Weighing the Risks and Rewards of Social Networking

balance by hans s, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  hans s 

This week I had yet another colleague ask me if I truly thought letting kids use smart phones to text and tweet was really useful in learning, or just the newest fad in education – “much ado about nothing.” I remember well from where this colleague is coming. It wasn’t that long ago that I had the same reservations about the benefits of social networking tools in the classroom. Do the benefits really outweigh the costs and potential risks? Or, is this as my friend was intimating, another example of technology for technology’s sake and change for the sake of change without actually being constructive and productive innovation.

My response was to discuss my own metamorphosis from doubter, to believer and to tell him that as always, education requires us to balance new technologies for instruction with traditional instructional methods.  I directed him to a couple of great online resources that not only justify the use of social networking as sound constructivist pedagogy, but emphasize the need for a teacher’s purposeful planning,  creating the conditions in which a student can learn. The first was M.Madan’s post “Social Networking in the Classroom”  which effectively explores what social networking has to offer to learning: instant connection to promote sharing and collaboration in an constructivist pedagogy; and what social networking does not offer to learning: it does not ensure the development of a community of learning. To combat that he suggests a couple of important instructional considerations:
1. Maintain a constant presence.
2. Use a variety of supporting tools to process information.
3. Actively synthesize broadly scoped ideas into workable areas.
4. Continue to engage students.
The other great resource I found was an EmergingEdTech  post “7 Reasons to Leverage Social Networking in the Classroom”  which include engagement, social learning, better utilization of homework time and consequently class time, opportunities for writing, increased student dialogue, building of real-life communication skills, and connections.
However, as I suggested to another colleague a few weeks ago who said she really needed to get into Twitter, the best way to understand networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter, is to use them yourself first. The best way I can think of to understand how you can use Twitter in your classroom is to let it be your classroom for a while. Start by using it to create a personal learning network for your own professional development. Sonja Cole suggests “25 Ways to Teach with Twitter”  with simple things like asking for recommended lessons and books, asking for professional advice, starting to tweet about resources that have been useful for you, inviting  followers and looking for people to follow.

I’m not sure if my resources convinced my colleague, but what it did to was challenge me to think outside the box and reaffirmed my belif in the value of social networking in student directed learning. Although there are risks in terms of privacy and professionalism, I belive that the risks outweigh the rewards. Thoughts?


Tell Me A Story…

Tell me a story… I used to beg my older sister  to tell me one more story before lights out. Maybe it was this insatiable thirst for narrative that prompted me to go into education and become an English teacher. Every day my classroom was a new page in a story – sometimes the story was of struggle, sometimes of triumph, and most times with undisclosed endings. You see, that is the thing about teaching, we never really see the conclusions to the threads of narrative we establish in class, those story stems that continue to grow and be shaped by our students on their knowledge journey and by us on ours.

This weeks presentation by Alan Levine got me thinking about story telling. In particular, how we encourage students to make sense of their learnings through creating and producing stories.  Often, it is in the process of trying to articulate the story when the most learning occurs. Sometimes it is the messiness of this scribblings and scrawlings that establish the necessary conflict before learning reaches some sort of resolution.

Alan Levine’s 50 Ways To Tell a Story  resource provides teachers and students with the opportunities to capture the essence of the story – the struggle and the plot twists as they grapple with their learning. I thought I would experiment a bit with my own story about how I now try to way find and make sense of how I teach and why I teach. This course has helped open a new world of Web 2.0 tools and extended my personal learning network. The addition of such antagonists has taken by educational story to a new plot and series of conflicts – I can’t wait to see where it leads me! See how I depicted my story through the use of ToonDoo .

From Dinosaurs to Dolphins: Technological Evolution in Education

Dinosaur by shvmoz, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  shvmoz 
After watching a recent episode of Terra Nova  my son observed “it would be so cool if there were still dinosaurs roaming around!”  Of course, my response was, really, you would like to be spending your days in flight or fight response avoiding man eating dinosaurs? He agreed that would likely be pretty scary, maybe it’s better to leave them to the museums and science fiction shows. This got me thinking, why are we so slow to evolve and discard those dinosaurs in our classrooms, the antiquated audio visual aids which do nothing but get our blood pressure up and are far better left in museums and history books? If biologists only focused on the past, they would never discover new and exciting biological species like the Barrunda Dolphin, discovered this fall off the coast of Australia. Last week in EC&I 831, Stephen Downes  talked about the need to become networked educators and consequently discover new  roles as a teacher. Such new roles as collector, curator, alchemist, need to be considered in the search for this new species of teacher.   Of course all of this is predicated on the discovery and utilization of  new technology tools in and out of the classoom.

