Why we should and shouldn’t use Facebook in the classroom

There are many reasons why we should and shouldn’t do certain things.  Take Facebook for example.  There are many reasons for and against why any school/teacher should use Facebook in the classroom.  There are a number of compelling agruments for and against, but here is one for each side of the argument:

  • We shouldn’t use Facebook, because we haven’t had enough professional development for teachers and administrators on how to best use this tool in educational settings.
  • We should use Facebook, because student behavior online is often unacceptable, which is a new literacy students need to learn: interacting online using social networking sites (if you don’t think this is a new literacy we need to be teaching, do a Google search for cyber bullying and you will have all the evidence you need).

As we look at the reasons why any given technology, like Facebook, shouldn’t be used, don’t let yourself use poor student behavior be a reason for not using them.  If you do, then you’re really just making the problem worse, because you have now become part of the problem.  Correcting student behavior is something teachers and administrators do every day in school, but for some reason we don’t think we can help students develop an internal censor (otherwise known as a conscience) when they use online tools.  I don’t know why we feel we are helpless.  Perhaps it’s because we don’t know enough about the tool and would rather be ignorant than proactive.

Enough is enough!  Take matters into your own hands and start asking questions that get at the real reasons why you aren’t using social networking sites in your school/classroom.  Is it the fear of student behavior using the tools or is it a training issue?  The former is a non issue, while the latter is something you have control over.  Stop making excuses and start tackling the real problems preventing you from creating the type of learning environment we know our students need to be successful.  Social networking sites do have value in education, we just need to unleash their power.

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Why parts of the Missouri law limiting teacher-student online interactions are still a bad idea

Yesterday two of my colleagues let me know about a law in Missouri that limits teacher-student online interactions using websites like Facebook and Twitter.  When I saw this I was immediately outraged and did rant just a little bit about the law, while not really knowing the whole story.  So I did some searching and quickly came across a Huffington Post article, which led me to the actual senate bill.  All in all, the bill isn’t that terrible, but there are two small parts of the bill that limit teacher-student interaction using text messaging and online websites, which I feel unreasonably limits student-teacher interaction and creates an image of teachers that hurts the profession.  They can be found on page 15, lines 26-33 in the above linked senate bill.

Before going on, I do want to point out that there are sexual predators in our schools and that too many of the nations students are sexually assaulted by educators.  However, the number of responsible educators looking out for students by far out number the scum that prey on them.  The Associated Press found from 2001 to 2005 that 2,570 educators had their “teaching credentials revoked, denied, surrendered, or sanctioned for alleged sexual misconduct.”  However, when you put that in perspective, that’s less than one tenth of a percent of the over 3 million teachers in the nation.  Assuming that rate is consistent from state to state, Missouri lawmakers are legislating against the whole in response to the actions of a few.  And while the bill goes on to do a number of what I consider good and decent things to protect young people and to stop the “passing of the trash” from school to school, such as: providing guidelines for reporting alleged abuse or providing protection for educators who report other educators for alleged sexual abuse, restricting the interactions of educators in online spaces that might be private, seems like it goes a bit too far.

Can sexual abuse still happen through this medium?  Yes.  Will this law prevent the people who really want to abuse children from using these sites?  Probably not, which means that this part of the law will only prevent the other, non-sexual predators who also happen to be the vast majority of educators, from using social networking and text messaging to help students learn and support their growth.  Most teachers won’t be willing to use these mediums because they might do something wrong.  It isn’t worth the risk of losing your teaching license.  I get that.  I also understand that Missouri lawmakers are trying to protect young people from the sleaze of the earth, but this isn’t how you do it.  This law has a number of different ways that will actually help protect children, but limiting teacher-student interactions via text messaging and social networking sites isn’t the way to do it.  Your desired effect isn’t going to happen.  The predators will likely use these mediums, because they take calculated risks, just like they take calculated risks when they decide to sexually abuse young people.

Students, parents, educators, community members, and anyone else who cares about children, need online safety training in a 21st century context.  Students need to be taught how to responsibly use social networking sites and text messaging so we have fewer incidents with children being abused.  Thinking we can just block the issue away isn’t going to solve the underlying problem.  It’s just going to make it worse.  Students will continue to be abused and bullied by other students and adults.  We have an opportunity to make a difference, but limiting our freedom to teach young people isn’t the way to do it.

After reading the bill, I’m wondering if people will think: if teachers can’t be trusted using text messaging and social networking sites with my children, then how can they be trusted when they are physically close to them?  This law not only will be ineffective in preventing cyber sexual predators, but it hurts education as a profession.  It shows that educators aren’t people we can trust, when this is far from the truth.

