Category Archives: social software

Social media distraction

I came across this interesting infographic under the heading "Social media will distract you at work", claiming social media is costing American companies $650 billion per year (although would be interested to know how they estimate that) in lost productivity because of the way it distracts workers.

The reason this caught my eye was in light of feedback we had from students we were interviewing at a secondary school last week where there is the perennial debate about whether or not to allow Facebook to be accessed by students in the school. The school currently allows Facebook to be viewed, although promotes a 'responsible use' approach to when, including allocating some computer labs as 'no facebook" zones. 

Those interviewed claimed the usage was extremely high (validated by the network traffic reports), and that despite widespread acceptable use agreements etc. the use by students during class was rampant.Their view – Facebook should be blocked in their school – despite the fact that they themselves were users of it. They claimed it is like putting a chocolate on the table in front of you and saying "you can't eat it" – better to simply not put the chocolate there. (Reminding me of the Stanford Marshmellow experiment.)

Several of the students were strident in describing the use of social media by some of their peers as being distracting to others in the class, of the rudeness of the people who engaged in it, how it reflected a complete disregard for the learning of others in class etc. Very interesting in terms of a youth viewpoint.

Having recently worked with Teachers Council on their social media guidelines (being released at ULearn), and reading much of the material coming out recently about social media addiction, it reminds me that we need to be thinking carefully about the modelling we do as teachers – before our students and in our own staff meetings etc. . 

How Blogs, Social Media, and Video Games Improve Education

I've just been reading this interesting publication from the Brookings institution titled How Blogs, Social Media, and Video Games Improve Education.

At the beginning of the report there is a quote from Alan Daly, at the University of California at San Diego, who predicts that

"Education innovation will shift away from experts and capacity building to focus on networks… We have to start thinking about the expertise that resides in the system, and we have to be connected in order to make use of it. [Education] is moving away from large-scale prescriptive approaches to more individualized, tailored, differentiated approaches.”

This is a concept that is dear to my heart – the transformation of our current school system and its focus on the individual 'schoolhouse, into a networked schooling system, with its emphasis on the inherent strength of the network, on collaboration, sharing, synergy etc. 

Thus this monograph is less about the specific technologies and their particular uses in education, and more about their affordances as instruments of this transformation. The emphasis is less on how these technologies can be used as vehicles to 'deliver' the curriculum and improve student performance and more on how, in and of themselves, they are changing the very nature of the teaching and learning experience by enabling new ways for participation, engagement, and collaboration to take place.


The End of Isolation

As an early adopter of the social networking site Twitter, it has become my most frequently used source of new ideas, inspiration, links to resources and research etc. – in essence, it's a key part of my professional learning network (PLN). This was an unexpected outcome for me, as to be honest, when I first signed up it was more out of novelty value than with any expectation that it might become what it is today – and I honestly expected it might last for a few weeks in my consiousness then fade like a number of other social networking sites I've joined. Now there's barely a day goes by where I'm not introduced to some new ideas or resources from the people I follow, as they share what it is they've been reading or creating in the course of the day. 

So it was with interest that I came across this study that has recently been released on the Journal of Online Teaching and Learning (JOLT), titled The End Of Isolation, by Elizabeth Alderton and Eric Brunsell from the University of Wisconsin, with Damian Bariexca fromLawrence Township Public Schools. The study provides new insight into how teachers use social networks such as Twitter, as prof learning networks – the abstract below explains more:

This research study provides new insight into how teachers use social networking sites, such as Twitter, as professional learning networks. The researchers surveyed and analyzed the public Twitter feeds of classroom teachers to determine the specific purposes for which teachers use Twitter. Study participants also completed surveys dealing with social networking. The K-12 educators in this study engaged in true dialogue, where evidence of actual conversation occurred in Twitter over 61% of the time. Additionally, over 82% of the time, the educators in this study chose to follow other educators or content experts related to their field of teaching so they were able to create a personal learning network meaningful to their professional needs. Analysis of data shows that a majority of tweets were educationally focused and were primarily in the categories of practice/philosophy, questions, and sharing of resources. Additional studies looking at how other online learning communities may be used as professional development venues would be beneficial and add to the knowledge base of online learning, professional development, and learning networks.

Although the sample group for the study is very small (10), the general findings and conclusions of the authors open up many of the issues and ideas that need to be discussed and researched further (as they suggest). The key for me was the fact that  the educators in this study chose to follow other educators or content experts related to their field of teaching so they were able to create a personal learning network meaningful to their professional needs. Analysis of the data in the study shows that the majority of tweets were educationally focused and were seen in the categories of practice/philosophy, questions, and sharing of resources.

