124 posts categorized "eduBuzz"

February 15, 2011

Teachers and Facebook: Please, Miss, Can I Friend You On Facebook?

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:

Facebook when you're a teacher

First things first: should teaching staff be on Facebook in the first place?

Answer: Yes.

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?

Answer: Yes.

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?

Answer: No.

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."

Where do we go to dive into detail?

Juliette Heppell as a page of great advice on the dos and don'ts of using Facebook for learning. It's worth updating that, since the beginning of this week, you needn't worry about creating a second 'you' for working with students. Instead, new Facebook pages allow you to allocate 'friend requests' to a particular page or list, thus rendering your Friday night shenanigans invisible to Johnny, Jamie, Kelly-anne and Kaylee.

If you've followed the development of education blogging platform eduBuzz, you'll know I'm passionate about social media's promise for connecting learning and parents. Facebook is great for that, too, so consider setting up class pages which parents join. See how one school has done it for its six-year-old First Graders.

For a host of other resources on Facebook, in general, follow up on my library of Facebook links.

December 04, 2010

What makes an online community explode during snow days?

In a small Local Authority in Scotland, thousands of students, parents and teachers have been getting together to learn and share their snow-day experiences on an open source blogging  platform. 25,000 visits a day, 1827 posts and 2477 comments were left throughout the three or four days of closed school this week on eduBuzz.org in East Lothian, Scotland.

Disclosures: Throughout 2005-6 David Gilmour, me and a growing bunch of enthusiastic teachers throughout East Lothian set about planning and launching eduBuzz. It's a WordPress MultiUser platform where students, teachers and parents can share their learning as often as they want. In 2005, I ran a project for LTS to look at how to best engage teachers nationally online (each semester we engaged at least two thirds of our demographic: languages teachers). Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS), the organisation behind the national schools intranet Glow, then funded me part-time for eduBuzz.org's development throughout 2006.

Glow has also been hailed as successful during the snow-bound period in one or two Local Authorities, but it's not really clear how successful - there are no national statistics yet for last week (the only usage information we have are 32 pdfs of rather vague, annualised, local data [how many are unique visits, returning visitors? What's the bounce rate?). From a couple of press stories and tweets it seems to have had about 700 daily clickthroughs on its shortened links, and 900 visits a day in one of its two most active Local Authority areas.

If we were to extrapolate the East Lothian success over these snow days in engaging people online (25,000 visits a day for 15,000 students) then we might have expected at least 415,000 visits from the 250,000 students off school this week. Glow hasn't performed this well, though, so what lessons might be out there for us to learn from the likes of eduBuzz and similar platforms in schools around the world?

What lessons on community has the snow-driven use of online communities shown us?

I was asked in November at a Scottish Government policy consultation:

"If you don't think Glow in its current form is what Glow should be, what would you do differently?"

I don't now know the whole recipe I'd have, but the one we mixed up in East Lothian five years ago has worked better and better over that time, with continued growth. I'd argue that the spike in traffic when snow somes to the country shows that it has a high local or at least Scottish audience. What are the elements I see in eduBuzz that have not been designed into Glow?