Social media, Pen pals, and Access

I was reading an infographic about social media and education and one part talked about how an instructor uses social media to connect his foreign language students with native speaking people.  Essentially, his students have pen pals they are connecting with using social media (Skype).  This surely makes a much more authentic experience than what I had when I was in school and we used mail to communicate back and forth.  Effective, but I never really knew my pen pal and certainly didn’t stay in contact after the course ended.  Social media is changing how we communicate and interact, but in a good way.

This was certainly an exciting opportunity for this teacher’s students to experience, but what struck me most about this was the incredible ease we have to connect with others from around the world.  We have almost unlimited access to people, information, and other resources, but the unfortunate reality is that too few teachers leverage these tools to create meaningful experiences for their students.  I don’t have any hard data to support my claims, just my own beliefs and opinions, but it doesn’t seem like teachers are unwilling to use social media.  To me, it seems like teachers just need support and a vision to see the possibilities.  The problem as I see it is that two fundamental things are missing from many schools…proper support and a vision.

What are your thoughts?  How are you or other teachers in your school using social media to communicate with others on a local, state, national, or even global scale?  How has that changed the dynamic of the classroom?  Add a comment and keep the conversation going.

My problem with #FF

I understand the need to share who we think are valuable people to follow on Twitter and the positive networking and generation of new ideas, but what bothers me about #FF is that I have to take a break from my PLN because that’s all anyone is tweeting.  I find very little value in the morning on Fridays, which is usually when I devote time to my PLN (I do a few minutes every morning).  Maybe I just need to participate a little bit more, but from what I can tell based on my experiences over the last few months, I should just as well find something else to do on Friday mornings and wait to check out my PLN until later in the day.  Perhaps the value comes later from the increased networking that takes place.  Not sure.

Am I missing something?  If so, leave a comment and help me learn!!

M.Ed. Portfolio Blog Series: Oral Comps

This coming Saturday I will be defending my master’s portfolio and I wanted to share some of my hard work with others who won’t attend my defense.  We often spend so much time creating artifacts of our learning, whether it be a document, video, song, web page, etc., to only have it viewed by a relatively small number of people.  I wanted to do something different and share my work with as many people as possible, because I’ve worked hard over the last three years and have grown tremendously as an educator during that time.  So, every day (almost) this week I will post about my experiences and share my reflections, with the hope that some conversation can be created about what I’ve done over the last three years and keep our learning going well past my defense.  Today I’ll share my presentation with you.

Well, today was the day.  I travelled to Ames today and defended my portfolio and really had a great time.  I’m not going to go into much detail beyond sharing my presentation.  What I am going to do, however, is open my portfolio up for comments on Facebook.  If you want to share in my learning, please feel free to go here and add your comments so we can keep the conversation going!

M.Ed. Portfolio Blog Series: Ethics and Technology

This coming Saturday I will be defending my master’s portfolio and I wanted to share some of my hard work with others who won’t attend my defense.  We often spend so much time creating artifacts of our learning, whether it be a document, video, song, web page, etc., to only have it viewed by a relatively small number of people.  I wanted to do something different and share my work with as many people as possible, because I’ve worked hard over the last three years and have grown tremendously as an educator during that time.  So, every day this week I will post about my experiences and share my reflections, with the hope that some conversation can be created about what I’ve done over the last three years and keep our learning going well past my defense.  Today I’m going to talk about the Ethical and Human Issues and Technology performance indicator.

I felt this was the most difficult performance indicator to talk about, because of the nature of the topic.  When we talk about ethics and some of the human issues with technology, we really are talking about some heavy topics.  Everything from bullying, to cheating, to child safety, to preparing students for the future are all fair game in this topic.  I struggled to find a topic initially, but then I started thinking more about what I felt this competency meant and I came to the conclusion that this is my chance to stand on my soap box and steer the conversation to a place where I thought it was important, where I thought it needed more attention.  So for me, this competency meant talking about three topics: unblocking social networking software, helping students develop an online presence, and helping students develop information literacy.  Influencing my decision was the fact that I hadn’t seen much on a 21st century perspective of this competency in either my conversations with other educators or in my actions.  Instead, I typically saw these topics discussed in a 20th century perspective, which I feel is much different.

I landed on unblocking social networking software, because often we have the wrong reasons at heart when we make decisions to block certain Web sites.  From my experiences as a technology director in a K-12 school, our decision to block social networking sites was based on classroom management considerations supported through the guise of protecting students.  However, what we failed to realize is the shift that is (was?) taking place in how our students learn.  Our students are social beings, but we don’t teach using social tools.  When we introduce social technologies into the classroom there is an inevitable butting of heads.  The easy solution was to block the social technology, when the right solution is to change how we teach to become more social.  Socializing isn’t a bad thing for education, but really is just the next evolution.  Eventually my school began to understand (not that we fully understood) the benefit of changing how we teach to leverage social networking sites.  There was an opportunity to reach our students in a way we had previously dismissed, thus dismissing a part of who our students are.

