New media educator, writing professor, reader and writer. I help people help themselves.
My bro! MT @jwarnert5m #UCCE specialist @grapetweets fills in @KMPHFOX26 about potential new Valley wine varieties. http://t.co/HnewdJzn6H
@Ryanthegurl I hope they don't show up here by mistake.
@Ryanthegurl Teenagers can be so unreliable.
Heartbreaking, yes, and infuriating as well. RT @Brizzyc: Heartbreaking story of a teacher who lost her job http://t.co/oWob4F0zb3
Read "by" as "but" at first. MT @LANow @CaliforniaDFW: Sun Valley bear "safely sedated" by wardens, "will be examined & returned to nature."
@RobinJP (What the Internet lacks is a steady stream of flying potatoes.)
@RobinJP @RobinJP But! But! Robin--where do you stand on the flying potato that @tinaphan observed? #hilarious
RT @robquig: Not to pick on the Statesman, but has anyone in the history of the Internet enjoyed the products offered this way? http://t.co…
@robquig @RobinJP No need for rides or games (or carnies), I guess, when it's A CARNIVAL OF SAVINGS. #differentkindofcarnival #theboringkind
@robquig @RobinJP Who knew that a carnival is just the work of a few key ingredients? Sno cones. Bouncy castles. Free food. Done.
Truly horrifying. RT @TomJunod: This makes for very tough reading, especially when your child is from China. http://t.co/DtTGdhVp3K
Great read--> MT @pomeranian99: Now courts are using the Urban Dictionary to help them parse street slang: http://t.co/HzOmOVUFXf
RT @ckanal: "The worst tornado in the history of the world" assessment is quite apt, @smithsonianmag says. http://t.co/oHZqZmGHzc h/t @ramc…
@meghannCIR Yep. I figured. And it's understandable, given the merger.
@meghannCIR OK! :-) TBC used to be very Bay-Area-focused. Mourning loss of that a bit, as it seems local media variety continues to shrink.
Dear @sfmta_muni, Please read: @greatergood turns to public to design the best possible transit app - http://t.co/Gk9ooW8aFJ #Goodstreet
"Cherry Cobbler with a Cacao Nib Crumble" - Three Babes Bakeshop holding pop-up at @DandelionChoco this week: http://t.co/B6hhiXIa1x #yum
@TheBayCitizen & @CIRonline always had different "voices" on social media. Will be interesting to watch them merge: http://t.co/KKJt2Dy73v
@Brizzyc It's always really wise to arm your borrowers.
Poynter has asked readers to help “select 35 influential people in social media — both in and outside of journalism.” Yesterday morning I read Craig Kanalley’s list (@ckanal), and I second all of his nominations. Everyone Craig mentioned is someone whose expertise has influenced and inspired me in the world of social media. And of course, Craig himself deserves more than a mention when it comes to social media influencers. He is smart, thoughtful, and full of personality–he reaches out to people personally, and truly knows how to develop and maintain relationships online.
In addition to Craig and to the five folks he wrote about, I’d also like to mention the following five people, who deserve a mention in any conversation about social media innovators.
1. Andy Carvin (@acarvin)
Andy Carvin is Senior Strategist at NPR, and he has a long history of experimenting with ways social media can be used not just by news organizations, but by citizens wanting to improve the world. A great example of that history can be viewed in Andy Carvin’s TED talk, The New Volunteers: Social Media, Disaster Response And You, in which he details–through his firsthand experiences–the evolution of online tools that help mobilize volunteers with a variety of skill sets take action during crisis situations. After watching that video, even Malcolm Gladwell would be hard-pressed to continue to believe that social media tools have little effect in creating social change. Carvin’s talk is inspiring, informative, engaging–all the characteristics one would expect from a bright mind like his.
2. Burt Herman (@burtherman)
In addition to being the CEO of Storify, a tool through which people turn the information they source from social media into a compelling piece of journalism that tells a complete story, Herman is also a founder of Hacks/Hackers, which brings journalists and technologists together to learn from one another. Since its launch in the Bay Area, Hacks/Hackers has held meetups in cities across the U.S. and in the U.K., clearly demonstrating how hungry people are for the kinds of networking and learning opportunities that these meetups provide. By providing the space–both virtual and physical–for journalists and techies to learn from one another, Herman’s Hacks/Hackers helps to empower those who want to learn more about the integration of these two enterprises.