For me this reinforces the understanding that the technology on its own isn't the key, it's how it is used – the intentionality behind its adoption. I get rather tired of people (generally non-users) propogating myths about sites such as Twitter with repeated comments like "I don't want to hear about what people ate for breakfast" – simple remedy – don't follow them! Reserve the space on your twitter feed for those who can offer you professional support, who update you with what they're learning and reading etc. That would appear to me to be a productive use of the technology – it's what I do. 

A biker’s tale

As someone who regularly bikes to work (around 40 minutes each way, each day) I was interested when the link to the video embedded above appeared in my twitter feed this morning. Makes me thankful that I live in a city where cycling is reasonably well catered for with a growing number of cycle-ways, and, thankfully, no silly law that makes it illegal to ride where there isn't one.

The video caused me to reflect on one of the meetings I was a part of yesterday in Auckland, where we were discussing the concept of disintermediation, which, in economic terms, refers to the removal of intermediaries in a supply chain: "cutting out the middleman". At the heart of this concept is the idea that the separation of producer and consumer is minimised, enabling a more direct interaction. This is at the heart of what is happening in the Web2.0 world. Consumers can now deal directly with artists to purchase music without the mediation of a retail music store for instance, and witnesses at a scene can become reporters to the world via blogs and social media sites without the intervention of an editor and publishing enterprise.

In the case of this chap, he had (in his view) a legitimate grievance where he felt he wasn't being listened to, and where the logic of the case against him was flawed. His solution, pay the fine then set about illustrating his point, leaving it to the thousands who may view this on YouTube to draw their own conclusions – and possibly provide words of support and encouragement.

For educators we have to consider – what is the future role of schools, teachers, text books, curriclum etc, in a disintermediated world? I have many thoughts on this and have shared them on numerous occasions, but for now I'll let the biker tell his story and leave you to ponder the significance as I head out to board a plane for the UK.

Communicating in a crisis

The earthquake in Christchurch has provided an opportunity to reflect on a wide range of ideas and issues about the things we think are important, and how best we might prepare ourselves for the eventuality of a crisis situation. I remember as a student at school being required to undergo ‘earthquake drills’ and ‘fire drills’ on a regular basis, never really thinking we’d some day have to go through one for real. It’s only during a time of crisis that the importance of some of this preparation comes into focus.

One of the things that has impressed itself on me at this time is the importance of effective communication. At the time of the Feb 22 earthquake I was in Rotorua, my wife was teaching at the pre-school where she works, my son was alone at home while the secondary teachers at the school he is at were at a stop work meeting, and my daughter was at primary school. At that instant we all had a significant need to be able to ‘find’ each other, and to ascertain that each was safe. The phone system,both landlines and mobile networks, were working to capacity, and it took ages before we were connected. Despite receiving regular updates via social networking sites such as twitter and online news-feeds on my mobile phone, it was nearly five hours before I managed successfully to connect with my wife in Christchurch – all the while working frantically to change my flight to return home immediately.

Of course, that was in the midst of the crisis itself, and it is inevitable that public communication networks will be put under severe stress in these times. But in the hours, weeks and months after the crisis, the communication need remains.

At the time of the crisis there were parents wanting to find out whether their child was safe at school – and teachers wanting to locate parents. This is where up to date phone records are important – particularly mobile phone numbers where both text messaging and voice calls can be utilised. With the increased use of smart phones, use of social media services such as Twitter and Facebook should be considered, along with immediate updates on the school website. Look at this example of a Twitter account for one of the CHCH schools using Twitter to communicate with parents at the time of the earthquake (scroll down the list of ‘tweets’ to see the messages that were sent out at the time.)

Schools I have been working in post-quake have been re-thinking a number of these ideas. One secondary school I know of has had a policy of banning mobile phones on the premises for years – only to find that had their students actually been allowed to access the very device that is their life-line in out of school hours it may have reduced a considerable amount of anxiety at the time. One of my colleagues began receiving Twitter and Facebook updates from her child’s school almost immediately, while several other schools still had no update on their website two weeks after the event when I did a quick search. In some cases I’ve learned that this is because the maintenance of the school website is handled externally and updates are only made once a week – or less – as a part of a management contract.

