social_networking

Ed-Tech in the age of Facebook

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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?

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My brain is full

 

EduTech Stage

EduTech – Day 1

‘How the digital world will change the way we think and learn’

Baroness Susan Greenfield, Neuroscientist.

 

Humans adapt to the environment.  We got a short course in Neuroscience 101. It’s the brain that determines our individualism.

 

Greenfield is a renowned neuroscientist, and  talked about the plasticity of the brain, neural connections and experiments that establish that the mental is the physical.  ‘Thinking is movement confined to the brain’, she quoted, and showed how ‘use it or lose it’ principles of physical exercise also worked in brain cells.

 

Connections give ever deeper meaning over time as the world around you is personalised.  (The opposite happens in Alzheimers)

 

She then ventured into more contentious areas; quoting the Daily Telegraph on the ‘erosion of childhood’ and the habituation of violence from video games,  attention problems from high video game and TV watching. There were lots of peer-reviewed journals (and more of The Telegraph) and some emotive terms like ‘gambling’ and ‘addiction’.

 

She argued that there are two basic modes for the human brain: meaningless and meaningful and you could see where this was going: video games are bad. This lead to a critique of social media, narcissism. ‘In the old days we used to play games like this ..’ (Shows picture of kids in sandpit)

 

Interestingly, she argued that being in charge of your own identity was very important to avoid loneliness, and argued that immersion in social media was losing that control of your own identity.

 

From there it became a bit predictable, and limited. Books are good (I agree) video games (no meaning, no connections) are not, search engines and relegating our memory to Google are bad …. She read a bit about the importance of facts, from Dickens. I think, without irony.

 

Good things she argued for: stories, physical exercise, interacting with nature. Then, a quote from a the ‘laughter, fun and giggles’ of bike riding with the kids. Really.

 

Odd choice to open a tech conference. I guess it reveals that the smartest scientists in the world, with the best machines for registering brain activity in the world, are still prisoners of their own imagination and own neural connections.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

But…

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?

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On The Facebook

It’s the last lesson of the term, period 1, and some wag of an occulist student* has suggested we do breakfast to celebrate, before the oral presentations on Peter Carey stories continue. Good idea, I think, and I grab the Maths Department toaster on the way to class, with my loaf of raisin toast, wondering just who’ll remember and whether there’ll be enough to go around.

But there was food a’plenty. Blueberry muffins, fresh slice, croissants, more toast as well as two kinds of juice, tea (English Breakfast) and hot chocolate. Someone had bought plates, someone else had bought plastic knives and forks. When I asked them how they’d organised it all? On the Facebook, of course.

Which reminded me that, as with my class last year, they all are in a Literature study group where they (presumably) discuss things in class beyond the food requirements or ‘cake day’. I say presumably, because I’m not on Facebook, and even if I was, there are school rules against ‘friending’ students on social media.

It annoyed me a lot last year. I was busy trying to create these vibrant online spaces for class collaboration, and they were all across ‘there’, already doing it. I blogged about it a while ago here: https://learningau.wordpress.com/2012/03/24/should-i-be-on-the-facebook/ and got a really good comment from Ann Evans who wrote:

“On the other hand, why not leave them a space where they can help each other. They can bring the questions and conclusions they devise to class and discuss them there. The challenge of helping each other will be lessened if the professor is looking on.”
Which is probably right. I actually asked my students what they thought; would it make any difference to the freedom of their interactions if their teachers were in those groups. One said that they’d have to change their language a bit. No-one looked super-keen on the idea of me looking over their shoulders online.

Maybe I should be learning to let go. Let go of some of that sense of control, and that it’s got to be me who sets the learning agenda. It’s their final year. Next year most of them will be at university, doing their own thing. And they got breakfast organised!

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????????????

*Okay, gratuitous Gatsby reference.

Should I be on “The Facebook”

In the normal classroom discussion the other day I was interested to find that everyone in the class (16 of them) have joined a Facebook group that one of them set up as a Literature study group. They’re all there, I asked and checked, and are discussing and asking questions and supporting each other (I hope) and pushing each other in the right directions (I hope)

I hope because I’m not sure. And I’m not sure because I’m not there. I’m not allowed to ‘friend’ students or be connected to them in social networks according to our school policy; a policy that I had a hand in developing. But, you’ve got to wonder. Here am I out here, trying to utilise our own online tools including a pretty decent wiki and blog setup, to get student collaboration and participation going and, here are they in there, doing it themselves, in their space, where they live, with the whole class.

I know you could argue that I shouldn’t be there, that it would change the dynamics if I was, and that they should have a space where they can test and re-test their ideas in their own way. True. And I don’t want to take over. But I could contribute, could support, could help shape that discussion and use that discussion to shape the classroom interactions and the things we do next. Could. Can’t.