Last week I stumbled upon I Love Ed Tech Blog  which is the Blog for the Simple K-12 website. It has some great posts including the June 2011 post “17 Signs Your Classroom is Behind the Times”.  Below are 6 of the 17 which particularly resonated with me:

  • Your students turn in their homework on printed paper…instead of digitally.  It’s hard to believe that I still have English teaching colleagues who are collecting hardcopies and not using digital submission tools such as Turn it In  which educate students on plagiarism, proper referencing, and provide peer editing and revision tips.
  • You still have chalk.  Or a Dry Eraser. It’s exciting for me, who just happens to be allergic to both chalk and the residue from dry erase, that tools like smart boards eliminate any sort of chemical exposure and reduce consumable expenditures in the school budget!
  •  You try to pull up a web resource on your computer to show the class and you receive a “This website has been blocked” message. As an administrator, I know which of my teachers are developing PLN’s – they are the ones coming to me to ask IT to unblock Youtube videos and Blogs – heck, last week I had to phone to get them to unblock the sample Blog I created for an ELA class!
  • You don’t find at least one thing to call the IT department about every week. See previous point!
  • You spend most of your class time lecturing students… rather than getting them collaborating and learning from each other. Arriving in the staffroom for coffebreak with a bad case of laryngitis often is a symptom of nagging educational disease “Sage on the Stageitis.”
  • You create more content than your students do. I often wonder why it is that so many of us as teachers are working harder than our students? No wonder our profession has trouble with teacher retention. We have do less and create more opportunities for our students to take charge of their learning.
  • Your students aren’t teaching you something new (likely about technology) at least once a day. My most connected teachers are the ones who frequently pop by my office to share an exciting technology tidbit just taught to them by a student which invigorates them and supports the learning of their students. Good things are happening in their classrooms.

So , I think maybe I would like another role added to Stephen Downes’ list, that of scientist. I want to discover new species of teachers and learners, my own Barrunda dolphins by encouraging my staff to embrace a blended instructional approach and discover some new habitats of education! It absolutely can happen – and if you need a little inspiration from the biological world, for your viewing enjoyment check out “Cool, Rare, and New Weird Animals/Species 2011.”

“Oh Wow, Oh Wow, Oh Wow!”


Give, take ’n share by Funchye, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Funchye 

The last words uttered by Steve Jobs as revealed earlier this week by his sister, Mona Simpson, were “Oh Wow, Oh Wow, Oh Wow.” For a man who made computer technology personal and mainstream, revolutionizing how we share, process, and filter information;  it is hard to imagine he could be amazed by anything. Such is the mystery of death, but those last words from one of the most innovative thinkers of the modern era, reflect more than just the enigma of our existence. They articulate the unfathomable boundaries of possibilities, uplifting me with optimism.  I needed this optimism in a week where I found myself attending two separate funerals; a week in which people emailed and posted condolences to the families on Twitter and Facebook. It was a startling example of how technology quickly and efficiently brings people together; not in the cold, dystopian manner depicted by science fiction writers such as Bradbury and Asimov,  but in profound, authentic, and real-time connections. At one of the funerals, a close family member unable to travel home participated in the service via the web. And as he contributed to the eulogy from another continent, I thought “Wow” – how the celebration of that life was made the richer for the sharing.

This week Dean Shareski  challenged us as educators to consider sharing as a moral imperative, challenging us to ponder “is our best work accessible to everyone?”  My friend whose parent had died, told me he did not know anything about Skype or data projectors,  but that  a simply query on Facebook, a technology he does use, caused a flood of helpful tips: the donation of a data projector and the volunteer services of a “technician”, and a few instructive YouTube videos empowered him. As a result, his brother-in-law could share in the funeral of their mother.  A couple of weeks ago, two of the math teachers in my department created a smart board through the use of a Wii remote and IR pen. How were they able to accomplish this? A tutorial on YouTube. For too long, teachers have worked in isolation, sharing only with a small, trusted group of people. However, teaching has changed. It is arguably more difficult; curricula are more extensive, diversity among learners greater, and class sizes larger. If we don’t share, not only don’t we cope, we don’t accomplish our mandate as educators – nurturing learning through sharing and challenging the thoughts and practices of ourselves and others. So, this week I shared. I invited several of my staff members to look at my Blog, a far riskier venture with people you know, work with, and supposedly lead, than muttering to faceless audience on my Blog. I shared the beginnings of my Blog resource which allows them to discover various Web 2.0 tools; I offered to work with an ELA teacher and her students on Blogging; in fact, I created a new Blog for the students of my school to comment on timely issues concerning their curricula, community and world. Over the next few weeks and months, they will blog and I will invite them to tweet responses . I’m thinking of using the hash tag #Veeptweet! We’ll see how it goes. This is an exciting time to be an educator.  A world of information is literally in the palm of our hands – and I am at the point of no return! In the words of Steve Jobs, “Oh, Wow! Oh, wow! Oh, Wow!!”