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Archive for the ‘Social Networking’ Category

In October, a Pepperdine colleague of mine asked this question via Facebook Questions. There were several responses, including one that said her “general opinion about students and teachers being friends on Facebook is pretty similar to my opinion about students and teachers sleeping together: not if you’re currently in his/her class or if you plan to be at any time in the future.”

I have quite a different view, which so far has gotten the most positive votes on this thread. Here is what I shared:

I teach computer information systems at a community college, so my perspective might be a little different from my K12 colleagues. I also teach the majority of my load online, although I do usually have one or two on campus classes each semester.

I maintain a pretty active FB profile (as Derek will attest to!). It is an eclectic mix between personal and professional. Very often I will share links or discuss educational topics and get quite a robust response from friends, colleagues, educators, students (past and present) so it makes for a very rich discussion environment. One educational thread ended up with over a hundred responses a few months ago. It was awesome!

Because I teach online, I try to make myself accessible whenever possible. Having a profile makes me a “real” person to many of my students, as opposed to a static name on a page somewhere. It builds trust and opens communication channels. I very often have students ask me questions via FB chat (and google chat and all the other chats). I teach about social media as a dynamic, active personal learning network space, taking them well beyond what someone had for lunch or who is dating whom, and I do it by modeling what it *can be* instead of what lots of people *perceive* it to be. We talk about what happens when your mom or your teacher or your boss (or future employer) stumbles across your myspace/facebook page with drunken party pictures all over the place. We talk about how to use it to expand your network (safely) to increase your opportunities for learning. We don’t just talk about it though… we do it throughout the semester as they build their network on Twitter.

I do know many K12 teachers that will either have a “professional” FB page that students can add or make it their rule to only add “alumni” students. My rule of thumb on FB is that I never search out students to add them (too stalkerish) but if they send me a friend request, I will usually add them. I am pretty sure that I don’t put anything on my page that I would be embarrassed by.

Overall the response has been positive to my online presence and students like the accessibility. I haven’t run into any problems because I set the boundaries right up front and students know what to expect. We can hide our heads in the sand and pretend social media doesn’t exist (block it all!)… Or we can use it as a learning opportunity to teach our students what it means to be good digital citizens engaged in actively building a personal learning network that will benefit them well beyond the classroom walls. Of course, unless we figure out how to do that ourselves, it will be hard to help our students figure it out as well 🙂

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I am a creature of habit. I usually wake up every morning well before my mad scientist so I reach for the iPhone plugged in by the bed. After a quick check of email I always turn to Facebook to see what’s going on in the world. Facebook? Yes, Facebook. I don’t flip on the TV, mostly because it’s in the other room and we hardly watch it anyhow. I save NPR for later in the the morning. But while I’m laying there in bed denying the reality that I need to actually get up and do something, I scan what is going on in the world around me, digging in a little deeper where I am most interested, and keeping up-to-date with the people who matter to me the most.

On Facebook and on Twitter I’ve deliberately chosen to follow an eclectic group of people and organizations so that I have a broad outlook on what is going on in the world. I have created a personal newsfeed that mixes my interests in a dynamic and interactive interface that is easily accessible from my computer or my cell phone. The platform allows me to be an active participant in the media stream if I choose to do so, instead of just a passive consumer of information. I can comment, I can “like”, I can contribute, I can get feedback on what I write. I get to control what I see. I block all of the silly game updates and quizzes because I don’t care about those. It’s my choice. The nature of the newsfeed changes throughout the day. In the morning, I come across items from organizations or groups and from my night-owl friends. Later in the day, I begin to see more posts from “normal” people I know, from innovative educators in the field, from students, and from breaking news sites. It’s a constantly changing view of what is going on with people I know and things I am interested in.

I talk about this all the time to my students and to my own children. I try to get them to see and understand the power of social media through active participation not just passive observation. Sometimes I wonder if it sinks in. Sometimes I know it does. Yesterday, my 14 year old daughter ran into a roadblock on an opinion paper she was writing, and we had a discussion about how she might search for information to back up her ideas. Later on, she came bouncing into the garage where I was working, totally excited about her discovery. She said something to the effect of “Mom, you know how you say if you have a question, you can ask your network? I posted a question for my essay on Facebook & got responses!” Now she wants me to post the question out to MY network because she knows it’s much larger and she’s excited about what she will learn. She’s making the shift from a spoon-fed student to an actively engaged learner. That’s awesome!

Social media is what you make of it. It can be a world filled with middle-school drama and shallow commentary or it can be a place where you discover, learn, interact, engage, create, contribute, and expand your view of the world around you. YOU get to choose. Which will it be?

So, in case you are wondering what I see in MY media stream, here’s a sampling from this morning’s “paper”. The order got a little jumbled when I saved the pictures, but you’ll get the idea 🙂

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I am always amazed at how social media brings together people from all walks of life. Just the other day I was watching a TED talk on this topic called How social media can make history. The premise of the talk was that news has gone from the realm of the “one” talking to the “many” to a conversation between participants outside the traditional boundaries of the “official” media establishment.

I experience this many-to-many phenomena every day, in lots of different ways. This evening, I posted a brief status update on my way home from a workshop I was teaching. Within hours, there were fourteen responses from seven different people. What makes this interesting to me is that a few short years ago, interaction between these individuals would be highly unlikely. I am the common link, but they all know me through different networks that don’t really overlap much in my real life (high school friends, hubby buddies, teacher types, former students, pepperdine peeps, charter school folks). A few of them have tenuous connections to each other (a teacher type took a class from me at the same school the former student did… but in different disciplines; two high school buddies are people I knew through different social circles). But the rest… well, they only “know” each other through their interactions on my page. On the periphery, the conversation even involved two men who only have indirect involvement through their wives, where we discovered that they both would probably have a “blast” together if they ever met in real life. The conversation itself steered off-topic as one person made an interesting suggestion and another offered some advice on how to follow through on the idea. All because I posted a blurb about my day.