Students and social media

Sitting here on a grey Sunday morning thinking about a parent forum we’re running at school tomorrow night for parents, on the issue of social networking, cyber-bullying and all that, I was struck by the radical difference in two pieces on the net this morning.

In the red corner, a New Jersey Principal has emailed his school community telling parents to close down their children’s social networking accounts, and that

There is absolutely no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site!

Tough talk! And, I’ve reproduced the entire email below.

And, in the other corner (is it blue?) I was reading a blog post from The Innovative Educator arguing why social media curriculum is critical in schools including

Unfortunately, too many of the places where students go online to interact with one another have policy-imposed walls between teacher and student. Not only have many schools enacted policies restricting teacher/student interaction, because most schools have banned most sites students use to communicate they do their best to prevent students from using these tools to communicate in an educational setting. It is unfortunate that in the 21st century many schools have deemed adolescent socialization among each other or with their teachers as inappropriate.

Hard to imagine two more diametrically opposed views and I’ve some sympathy for a beleaguered sounding principal mopping up the fall-out from the messy kind of interactions that middle school students are likely to come up with, accidental and deliberate.

But, I’d have to say that it’s hard to argue that students ‘turn off’ the internet and I remember some of that talk around television and even rock and roll music in the early days. Block it, and ban it is not the solution.

I’ve been working with a couple of senior students who are going to talk to parents tomorrow night and for them Facebook is pretty much their internet. I don’t like Facebook, don’t have an account and don’t want one, but for them Facebook is their conduit with their friends and social world; their email, their Flickr, their events and invitations channel

We don’t block Facebook at my school, but we do block YouTube. If it was totally my choice, I’d probably have both open, though I don’t mind that Facebook is ‘throttled’ so it runs pretty slow. It will be interesting to see whether the block and ban approach will win over the educative approach that helps students understand and navigate the world they’re already living in.

From the Principal:

Dear BF Community,

In 2002 when I arrived in Ridgewood Facebook did not exist, Youtube did not exist, and MySpace was barely in existence. Formspring (one of the newest internet scourges, a site meant simply to post cruel things about people anonymously) wasn’t even in someone’s mind.

In 2010 social networking sites have now become commonplace, and technology use by students is beyond prevalent.

It is time for every single member of the BF Community to take a stand!

There is absolutely no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site!

Let me repeat that – there is absolutely, positively no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site! None.

5 of the last 8 parents who we have informed that their child was posting inappropriate things on Facebook said their child did not have an account. Every single one of the students had an account.

3 Students yesterday told a guidance counselor that their parents told them to close their accounts when the parents learned they had an account. All three students told their parents it was closed. All three students still had an account after telling their parents it was closed.

Most students are part of more than one social networking site.

Please do the following: sit down with your child (and they are just children still) and tell them that they are not allowed to be a member of any social networking site. Today!

Let them know that you will at some point every week be checking their text messages online! You have the ability to do this through your cell phone provider.

Let them know that you will be installing Parental Control Software so you can tell every place they have visited online, and everything they have instant messaged or written to a friend. Don’t install it behind their back, but install it!

Over 90% of all homework does not require the internet, or even a computer. Do not allow them to have a computer in their room, there is no need.

Know that they can text others even if their phone doesn’t have texting capability, either through the computer or through their Ipod touch.

Have a central “docking station” preferably in your bedroom, where all electronics in the home get charged each night, especially anything with a cell or wifi capability (Remember when you were in high school and you would sneak the phone into your bedroom at midnight to talk to you girlfriend or boyfriend all night – now imagine what they can do with the technology in their rooms).

If your son or daughter is attacked through one of these sites or through texting – immediately go to the police! Insist that they investigate every situation. Also, contact the site and report the attack to the site – they have an obligation to suspend accounts or they are liable for what is written.

We as a school can offer guidance and try to build up any student who has been injured by the social networking scourge, but please insist the authorities get involved.

For online gaming, do not allow them to have the interactive communication devices. If they want to play Call of Duty online with someone from Seattle, fine, they don’t need to talk to the person.

The threat to your son or daughter from online adult predators is insignificant compared to the damage that children at this age constantly and repeatedly do to one another through social networking sites or through text and picture messaging.

It is not hyperbole for me to write that the pain caused by social networking sites is beyond significant – it is psychologically detrimental and we will find out it will have significant long term effects, as well as all the horrible social effects it already creates.

I will be more than happy to take the blame off you as a parent if it is too difficult to have the students close their accounts, but it is time they all get closed and the texts always get checked.

I want to be clear, this email is not anti-technology, and we will continue to teach responsible technology practices to students. They are simply not psychologically ready for the damage that one mean person online can cause, and I don’t want any of our students to go through the unnecessary pain that too many of them have already experienced.

