Why We Should Be Teaching Social Media

 blogging, social media  Comments Off on Why We Should Be Teaching Social Media
Mar 142011

When the story of Natalie Monroe, the “Teacher Blogger” broke earlier this year, it rustled a lot of feathers. There were those that stood in firm support of her 1st Amendment rights, there were those that called for her to be fired immediately, and there were those that denounced the idea that teachers should be blogging at all. My opinion was pretty much in line with that of Principal Chris Lehmann here in Philly.

So when I received a call from the Philadelphia Inquirer asking me my opinion, I was elated.  You can read the article here.

But this post isn’t about the article at all. Well, it’s not about the content of the article. What struck me was the comment area. Now, comment areas are renowned for being minefields for expressing everything from well thought out replies to anonymous rants and attacks. What was new for me was that this rarely happens on my blog or on those of my 25+ good friends who blog. When it does, the blogger attempts to keep the discussion civil, and if unsuccessful, thanks the person for their opinions and ends it there.

When I read some of the comments on the article, I couldn’t help but think that they are a perfect example of why social media and blogging should be taught in schools!

(these are screenshots of actual comments from the article)

Lesson #1 that I teach to my students is that once you click “Post,” “Send,” or “Submit,” your comment may exist forever. Even if you take it down.

Lesson #2 is already explained pretty well above–don’t say anything that you wouldn’t say if you were standing in front of the person.  It is all too easy to hide behind a screen name and say whatever you please without considering the consequences of your words.

Lesson #3 is ‘stay focused’–if you’re leaving a comment, make sure that you stick to the topic at hand or your comment is pretty much worthless.

I’m not afraid of disagreement when it comes to ideas, in fact, I welcome them (when they are presented in a thoughtful and respectful way). It is important, however, to know how to handle disagreement when you can’t hear the tone of voice behind them or you’re not sure if it is a personal attack.

Lesson #4–don’t engage ‘trolls’ or bullies.  I teach this to my students so that they know how to handle the ever-feared ‘cyberbully.’ Included in that lesson is how to report the user or block them.

With more and more stories coming out about students being bullied and about regretful Facebook postings and tweets, it’s now or never with this up and coming generation of kids.

Luckily, there are lots of talented and forward-thinking teachers out there guiding their students in the right direction.

If you must know how to leave a quality comment, just ask the students in Ms Yollis’ class:

Now what does this have to do with me blogging?

I have always been a reflective person. I have always needed to work my way through ideas, whether it be verbally or in writing. Through my blog I have been able to pinpoint instruction that works, celebrate lessons that have been successful and I have sought out advice from colleagues when I needed a helping hand. Many of my posts are crafted with the intention of helping others who may also be going through the same struggles or to provide resources to my readers.

Now, imagine being taught math by a teacher who was not allowed to multiply. Imagine the difference between being taught writing by someone who is certified in teaching writing and being taught writing by someone who is certified and has also written a novel…which would you prefer?

Young people are blogging and leaving comments all over the web and they need role models to learn from. Obviously, going by what others write in the comment area of blogs, articles and YouTube videos will not teach them how to be good digital citizens.  Only practice doing the real thing will.

That said, we should also be teaching them how to use blogging as a reflective platform, not a place to rant and attack others. Who will work to challenge the next generation to break through the divisiveness and the negativity we see so much in today’s society, especially when it comes to civil discourse on the web? As more and more writing is done online, who will guide students if not their teachers?

Comments appreciated 🙂

…just keep it civil, guys…..

Aug 202010

A recent Newsweek article, Take This Blog and Shove It!, makes the argument that crowdsourcing and interactivity on the web is dying. It calls Wikipedia’s drop in contributors a ‘tipping point’ in the history of the web, stating that “Even the Internet is no match for sloth.”