Kim Bui is Social Media and Community Editor at KPCC; Robert Hernandez is Professor USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Together they founded #wjchat, a weekly Twitter chat focused on web journalism. Because I am a career changer, I’m doing everything I can to learn more about community engagment, particularly how it manifests itself within news organizations. #Wjchat has been invaluable to me, and both Kim and Robert are a big part of why I feel that way. I have learned so much from both of them (and, frankly, everyone who participates in the chat), and therefore I can be nothing but grateful to them both for having started this group. They do a fantastic job moderating the discussion and selecting excellent guest hosts to help help them with that task each week. By providing this space for web journalists and those interested in web journalism to come together and share knowledge and ideas, Bui and Hernandez have helped everyone who participates in the chat learn more about the profession, build strong relationships with colleagues, and enjoy a good bit of lively discussion every Wednesday evening.
5. Mandy Jenkins (@mjenkins)
Many Jenkins is Social Media Producer for TBD.com, and writer of Zombie Journalism, where she provides insight, information, analysis and wit with regard to journalism innovation. Readers of her website can learn about techniques for effective community management–not just in the realm of things like comment moderation or Facebook user interaction, but also in terms of tools newsrooms can use for crowdsourcing stories and culling real-time information during breaking news. I appreciate her for her good sense of humor, her dedication to her craft, and the transparency she brings to what she’s learned about her job–and the ease with which she shares what she’s learned.
Each of these people has contributed to my own knowledge base, and I have no doubt that they have all done the same for everyone else who follows their work. I’m glad to have this chance to say thank-you to them for allowing me to learn so much, every day.
I was born into a house full of newspaper readers–not just my parents, but each of my three sisters and my brother; all of us read the newspaper. (In fact, for much of my youth, we were a two-paper household, subscribing to both the now-defunct San Diego Union as well as the Los Angeles Times.)
As a kid, I loved that the newspaper offered something for everyone: comics for my brother and me, sports for my sister Dina, national, international, and local news for my parents. Every day there were new things to read about, and we could read as much as we liked of whatever was interesting to us.
I mention all this because it’s what went through my mind yesterday as I read Mashable’s post titled, “How News Consumption is Shifting to the Personalized Social News Stream.” In the post, Mashable’s Vadim Lavrusik discusses how various news organizations are finding ways to get personalized content to audiences who increasingly turn to friends, family, and others in their social circle for news and information.
Such a phenomenon may be a little fear-inspiring: If we are demanding personalized, customized content, is that demand evidence of the fact that we are becoming ever more seduced by an echo chamber that only makes us more myopic, rather than more informed?
The answer to that question, I think, is: no–because as news consumers, we have always found a way to “personalize” our news consumption, in the manner that I mention at the beginning of this post–by selecting various parts of the paper to read, or which parts of the television newscast we most want to watch. So while my sister Dina might have grabbed the sports page as soon as the paper arrived, I was busy reading the comics and my dad was making his way through the A section.
This human practice of taking the paper apart and divvying it up amongst ourselves is what led media analysts Neil Postman and Steve Powers to note that, “No one reads the same newspaper,” because the content we choose–and the order in which we choose to read the content we’ve selected–is different for every person. The same holds true today–it’s just that the selection of what is available to me is wider–I can turn to KQED and SF Public Press for in-depth, investigative reporting, SF Appeal and a variety of local blogs for Bay Area news, then read Farhad Manjoo‘s column in Slate for information about innovations in technology, and then check out the food section of the L. A. Times for great recipes. In other words, I may not get all of my information from only one source. And of course, the way in which I share this information with others has also changed. We may have all had our different favorite sections of the paper, but when my mom read a story she thought we all needed to read, she would cut it out and put it on the refrigerator to ensure that we saw it (incidentally, she still does this). Now most of us do the virtual equivalent of that same practice, sharing “must-reads” through email, through Facebook, through Twitter and StumbleUpon.