Communication becomes increasingly important in the uncertain times immediately after the event also – with parents wanting to know when schools will be re-opened, what alternatives are being provided for those whose schools have been destroyed etc. The mayor of CHCH was seen regularly on our TV screens post-quake, earning praise for his persistence in keeping the citizens of CHCH appraised of what was happening. (Several times I appealed to our Ministry of Education for there to be some sort of “Education Bob Parker” to keep people appraised specifically about what is happening in the education sector – but sadly it hasn’t eventuated.)

My point really is that effective communication in a time of crisis is critical in terms of allaying fears and minimising the sense of alarm or panic. Of course there will be a general awareness of lots of people locked away in back rooms doing all sorts of emergency planning and preparation – but people feel the need to know this to be the case, to feel connected to what is happening and to feel they have the opportunity for their voice to be heard in the midst of it all.

In the modern world of online communications we are in a position like never before where this can be achieved, and there are some good examples emerging:

  1. Geonet has provided citizens with (almost) immediate details of the quakes as they occur – and rose at one point to be the #1 hit on the web for CHCH!
  2. There’s a Christchurch recovery fund page on Facebook
  3. Using Storify NewSolid provides an aggregation of feeds and news items to keep people informed
  4. Re-imagine Christchurch has a site where you can contribute your thoughts and ideas about the future of Christchurch.
  5. Stuff provided us with an opportunity to look at before and after shots of some of the CHCH landmarks, as did ABC News.
  6. Schools EQNZ – a site established so that people in other parts of the country could offer help to CHCH schools.
  7. As well as a series of forums and opportunities being planned to allow young people to provide input, including:
    • Rebuilding CHCH – youth perspectives, to he held on 14 May
    • Youth voices – a forum initiated by UNESCO to be held on 28 May
    • We Speak – a series of forums to be put on by theThe Otautahi Youth Council

A recent post from eSchool News titled How social media can help, and not hinder, during a crisis suggests steps that can help school and university leaders use technology to react to emergencies effectively. It covers much of what I’ve been thinking about, but the following quote about the demand for hyper-transparency sums up the particular emphasis I think is important:

A big challenge with social media audiences is that they seem to feel they have a right to know anything and everything about a crisis and the people and organizations behind it. Withholding information or hesitating to update the public risks being seen as a cover-up.

Their suggestion is to create a “listening post”

A “listening post” is simply a term for the electronic platform used to synthesize news across all types of media, including traditional print, blogs, and Twitter. It is a way to learn what people are saying about a situation in real time. Administrators and faculty can use the following tools to help feed a listening post:

  • Google Alerts – eMail reports that track news stories, blogs, and more, based on search keywords.
  • Twitter Search and TweetBeep – websites that act like a Google Alert equivalent for Twitter. They monitor discussions occurring in the Twitter realm.
  • TweetDeck and Seesmic – desktop applications that allow you to monitor Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn, as well as Twitter.
  • Social Mention – a search tool that also tracks content from YouTube and Flickr, in addition to Facebook and Twitter.

The overarching message of the article, and one I’d advocate strongly is – be prepared. Make this a part of your strategic planning before the crisis happens. In the same way as we’ve been practising earthquake drills for decades, we need to consider and plan for the use of web-based technologies and social media in our crisis management plans. The challenge for us in the Christchurch education community right now is to create a coherence in terms of the future planning that is going on – and effective communication is key to this, including the use of social media.

My second plea is be a user, not just a pusher! This approach to communication is not something to be abdicated, left to ‘someone else’ to take responsibility for. Like the case of schools who rely on an outside agency to update their website – this is last century thinking. Leaders at all levels – principals, community and national agencies – must develop their own repertoire of communication channels, including social media, and be active in at least monitoring what is going on, and preferably be active users. Sadly, in  my experience, only a small number of our current colleagues in leadership can be included in that category.

Best of the web 2010

Just when I think you’re on top of what’s out there and available on the web I come across a presentation like the one above that reveals a whole heap of online applications and tools that do cool stuff that I’ve not come across before. Richard Byrne’s Best of the web 2010 (or 64 tools in 60 minutes) provides a quick overview of 64 online tools that are free to use. They include tools for online video editing, audio editing, storytelling, search, image handling, mind-mapping, online learning and much more. Worth checking out.

Social networking: challenges and opportunities in schools

Interesting report from KY3 News in Springfield, Missouri on the challenges and opportunities of working with social networking in schools. Emphasis appears to be on the communications capacity of these networks, and the assuption that because they’re common place in students lives now that schools need to be exploring how they can appropriate them within the role they have.

Some interesting quotes from a couple of the people interviewed..

“I’m preaching the gospel of using social media as another public relations tool,” said social media expert Evelyn McCormack.

