Tag Archives: social media

Social Media Can’t Save Education

5 May

Has anyone seen my phone?

I love dogs. My most cherished childhood memories are of walking on the West Pennine Moors with my granddad and his dogs (and later mine) ranging around us. We rarely talked or saw others, but I learned a lot. There was a deep feeling of stillness and peace as we walked and connected with nature while eating Nuttall’s Mintoes. He’d tell me the common names of plants, share some local history or tell me a joke that made us giggle.

That deep connection with the countryside and dogs drew to me to Tweedhope in Scotland and Border Collie breeder and trainer Viv Billingham’s farm during a trip to the UK. Sheepdog trials are popular the world over, as trainers use their dogs to collect and move flocks of sheep around a field against the clock. Viv is a sheepdog trial “rock star”, was featured on TV and represented Scotland in international dog trails.

We arrived in Tweedhope on a sunny afternoon (yes, it gets sunny in Scotland) and found the farmhouse nestled in the glens and looking exactly as it should. Viv spoke about the breeding and training of border collies and put some of the dogs through their paces in an exhibition.

She explained that she doesn’t start training any dog until after it’s first year. It takes a year for the dog’s personality to emerge. Once she knows who the dog is she can know how best to work with it and for what roles it is best suited. This was my first encounter with differentiated, individualized learning and I still use those ideas when I work with students. I try to get to know students first and then  work with their personalities and strengths.

When the exhibition was over Viv invited us in for a cup of tea and some biscuits. Inside were a litter of Border Collie pups, about 3 or 4 weeks old, and I asked about their future. Viv explained that they were all destined to be working dogs.

I wondered about border collies as pets (my grandfather had owned one, the beloved ‘Floss’) and Viv vigorously shook her head. Border Collies need lots of vigorous exercise to stay healthy, not only physically but mentally healthy. They are bred for work and if they don’t work they become “unbalanced”. Sheepdogs that don’t herd sheep obsess about herding other things, like children, nipping at their heels to get them to move. They become fixated on an object, for example a ball or passing cars, as a proxy for the real stimulation they need. However they respond, it isn’t healthy, and the dogs become anxious and unmanageable.

When I see how we use social media in education I’m reminded of sheepdogs that aren’t herding. In the absence of real human connection we fixate on social media as a proxy, and become obsessive and neurotic.

Students show an unhealthy connection to electronic devices and connections. The epidemic of teens and distracted driving is just one illustration of how serious this fixation has become. If controlling a heavy machine full of flammable liquid at high speeds doesn’t make you put away your phone and pay attention, what will?

Educators also show an unhealthy preoccupation with social media and electronic devices. It’s a central topic at most education conferences and it’s common to hear advocates impatiently wondering why every teacher isn’t on Twitter and “what do we have to do to get them there?”. The suggestion is that by getting educators to use social media our education system will magically improve and the factors limiting student learning will disappear.

Social media is a useful tool for educators but it isn’t the panacea some suggest. It’s the old “correlation not causation” maxim. Excellent, motivated and thoughtful educators are on social media, but social media doesn’t make them that way. Those qualities lead them to social media and make it useful for them.

Disinterested and disengaged educators on social media won’t change things. The same inspiring educators that use social media work every day alongside disconnected and ineffective educators. If that doesn’t change them getting a tweet with a link won’t.

The success of any problem solving strategy is contingent on the conditions of the problem. We don’t use the same strategy to reach all students, so why would one tool (social media) be the right lever for all educators?

Social media can’t save education. It’s a useful proxy but we forget that the real relationships we have with students and colleagues every day are the ones that really matter. When we feel unsupported professionally and emotionally, social media is a terrific way to extend our reach and get more support. But social media will never overshadow the significance of real relationships. If the goal is to support other educators in moving forward our energies are better spent on real relationships, those powerful face to face connections we have with others.

After all, that’s what we’re bred for.

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High School Facebook Confession Pages: Problem or Symptom?

18 Apr

FB Confessions Shot 1

Anonymous online confession pages for students are nothing new. Juicycampus launched in 2007 with the goal of enabling “online anonymous free speech on college campuses”. They were joined in 2008 by College ACB.com which peaked with over 900,000 views in a single day in 2010. Even then, these services were controversial as schools tried to ban them because many of the posted confessions hurt the school’s image while proponents promoted their positive benefits. What no one can deny is that the need to share anonymously is deep-seated.

Why Do Students Use Them?

FB Confessions 2

We’re willing to be more open and honest when we’re assured anonymity and that honesty helps uncover and solve difficult problems. Most adults have at some time read newspaper advice columns where readers anonymously submit problems and an “Agony Aunt” responds with advice so that others with similar problems benefit. Anonymity is an important and useful tool in many situations. Voting is usually done anonymously to allow freedom of expression and governments protect anonymous whistleblowers with legislation. Kids Help Phone encourages teens and children to phone in and share their problems anonymously because this helps teens and children to address problems they can’t in other ways. And police “Tips” phone services assure anonymity as a way of getting people to share others’ misdeeds.

College ACB closed down in October 2011 but anonymous online confession sites didn’t go away. Earlier that summer US college students began using a combination of Facebook pages and anonymous forms such as Google Forms or SurveyMonkey to create school based Facebook Confession Pages.

How Do They Work?

Facebook Confession Pages are simply pages that allow students to anonymously submit their deepest secrets. The moderator of the page posts the confessions on the Facebook page. Students who ‘like’ the page can see each confession and can ‘like’ each confession and comment. The moderators of the page are often unknown to the students, as are the contributors. Here’s a typical example from a school in Hawaii.

The Facebook Confession Page model has caught on and spread. Many US and Canadian Universities have confession pages associated with them and it’s been slowly filtering to high schools and spreading around the world. The pages are free, easy to set up and tap into this deep-seated need teens and young adults have to share what they’re really thinking and feeling without fear of adult sanctions.

What Are The Problems?

While the original intent of Facebook Confession Pages was to offer a forum for students to share problems, concerns and secrets FB Confessions 3that isn’t all students are sharing. The online disinhibition effect, a loosening of social restrictions and inhibitions that would normally be present in social interactions, means that many students want to also use the confessions pages to share stories of alcohol and drug use or sexual behaviour. In some cases the pages lead to cyberbullying or even slander.

These were the problems that schools in Thunder Bay, Ontario were dealing with this week. Facebook Confessions Pages had spread first to Lakehead University and Confederation College in Thunder Bay, and from there passed down into the high schools. Soon, school officials were fretting over stories of student drunkenness and drug use and negative comments about teaching staff. In one case the comments crossed into slander and the teacher concerned complained to Facebook, who took the page down.

Experience in other jurisdictions suggests that taking pages down won’t solve the problem. Pages are easy to set up, and often when one is taken down another pops up right away moderated by a different student. Students jealously guard their adult free space and it’s often only after the fact that educators and parents discover that students are posting in a Confession Page.

FB Confessions 5Schools and school boards that move to shut down pages may find their requests falling on deaf ears. Freedom of expression is an important principle for all citizens, students included. Student stories of drunken escapades may be unpleasant and tarnish a school’s image in the community, but they aren’t illegal. Facebook only seems to be willing to take the pages down when there is clearly something illegal being posted. In some cases they’ve asked that offensive posts be removed while the page stays up.

Facebook is in a difficult position. It has recently been losing relevance with young users, as many of them see Facebook as their parent’s social network, not theirs. Confession Pages, with their ability to make users anonymous, are making Facebook relevant again with the 13-25 year old demographic. They’re not anxious to alienate those users without good reason.

What can educators and parents to do?

One of the values of social media use by teens is it gives us a window into their lives previously unavailable. If what we see is unpleasant an appropriate response is to deal with the problem, not to insist that the widow be closed. Teens expressing depression, issues with body image or alcohol and drug use should concern us all and rather than preventing them from posting about it we should be looking at the behaviour and trying to address it.

Students clearly have a need to post anonymously about their problems, concerns and fears. Schools should embrace the opportunity FB Confessions 4and set up their own “Confessions Pages”, moderated by students but with guidelines. This would allow students to express their concerns and problems safely while giving schools an element of control and providing an important source of information to educators about potential problems in the school.

Confession Pages and their associated problems also highlight the need for greater education about digital citizenship for students. Students sending their deepest, darkest secrets to a public forum to be posted and discussed is alarming. They need to better understand the risks of posting and the permanent and public nature of digital spaces. This starts at an early age with parents talking to children about social media and modelling good online behaviour themselves.

