A genius lesson or two from Scottish colleagues who immerse students in real world spams in order to see what kinds of reply they might write:
I gave a class of twelve year olds a selection of genuine spam emails and asked them to write down what their replies to these would be. It mostly purported to be from a distressed Nigerian monarch living in exile looking for a friendly Briton to share a fortune with. Some of the kids quickly twigged and wrote sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek responses. But a few of them seemed genuinely intrigued and happy to enter into correspondence; others tried to negotiate the terms to make more money. It was this naivety and innocence that I wanted to address in the pupils. They had to become aware of dastardly tricks.
As an English teacher, it was important to zoom in on the persuasive language techniques used in spam emails. By the end of the unit pupils could tell you that spam emails use terms of endearment to hook in the recipient, include hyperlinks to news articles to make their stories more plausible, describe accidents or impending threats to generate sympathy, and specify tight deadlines to make the deal seem juicier.
Collaboration helps increase academic success, yet most collaboration doesn't work. Here is one of Morten T. Hansen's six key reasons for collaboration failures:
Implementing the Wrong Solution
Following on from misdiagnoses, is finding the wrong solution. Learning Management Systems, as described earlier, were the wrong solution to the wrong problem. IT managers were convinced that some IT, instead of some psychology, would help solve the problem of teachers not sharing their work and ideas.
The same's true of those trying to 'protect' young people by not allowing them or encouraging them to post to the open world wide web: the problem is not so much internet predators as the lack of media literacy skills to not put oneself at risk online. The right solution here is not internet filtering or setting school blog platform defaults to 'private', but to set school blog defaults to 'public' and initiate a superb media literacy programme for every student, parent and teacher.
Morten T Hansen's answer is that we need disciplined collaboration, where leaders i) evaluate what opportunities there are for collaboration (where an upside will be created), ii) spot the barriers to collaboration (not-invented-here, unwillingness to help and preference to hoard one's ideas, inability to seek out ideas, and an unwillingness to collaborate with people we don't know very well).
After "a number" of social network-related cases brought before the General Teaching Council this year (how many?) the SSTA, the union for Scittish Secondary School Teachers [sic], "believes teachers can reveal too much personal information on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The union also fears they could become overly familiar with pupils."
There's nothing in there that isn't true of teachers who don't use social networks. What about the teachers in my former schools, pre-social-networks, who went for beers with sixth year students of an evening, who undertook privately paid study lessons with them to top up what wasn't happening in class, who revealed their first names and how many kids they have, and what they get up to in the evening...
Saying that I'm popping out to Asda for some frozen pizza on Twitter, or sighing digitally in a status update that I'd had a particularly hard day teaching the 'weans', is nothing new. Sure, the audience is wider. Sure, the potential for being misunderstood is there.
But so is the potential that many more thousands of teachers in Scotland (and millions elsewhere) exploit positively through social networks to develop professional ties where peer-to-peer professional learning can happen. Threatening the vast sensible majority on the basis of a few under-educated teachers is short-sighted.
So, instead of "drawing up new guidelines" (which I'm choosing to misinterpret as quashing the rights of teachers to use social networks at all to talk about work) or making the disproportionate link between a social media slip up and getting fired, whyu don't teaching unions and the GTCS provide more reiteration of the excellent guidance that I helped the EIS, Scotland's biggest teaching union, draw up five years ago, or follow the existing most up-to-date guidance from ACAS? They still make sense, as they have nothing to do with the technology and everything to do with the attitudes and comportment of teachers in their public lives.
Involving community and professional groups as well as experts in learning and technology is a vital part of making guidelines that stand the test of time. This is the same approach we adopted with vigour six years ago in East Lothian when we kicked off the wiki-based consultation on our own social media guidelines.
The benefits are clear:
"A Department of Education spokeswoman said the change would help improve communication between schools and their communities.
"It would also give staff a ''greater understanding of technology being used by students''.
"A spokesman for the Minister for Education, Adrian Piccoli, said the change would also help teachers combat cyber bullying. ...
"With careful use, social media should be embraced as ''part of the 21st century and something students and teachers need to be aware of'''.
"The immediate past president of the NSW Secondary Principals' Council, Jim McAlpine, who was involved in discussions with government about the digital education revolution and social networking, welcomed the development.