But as much as my friends and family (and the folks I follow on Twitter) are “sources” to whom I turn for information, what matters the most is the quality of the information they are sharing. Many news outlets are still squeamish about using social media to distribute their reporting and engage with their audience, even as they recognize the necessity and the usefulness of doing so. But they shouldn’t be squeamish. KQED, the Los Angeles Times, NPR, SF Public Press and scores of other news outlets are doing phenomenal reporting in the public interest that deserves to be heard, read, and seen by a wide audience. So while our method of distribution may change (I may not subscribe to one paper, but I may read articles from several different media outlets shared on Facebook), the content still matters, and great content will get shared–and read–widely.
My point, then, is that people are as hungry as ever for great reporting, and they love sharing what they read, see, and hear with others. And what is exciting about living in this age is that there are so many ways that we can easily share this great reporting. I didn’t used to read Slate, but as my friend Jackie (who reads it every day) started sharing more and more stories from the site, I started reading it, too. And I’ve kept reading it because the quality is good. By the same token, I am friends with some of my former students through Facebook, and they have become fans of KQED and NPR because they have found that they are frequently interested in the stories I have shared from those sources.
In his post, Lavrusik paraphrases Jay Rosen, making the point that “prior to the evolution of the web to its current social state, people who you know couldn’t be news sources the same way that big media companies could. But now in a sense they are able to.” But I’m not sure I would consider myself–or any of my friends–a “source” for news; instead I think we are more of a delivery service for one another. Yes, I’m more likely to read something that a friend shares with me, but what makes me read a story is not simply who among my friends “shared” it, but rather what the content appears to be, and who the actual source of the information is; there are some media outlets that I find absolutely dreadful, so when someone I know shares a story from one of those outlets, I rarely click the link.
So, yes, our social interaction today includes (as it always has) the sharing of news and information, but that sharing is entirely dependent on having stories to pass along in the first place. As news organizations reconfigure both their newsrooms and the methods by which they deliver their content, what has not changed–and what will not change–is the desire people have for quality news they can trust. My friends can tell me about a great story that I should read, but they don’t have the training or the resources to create those stories in the first place; we need journalists and news outlets to do the work of reporting and give us the information we need. And when they do, we are excited to share that information with the people we know. Outlets that have a strong presence on sites like Facebook and Twitter make that sharing easier, but what determines their success in the long-run is, as always, the quality of what they produce.
One of the awesome things about Twitter, of course, is that it allows me, a woman in San Francisco, to eavesdrop on a conversation happening some 2500 miles away. And, with the incorporation of hashtags, I can even participate in the event myself, if I see a tweeted comment to which I feel compelled to respond.
One of my favorite tweets from that discussion came from Mandy Jenkins. I have mentioned Jenkins before for the insight she has provided Re: how blogs, news sites, and any other spot on the Internet that allows for reader input can have a robust comment section without getting overrun by abusive trolls. But the discussion for the most recent Social Media Breakfast centered around collaboration within organizations, a topic that spurred this tweet from Jenkins:
Her comment here underscores the idea that social media is social first: it’s about people connecting with one another through the sharing of information, ideas, and experiences. Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, and Loopt are obviously powerful tools for connecting with an audience, but if businesses, marketers, non-profits, and others treat these tools as media through which they announce only their own great qualities, the message will sound to audiences like the obnoxious person at a party who talks only about herself–and I think we all go out of our way to avoid getting caught between that person and the hors d’oeuvres table.
When I saw Jenkins’ tweet, I immediately thought of @Slate, the Twitter account through which the online magazine shares with followers, “What Slate is reading and discussing.” The majority of the content in this feed is information from publications other than Slate–Gawker, the L. A. Times, Salon.com, and many others. Slate has a separate account, @SlateArticles, for folks who want to keep up with what Slate itself is producing, but the @Slate Twitter feed, in sharing information from other sources with readers, helps Slate to establish itself as a publication that readily acknowledges the interesting, humorous, or profound content produced by others. In this way, Slate plays the role of the kind of person at a party who is fun to be around–not only because of all the different stories she has to tell about herself, but also for the ways she gets those around her to share the funny and interesting stories they have about themselves.