  • Make it work as a place where people choose to go. It's not obligatory to go to eduBuzz on a snow day, but a large minority or small majority choose to. It needs to feel like an online microcosm of that one kid's classroom, where the teacher has curated materials and resources and the students make up the vast majority of discussion, more often than not leading it.
  • Make it a place that's easy to get into: we chose eduBuzz.org as a web address and 'brand' because we needed something that a five year old (or a sixty-year-old looking after their grandchild) could remember. It's unique, not a common noun or verb, so it shows up top on Google, even when you misspell it. There is no log in required until the point where you want to write your own personal site post.
  • Make it open, presenting the path of least resistance to engage:
    • read, view or listen to content without having to log on anywhere;
    • leave a comment without logging on (we made the decision to trust people, believing most folk are generally pleasant online when given the trust to be so).
  • Make your management open.
    EduBuzz open meeting David Gilmour, the community manager, almost daily updates the community on its usage, the highs and lows of traffic, how people are using it. He also helps makes 'manual connections' between schools who he spots are doing similar things. Because David, as a person, is so strongly tied to the initiative it means that educators and other users feel they're reaching out to a real person, not a Government body. The Glow team have harnessed tools like Twitter and their blogs to make that connect, too, but the challenge now is finding a way for this to scale without having to pile on more employees.
         As for statistics on usage and openness of leadership, there is huge room for improvement on Glow. Traditionally, Government has seen itself as a corporation: we will not release statistics of how our sites are being used lest they be held against us at a later date. However, showing the community what's working and what's not helps engage them even further in developing better content, better forms of online discussion and, when you're on the up, it makes people feel part of something large and exciting when they can see they're part of a throbbing community.
         East Lothian's then Director of Education, Don Ledingham,  stretched to making the management meetings of the eduBuzz network totally open. Our fortnightly meetings were open to anyone, including those outside the Local Authority, meaning we often had a mix of parents, student teachers, visiting teachers and managers from around the Department coming along to offer their ideas and advice.
  • Provide a social-network-like 'wall' of latest activity so that it's easy to see what's going on elsewhere (we made a mistake in the early days of eduBuzz [my fault ;-) ] of going for a clean, Google (or GlowScotland.org.uk) look - the bounce rate reduced by half the moment we started displaying most recent content on the front page. People tend to rely more and more on these streams of information (you take what you get when you stop off by, and don't worry too much about what you missed from hours/days before) that are well-placed throughout communities (you don't have to go to a homepage to see these streams; they're visible on individual sites, too).
  • Remember the two audiences you have: for teachers you can make this feel about learning, but for students it's about providing a place they can easily connect to their class community (most students in schools are still too young to engage in 'real' social networks, or the ones they do engage in do not unite them together as a class cohort).
         If the idea behind your community is to upload lesson plans and content for learning, then your community will feel like a classroom storage cupboard: dark and slightly threatening.
         If the idea, as it is with eduBuzz, is to provide a hub for the relationships of the individuals within each classroom and each school, then the whole atmosphere changes. It's not about being there to suck down content or to pick up homework that teachers have dropped off for you. It's about seeing your mates. And to take these communities from out behind a password protection, to put the communities out in public, means that these communities can naturally form into networks.

There are a ton of other things that have been 'done' to increase engagement, but the hat tip has to go to the teachers throughout East Lothian who, over the past five years, have come to believe in the benefit of sharing what goes on in their classroom day in, day out. That one principle is the hardest thing for people to 'get', and in East Lothian a significant and increasing numbers of teachers, the gatekeepers of a successful online learning community for schools, have certainly got it loud and clear. Nationally, there needs to be more of a campaign to help educators get to grips with the questions around sharing, issues that stretch beyond education and schools, and issues that too many have not yet understood. As well as being a tools issue, it's a media literacy one above all.

You can read more about the eduBuzz journey and how it grew in the early days to what it is now in my 2008 presentation, We're Adopting - A Social Media Strategy for Schools.

September 22, 2010

Facebook & privacy - research shows approaches that might help young people

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).

As a student, what are the opportunities of sharing, though almost definitely not sharing a mobile number? Well, by knowing roughly which network you are part of it helps friends of friends you might socialise or have socialised with outside the structured social spaces one inhabits (school, home life, cliques) to find you and strike up a longer friendship than a happenstance encounter on vacation, at the weekend outing or foreign school exchange. Just an example, of course, which could just as easily have been in the role of Facebook in helping youngsters communicate around their homework or project work of an evening, or the role parents would like Facebook to play in communicating more between school, teacher, students and parents, or the role it might play in sharing learning of five year olds.

Julie Cunningham outlines the hypocrisy of which we're guilty when isolating online privacy in schools without as much effort deemed worth the while offline.

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:

Experience with privacy settings in 2009
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.

(Emphasis added)

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?

Photo: Private by splorp, shared, publicly, under Creative Commons licence on Flickr.com

June 24, 2010

GETinsight live web discussion: Budget & education tech cuts: time to crowdsource policymaking


This Monday, 12:00 p.m PST, 3:00 p.m. EST, 8:00 p.m. British Summer Time, I'll be hosting another of my regular 45-minute 'office hours' sessions with the GETinsight gang, looking at how leaders can look towards crowdsourcing techniques to make better policies that actually work on the ground.

Given the budget and education department cuts in the UK, and similar challenges around the world, the time has never been more ripe for those working in the public services, particularly in education, to harness the social tools around us and co-create policy, classroom strategies and tactics.