“We are on Facebook and Twitter to get that transparency,” said Josey McPhail of the Springfield district.

Also interesting to note that issues of privacy and online safety, and the development of policies around the use of social networking tools in schools is being considered, but nothing yet developed.

UK diary – wiki workshop

I spent a useful day yesterday at Brunel University taking part in a Wiki Workshop organised by the Knowledge, Information, Data and Metadata Management (KIDMM) subgroup of the British Computer Society.

It was an eclectic group of people comprising people, ranging from those involved in local government and community groups to knowledge management consultants and university staff. Their focus was on the use of wikis in helping them achieve their various organisational goals and needs.

The thing that stood out for me was the dichotomy between those who were approaching the use of wikis as a knowledge management tool, to those who were exploring wiki use as a means of encouraging collaboration in writing documents and participation in social issues etc.

The format of the day was along the lines of an “un-conference”, with the themes and topics explored emerging from the questions and interests of the group. Four key areas of discussion emerged, from which some excellent discussion ensued:

  1. Role – who does what on a wiki, issues of ownership, editing vs. open-ness etc.
  2. Genre – need to acknowledge there are various types of wiki use, and styles and types of writing involved
  3. Life-cycle – wikis have a life-cycle, and how to plan for this
  4. Barriers to entry – technology, permissions, usability, interface etc

Some of the discussions are captured in a wiki that was created for the event.

This was not a hands-on, “how-to” workshop, but an opportunity to explore and discuss some of the issues involved in wiki use (and indeed the principles of Web2.0) in the wider community and business context. Some of the random thoughts that stimulated my thinking in the workshop included:

  • the problems associated with wiki content, where the lack of structure an editorial control often means that those who know how to use the technology and/or who have the time to devote are more likely to develop the content, rather than those who actually “know”.
  • collaborative writiing is a very different way of writing and requires courage (and confidence) to actually change what someone else has written
  • there’s an ongoing issue with the need to resolve the tension between the freedom and flexibility that the wiki technology affords, and the constraints and requirement to conform imposed by organisations and agencies
  • when introducing a wiki into an organisational setting need to consider mitigations for the fact that wiki use will directly confront the “norms” of command and control that typically exist (implicitly or explicitly) within hierarchical organisations.

Using ICTs to support the key competency development

ICT and the Key Competencies

View more presentations from dwenmoth.
I was in Reporoa last week speaking to staff from five different secondary schools involved in an EHSAS contract about the ways ICTs can be used to support the development of key competencies as described in the New Zealand Curriculum. I’ve included my presentation above and embedded in the “Presentations” tab on my blog.
The ideas I shared are very practical, and draw heavily on web2.0 tools and other online applications that can be easily accessed by students from home or wherever they have access to the internet – so they are able to continue exploring, creating, contributing and collaborating after the formal class session has been completed.
For me this is the most exciting thing about using ICTs to support the key competency development – that they are tools that can so easily be put in the hands of learners, and do not require the use of specialist hardware or software installed on machines that can only be accessed during school hours etc. This is an essential first step towards seeing many of these key competencies fostered and developed through regular engagement.

Ten Trends at Learning@School09

The Learning@School conference is rollicking along in Rotorua at the moment, with keynote speaker on day one, Andy Hargreaves, setting the scene with challenges to us all about the need to take account of the whole context and culture of our school when considering change and development. Pam Hook had the audience spell-bond also with her “Hooked on Thinking” ideas and strategies.

Unfortunately for me I am missing the conference, and have had to rely on my Twitter feeds, text messages and the odd call to keep me posted. Having made it to the opening of the conference I’ve had to return home for family reasons. That didn’t stop the presentation I was scheduled to do from going ahead – with my colleague from the Ministry of Education, Douglas Harre, stepping up to share thoughts, insights and ideas based on CORE’s Ten Trends for 2009. This is the annual list of trends developed by CORE staff to represent a view of some key areas of interest for NZ educators with regards to the impact of ICTs on teaching and learning.

This year’s trends are:

  1. Mobile Technologies for learning
  2. Netbooks
  3. Cloud Computing
  4. Learning spaces/environments
  5. Open Education Resources
  6. High Definition Video conferencing
  7. Advanced Networks
  8. Cyber-Citizenary
  9. Green computing
  10. Digital Literacy

The slideshow used at Learning@School is provided here:

For links to other research and lists of trends and predictions for 2009 check out the following:

Horizon Report, 2009

Looking forward to 2009

100 Top Sites for the year ahead

The Future of the Internet III

Horizon report – Australia/NZ edition