Other folks who are “good at Twitter” include those who are involved in the San Francisco food cart scene. What you will find if you follow any of the cart proprietors is that most are just as willing to give a shout-out to another cart on the scene as they are to notify followers of their own happenings. It’s an approach that helps to foster the spirit of camaraderie and collaboration that has made the cart scene so popular and thus so successful. Here’s an example of what I mean, from Soul Cocina:
Notice that instead of tweeting simply his own presence at an event, Soul Cocina mentions who will be there with him, thereby promoting himself as well as others.
The same spirit of collaboration is present in the carts’ approaches to Follow Friday on Twitter; many of the carts use this time to recommend the carts they like, as in this example from the Gumbo Cart:
The “more is merrier” approach adopted by the carts has helped make each individual one more successful than they would be if they each promoted only themselves. Eating is a social activity, and a strong scene with lots of different “players” ensures the health of that scene, thereby securing each member’s place within it. Plus, this kind of “promote thy neighbor” credo brings an energy and fun to the Twitter discussion about each of the carts that carries offline, when the carts and their followers meet up at various events.
So if you’re beginning to ramp up your efforts on the social media front, the important thing to remember is that while your main goal of using social media may be to “build your brand,” followers are also branding you as a company, organization, or publication that is either “good” or “bad” at social media. The more you can capitalize on the social in the media (as we saw Old Spice do with their wildly popular YouTube campaign), the more your followers will appreciate what you bring to the party, and the more likely they’ll be to share what you’re sharing with everyone else they know.
If you are just getting started with setting up social media platforms for your non-profit organization or small business, DIOSA Communications has a great resource page, “Facebook Best Practices,” with suggestions for getting the most out of your Facebook page. Along with the suggestions, the folks at DIOSA also have (and link to) step-by-step “how-tos,” so that even those unfamiliar with how Facebook works for organizations can implement these best practices and reap the rewards.
Particularly important are the suggestions that non-profits “add share buttons” to blogs and websites and “create customized tabs” on their Facebook pages. The power of Facebook–and all social media, really–lies in the speed with which users can share information with their friends and associates. The share button is absolutely necessary for encouraging Facebook fans to share the information your organization posts with their Facebook friends. Meanwhile, customized tabs help distinguish your organization’s page from others like it, thereby personalizing and helping to brand your Facebook page to help make it easily recognizable as being tied to your organization or small business.
For some examples of well-done Facebook pages, check out San Francisco’s Humphry Slocombe (by using their logo in all social media profiles, they make the page immediately recognizable to fans) and the non-profit Walk San Francisco, which has customized their tabs to offer fans information and resources (such as the ability to view upcoming events and the opportunity to sign up for the Walk San Francisco newsletter). In essence, this is the kind of information one would expect to find on an organization’s homepage, and therefore it needs to be on the organization’s Facebook page as well. The goal is to make sure that people who find you on Facebook can look at your page and get a solid understanding of who you are, what you do, what your mission statement is, and where they can go for more information.
There’s no denying that people are social creatures; we especially love to share with others information about brands, companies, and organizations we like. Facebook makes this sharing incredibly easy–not only for fans but for the organizations and businesses that are smart enough to use it. So whatever your feelings are about the site personally, your organization or business would be wise to harness the power of Facebook and put it to work for you, if you haven’t already.
The other day, I was talking with a friend of mine who is working on launching a neighborhood blog; as we discussed his vision for the site, he admitted that probably the scariest aspect of the whole launch for him involves decisions Re: how to handle reader comments. Like any blogger, news publisher, or other online community director, my friend’s ultimate goal is to encourage animated discussion among readers without also inviting trolls who hang around mainly to abuse other users. Anyone who has spent more than five minutes on SFGate’s news portal will understand why my friend might have cause for concern–such is SFGate’s reputation for having a comments section overrun by people who are prone to name-calling, prejudice, and just basic idiocy.
Many news organizations feel that what encourages such behavior is the anonymity of the web, the faceless frontier where people might be more willing to say things on a computer screen that they would never say in person. Those who feel that anonymity is the problem champion an approach of “authenticity”–or what is often called a system of “verified users”–that requires readers to create a profile for themselves that links to all of their activity on the site. My own experience, and the discussions on the matter I’ve read and participated in (see in particular Steve Buttry‘s blog post on the matter from early March) have convinced me that having “verified users” contribute to the conversation is not nearly as important as having a human moderator whose presence is palpable to those who read and participate in the “Comments” section of a given site; of all approaches, such participation from a moderator is the most likely to yield what web publications strive for: a lively community with lots of user engagement and participation, full of thoughtful comments and a minimum of what one commenter on Steve’s blog termed, “keyboard rage.”