I come with the bias that the projects I've undertaken in these environments, such as eduBuzz, the BectaX process and the fairly hands-off development of 38minutes, have nearly always ended up more useful on the ground than they would have been had we organised things by committee in a Head Quarters building. Crowdsourced ideas tend to be more sustainable in the long term and free of the organisational red-tape that kills too many great ideas before they've got off the proposal paper.

My GETinsight blog post on crowdsourcing policy sums up the examples that come to mind from an educational perspective, and will be the starting point for Monday's live web chat. I've also been thinking recently about how business at large could benefit in these times from thinking about using the value of users/customers in their decision-making, instead of doing all the thinking themselves behind the metaphorical closed door of the intranet.

If you've got other examples you would add then please drop them into the discussion here, there or on Monday in the live chat. I hope plenty of you can join us as we hurtle into the summer holidays!

A quick pre-registration is required, and you will need to be sat near a telephone to take part in the WebEx discussion on Monday.

June 22, 2010

Can your students make a viral sports video reply to Andy Murray?

Andy Murray, Scotland's greatest tennis player and the only Brit who stands a chance of winning Wimbledon this year, takes to the streets of London to warm up his skills in this great viral for his sponsor. It almost makes me want to take up the challenge to try and beat him, but I'm pretty poor at tennis.

It got me thinking, though, that we all have incredibly talented sportsmen and sportswomen of the future in our schools: why not see if you can post a video response this week to Andy's video with your own sports virals?

Don't forget to get parents to sign a permission form (why not adapt the ones that East Lothian Council have used if your school doesn't have them already: under 16s, over 16s)?

December 21, 2009

Why The Head Needs To Buy In To What The Bottom Wants

Should we start burning our curricula and nationally managed plans, as Chris Woodhead, below, suggests?

Changing anything is tough, but it's even tougher if the management in your organisation, be it a school or corporation, don't get passionate about the change as much as the innovators. Over the past decade, formal education has mostly got the mix terribly wrong.

Clay Shirky understands the challenges faced by innovators when, in an abstract, he points out the political power-play that can occur over the transition period from The Thing That Went Before to The Thing That Cam Along Right After:

When reality is labeled unthinkable, it creates a kind of sickness in an industry. Leadership becomes faith-based, while employees who have the temerity to suggest that what seems to be happening is in fact happening are herded into Innovation Departments, where they can be ignored en masse. This shunting aside of the realists in favor of the fabulists has different effects on different industries at different times. One of the effects on the newspapers is that many of their most passionate defenders are unable, even now, to plan for a world in which the industry they knew is visibly going away.

I have been a member of at least three innovation departments in the past four years. Make of that what you will. We've had some big successes. We've killed a lot of puppies the bosses didn't want, too.

But in education, ironically, the biggest challenge of the day is not burying the remarks of innovators or observers of technology's effects on our life and learning. It is not gaining buy-in from top management to programmes that seize changes happening 'on the outside' of the classroom. No, the biggest challenge is a lack of understanding and passion in the teaching and parental trenches behind the ideas that some of our leaders, élites and management teams have concocted.

Chris Woodhead I don't often agree with Chris Woodhead's takes on education, but this from a couple of weeks back just rings 'fact' to me:

"In Scotland, as in England, the lesson of the past 10 years is that the top-down imposition of progressive child-centred education does not work.

"Head Teachers should be freed from all central political prescription. They should be allowed to determine what their children learn, how much their teachers are paid, how resources in their schools are to be deployed.

"Different teachers will come to difference decisions, and the concept of parental choice will begin to have meaning."

("Scrap all this top-down nonsense and set our teachers free to teach", article non-retrievable: Sunday Times Scottish Edition, December 6th)

Scotland, like many countries striving for educational change at the moment, is not getting the mix right: you get the distinct feeling that there's almost too much buy-in from the top to a hyped ideal, and too little comprehension of the means of reaching that ideal amongst the very people who have to make it happen: teachers, yes, but also students and parents.

Is he right? Should we, as Woodhead suggests earlier in his article, "burn" the Curriculum for Excellence and other similar documents that appear in our various districts, countries and kingdoms? Should we re-professionalise the professionals working at the whiteboard face?

Would the criticisms of overzealous centralisation stretch as far as a school district or Local Authority's virtual learning environment, as they currently stand and are used? What about the concept of national intranets - is that a centralisation that will serve us well into the next more distributed decade?

Or is the alternative that he suggests merely a path to further confusion amongst parents, presenting a terrible paradox of choice most would rather do without?

