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?

Top 100 Tools for Learning

Still on the Cool Tools theme, I liked this list of the Top 100 Tools for Learning from the 7th Annual Learning Tools Suvey

Lots to think about and explore here, including thinking about how is YOUR  school responding to the use of these tools by teachers, many of which involved social networking or the Cloud?

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!

2013-06-28 08.59.52


*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.

Google +

I’ve been playing around with Google + for the last week or two and am hopeful that maybe, just maybe, this  might be a better social tool than the elephant in the room that is Facebook.

Like most schools, we’ve struggled with some issues to do with student access to Facebook and I think that the students too would like a more transparent, easy to manage social tool that would allow them to share with their real friends, not the public ‘friends’ that Facebook would prefer. Facebook’s default is public; the idea of circles in Google+ means that a student could perhaps have their ‘real’ friends in one circle, and everyone else in another.

I don’t know if it’s the answer, and I don’t know enough yet about how Google+ will develop, but I’ve never got into Facebook, and am hopeful that this might be better.

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.

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.

How to teach the smartest generation

I was pre-disposed to enjoy Don Tapscott’s ASCD session on the net generation and I wont detail it too much as I’ve blogged here before about his writing and his books, including the latest, Grown Up Digital.

Some good quotes to take away though were:

‘Some universities aren’t post-Gutenberg, they’re pre-Gutenberg’

‘The internet is not a problem; it is a learning opportunity’

The Conference Daily, a daily newspaper of the conference (yes, this conference is that big) reported Tapscott this way:

‘We are creating a generation that is thinking differently from every other generation before. These students are not just multi-tasking, they have better abilities to code-switch. They are constantly searching, story-telling, collaborating, developing and authenticating.’

He urged educators to disable the ‘generational firewalls’ that they had erected between them and their students and embrace a culture of collaboration, integration and self-organization. Banning social media such as ‘Facebook’s says, ‘We don’t understand your tools. We don’t trust you’.