Software, of course, can be a key element in weeding out obviously abusive posts and therefore keeping the comments section of a site “cleaner” than what one might see at SFGate. SFGate does use software to flag posts for potential abuses; however, this process also suffers from a lag time of fifteen minutes or more during which offensive content has often not only been viewed by visitors to the site, but also responded to by other readers. So software should not be the whole of comment moderation, though it can be a helpful first line of defense, especially when one has a high traffic site with a high comment frequency.
What this means is that one cannot overlook the importance of the “human element”–a moderator who not only oversees the “behavior” of the users participating in the community, but participates herself, engaging with users in a thoughtful way. Mandy Jenkins , who runs the site, Zombie Journalism, made the point that “You have to establish this relationship [between readers and site moderator] very early on and maintain a consistent message of what will get a scolding, what will get removed and what will get a user kicked off the site.” She also notes that, in her experience, she has learned “A human voice (with a photo, even!) of authority inside of a comment thread can keep the conversation on-topic, answer questions and, yes, take the abuse users usually reserve for one another.”
One site that stands as a good example of how this is done is the Tumblr blog, STFU, Parents. The site’s creator, who is known only as “B.” to readers of the blog, interacts frequently with her readers in the comments, engaging most often with those readers whose write things that are funny and smart. Those who comment, then, know that B. is listening to what they have to say; they are reminded, then, that–though B. is not sitting right in front of them–they are talking to a person, one they respect and admire. B.’s participation also models the kind of “behavior” she expects from those who engage in her online community: when it is clear that smart and funny comments are the ones that are the most appreciated, those who comment are more likely to say something smart or funny (or–even better–something smart and funny). B. goes so far as to award a “Comment of the Week” prize to the person who had the best one-liner or wittiest response to a given post; this shows that B. is reading all her comments, and that she values what her readers have to say. In turn, her readers respond by writing comments that are far more literate and respectful than much of what one sees on SFGate.
Of course, comment moderation can be an all-day job if you are running a high-traffic, high-participation site. The human factor can still be at work, though, if one gets one’s readers involved. When Gawker began using a “promoted comments” system, in which readers could “promote” comments they liked and help “hide” the ones they didn’t, the site found that comments as a whole improved in quality.
Many news organizations have tried to improve comments by making them work more like letters to the editor: Readers who wish to comment must register with the site and provide contact information–sometimes an email, but sometimes even a phone number. The problem with this approach is that a letter to the editor is, essentially, a “mini-essay”–a work on its own that is not intended to receive a response from someone else. Online comments, however, work more like a real-time conversation in which people do not simply respond to what the author of a piece has written, but also to what fellow readers have said about that piece. In that way, online comments are more akin to “water cooler” discussion than letters to the editor. Because an engaged readership is a loyal readership, news organizations, bloggers, and others in the online community need to put thought and attention into how they moderate this water cooler conversation. Above all, they need to make sure to provide a human presence–a voice of respectful but firm authority–that responds quickly to reward “good behavior” and stamp out the bad.
On March 2 and 3, I attended the third annual Digital Media and Learning Conference in my home city of San Francisco. Though I missed the first day of the conference, I got so much out of days two and three, connecting with educators and thinkers and other folks who are passionate about how we can use technology in smart ways to improve education and expand learning beyond the classroom.
I won’t summarize all the panels I went to and the conversations I had, but instead will talk about two panels in particular that I found especially inspiring and that highlighted a concept frequently at play throughout the conference: Learning partnerships do not have to begin in the classroom to affect what happens there, and learning partnerships will be integral to the future of education.