Some people advocate that the parents and the school should teach responsible social networking to students because these sites are part of the world in which we live.

I disagree, it is not worth the risk to your child to allow them the independence at this age to manage these sites on their own, not because they are not good kids or responsible, but because you cannot control the poor actions of anonymous others.

Learn as a family about cybersafety together at wiredsafety.org for your own knowledge. It is a great site. But then do everything I asked in this email – because there really is no reason a child needs to have one of these accounts.

Please take action in your on home today.

Sincerely,
Anthony Orsini
Principal, BFMS

and from the Innovative Educator:

Schools that have taken the “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to the social media curriculum are neglectfully choosing to look the other way as students communicate, collaborate, and connect in worlds devoid of adults. The result can be that just as in the real world, without any adult supervision, students could be at risk and are existing without models for appropriate behavior. Additionally if educators refuse or are prevented from becoming a part of these online places they are not speaking the language or joining in the real-world environments of their 21st century students. That said, I don’t believe there should be an actual “social media curriculum” but rather social media must be integrated into the curriculum. Additionally, we need another name for these environments. Yes they can be social, but they are often more than primarily social environments. They are connecting, networking, and learning environments where students have conversations and explore passions, talents, and ideas. I’ve helped numerous teachers begin their own online learning communities with students and the results are dramatic. Work is published to a broader community. Students can easily see one another’s work, rate and comment on it. They feel like their teacher’s are finally interested in speaking there language. Teachers are amazed at the resulting conversations, ideas, and voices shared that would never have emerged had it not been for the integration of social media. With personal bio pages, students learn more about their classmates or schoolmates, or districtmates, or globemates…depending on the type of network set up. The students become the masters of their learning and conversations, and are able to do so in an environment that is safe and with the gentle guidance and facilitation of educators. Additionally the educator can set up roles for students who can be empowered to lead and monitor various groups and/or conversations. The lessons learned from the safe, online school environment can easily be transferred to what the students are doing online in their own spaces.

The other important piece to this equation is educating parents, guardians, families. They can also be invited to these online learning spaces. Additionally, caregivers must be taught how to engage in the online learning environments in which their children participate. It is unacceptable for caregivers to allow students to participate in these environments without supervision. Just as care givers would not let their children into real-world environments without a responsible adult present, they should not let their children exist in online worlds withouth them. But the adults need some support in how to do this and really what is and what is not acceptable behavior online. The best people to teach this…their kids and adults can help students organize at-school professional development for parents. It’s a win-win and learning experience for all parties involved. Together students, care givers and teachers can have meaningful conversations about what is appropriate, acceptable, questionable or embarrassing.

The end of Ning

One of the worrying things about ‘free’ online tools is that one day you may have to pay the price. Which is what is happening at the moment with NING, an online tool that educators have taken a lot of interest in,which announced last month it would be discontinuing its free service.

It took me a little while to understand the potential power of being able to create your own social networking site but once I ‘got it’, I saw the power. I’ve talked a bit here about some of the Nings I’ve joined and even some I’ve created. Some haven’t worked. For example, the Ning I created for me and my cycling mates was a total disaster with interest level petering along about the level of my puncture stories. I wont even link to it; it’s too embarrassing.

But, some have been great. I created a Ning for a network meeting that I attend twice a term and it’s worked really well. The Expanding Learning Horizon Conference Ning was very handy and the ASCD Conference ‘Edge’ website, modelled on the Ning ideas, was better and more useful than the official website. So, I understand now.

But some day you’ve got to pay the piper, and last month Ning announced it was discontinuing its free service in favour of a paid model. Bad. Bad for me and time I’ve put into my cycling site and the network site, but worse for large, well developed Nings like Classroom 2.0 which currently has over 42000 members. I guess you could say that with that many members the site should be paying (and maybe they are) but bad for those people who’ve invested time and energy and content into something that is now likely to disappear. The screenshots below from Classroom 2.0 show it as a lively and interesting place.

Ning’s latest blog posting ‘Mythbusters‘, sounded just a little defensive to me as they tried to claim that they would still have a model for educational and non-profit organisations. We’ll see next week.

Meanwhile, don’t start any new Nings until you see their new pricing plans and be aware that some of the tools we’ve all become pretty reliant on (Gmail, Wikispaces, Wetpaint etc.) might one day decide they want to update their business model or simply fold up the tent and slip into the night.

I’d be worried about Wetpaint next. Take a look at the most recent look of my Peninsula Creeks Wetpaint site. A giant, inappropriately contextualised ad for ‘Glee’ and Google Ads taking over the navigation space down the left hand side. Hmm. Maybe we’ll all go back to building our own web pages again. Now, where’s that book on HTML got to? And, WordPress and this blog is safe. Isn’t it?