''I am strongly supportive of teachers having access to social networking so they can use worthwhile educational sites such as Facebook and particularly YouTube,'' he said. ''Teachers will be able to teach their students about digital citizenship so that students will be responsible users themselves of social networking sites at home.''
Good use of social networking and other social media in schools doesn't change that much with the changes in tools and platforms, but it's still useful to have a reminder of what works, and what doesn't.
Scotland's Bryan Kerr asks a great question tonight about whether a teacher should friend a student on Facebook, especially when his school district has banned teachers from being on Facebook:
First things first: should teaching staff be on Facebook in the first place?
No employer has the right to tell a member of staff that they cannot interact on social networks or publish their work and thoughts freely on the web - this is the right to express oneself, a fundamental if ever there was one. For any school district to claim that a member of staff is bringing their employer into disrepute simply by sharing online through a particular platform, Facebook or otherwise, would result in the kind of court case that wouldn't make it past the corporate lawyer's intray.
Should a teacher take care about what they publish on their social network, or other sharing space on the web?
Teachers, priests and doctors, for example, are the kinds of groups we trust to vouch for one's identity on a passport application. They are thought of differently than any other profession, and rightly so. They deal in the highly personal, and therefore the room for indiscretion offline or online for a teacher is much more constrained than those working in other professions. If a teacher was ever in any doubt as to what is accpetable, simply read the existing guidance in your jurisdiction for the acceptable attitudes and practices for educators in general, and make sure you keep to that code online, regardless of whether you're sharing and 'socialising' on school time or not.
Should a teacher accept a friend request from a current student on their personal profile?
Facebook is primarily a space where we find personal profiles. No matter what your personal rules are for engaging people as 'friends' on Facebook (mine involves in depth work or conversation offline, and invariably a pint) you cannot guarantee that your students' habits are as thought-through. Private, personal, almost public and public are four different gradients of privacy that are hard enough for adults to comprehend, let alone a teen acting, probably, on impulse as (s)he befriends you.
Facebook and other communities have provided ample opportunity to create a more public space where the people you invite on board might not be classified as 'friends' in the more traditional sense of the word. Facebook Pages are a great way to create a purely professional profile, whereby you can invite and approve selected or self-selected members to join your Facebook 'community' on that page, without becoming personal friends and seeing what you get up to on a Friday night - or vice versa.
This way, when students want to talk about 'work'-related issues, or learning, they can do so through that page, knowing that everyone there will get the messages appearing on their wall, but their personal messages will not appear on the group wall.
Can we not just say that Facebook is personal, and not a place where learning should be discussed? Full Stop?
Answer: Are you serious?
It's not just today's young people that are hanging out on Facebook for 200+ minutes a day. The largest group on Facebook is over-35s, and in Britain the fastest growing group is the over 75s. If you want to remind students about great resources to help them with their homework, when they've fallen off-task or are seeking help, then Facebook is the only window that you know will always be open on their browser. Likewise, if you want parents to have a wider appreciation of what learning is actually going on, they're on Facebook downstairs in the living room at the same time your students are online upstairs.
This sounds like extra work - working in the evening when I should be marking/preparing/having a life.
Answer: It's a bit extra. But it's worth it.
Train hard, fight easy. That's what the SAS say. In teaching it might be "get to help your students when they really need it, in the place where they need it, and in-class is going to be easier, more effective and more personable."
Harnessing entirely pupil-led, project-based learning in this way isn't easy. But all of this frames learning in more meaningful contexts than the pseudocontexts of your average school textbook or contrived lesson plan, which might cover an area of the curriculum but leave the pupil none the wiser as to how it applies in the real world.
There is a line that haunted me last year: while pupil-led, project-based learning is noble and clearly more engaging than what we do now, there is no time for it in the current system. The implication is that it leads to poorer attainment than the status quo. But attainment at High Tech High, in terms of college admissions, is the same as or better than private schools in the same area.
The assumption that pupil-led, project-based learning offers less success in exams is a false but persistent one. John Hunter was the anatomist who defined modern medicine because, frankly, no one else had. He had a saying that has since become the mantra of the modern surgeon: "Don't think. Try the experiment."
In the piece I cite just a few of the examples I've been lucky enough to see through 2010, and as a result I've started hearing about other maker-curricula on my own doorstep: Oliver Quinlan's students, described in his TeachMeet BETT talk as they created self-determined projects around the theme of London's Burning, is just one more prime example.