The first of these panels, DML: Case Study in Digital Media and Learning Partnerships: A Youth-Centered Design Framework in San Francisco, featured Jill Bourne, Deputy City Librarian for San Francisco; Elizabeth Babcock, Chief Education and Digital Strategy Officer at California Academy of Sciences; Ingrid Dahl, Director of Next Gen Programs at Bay Area Video Coalition; and Matthew Williams, Educational Technologist at KQED. These four individuals, and the institutions with which they are affiliated, have come together to contribute the room, the resources and the expertise required to train youth to create digital media. Bourne explained that San Francisco’s main library would be allotting some 5,000 square feet to develop a teen-friendly space for young people to learn all manner of media production under the guidance of instructors from Bay Area Video Coalition. Cal Academy is hoping some of what the students will produce will be interesting multi-media productions aimed at helping children and teens get excited about science. And by airing the content the teens create, KQED can help bring these productions to a broader audience.
Here’s what I love about this partnership: First, each group brings something to the collaboration, and they each get something from it as well. And second, the partnership fills a need. Most schools do not have the money to buy and maintain the kinds of equipment necessary to do high-quality video and audio production, and they also lack the staff with the expertise required to teach these skills to students. This collaboration among various parts of the community helps to fill a void in “traditional” education. Jill Bourne, the Deputy Librarian, told me that she has recently formed working relationships with three different public high schools in San Francisco. I’m excited to track the progress of this partnership and see what the teens produce and how the teachers work with the group to incorporate media projects into their curricula.
The second panel discussion that had me feeling all fired up was Short Talk Panel: Playful interventions: libraries, college access, after school and media arts, which focused on creating richer learning experiences through games. “Gamification” (“Is that seriously a word?” a friend asked, when I was telling her about the conference. “Yes it is,” I replied) was a popular theme at DML2012, and I’ll be honest when I say people might be a little too game-crazy right now, for my taste. Learning activities need more than just badges to be innovative. Still, I also subscribe to the Alfred Mercier notion that, “What we learn with pleasure we never forget.” And I’ve been know to create games in my own classes when teaching elements of syntax and sentence style, and I’ve found those games to be quite effective in reinforcing the “nuts and bolts” of solid sentence structure. So I was down to hear what the folks on this panel had to say about the role of games in teaching and learning.
Adam Rogers, Emerging Technology Services Librarian at North Carolina State University, gave a lively and interesting presentation about how he and his colleagues redesigned freshman library orientation at NC State by using iPods with the Evernote app installed. Freshman Composition instructors singed up their classes for orientation, and the students in the classes were broken up into teams of four or five students each, with one iPod per team. The students were also given maps of the library and a list of scavenger hunt questions to answer and activities to complete. They logged their answers using Evernote, which allowed them to do things like capture pictures of themselves with a librarian and make note of information contained in certain volumes in the library. It was a fun, engaging way to introduce the students to the library, its staff, and even each other, as they worked together to complete the scavenger hunt. I told Adam that I thought his game had potential to be reworked throughout the year to help students become really good at research. Teachers in various disciplines could work with the librarians to craft a similar game that results in the students collecting preliminary research on a specific topic, further helping them internalize where various kinds of information are to be found in the library, and where to turn if they need help finding better information than what their own search yields.
What both of these panels highlighted for me is the idea brought up at one of the plenary sessions–that education is moving from a one-to-many model to a many-to-many model. That is to say, it really does take a village to raise our youth and educate them and give them the skills they’ll need to survive and succeed in this rapidly changing world. Districts can and should capitalize on the potential of this “many-to-many” model by evolving traditional professional development days into learning partnership days. Teachers often have very little time or space for networking with others–inside and outside of their schools–and yet building relationships with other educators and with those who could contribute to education beyond the school walls helps to make the educational experience for both faculty and students so much richer. I left DML2012 full of hope for the future of teaching and learning and fully ready to be part of that future. My hope is that schools will embrace this future by thinking outside the classroom to find innovative ways to help the village contribute resources and expertise to the educating of our youth.
This year’s Digital Media and Learning Conference is just over a month away, and I am really getting excited about it! There are so many great presentations and panels lined up so far: everything from digital tools for “civic learning” to creating learning activities with games like Minecraft (and that’s not all; browse all of the offerings here). In short, the conference promises to provide an amazing weekend of learning, sharing and connecting with others who work at the intersection of civic engagement, education and technology.