I genuinely don't know if we are heading too far in one direction in this tricky pushme-pullme game of managerial and political jockeying. Your comments, answers, solutions welcome...

December 17, 2009

Blogging improves young people's confidence in their writing and reading

Parent and student at Humbie Primary School blogging

A parent learns to blog on East Lothian's eduBuzz blogging-for-learning platform, alongside her daughter at Humbie Primary School. Pic: David Gilmour

Today, in a world of social networks young people have never written or read so much. And now, a new more robust survey in the UK shows conclusively that social networking, blogging and generally publishing writing online does improve students' attitudes to writing by about a sixth. I'd add that, in the hands of a good teacher's structured approach, the quality of that writing itself should be seen to improve, too.

Action research of mine that got published almost exactly four years ago showed that blogging within a structured learning environment improves writing in a foreign language, by providing an audience - and would help improve reading, too. Last year, Becta's Web 2.0 research showed that the increased use of social networks in itself didn't necessarily correlate to more creativity or better production of media, but that the role for mentors (e.g. parents, teachers) was still paramount in eking out the most constructive use of technologies.

From the BBC this week:

A survey of 3,001 children aged nine to 16 found that 24% had their own blog and 82% sent text messages at least once a month.

In addition 73% used instant messaging services to chat online with friends.

...Of the children who neither blogged nor used social network sites, 47% rated their writing as "good" or "very good", while 61% of the bloggers and 56% of the social networkers said the same.

"Our research suggests a strong correlation between kids using technology and wider patterns of reading and writing," Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust, told BBC News.

"Engagement with online technology drives their enthusiasm for writing short stories, letters, song lyrics or diaries."

Mr Douglas dismissed criticisms about the informal writing styles often adopted in online chat and "text speak", both of which can lack grammar and dictionary-correct spelling.

"Does it damage literacy? Our research results are conclusive - the more forms of communications children use the stronger their core literary skills."

It's good to see some balanced journalism from the Beeb this yuletide, pulling in the pantomime "boos" of the National Association for Primary Education to cast a de-professionalising spell over any enthusiastic educator:

"Most primary school teachers are doubtful about hooking children up to computers - especially when they are young," said John Coe, general secretary of the National Association for Primary Education.

"They see enormous advantages in the relationship between teacher and child. Sometimes the computer is closer to the child than the teacher by the age of 13."

Nonetheless, it's vital that research like this being taken on board by those making purchasing, training and pedagogical approach decisions.

A question, then, to those in the higher echelons of classroom practice decision-making: will over four years of conclusive research tip  you into overtly supporting the use of web publishing in your school environments, from elementary through to secondary and higher education?

August 03, 2009

Where Do Good Ideas Come From?


If we all knew the idea we'd not be writing blog posts like this, reading them or doing workshops on the matter. We'd be busy pulling that limitless supply of creativity out of its hole to see the light of day and bring us riches, joy, learning and new friends.

However, given that we're not, over the next month or so (or however long it takes me to splurge out those thoughts) I'll be summarising on this here blog some of the best online and offline reading and viewing that has attempted to answer that question, throwing in my own unresearched but tried and tested notions (and a few that haven't even got that far). This post will change to reflect the updating posts that will take a peek at:

  1. Why it's important to (want to) know Where Good Ideas Come From.
  2. Stand There And Do Nothing: Designing beautiful solutions rather than solving ugly problems
  3. Creative Genius. Man At Work: Arguments for not working as a team
  4. Getting Creativity Done (GCD): How to get productive and clean down the mental decks
  5. Nurturing creativity: Worrying about "Tanya's Bow" or the Dinosaurs: Some arguments for caring about the team, not pissing them off and really understanding what failure is
  6. Finding your tribe
  7. Creating visions, not missions

As they're posted, please leave comments, disagree, add your own links, videos and pictures. I hope that by the end of it we'll have a resource to which we might come back with the stories of how the works, thoughts and attitudes of others have changed the way we operate.

Bookmark this post and come back to it for updates, and subscribe to the blog to get a daily email or RSS feed in your reader every time there's a new post. Take a look at my instructions on how to subscribe.

Brill pic from Chris Metcalf

July 01, 2009

If the Army sees the potential in Facebook, why not schools?