In this conversation, I suppose I was a catalyst for discussion, although I did not contribute any more to the thread. In others, I am a facilitator, bringing people together and guiding the train of thought. In many, I am a participant in other people’s lives, virtually posted for the network to engage in. The interesting thing about all of this is how fluid and dynamic it is, like a giant digital cocktail party or academic symposium where people meet, break off into groups, reorganize themselves by interest, flutter from one conversation to another, pursue ideas here and there… you get the picture. Some conversations dig deep into important topics and many others are much more socially oriented, part of creating an ambient presence in the overall community with those you know and others you’ve never met. A lot of social learning happens in informal ways as people exchange ideas, ask for advice, and share experiences, links & tools. It’s fun to be a part of the network 🙂

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reading timeSeveral months ago I read with interest an article in The Atlantic that lamented the effect that the Internet (represented by Google) had on reading, learning, and thinking. There were many good points. I, too, have felt the effects of years of web work on my ability to focus on long sections of text. I sometimes joke that the job that has immersed me in technology for a dozen years has also given me ADD. I often wonder if my inability to stay on track when reading was a result of the context in which I find myself most often (lots of kids, lots of students, lots of distractions, lots of life changes, lots of ideas floating around in my head) or if it was an organic shift in the way my brain is wired due to the prolonged exposure to the digital world. I mean, I used to be able to read those lengthy Atlantic articles faster than a speeding bullet, finish off long novels in a single bound, develop ideas more powerful than a locomotive… um, yeah, well, you get the idea. And now? I read in short bursts, at opportune moments, often using the same strategy our precocious three year old has recently discovered to squeeze in some quiet reading time. A few pages of the book by the bedside here, an online article or two there, parts of articles from several magazines in the basket next to, um, you know where. The question is… is that a bad thing?

This morning I read an article from the Campus Technology website by Trent Batson that made me think again. The Response to Nicholas Carr’s ‘Is Google Making Us Stupid? began by describing the arguments made in the original Atlantic article. He then added a perspective that I hadn’t considered before, but that made perfect sense. I’ve added the bold below to stand out some good points.

Books are heavy and expensive and take a long time to produce. Knowledge based in books, therefore, is slow to develop, hard to respond to, and is scarce. People responded to books with reviews, with articles, and with new books. Human gregariousness was therefore slowed to a snail’s pace as conversation around a book was carried out in the lengthy print process. Books built our culture, don’t get me wrong, and have provided wonderful wealth, but ultimately they also undervalued and ignored the natural ways that humans learn: through oral interaction and in a group.

It is easy to criticize a new technology; it is much harder to understand how the new technology can help create new abilities in humans. And even much harder to understand how technology can actually recapture and re-enable human abilities.

What Carr describes and is most worried about, how we “skim” and “bounce” around in our reading, is actually a kind of new orality: We are reading as we speak when we are in a group. We “listen” to one statement, then another and another in quick succession: Our reading on the Web is like listening to a bunch of people talking. It’s hybrid orality. We find ourselves once again the naturally gregarious humans we always were. We find ourselves creating knowledge continually and rapidly as our social contacts on the Web expand. We have re-discovered new ways to enjoy learning in a social setting.

Way before books were the primary mode of knowledge transmission, people learned by talking with others who were more capable, by observing and experiencing first hand in a social context. You can hand someone a book on computer languages or gourmet cooking, but until they actually try writing a program or cooking a souffle themselves, it would be hard to say that they have actually learned the process. Even better if they are able to work with someone who already has some experiences to share and if they are given an authentic context for their task. In a mobile, global society such as ours has become, perhaps the social nature of web 2.0 has brought back a sense of community where people can talk, listen, learn, and contribute in real and meaningful ways with others who are similarly seeking out those connections. Maybe this “hybrid orality” isn’t such a bad thing after all!

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I like the way Steve Hargadon writes and develops his ideas. This morning he took a look at the Web and shared some thoughts about what it is all about. I’ve always said that teaching students to be fluent online isn’t about making web pages or learning databases. It’s the language that is used to connect people to people. That is the power of this thing, tool, space or whatever you want to call it. It’s the power to share ideas, to bring people together, and to open up worlds beyond what individuals alone could imagine.

Here is what Steve wrote this morning (bold added by me for emphasis):

I’m intrigued at how an idea can grow, morph, and improve over time. For several months I have made the paradoxical claim that the solution to content overload is to create more content.

What I’ve meant by this is that the act of creating content helps to teach us how this new world of ever-increasing content works. And when we teach others to be content creators, we help them to better understand this new world so that they can be better consumers of content themselves. A good example of this is how the act of choosing a license under which to publish content gives us (and students) a better understanding of how to respect others’ licensing choices.

But it turns out that I’m discovering a richer meaning to the paradoxical answer. One that I instinctively knew was there, but hadn’t been able to verbalize fully until now.

I see the Web moving from a “publishing” platform to a “conversation” platform. We will drive ourselves crazy if we continue to think of the Web as an ever-growing repository of information to consume. And so within that vision it would be reasonable to ask–as many have done–why the ordinary user should add more content, much of which will be of questionable value when measure by the yardstick of authoritative voices. However, as the Web grows it is becoming less about accumulation and aggregation of content, and more and more a vehicle for participating in engaged learning conversations (both synchronous or asynchronous).

And when we teach content creation we are actually teaching the ability to take part in these conversations. And the ability to take part in these conversations, I believe, will define our learning, our careers, and our sense of personal accomplishment.

~ Steve Hargadon

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On twitter, you can save posts you especially like to a favorites list. Here are some that have caught my attention recently.

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