Young people do, and they might just care about privacy more than the adults who care for them. That's what I pick up (with all caveats r.e. my reading between lines as well as on them) from the fascinating research on late teens and privacy that danah boyd has published with Estzter Hargittai:
Overall, our data show that far from being nonchalant and unconcerned about privacy matters, the majority of young adult users of Facebook are engaged with managing their privacy settings on the site at least to some extent...
...Based on data collected in early Fall 2009, Pew found that 71 percent of the 18–29–year–old social network site users they surveyed reported changing their privacy settings while only 62 percent of those 30–49 and 55 percent of those between the ages of 50–64 had. While Pew’s practice–oriented data do not measure youth’s attitudes towards privacy settings, the findings do suggest that younger users are conscious enough of privacy issues to take measures to manage which parts of their profiles are accessible.
While the paper is concerned with students in higher education, who have by now left the high school nest, I think there are some conclusions that we could work backwards into high school and even primary school, given that many in late Primary / Elementary are already experimenting with Facebook.
Above all, I'm increasingly aware of how little research we have in Scotland, in the UK and further afield into how young people approach social networking in our countries. Most of what teachers and school-based decision-makers here see is based on "assumptions that all users have a uniform approach to the site and how their accounts are set up are incorrect [leaving] certain user populations especially vulnerable."
I've also observed a marginalisation of any institutional action around how we teach youngsters to use social networking sites effectively in a schooling setting, with the shield of school intranets and virtual learning environments as "safe internets" abounding since 2006 (about the same time Facebook went public).
Notable in the report are some clues as to how we should approach our discussions and learning opportunities around Facebook with young people. Traditionally, in the UK at least, fear has been used as the number one blunt instrument to get young people thinking about privacy. CEOP (the "chop shop") are the UK agency responsible for chasing up and prosecuting instances where children's protection is compromised, yet their voice of "stranger danger" vastly overpowers those that point out the relatively larger benefits of taking some measured risks online.
Let's consider this notion first, as an adult. As an adult running his own company, but also as someone who wants to learn from other's experiences, I have learned and earned more from publishing my mobile phone number (it's +44 791 992 1830) and a safe contact address (i.e. not my home) as well as my general location (Edinburgh, but also other places I might end up day by day through the Dopplr platform).
But these arguments, as I say, are all too often drowned out by the far more conservative (and therefore far easier to condone and express in public) attitudes that one should try to limit one's public sharing as much as possible, sharing only with those we know we know we know, the implication having been that we've met them face-to-face. Government officials request features that sound great, like the Facebook panic button, but which actually create more problems for those who really need help. And the argument that employers will not want to see your real life shenanigans online is just too distant a worry for most teens and tweens. That's just not the way the online world works when these youngsters hit late teen-hood and adulthood. We need to educate, not stipulate.
What approaches might work for increasing awareness of privacy management?
One simple approach to helping youngsters get an even better handle on how to manipulate their privacy settings in the way that will best work for them is just to talk about privacy settings. When Facebook prompted their own users to think about their privacy settings with a welcome screen message:
35 percent of users who had never before edited their settings did so when prompted. Facebook used these data to highlight that more people engaged with Facebook privacy settings than the industry average of 5–10 percent (E. Boyd, 2010).
We also learn that “a student is significantly more likely to have a private profile if (1) the student’s friends, and especially roommates, have private profiles; (2) the student is more active on Facebook; (3) the student is female; and (4) the student generally prefers music that is relatively popular (high mean) and only music that is relatively popular (low SD).” Therefore, if we can get friendship groups rather than class groups in school to learn together about these principles,we might stand a better chance of creating a culture of understanding about privacy.