Quoting a recent Pew study that the number of bloggers in the 18-24 year old range has declined by half from 2006 to 2009, the authors argue that this is evidence that “many of them would rather watch funny videos of kittens or shop for cheap airfares than contribute to the greater good.”  They acknowledge that there has been a large shift to Twitter, but then state that, with “50 million tweets per day…as many as 90 percent of tweets come from 10 percent of its users according to a 2009 Harvard study.”  In addition, the authors describe a decrease in commenting by Internet users along with ploys that various sites have introduced to increase interactivity by users.

I agree with the authors that at the dawn of the interactive web there was a feeling that it was a great democratizing force and that it allowed for everyone’s voice to be heard, so people were excited to contribute.  However, they claim that ‘ennui’ is the reason why interactivity on the web has decreased.

There are a few factors at play here.

Cliff Lampe‘s insight, as quoted in the article, that there are more sites competing for our attention plays a huge role. With so many places to have our voice heard, contributors are stretched thinner than ever.  However, the decrease in the number of bloggers in that age range just means that most bloggers are older, professional bloggers and that perhaps (gasp!) the format that people use to express ideas and opinions might be evolving or that people can’t be forced to comment on content that is irrelevant or poorly written.  I have seen 3 or more pages of comments on articles about charter schools or government policy, never mind the pages of mindless comments on YouTube videos.

As for crowdsourcing, I have crowdsourced ideas at least a dozen times just this month.  I had 88 responses to my survey on technology tools people planned on using during the first week of school.  South by Southwest crowdsources its panelist proposals each year and every week the #edchat discussion topic is decided by an online poll.

A couple of other things came to mind.

Should we be worried about the idea that we will return to being web content consumers? We should  teaching our students how to harness the power of the interactive web to make sure it survives, grows and evolves.  Our students hold the future of the web in their hands.

We need to explicitly teach our students how to use the Internet for more than cute kitty videos and shopping and we need to accept the fact that the web is a fluid, constantly evolving organism that is only in its infancy. The web that our students will use when they are adults is something we can only imagine in our wildest dreams. They need to be an integral part of its future.

There are many other details in the article to reflect on, and I suggest you give it a read, even if you don’t agree with its slant or conclusions.

Feel free to leave any comments on the article or on my musings below.

photo from Hannes Treichl on Flickr

May 172010

This evening my blog became a place of heated dialogue surrounding two of my posts, Politics and Education and The #140 Character Conference.

Interestingly, the dialogue is less about my post and more a dialogue amongst commenters. It started as a dialogue between myself and a frequent commenter on blog and turned into an all out comment war.

I hate war.

The commenter often presents a view that is contrary to my posts. I appreciate his comments because he doesn’t always agree with me, and I like to see things from as many angles as possible. However, his latest comment was full of extreme language and statements.  I felt the need to respond strongly.  His response was a repeat of the extreme language and tone with many references to education and business and pop culture with an underlying distrust for all educators and education itself.

I replied, “We’ll just have to agree to disagree :)” I felt that going back and forth with him would waste both of our time since it was obvious (especially after reading his blog) that we would not find much to agree on in general.  I am not a fan of arguments for the sake of arguments, and blog comments are not the best forum for deep and meaningful discussion when two people disagree so much. We can’t read each others’ body language or facial expression, or most importantly, tone of voice.

Then, my PLN got involved in the conversation. I learned so much from the dialogue that started there. But again, I didn’t learn more about my viewpoint on the posts, but rather my viewpoint on dialogue itself.

I love dialogue in my blog comments. I have often been forced to look at things differently based on comments left on my posts. Just recently, on my post, Fitting Creativity into Assessment, my friend Chad Sansing pushed me to rethink my definition of creativity, and my friend Gerald Aungst reminded me that I am lucky to live in a country where politics can be discussed freely in his comment on my Politics and Education post. As I stated in this post, “If no one ever challenges my ideas, how will I know what I truly believe?”

As a result of the dialogue that occurred tonight, I decided to come up with a list of blog commenting tips.

