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EdTech Update





More on "friending" students

Last Wedneday's post on not confusing social networking with educational networking stirred up quite a bit of controversy. (For the life of me, I can never predict what posts will provoke comments!) A lively conversation ensued on LM_Net as well.

First, I would suggest that you go back and read the very cogent and diverse reactions in the full comments. But I will summarize a few main issues here...

Peter writes:

I don't see how making contact with students through this technology violates the "student/teacher" relationship. Is it not how you then use the technology that matters?

And with a similar line of reasoning, Brandt asks:

You often ask us to avoid blaming the technology. I think this might be an example of that. If a teacher gets a phone call at home and a students name is on caller ID, should he answer it? A lot of flirting happens on the phone.

Of course it is how one uses the technology. But Facebook is designed to be social, not educational, just as an RV is designed to be recreational, not a school bus. (Although both could transport kids to school.) Were Facebook the only tool that would facilitate student/teacher interaction, I would probably be thinking more about how to use it well, but there are other programs designed specially to facilitate educational interactions such as Moodle, private Nings, Saywire and other "walled garden" apps. And of course any technology, including the telephone, can be abused!

Patrick details the personal use he makes of Facebook, but adds:

...I don't accept students as friends. At one time, I accepted them without question until a number of them went away to college and started uploading pictures of themselves doing keg stands, playing beer pong, or something similar. I just don't care that a past 19-year-old student of mine "is really hung over on a Sunday morning." I know this only represents a small percentage of my students, I just don't want the hassle.

Does the old expression that we are known by the company we keep hold true for social networks as well?

Rob writes:

I recently attended a workshop presented by Vicki Davis where she talked about the importance of calling this "educational networking" instead of social networking when you use educational networking for student projects and student learning. I think this is an important distinction.

And Mike adds:

As others have said, I think that it is important for teachers and administrators to have Facebook accounts so they understand the technology and its implications. And, eventually, I think schools will come to leverage social media technology in many of their instructional and collaborative processes. But I think that it will be in "walled garden" environments that we do this. We will begin to see more and more social networking features grafted onto learning management systems and other software already in use in schools. It is in those safe, controlled, and monitored spaces where teachers, students, administrators, and parents will be interacting and connecting.

The very term "social" to me suggests forming relationships that are casual, equal, and recreational as opposed to educational and/or business-like. While I understand networking can and should be a part of the educational process, the term "social" (and those sites like Facebook so branded), ought to be left to fulfill their separate purpose. Schools might use very similar communication tools, but describe them in terms that are less threatening to parents and spell out their education purpose and values.

Tim points out:

Facebook terms of use require that if a student is between 13 and 18 years of age, they must be a high school or college student. I have had a couple of students find my facebook account and request to be my friend who are either not yet 13 or not yet in high school - I can only assume that they have an account by "misstating" their age. Do I want to condone that behavior?

Just as I would report underage students hanging out in a physical space that required a minimum age for admission to their parents, I would also report underage students hanging out in an online age-restricted space. Call me Miss Manners.

Tom writes:

People aren't good at weighing the cost of unlikely but potentially catastrophic events. If "friending" students causes some kind of major professional or personal hassle one in a thousand times, is it worth it? The potential upside to me seems minor, the potential downside unlikely, but it could be very severe.

Interesting point. How likely does something have to be before we need to regulate it? (Next week we will be having a meteor hit drill in the auditorium!)

Along similar lines, Cathy reasons:

Err on the side of safety--since so few educators that are in the powerful positions and make decisions about my employment understand these networking sites ... particularly if you like your job and know there are people in position to misunderstand.

Risk/benefit analysis should be done for any tech use.

Barb writes about her institutional use of Facebook:

I began using facebook as a tool to communicate with students who were leading book discussion groups for the summer reading program at my high school. As a library media teacher, I am not in a "power" position in that I don't grade students. I do not ask students to "friend" me, but if they ask me to friend them I do. But I maintain my "Ms F. voice" at all times. I don't post anything that I wouldn't want the superintendent to read and the one time an adult friend posted something slightly questionable on my wall (language-wise) I took it down immediatly.

I can't help but think a Ning instead of Facebook might be a better tool here, but obviously Barb has thought about this and set some limits.

Maribel writes in a personal e-mail:

... in the last two years 2 of our teachers lost their jobs due to inappropriate conversations with students on Facebook. What bothers me is not Facebook itself, but the fact that we as professionals are so willing to relax our standards in order to "be in touch" with our students. This makes me nervous, and by the way I am not a crotchety old school librarian, I am a cautious and optimistic 38 year old who loves the Internet!

David argues:

I tend to disagree with all of these suggestions that we not 'friend' our students (although I must admit that the term does suggest an inappropriate level of familiarity). If students are in a public place like the shops, a sports ground or a museum who is it that shares with the students appropriate behaviour and tells them when they are doing the wrong thing? It is their parents or other responsible adults that are know to the family such as teachers. American Social Network researcher Danah Boyd refers to sites like myspace as Network Publics. This leads to the question who should it be that guides the students in appropriate behaviour in these public spaces? Teachers and Teacher Librarians who have been trained in internet safety, parents whose understanding of the internet have been tainted by mass media or don't even know how to use computers, Uni students who post pictures of drunken parties, or strangers whose intentions are unknown to the students and their families. I think providing teachers remember that sites like MySpace are public places and behave appropriately they are by far the best guides for students on these social network sites. For the past two years I have been doing just this, with the support of some of the parents too.

OK, just a qeustion ... are schools responsible for teaching safety to kids in every possible environment? Skateboard parks, mountain climbing expeditions, coffee shops, etc.? At what point do schools need to say that parents or other parts of society need to step up to plate and take responsibility for teaching kids "social" safety?