What also shines through this report is that more frequent users of Facebook change their provacy settings more often, engaging more with the concepts of privacy the site throws up:
Avoid fear as a means of making young people think about privacy
The main reason we heartily discourage young people from engaging with those they know they know is fear: fear of stalking, bullying or making friends with someone you've never met face to face. boyd points out the shortfall of 'fear' as a tactic for instructing media literacy in youngsters:
While fear may be an effective technique for prompting the development of skills, the long–term results may not be ideal. The culture of fear tends to center on marginalized populations and is often used as a tool for continued oppression and as a mechanism for restricting access to public spaces and public discourse (Glassner, 1999; Valentine, 2004; Vance, 1984). To the degree that women are taught that privacy is simply a solution to a safety issue, they are deprived of the opportunities to explore the potential advantages of engaging in public and the right to choose which privacy preferences and corresponding privacy settings on sites like Facebook serve their needs best. For example, many young people value the opportunities to participate in communities of interest or peer–based production (Ito, et al., 2009). These communities support a wide variety of public practices — they serve as a distribution channel for participants to share artistic creations or promote their bands; they provide infrastructure for participants to learn about their practice or develop new skills; and, they provide a cohort for collaboration. In interviewing teens, boyd (2008) found that some girls who wanted to participate in these public forums were too scared to do so. Fear paralyzed some girls, limiting their engagement with some of the “geeking out” communities that Ito and her colleagues (2009) highlight. Furthermore, by adopting and promoting a gender–differentiated narrative that focuses on women’s safety matters, core issues about privacy that concern both men and women get overlooked. While our data do not allow a direct examination of these questions, future work should examine the role that safety rhetorics and fear play in online participation and practices.
So what are those core issues about privacy that we might be overlooking in our quest to fear youngsters into a media literate approach to networking?
When we perceive of risk in sharing publicly and interacting online we nearly always risk obscuring huge benefits with our own inflated fear of the unknown. Research shows that digital risks are far outweighed, in fact, by challenges more close to home and school.
Throughout my New Zealand masterclasses we've been exploring notions of risk management, seeking out the means to maintain positive benefits-based risk analysis rather than negative barrier-inducing risk management. When thinking of students sharing out onto the world wide web and not just to their 30 peers in a private learning network, most educators have a twinge of fear.
One of the most compelling cases for this attitudinal shift in thinking about technology, student-led learning and teachers-as-enablers-of-student-projects can be seen in Gever Tulley's "Tinkering School", whose empowerment of very young children with power tools, nails and saws to achieve something spectacular wowed crowds real and virtual at TED:
This innovative thinking on risk is not limited to those reaching the lofty heights of a $6000-a-ticket innovation conference. In North Lanarkshire, Scotland, infants are being empowered in similar student-led, student-designed projects that spawn from often banal-seeming 'inspirations' - the delivery of some sand to the school leads to children as young as four constructing their own machines from wood, metal and other materials:
"Yes there's nails and hammers and saws, but those are the tools that the children need to achieve what they have in mind... The children don't have a risk analysis done for them. They are actively involved in forming their own risk assessment."
Seeing others doing amazing work like this is all good and well, "but what about my school which doesn't think like that?" So, in addition to seeing others undertake positive risk assessment in this way, I pull heavily on the work of keynote speaker and risk analyser Caspar Berry, former child actor turned professional Poker player, advisor to Casino Royale filmmakers and, importantly, not gambler. Caspar is genius at exploring risk through the medium of coin-flips, roulette tables and Deal or No Deal. He knows I rip off his work (with due credit, I must add) and that it has helped hundreds of teachers start to 'feel' risk differently rather than just conceptualising it.
But even this acceptance that we perceive risk differently from one another even when the stakes haven't changed, isn't enough. So what about the research? What does the research show us about the likelihood of something negative happening online, something serious even? Perhaps if we know some percentages then these facts, along with some great anecdotes, examples and gut feel, can help sway our attitudes, and those of parents, towards setting our web defaults to social. This May's Pew report Cyberbullying 2010: What the Research Tells Us has a US focus, but almost certainly these butterfly wings create winds of recognition elsewhere. From it, we know first of all that...
Children access fast broadband, normally away from adult eyes
There is a slight decrease in teens going online from home since we
first asked – broader use/access and also wide variety of access
93% of teens 12-17 go online
63% of online teens go online daily
89% of online teens go online from home, and most of them go online from home most often
77% of teen go online at school
71% go online from friends or relatives house
60% go online from a library
27% go online on their mobile phone
76% of households with teens go online via broadband, 10% via dial up, and 12% do not have access at home.
Library access and cell phone access is particularly important to African American, and to a lesser extent English-Speaking Hispanic students. One quarter of low income teens (HHI under $30K) and 25% of African American teens say they go online most often from school, compared to 15% of online teens overall.