When commenting on a blog, DO

  • Use your name. Anonymous comments are meaningless and are often a way for someone to say something they would never say face to face while hiding their identity
  • Read the post carefully and respond ONLY to the post itself. Adding additional arguments to your comment that are unrelated don’t help create dialogue.
  • Refrain from using extreme language that can detract people from the point you are trying to make.
  • Re-read your comment to check for spelling errors or statements that could be misconstrued or are vague.
  • Use good manners. Pretend you are speaking to the post author or fellow commenter face to face and act accordingly.
  • Know when to let it go. Don’t get caught up in back and forth arguments and know when to end it when you become uncomfortable or the conversation goes in a direction that strays from the topic at hand.

One of the most amazing things about blogs is that anyone can read them and anyone can comment.  You are opening up yourself to the world, so you must prepared for what it has to offer.  At the same time, as digital citizens, we must remember that we need to maintain professionalism in the online world just as we would face to face.

In addition, we need to model for our students and other young people (and sometimes adults) how to comment appropriately and construct a meaningful dialogue.

I want to thank all of you who have left comments on this blog for your encouragement, for challenging my ideas, for asking good questions to help me build my own knowledge and understanding of teaching, learning and life.

I want to personally thank Paul Bogush for his level-headed advice and for reinforcing the importance of accepting all opinions, even if we don’t agree with them.

I also want to thank Wm Chamberlain for inspiring me to write this post.

And of course, feel free to comment!

Jul 172009

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once and while, you could miss it.
— Ferris Bueller, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

So yesterday I decided to go “Off the Grid,” or “OTG,” as I called it on Twitter. I got the idea from Vicki Davisblog post in which she stated that, due to a vacation, she would be ‘off the grid’ for a while. After reading her post, I began to reflect on my use (overuse?) of technology and how it affects my social life and my relationships. Then, a few days later, I read Beth Still‘s post about the same topic (both blog posts have great conversation in the comment area, by the way). I realized that this was something that people are really starting to think about and become concerned about.

I decided to do an experiment: 1 day, no Twitter & no blogging. I could check my email, but only respond to those that required immediate replies.

Oh man was it hard.
Every time I looked at my iPhone, TweetDeck glared up at me. “What conversations am I missing right now?” “I wonder if anyone posted anything good today.” The thoughts ran and ran. It was like having half a donut sitting in front of you and not being allowed to eat it.
Somehow, though, I made it through. I came home and I didn’t open either of my laptops. I went out with my boyfriend to the local bar we hang out at and had a couple of drinks with some friends. Then I came home and did some lesson planning. What was really hard was using the computer without opening up TweetDeck and trying to ignore my Google Desktop Gmail Gadget that scrolls new emails right on my desktop. (Even as I write this I just checked an email on the second laptop open to my right.)
The next day (today) I checked in to find I had a retweet and a Direct Message, but I easily responded to both. Unfortunately, the DM was about a live session I had missed discussing Math Web 2.0 tools with Maria Droujkova, who has started a #mathchat discussion on Twitter. However, her DM started with “In case you are back on the grid…,” which made me smile. It worked. By simply stating that I would be ‘OTG’ that day, people understood my absence in any discussions and I felt better about the experience.
Of course, today it is now almost 3 hours that I’ve been on the computer. I participated in 2 live Elluminate sessions (one on a new book, Liberating Learning and the other led by Di Bedard about protecting your Digital Identity) and now I’m completing a blog entry about the whole experience.
Sooooo….I’m working on a plan:
There are 6 days in the week (Sunday is a good day to be OTG!)
Except for the OTG day, time on the computer is limited to 2 hours/day.
1 day: Read a blog and comment for the One Comment Project or on Twitter, #OCP
1 day: Work on my blog
1 day: Attend an Elluminate or other live session
2 days: Look around and ‘play around’ on Twitter (one hour each day max!)
1 day: Be OTG!!!!! Send out a tweet in the morning letting people know I’ll be OTG.
Hopefully I will be able to stick to this plan and feel like I am slowly weaning myself off of the screen. Or at least practicing some self control and tuning into my face to face relationships.
I’ll keep you posted (no pun intended).
Click here for a previous post on how technology affects our personal, face-to-face relationships.
photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons