work and teachers are swamped by workloads and increasing levels of accountability, risk-management and administrative tasks. I’m not surprised some stop trying.

And there’s some problems with the model too. We are an iPad school for the Years 7–9 students and BYOD after that. Most students ditch their iPad and bring a MacBook Air or a PC after that. A significant minority write in exercise books with pens.

I’ve blogged before about iPads in learning and the tension between having the Cambridge, Oxford or Pearson text book on the iPad, turning it into a glorified textbook, and the students needing to write in exercise books with pens. Split screen doesn’t work for this. I don’t think that it would be any better with a Chromebook. So, there’s always been something awkward about the device/s for subjects where the textbook is paramount.

In my subject, Literature, where students normally have a hard copy of a novel or play, the device works better, and I’ve had success in the past, and this year, in getting students to see the value of OneNote, which is pleasing.

However, the revelations about Facebook’s use of private data concerns me, as does the same for the Google suite of tools. A while ago I argued strongly for a move to an educational version of Gmail for our school; I’m not sure I’d make that case now. If you’re using Google Apps for free (or Facebook for free), the model is that your data is monetised, you are the product, as Tim Cook pointed out again recently. I wouldn’t have predicted, five years ago, that I’d be arguing for Apple or Microsoft (which looked tired and corporate) ahead of the ubiquitous Google.

Similarly, I’ve resisted calls to ban and block phones and devices to stop cyber-bullying. Bullying is bullying I argued, focus on the behaviour, not the mode. But, there’s no doubt that putting sophisticated communication tools, and social media accounts, in the hands of thirteen year olds is a recipe for enabling bullying and exclusion way beyond the playground at lunchtime.

There is not much push for Facebook in learning (thankfully) but our school uses its Facebook account to communicate with parents much more energetically than our own intranet, and groups of students, including my own class, set up their own learning networks on Facebook. What does that model? And who benefits from the students, and the school community locked into a Facebook model of news and communication? Not only are big-tech corporates poor at monitoring and protecting data and privacy, in many cases their entire business model is based on the reverse; selling that data to advertisers and beyond.

It’s a challenge for our times, the #deletefacebook hashtag has resonance in schools too, and what we exemplify and model. I had thought that the days of RSS and building our own web sites was behind us. Maybe not. Certainly, the old English Expression skills of critical thinking and high levels of literacy, are more important than ever.

One thing is clear. While we may have thought of hopefully, in the beginning of the Internet, that this was liberating, connecting and democratising, has turned, as big-tech companies have become bigger than government, un-elected and un-accountable, into something divisive and anti-democratic. What do we do about that?

The Network takes Over

This post was written at the Idea13 #idea13 Conference, MCG, 12/11/2013

Mark Pesce, from the University of Sydney was the opening keynote.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Connected World

Pesce opened with the idea that ‘this is the moment’, when things aren’t going to be transformed. They already are. Pesce argued that we’ve gone from little or nothing to a radical change in just over fifteen years; about a billion seconds. Eighteen years from the beginning of the web to now.

The biggest change, he argued, was connectivity and the literally unimaginable possibilities that connectivity created. He said it was about ‘knowledge amplification’ and gave Wikipedia as a key example.

He argued that the next key moment after the internet was the smart phone. ‘A fundamental transformation to the construction of human knowledge’. The smart phone and tablet (he reminded us that the iPhone was only five years old in Australia) were desktop computers in the palm of your hand; ‘a huge, growing wealth of human knowledge’ was the world of our students.

It was interesting, for a futurist, that Pesce seemed to assume that he evolution was now complete. ‘I’ve seen the full evolution of the connected computer’.

‘If the classroom lacks the tools for sharing that are available everywhere, then how is it going to survive?’ was something like a key point. He gave the example of the students who invented a social network for their school, because it needed one.
He called the new generation ‘sharing natives’; sharing and collaboration was native to them, and that’s why THIS moment was the greatest challenge in the last 200 years. Knowledge is not not rare, it’s ‘universal’. What does mean for librarians? What does that mean for teachers? What does that mean for schools?

Craptastic World

What does the educator offer now? In two years the now craptastic $79 tablet will be powerful enough, as powerful as today’s smart phones, which means that everyone will have one. Schools will hand them out every year, with the textbooks on them. The digital divide has expired, he argued. It’s available to everyone, everywhere.  A key point is that sharing is not going to be restricted to the wealthy (the $29 Indian tablet) nations.

He talked a bit about ‘flipped classrooms’ and the rise of MOOCs. ‘The classroom is the least natural environment for the new learning. Peer mentoring is now easier for students to access than a classroom or a teacher. Teachers (professional educators) will need to be problem solvers: innovative, creative, capacity amplifiers.


Sharing can be distracting, the ‘weapons of mass distraction’ and it can arrive too early for some students. We know we can’t stand against this ‘tide of change’, but ‘what do we have to surrender, when the network takes over.’

Keep Calm and Find a Peer Mentor

There may not be a class in the future. Or a school? If everything is connected, why centralise it? Pesce argued that the ‘foundation skills’ (reading, writing, numeracy) are an essential preparation for immersion in the culture of shared knowledge. Digital citizenship, time management, etiquette, safety still need ‘an attentive educator to monitor their progress and provide assistance.’

The next question was around, ‘how does assessment work in a world of shared knowledge?’ Pesce said that this question was a furphy; the key point is that ‘assessment is intrinsic to the act of sharing’ Every moment of peer-mentoring is a moment of assessment. Being able to critique, and receive critiques of mentoring, is a new key competency in the middle years of learning. Schools initiate students into the culture of shared learning and establish patterns of behaviour. The role of the professional educator will change, will be mentoring students some of whom will be face to face, some who won’t. It’s not either/or.

The secondary school will be:

  • Connect.
  • Share.
  • Learn.
  • Do.

A never-ending process of continuing education.

Students need to be able to grow their own networks, beyond a learning network for teachers, but a network of peers, mentors, problem-solvers,for life. ‘The classroom, as it is beginning, is the initiation into this network … the path is clear.

Questions I had
Is the internet ‘wisdom’ or even ‘knowledge’
Is it overly optimistic to believe that peers will shape things nicely and positively for learners?

2013-11-12 08.49.19


Couldn’t resist posting that when I went to the Australian Government’s site on E-Security Education Modules: Budd:e, you get this message in Explorer and Chrome:


Kind of makes you worry that if they can’t get that right, what the resources will be like, doesn’t it!

Student cracks internet filter and then says sensible things about net filtering!

Tom Wood / Craig Borrow

The Herald-Sun reported today that Tom Woods, a sixteen year old schoolboy from Melbourne, had cracked the Federal Government’s new $84m internet porn filter in about half an hour.

He then cracked a upgraded filter in forty minutes.

However, what interested me most wasn’t this boy’s prospective career path in the IT industry or his supporting actor role in Die Hard 7.0, it was what he had to say about filters themselves, which seemed eminently sensible and something the government cold learn from:

“Filters aren’t addressing the bigger issues anyway,” he said. “Cyber bullying, educating children on how to protect themselves and their privacy are the first problems I’d fix. “They really need to develop a youth-involved forum to discuss some of these problems and ideas for fixing them.”

And so say all of us.

The full story is HERE

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Stop CyberBullying: Video

I’ve been leading a committee at school called Online Safety and Ethics which consists of a group of students and teachers working together to establish some clear outcomes, and some age-relevant activities for students to undertake during home group time. This YouTube video, against Cyberbullying, might be a resource we could use with Middle School students:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/seOQyMvG99w" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Don’t Dehumanise Us

Following up on the topic I posted about earlier this week, about the connection between self-harm and internet commuinities, this letter in the AGE today:

Don’t dehumanise us

THE concept of cyberspace has nothing to do with the fact that
these girls killed themselves. Being a teenager myself, I feel I
can shed more insight into the truth of the story than most adults
could ever pretend to. Teenagers bottle things up, too; we all do.
If they haven’t written anything about it on MySpace, they would
have written it in their journal, or at least would have thought
about it.

MSN doesn’t encourage suicide, if anything, it gives teens an
opportunity to talk about what’s on their minds without fear of
retribution. And the fact that psychologists and experts decide to
blame the subculture of “emo” just proves that we are always
looking for an easy answer to everything.

Please stop stereotyping. Saying that everyone who likes “emo”
music is contemplating suicide is like saying every Korean is
planning an in-school shooting: dehumanising.

Tess Darlington, Beaconsfield Upper

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Dangers of social networking

The tragic death of two teenage girls earlier this week has re-focused media attention on social network sites like myspace where both girls had online profiles. There’s been lots of talk about the dangers of sites like this bringing together like-minded individuals who might be supported in their alienation and depression by others who feel the same.
The argument I think is that, while traditionally these teenagers would have found little support for these feelings in their immediate communities, the internet and social networks provide a means for anyone to connect, and it’s one that has some validity, for good and bad I suspect.

The AGE yesterday headed up a front page story with Lost in cyberspace: Fears that new networks are breeding grounds for real-life tragedies (AGE 24/4) with this quote from a child psychologist: “Don’t let them disappear behind this emotional firewall called MSN.” – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg)

Coincidentally the ABC’s new program Difference of Opinion had four ‘experts’ talking about the changes in communication that the new technologies had enabled for young people who were born into it.

The digital divide was played out right before our eyes with the two ‘oldies’ on the panel nostalgicising about how ‘we used to play outside in the sunshine’ and ‘you shouldn’t be stuck in your room all by yourself for hours’ and the younger ones saying things like ‘we’re not alone in our room; we’re there with all our friends’ and ‘you just don’t get it’. (these are remembered quotes; I didn’t write this stuff down

I’ve been working with a committee of students and teachers at my school on a program we’re calling Online Safety and Ethics, attempting to deepen student knowledge and awareness of online issues like safety from ‘predators’, ‘cyber-bullying’ and ‘identity theft’. Lots of people are. Look at http://del.icio.us/tag/online_safety

Still, looking at the lists and dimensions of the program we’re envisaging, I don’t think anything we’re planning would have prevented a tragedy like this one. These aren’t internet skills that are needed here; it’s counselling, positive reinforcement, communication and hope, wherever it comes from.

So it was interesting to see an AGE article on self-harm among teenage girls today conclude:

Professor McGorry said there was also little evidence to suggest
a link between internet chat rooms and teenage suicide.

“To dry to draw a link between the internet and the risk of
suicide is pretty difficult. Those sites facilitate a lot of good
things where teenagers can share information about each other
… they could even have a protective effect.”

He said there had, in fact, been a decline in youth suicides in
the time that virtual communities such as MySpace had become

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EdTechWeekly #21

I’m usually a couple of weeks behind with getting to listen to these, but I’m always impressed with them when I do. EdTechTalk run a series of educational podcasts but the EdTechWeekly one is my favourite. The focus is educational and there’s lots of links and new sites to check out, all included on a very complete transcript page with links. Topics in #21 range from new concept mapping online software to talk of the ethical and safety issues to do with social networking that we’ve been discussing at my school.

Check out #21 HERE

EdTechTalk are also the best example of del.icio.us in action that I’ve seen. All links from the show are tagged and searchable at their del.icio.us site HERE

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