Finally, Lefty pragmatically suggests:

I have a separate account for keeping up with my former students. I wouldn't accept friend requests from students on my normal account b/c I want to be able to speak freely with my friends, post whatever pictures I want, etc. On my teacher account, I carefully select what I post. It's the easiest way for me to keep in touch with students from years past. I've never had a problem with it, but I can see why some people might be cautious.

Confused at a higher level???

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Could you live in the cloud?

I've been giving serious consideration to trying to move to totally cloud-based computing - in other words, trying to use applications and file storage only on the Internet with nothing on my computer's hard drive except a web browser.

Why try this? It would nice to be able to work on any project, anywhere regardless of the computer one is using. Any likely 1:1 computing scenario in our school would probably involve students getting low-cost netbooks that will use cloud-based apps and file storage. I would like to see about lowering my personal hardware computing costs by using an inexpensive netbook (that is lighter and has more battery life than my MacBook as well). I'd like to lower the potential "cost" of my loss of both physical and intellectual property should my computer ever be lost or stolen. And hey, and what else to I have to do?

I don't think it is going to be as difficult at might first appear.

I would rank these as my Top Seven computer uses:

  1. E-mail. Both my school Outlook and my personal Gmail accounts already have robust online e-mail clients. My biggest challenge would be moving all my saved e-mail from my hard drive-based Entourage client to my online Gmail account and then tagging all that old e-mail so I can find it again. (I have a folder mind, not a tag mind, I'm afraid.) GoogleMail can now be used off-line in conjunction with GoogleGears.
  2. Web searching and bookmarking. I already have a delicious account so I'd just need to reimport the bookmarks now saved in my current browser.
  3. Word processing. After years of using Office, I believe I need to move to GoogleDocs for this, and the next two applications. I need to see if these programs are sufficiently full-featured and robust. While the WP seems fine for writing short pieces, will it be practical for writing a book? The presentation program lacks animation, transitions, and in-program image editing - which may not be a bad thing. With the advent of GoogleGears, I can work on stuff even when I don't have an Internet connection.
  4. Presentation creation. See #3.
  5. Spreadsheet use. See #3.
  6. Photo storage and editing. I've been storing my best pictures in SmugMug (a commercial photo storage site) for years. I have a lot of pictures that still need to be moved there. I know there are a number of online photo editing programs, including an online version of Photoshop. I have no experience using these. I suspect it would be more cumbersome moving pictures from my camera, organizing and arranging them, and posting them online without the help of iPhoto.
  7. Web page editing and webmastering. My personal blog, wiki, and website are already completely managed via an application service provider who uses online tools for management and editing. As does our school website. As do the professional association websites I help manage - Kiwanis, our lakes association, our state library/tech association, etc.

I believe I would still need clients for these applications:

  • Antivirus and anti-spyware apps
  • Adobe or other PDF reader
  • My DropBox
  • iTunes (to manage my iPod apps)
  • Mozy (to do online file backup)
  • SecondLife
  • Skype

and little helper apps like:

  • Flash
  • Quicktime and other movie players
  • File compression/decompression programs

I also recognize that were I ever to try to edit video, I'd need a full blown computer and I wouldn't be using CDs or DVDs. (When are they going to start selling movies on flashdrives do you suppose?) I use Mozy for off-site file storage, but I don't know if that is a practical solution for storing documents to which I want easy access.

So what am I forgetting, readers more techie than I? Can it be done? Is it doable but impractical?

Can my virtual life be spent in the clouds?

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Don't confuse social networking with educational networking

Facebook Now Growing By Over 700,000 Users A Day - AllFacebook, Feb 27, 2009

I will be the first to admit that I don't really understand the attraction of Facebook and its ilk. Yes, I have a Facebook page and have some professional colleagues and family members as "friends," but the site is not something I check or use on a regular basis.

I mentioned Facebook today in a workshop I gave here in SC during a "Tool Talk." (!0 web 2.0 tools in about 20 minutes.) When I introduce Facebook, I basically say the same thing I said in the first paragraph - I don't see the fascination, and more over, I don't see its educational usefulness. Other Web 2.0 tools, yes; Facebook no. But I do believe educators need to have a familiarity with Facebook and even use it personally, just to know what kids (and a rapidly growing number of parents) are up to.

A question was raised I had not before considered: Should a teacher "friend" his/her students on Facebook? My off the cuff response was absolutely not. I thought it violated the teacher/student relationship and could lead to actual or perceived inappropriate interactions.

So it was a relief to see Nancy Willard's strongly worded email to WWWedu today second my opinion. She writes:

Any teacher who links to a student on MySpace or Facebook is an ABSOLUTE FOOL!!!!! I strongly support and advise district policies against this for 2 reasons:

  1. There is a vast amount of flirting that goes on on these sites. Student get crushes on teachers. When a teacher gets a flirtatious message from a student, that teacher is already in trouble. Respond back with warmth and you are an online predator. Respond critically and the student could exact revenge. The teachers who are most likely to get into major trouble are the younger ones – who have not had to deal with student crushes before and who may still be in the flirting online mode. The risks include arrest and life as a registered sex offender.
  2. People on these sites send friendship requests to friends of people they have linked to. A teacher would become the “guarantor” of all of his or her online friends – including all of the material these friends post and the friend’s interactions with students.

This being said, it is exceptionally important for teachers and student to be communicating in these interactive environments. Which means schools must set up carefully managed and monitored interactive environments.

Are we confusing social and educational networking? Again, Nancy warns:

There is – and should remain – a vast difference between “social media” and “educational media.” When educators blur the distinctions, this causes significant problems.

Are schools making this distinction in policy-making?

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