The second topic I landed on grew out of the first, developing student online presence.  Something we miss when we don’t use social networking software is how students develop their online presence.  Often they are left to do this themselves, alone, which is a breading ground for trouble.  All we need to do to find evidence of this is do a google search for cyber bullying and I all but guarantee the medium used to bully is social.  Here I advocate for teaching our students how to use social software so we can begin to instill our values into this new layer of society.  While some people may think this isn’t the job of school, but when we look at what schools are truly preparing students for, it clearly is being a successful citizen. With social networking sites not going anywhere anytime soon, it’s time schools begin helping students succeed in this arena as well.

Finally, I decided to talk about developing student information literacy.  Knowledge and information is expanding at an unimaginable rate and everyone needs to know how to both search and use that information.  However, by continuing to stick with instruction that doesn’t allow students to search and use that information, this literacy will not begin to develop in our students.  Teachers are no longer the only source of information, but we continue to teach in ways that still support this notion.  My belief is that we as educators have an ethical obligation to provide learning opportunities for students that allow them to be engaged in data and research.  This is likely only possible by drastically changing how we teach and maybe to an extent what we teach.

Ethical and human issues of technology is such an important area in education, but we often don’t talk about it enough.  Here’s your chance!  What’s on your mind?  What do you think is an important ethics or human issue surrounding technology, but isn’t being discussed?  My three certainly aren’t exhaustive.  Add to the conversation and help everyone learn by adding a comment!

Facebook Groups and Homework Completion…Are You Sure?

This past fall I conducted an action research project that looked at the effect a Facebook Group has on homework completion.  What really interested me was whether or not an event posted to the group would help students to remember to do their homework.  So for about two months this fall a teacher who has taught for more than 20 years began using a Facebook Group and events with her class to post her homework assignments.  All the students were members of the group and would receive notifications when a homework was assigned via an event.  The event would then reappear once the deadline approached.  I didn’t look at too much as this was my first attempt at action research and I’m all about taking baby steps!

Here are the highlights of what I found:

  1. Consistency: Due to some unforeseen new initiatives and additional time commitments, consistency was difficult for the instructor.  This led the teacher to not use the Facebook Group consistency.  41% of students were unhappy with the lack of Facebook use in the class with 67% wanting more interactions using Facebook. Students stated in the post intervention survey that they wanted to have all their assignments posted to Facebook with additional reminders beyond the event showing up on their homepage. Looking back on the action research, this is truly an important aspect of implementing any innovation. If the innovation is going to succeed, then it has to be used regularly to show that it is an important feature of the course
  2. Homework completion: As I coded and compiled data, 45% of students indicated that the Facebook Group did help them remember to do their homework more often.  This result almost blew me away, because I expected a much lower number due to the inconsistency of use with the Facebook Group and events.  According to the teacher in this study, the students responded well to the Facebook Group and knew where to look for their homework when it was used, leading me to believe Facebook can be used effectively in education.
  3. Beneficial tool: When asked if Facebook was a beneficial tool, both the students and their instructor felt it was a useful tool.  However, the usefulness of a tool alone will not be enough to motivate students to complete their work.  This is sometimes forgotten when technology is introduced into the learning environment.  While there may be value to using a tool or even a set of tools, if the underlying assignment isn’t engaging or fails to motivate students, then the impact of that tool on student achievement will be minimal at best.  The problem this action research sought to address was the lack of homework completion students in a history course had.  Going in, my assumption was that no matter how much we remind students to do their homework, if they aren’t motivated to do the task or if they don’t see the value in the task, then most likely they won’t do it.  I think this action research helped point to that as only about a third of students flet they were more accountable for completing their homework because it was posted to Facebook.

What’s Next?

Looking at where I could go with this, I think the next step for me is to expand the number of items I want to investigate with Facebook.  Homework completion is certainly an important topic, but there has to be a deeper look at the potentials of Facebook.  Sure many of us have our opinions of what Facebook can provide, but until we actually research and examine closely the effects on X due to the use of Facebook will we really know what Facebook can provide.  Opinion only goes so far until research is needed to convince others this is something we should be excited and advocating about.

Facebook, and more broadly social networking software, is something I truly believe can make a meaningful impact in education, but I want to put it to the test.  I want to additional rounds of research on Facebook, so if there is anyone interested in examining how Facebook can impact an aspect of your student’s education let me know.  I need a partner teacher or teachers to work with me to implement further research.

If you are interested in reading the entire action research, click here: http://bit.ly/gOuxX0