If you build it……wait…they’re already here

As much as I feel connected with the latest developments in the ed tech world, there is much that passes under my radar. I can’t understand how I missed the The National School Boards Association’s report Creating & Connecting//Research and Guidelines on Social—and Educational—Networking which was released in July, 2007. There is much we can learn from this survey of students, parents and school district leaders.

Almost 60 percent of students who use social networking talk about education topics online and, surprisingly, more than 50 percent talk specifically about schoolwork.

This means that the majority of our students are already using the Internet as a social communication tool. What we need to do is take this activity and carve out the school niche. If there is a student conversation about school assignments and projects wouldn’t it help to have a teacher’s voice added to the mix? I’m not suggesting that we storm Myspace and facebook, that’s not our place. But if we create a school-wide social network, designed for school work, infuse it with energy of active student and teacher participation, we will create an active learning community of untold benefits. The merchandisers and marketers are already taking advantage of the Webkinz revolution, why shouldn’t we?

I can’t come up with a reason why we shouldn’t, though I see many reasons as why we aren’t. Focused, directed and informed administrative support is the first necessary ingredient. Active teacher participation are modeling are the second necessary ingredient. School-wide social network learning environments will not spontaneously generate in the same manner as Myspace and facebook. The raw material of adolescent gossip, banter and bravado easily scale to those environments. This study has shown us that schoolwork just gets caught up in that stream. We need to find a way to take that conversation about learning out of the flotsam and jetsam of social networks and give it the respect it deserves.

60% of schools prohibit the sending and receiving email in school

How many working parents and business leaders know how the misuse of email in the form of poor writing, nonexistent “subject” references and “respond to all”s are harming the economy? These school districts, guilty of gross negligence, have decided that their fears of discipline issues regarding email are insurmountable. Who do they think will teach children how to use email?

Do I need to hunt down the statistic that proves the ubiquitous nature of e-mail in the modern workplace? Why are we still having this conversation?

Students and parents report fewer recent or current problems, such as cyberstalking, cyberbullying and unwelcome personal encounters, than school fears and policies seem to imply.

Take a look at the survey result details that support this assertion and you will find more and more evidence of a disconnect between the fears and the reality of online safety. It has much less to do with the distinct and unique qualities of the Internet and much more to do with irrational fears. It’s like the difference between the fear of flying and the fear of driving. The mathematical probability of injury does not match the level of concern.

However, just like flying, a school district only needs one accident and aggressive lawyers to suffer overwhelming harm.

This does not mean however, that school districts should be excused for insisting on a restricted, blocked, and antiseptic learning environment. What it means is that teachers, administrators and decision makers have to participate in these social networks to they know how they work.

While a significant percentage of educators require their students to use the Internet for homework, school policies indicate that many are not yet convinced about the value of social networking as a useful educational tool or even as an effective communications tool. This may indicate that their experience with social networking is limited.

I’m convinced that anyone who creates their own learning/working environment online will discover its overwhelming advantages. An expanding library of bookmarks, collaboration with a network of professional colleagues, and the daily reading of a personal RSS newspaper make a better informed, better skilled and more effective educator. Any educator who immerses themselves in that world will work to move students into that world as well. I’ve never known of anyone who has not.

Students have already moved into that world socially, we now have to show them how to use that world academically and professionally.


Saving Elgg from almost Certain Death

The validity of the assertions made in my last post are clearly supported by the delay in making this one. Teacher schedules, extra textbook orders, maternity leave replacements, student logins, new preps and completing plans for authentic assessment have eaten up any of the time that was left over after soccer practices, games, cub scout popcorn sales and locating every playground within 25 miles.

In the midst of all of this I thought I make a crucial mistake at a tech committee meeting. The English Department now requires all students to maintain an e-portfolio through the ELGG we installed alongside Moodle (actually “we” should take no credit for the work of the Network Administrator). There was some concern that students would not be willing to put their work on a public display or that students could troll through e-portfolios to plagiarize. But there is a way in which students can create a community that includes only themselves and the English teachers. Giving only that closed community access to their e-portfolio, the students would know that it was private and teachers could confirm that it was completed. Having found this feature, I proudly announced to the committee that we found a solution with these private communities. In fact, I stupidly added, “students themselves can create their own communities”

Whoah! Stop the presses. Continue reading

English Teachers as Christopher Columbus

I have nothing but admiration for the English Department at my school. They have decided to cut the rope tethering them to the past and require that all students maintain electronic portfolios.

It hasn’t been easy for them, and we as a school are up against even more challenges as we make this jump. But rest assured, the payoff for these efforts will be substantial.

The e-portfolio has been a part of the “plan” from the beginning. It has always served as the “clincher” in any discussion with parents, teachers or administrators. Students at this school will maintain an “academic myspace” through ELGG, gathering evidence of their learning journey through high school. Essays, PowerPoint presentations, videos of class discussions, audio of musical performances – even sports highlight videos will be stored in their own personal web space. College applications can be accompanied by the url addresses of each student’s “My CHS Space”. Admissions committees will have the opportunity to know more about students than ever before. Better yet, the students themselves can have a better sense of their growth over four years.

Continue reading