Video

Social Media Lowdown Presentation

14 Apr

social_media_lowdown_banner

On April 8th I had the privilege of being asked to present at The Lakehead Public Schools Parent Involvement Committee’s Social Media Lowdown and then participate in a panel discussion.

Here is most of my presentation, captured by Sheila Stewart.

If Facebook is Out For Teens…What’s In??

23 Mar

We believe that some of our users, particularly our younger users, are aware of and actively engaging with other products and services similar to, or as a substitute for, Facebook’’ from a Facebook regulatory filing with the SEC, February 2013.

Teens and pre-teens use social media a lot. Recent figures from The Pew Institute’s Survey of Social Media Use suggest that more than 80% of teenagers and young adults are using social media, well above the internet average (67%). A 2010 study suggested that the average teen spend 110 minutes a day on social networks. Increasingly teens are using social media on mobile devices, that’s phones or iPod touches with a wi-fi connection, not sitting at the family’s computer, which makes parental supervision tougher.

But if teens and pre-teens are using social media a lot while deserting Facebook, where are they going?

Firstly, it’s important to understand that most teens continue to use Facebook, just not as much and for specific uses. Facebook is now full of adults. Can a teen really refuse a friend request from their grandparents or their aunts and uncles? In addition Facebook’s privacy record is questionable, which make teens leery. So while teens keep a Facebook account to post safe pictures and Instant Message with their families, they’re using other social media platforms to connect with friends.

Where are they going? Here are 5 of the most popular alternatives:

  1. Instagram: Yup, not just for hipsters to post pictures of their food, the popular photo sharing service is also a popular teen connection social media network. It allows teens a forum to share pictures taken with mobile devices and they can chat with their friends. Proper use of the privacy setting can make it feel private. Instagram is becoming the preferred platform for tweens, those under 13 year olds who are ‘officially’ excluded from most social networks.
  2. Snapchat: Launched in September 2011 and developed by 4 students from Stanford, Snapchat is a photo messaging app that allows users to take photos, record videos, add text and drawings, and send them to a list of friends. Senders determine how long messages can be viewed, up to 10 seconds, after which they are deleted from the recipient’s device and the company’s servers. The recipient list and the time limit make teens feel safer when posting pictures, but Snapchat insist that this is no guarantee of privacy, as many teens have discovered.
  3. Kik Messenger: Kik Messenger is a free mobile app that allows user to send and receive unlimited messages over wi-fi and cellular, bypassing a phone’s traditional text service. Being able to send and receive unlimited messages without charges is a boon for chatty teens. It also means that parents are less likely to know how much messaging is actually happening. Since a Kik account isn’t attached to a physical phone number, it’s more anonymous. It could be a fictitious username or a string of numbers and can be easily changed if needed. Users can also hold multiple accounts. All of this adds to a greater feeling of privacy for teens.
  4. Twitter: Over the past two years the number of 12-17 years olds on Twitter has doubled from 8% to 16%. Teens like twitter because they can be more anonymous. They don’t need to show their real name, can hold multiple accounts with various identities and can change their handle or account easily. They can also use simple privacy settings to protect tweets and send what amounts to a ‘group text’. Add to that being able to follow The Biebs and you can see the appeal 🙂
  5. Pheed: Pheed is a platform for sharing user-created content such as text, pictures, sound, video, and live broadcasts. Users subscribe to other’s channels and view uploaded content in real-time. They can ‘love’ or ‘heartache’ content, hashtag it and provide ‘pheedback,’ as well as share content from others. Pheed is popularized by endorsements from celebrities (Miley Cyrus, Paris Hilton, et al) who use it as a way to promote their content (MySpace anyone?). A huge advantage for Pheed users is they retain control of their uploaded content, unlike Facebook, and no one is allowed to use it or edit it without permission. Users also have the option to charge for their content, which Pheed hopes means the content is of higher quality.

The movement of teens and tweens away from Facebook is fueled by privacy concerns. They are gravitating towards services that will allow them develop a separate identity and connect with others on their own terms. Some of the social media platforms outlines above address some of those concerns, but don’t change the basic fact of social media. Teen users need to understand that the internet is always public all the time. There might be the appearance of privacy but that is an illusion and users must always assume that anything they post can be shared. Parents and educators need to help helps teens understand that the internet is public and never forgets .