Mobile phone access to communication and the web, and video games, are treasured
75% of teens have a cell phone
No gender or race/ethnic differences in ownership
50% of teens with phones talk to friends daily
54% of teens send text messages daily
27% use their phone to go online
73% of teens use an online social network site
37% of SNS users send messages through social networks daily
80% of teens have a game console
51% of teens have a portable gaming device Teens connect and interact with others online through games
and the most important piece of research for schools shows that...
Bullying does happen more at school than online:
School is by far the most common place youth report being bullied (31%) versus elsewhere (e.g., 13% online) The prevalence rate of Internet harassment (both perpetration and victimization) appears to be stable (2006-2008).
The majority (59%) of Internet harassment comes from other minors
Youth who report being harassed online report a myriad of concurrent psychosocial problems offline, too.
What does this all mean in terms of the risk of sharing and communicating with the wider world web?
It would seem that the problems associated with sharing on the web are a) very small in number and b) related to bullying going on already in school. But more importantly, the web provides an environment through which to collaborate that is, in many respects, safer than the physical environments of the school institution. What else have you spotted in this research and how does it relate to your own perceptions of risk?
I thought I'd share some of my love for the great books I've been reading lately (and further back), in a semi-occasional book review.
The first one up comes from someone who, over the years, has become a strong online friend, despite the fact that we've only ever met a half dozen times at various random cities across Europe. He was one of a merry gang who helped change my life, too, back in Copenhagen in 2007 when he and Mrrs Moore and Semple suggested that I should set up my own company.
Antony's premise then was that the things we were doing online as an added extra created enough value, eventually, to employ them in the centre of everything we do.
His new book, Me and My Web Shadow: How to Manage Your Reputation Online, illustrates in a mix of textbook, handbook and extended blog post how anyone, from a school kid to a CEO, a teacher to a parent, can harness their online footprint for their own personal good, and the good of the communities around them.
Antony set about writing Me And My Web Shadow to help inform the kind of person "who doesn't quite get Twitter yet", or who thinks privacy issues on Facebook are a good enough reason to avoid it. It was for his wife, amongst many others. It's pitched in the kind of way that wouldn't patronise a proficient user of social media but which is also accessible to newbies. If there were a French translation I might even purchase a copy for my mother-in-law, to help her understand the grey areas between private and public, friends and Friends.
Despite having risen through the ranks of PR to a Senior Vice President position at iCrossing, the world's biggest SEO company, he talks his reader through privacy and openness in a blog-like, non-corporate, friendly way. This book reads for itself, combining practical tips and examples of people getting it right (and wrong), along with some Thinking Man's theory of why all this is so.
And his tone of voice means that Me And My Web Shadow is the ideal starter book and reference tool for people both in education and in the corporate world. It's a tough balance to strike, and Antony's nailed it.
If you want to provide some quick, light, intelligent reading to parents or colleagues who don't quite get all this malarky yet, then Me and My Web Shadow (UK) is possibly the best first port of call they could ask for. They'll understand the main issues and have some practical next steps as to how they can take control of their very own web shadows. It's not one to read cover-to-cover, but rather to have to hand when those "what happens if" questions crop up.
Will outlines a conversation with a superintendent, one of whose parents wanted her child pulled from a classroom where, frankly, some brilliant learning and teaching practice was taking place. The reason?
“Our students don’t need to be a part of a classroom experiment with
all this technology stuff. They need to have a real teacher with real
textbooks and real tests.”
My immediate thought is that "the real teacher" with "real textbooks" (not up-to-date student-curated wiki ones) that she refers to is increasingly a "fake education", one that does not prepare youngsters for the reality of life when they leave school at 18 years old, or a 4pm.
My killer example has to be that, in learning how to publish responsibly to a textbook wiki with a worldwide audience this teacher's students will not be making the same mistake as Kimberley Swann, pictured above, whose story shows a complete lack of understanding in how the real world actually works, or 'Lindsay', whose Facebook lifestream sums up her media illiteracy in one snap:
If Lindsay or Kimberley had been taught by a real "real teacher", maybe they'd have not only had a conversation at some point about how one uses social networks for both play and work, as part of your public face, they may also have had, subject to the filtering policies in their schools, some hands-on practical sessions in privacy settings and the art of communication on the net.
School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.