Students – the Connected Learning Model

Tomorrow I present at TVS’s SummerSpark on the Connected Learning Model for Students. I’ve been wracking my brains and trying to organize my thoughts. I created a Prezi to guide my discussion – hoping that will keep me on task. I’ve got so many thoughts, it’s putting them together coherently that’s problematic.

Here are the main topics I’m planning to address:

Should Students Be Online & Involved in Social Media?

It’s a rather redundant topic. To be fair, this is like asking “Should the horse be outside of the barn?” when the door’s been open and it’s been wandering around the pasture for a few days. The internet isn’t a ‘fad’ and it’s not ‘the future,’ it’s the now. It’s like asking “Should students learn how to use a typewriter?”

What Are the Benefits?

When students are connected (via social media like twitter, wikis, facebook, etc), it facilitates communication, provides a platform for creativity, writing, and assessment skills. Can it be abused? Of course. You can use a hammer to bash in someone’s head, but it’s also really handy for hammering in nails.

What are the risks for students engaging online?

There are some very real and some more ‘perceived’ threats. The first one that comes to mind is online predators. The reality is that the risk from online predators is significantly smaller than we originally thought. Children seem to be quite savvy and understand the stranger in the darkness. The reality is that they are at greater risk driving in the car to school than they are in participating in Facebook or Twitter.

Another very real danger is cyber-bullying. It is a very true and sad reality that bullying, with the aid of social networking, cell phones, and other devices is on the rise. Children and, in some disturbing circumstances, parents have attacked teens online. The outcomes in some cases have been devastating. However, along with the rise of cyber-bullying, we’ve seen a counter-wave – the media, peers, and educators are aware of the problem and taking proactive stances to address it. My school is implementing the Olweus program, which includes a component that addresses online bullying behavior. Another more prominent force is the “It Gets Better” campaign, that has picked up support and interest.

Another key element, for both children and adults, is the production of digital fooprint – which can be positive or negative. Your digital footprint is your online self. Have you googled yourself lately? Try it, see what comes up. I try to keep on top of what I put out there. Teens are less likely to do so and ‘funny pictures’ or comments now aren’t so amusing when it shows up in a job interview.

Students are already on Social Media

Really, the decision isn’t ours – they’re already there. Students are on social media websites, it’s up to us as educators to help guide them to use them responsibly. One study found that 96% of students are already using Facebook. One-third of students report having their own blog (the majority of which update them at least once a week). Surprisingly, 59% of them report that they use social media for school related projects or to talk about school – I’m just going to pretend that none of that time is used to complain about class.

However, even though students are ahead on the curve, educators and teachers are not. The majority of school districts and administrators do not provide any type of direction or tools for students or educators to use. Most teachers are on their own in exploring this platform and face difficult navigation when it comes to interacting with their students online.

The reality is that this is a platform with which young people are comfortable. Most of them get their news via Facebook or Twitter. Before you jump all over that, I learned about the repeal of proposition 8 nearly twenty minutes before the formal announcement and the death of Osama bin Laden forty-five minutes before President Obama announced it on television. Let’s not forget watching the uprisings in Libya and Egypt rolling out before us via Social Media platforms. Their ease of use and intuitive interface provide such a low learning curve that almost anyone can self-teach and be up and using within minutes.

What barriers do we face using these platforms for education?

No one needs to convince me that social media is a powerful learning tool. However, that doesn’t belie the fact that there are numerous barriers to employing them in the classroom or even at home.

One key elements is parents. How do we convince parents to allow their child online? While most parents are okay with their child having a Facebook account or even a twitter, many are still nervous about ‘strangers’ online and the ‘stranger danger’ phenomenon still has many of them in death grips.

Another element is access – not all students have ready access to the internet at home. While few families do not have internet in the home, it does happen or, more commonly, it could be limited to one machine. Additionally, children may be in a home where parents limit access to the internet. I have had a few students whose parents only allowed them online when they were at home and present. Even those of us in the most privileged schools may also have limitations to access on our campuses. I’m a ‘floating’ teacher – most of my rooms did not have computers and the computer lab was not always available.

Another consideration, even if you have computer access, is web access. Most schools have some form of restriction placed on their network. My school’s network is so restrictive that if a vulgar word shows up in the comment of a news article, it can trigger the ‘porn’ barrier. Facebook and twitter are commonly barred as are many other sites that create and publish wikis, YouTube videos, and the like. Some of these are barred due to issues of bandwidth or abuse, some (like facebook) are barred because they’re viewed as a distraction (ignoring the fact that cell phones and proxy sites allow ready access). Some schools have no restrictions, but these are far and few between.

And another strong concern is the issue of monitoring. I know that I for one don’t like to think about what my students get away with now in the classroom (and I’m sure it’s far more than I would like to know). Twenty-five or more (sometimes a lot more) students in a classroom with computers, it can be a problematic classroom management issue. If you have children in your class that are prone to chat with their friends, pass notes, talk out of turn, etc, then they will be more than a handful if you give them access to a machine. However, many will excel and focus when allowed to pursue their passions in the classroom on a platform they find fun…

So, these are the highlights of my presentation. It’s primary objective is to introduce ideas and pitfalls with the hopes of provoking discussion and thought. If you have any thoughts or ideas, I’d love to hear them.

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