When social networks were still finding their feet among their key demographic a few years ago, I was a keen advocate of formal learning institutions and their staff keeping out of those spaces, certainly not using them as social learning environments. danah's research backed this up and the concept of teachers creating "creepy treehouses" was enough to knock that desire of some on the head.

Seeing how the US Army has harnessed Facebook for a mix of both informal communication and leadership is opening up the question again in my mind, as the demographic using Facebook rises well into the 30s and Twitter's growth started with an older demographic and is only now appearing to edge southwards to early 20 year olds and teens (thanks to my wholly unscientific research - danah, if you're not busy this summer...).

It's particularly pertinent as Local Authorities charged with improving the prospects of their learners and staff in an increasingly technological age do not cease to become ever more Machiavellian in their desire to clamp down on any communication about the realities of being a teacher or learner in their patches.

On the Facebook blog this morning says Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Arata (link to his FB page):

Allowing our audience — including our soldiers — to connect and communicate through social networking is still considered risky business by some, and we do face unique challenges. The risks to operations security felt by some, or the fears that our soldiers will post "unbecoming" information, are outweighed by increased communication and sharing.

From an institution that in 2000 wouldn't allow unfettered access to email (and before that whose "Full Metal Jacket" reputation preceded it), one of the most traditional public institutions with the most apparently valid potential for killing communication to those back home has come a long way. And it also shows how far schools and teen learners working within them have to go before their life cycles start matching the real world.

What is it that Facebook brings the military? It allows family to keep in touch with minimal effort through a great deal of the deep ambient intimacy of the status update:


Facebook is also giving a platform for sharing of skills and advice between recruits:

It also allows senior members of staff in the military to, quickly and easily, without disrupting the flow of their day, update via cellphone or laptop on what (non-secret) operations they are undertaking. What exactly does an army Colonel do? Well, now you can 'follow' them and find out. It will almost certainly make a few more people aspire to doing something different or improving their act not just in seeing what superiors and, above all, seeing what peers are up to.

While intranets and VLEs provide a structured learning environment for teacher-defined groups of learners, they do not provide very well (or at all) for friends-of-a-friend (FOAF) communication, happenstance connections and temporary windows in on what FOAFs are up to. They are designed for preset activity with preset groups, despite the admirable efforts of talented creative individuals to shoehorn them into other more enticing uses. It's hard to argue that, in terms of how kids connect within the school environment with school-like material and contacts, things have really moved on since the likes of my students blogging and podcasting from their French trip in 2003 (the 2004, 2005 and Auschwitz blog remain). The fun serendipitous connections are happening very much outside the school boundaries, and the school institution itself remains largely blind to this. The knock-on effect is that school and what it should stand for - learning - are also blind to learners outside the schooling complex.

Now, at Channel 4 the Education department has worked with great skill over the past two years to create learning opportunities in the social networks and spaces where young people hang out (think Battlefront, YearDot, Routes.... There has been little attempt to make these interactions fit into schooling per se. At 4iP, where many of our products and services involve learning of some description, we continue this 'non-school' of thought.

I wonder: is there mileage for schools in looking at what the Army is achieving here and for what purposes, and seeing if there are unmet needs in the schooling environment which could be supported by social networking services and platforms which are increasingly better embedded in society? Or is this something in which only others outside the formal schooling environment are prepared to invest?

Pic: Full Metal Jacket

May 28, 2008

Why Glow isn't Bebo, and why it will probably succeed

Bbc_2 It doesn't take much digging around to know that I have a passion for finding out what makes social networks, online communities and the people on them tick, and learning from this to help influence how communities and groups might be built around learning. It's become a core part of my work with Learning and Teaching Scotland, whether the project is small, medium or large scale, an unconference, an online blogging platform or a national intranet.

In my latest BBC Learning column I explore the huge growth of Bebo over the past couple of years, resulting in its impressive sale a couple of months ago, and what we might learn from it in making Glow a success in years to come. There are a few community-building challenges which have begun to be worked through by the Glow team and by the leading Local Authority lights in the Glow roll-out. I'd love to know what they have to say about this SNS angle on what is effectively a highly organised attempt at community building.

The last column on mobile learning got a fair few comments from around the world, which were fascinating in their different takes on such an emotive subject. This post might be a little closer to (my) home, but I hope that doesn't stop readers in Scotland and further afield having a good ol' debate about how Glow's going to see its success form. And while we're at it, what would success for Glow look like? Comments are open.

About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

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.

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