While all of the presentations look worthwhile, there are two in particular that are heavily on my radar. The first is a “featured session” on day one of the conference titled, “This is Not an Orientation: Gameful Layers for the Freshman Experience,” which will provide the results of two case studies in which college freshmen participated in “gaming” their freshman year. From the presentation description:
Just Press Play, from the Rochester Institute of Technology, … is an achievement-based system that encourages students to think of the obstacles in their path as part of a narrative of their educational development. Reality Ends Here, from the University of Southern California, is …[s]tructured as an alternate reality game [that] introduces students to the culture and history of the school, encouraging them to become part of that tradition from day one.
I am so very interested in what those involved learned about the role of technology in the “freshman experience,” particularly as it pertains to involving students in the community of their campus, as the USC experiment seems to have done. As instructors, we know how important it is to create community in our classrooms in order for students to learn, grow and participate; often, though, that sense of community can get lost outside of our individual classrooms, particularly at a place like San Francisco State (the large public university where I taught), where many students do not live on campus, and often commute to school from jobs where they work full or part time. The need for such a gaming experience might be even more pressing at a community college, where none of the students are living on campus, and they might not have obvious connectors–like similarity in age or life stage–to help them bond with one another. I read an article recently about a site called Alumn.us that seeks to be a way for public schools to develop “a strong alumni network” that donates back to the school in the way that private school alumni often do. What struck me as I read the article was that in order to have a strong alumni network, you need to first have a strong student community; students who do not identify with their school will likely not become alumni who can’t wait to “give back” after they graduate. The challenge, then, is to create that strong community so that all students feel connected to their school in a way that enhances their learning and social development while they are there, and exists as a lasting part of their identity when they leave. Can games that upend the traditional freshman orientation by focusing on fostering community-building and strong school ties help begin creating this community? I’m excited to find out at “This Is Not an Orientation.”
The second presentation I can’t wait to attend is the symposium titled, ”Democratizing Computer Science through Culturally Relevant Pedagogy in Urban Schools: Building on Students‚ Funds of Knowledge and Community Cultural Wealth.” From the description:
While those using computer science(CS)-developed tools are extremely diverse, those studying and working in CS-related fields are not. By limiting the production of new technology to a homogenous group, much of our digital world is being dictated by a shrinking sphere of influence.
CS’s lack of diversity can be traced back to secondary education where women, Blacks, and Latino/as are routinely denied access to high-level computing classes due to tracking, a lack of teacher preparedness, differential curricula, and the absence of culturally relevant CS curricula. Deficit ideologies rationalizing CS’s lack of diversity to an inability to learn or disinterest further exacerbate this divide.
We devote a lot of attention to the “achievement gap” as it relates to math, English and science, but just as worrisome is the digital divide and how the underlying assumptions that contribute to its growth create a profound lack of diversity in tech-heavy jobs; this divide is even more worrisome when you consider how rarely we measure computer skills in school, and how much of the workforce–indeed, even just “regular life”–will require increasing degrees of technological savvy (many could argue–and I would join them–that we are already living in such a space). I’m excited to learn about what concrete things people are doing to erase this divide, and I’m eager to hear the results of their efforts.
Those are my “big picks” for the upcoming Digital Media and Learning Conference. What are yours? And what’s missing from the schedule? What issues do you think are pressing but are still not being addressed by those working in education and technology?
Let’s talk about an article in yesterday’s New York Times: Teachers Resist High-Tech Push in Idaho Schools. In the article, we learn that last year, Idaho’s state legislature “overwhelmingly passed a law that requires all high school students to take some online classes to graduate, and that the students and their teachers be given laptops or tablets,” all in an effort “to establish Idaho’s schools as a high-tech vanguard.”
The story has everything I’ve come to expect in articles about education reform efforts: quotes from teachers who hate the idea, quotes from teachers who love it, and plenty of tired cliches that speak to a general misunderstanding about the current state of life in the classroom.
Among those cliches is the oft-repeated idea that teachers see technology as a threat to the authority they have in the classroom. Such phrasing irritates me to no end, first because it primarily serves to depict teachers as people whose chief concern is ensuring that they are the center of attention at all times, rather than as people whose primary goal always is to educate their students in the most effective ways. Second, this classification also reveals a general lack of understanding about how teaching and learning occurs in the classroom of today. Take this bit, for example, from the article:
And the plan envisions a fundamental change in the role of teachers, making them less a lecturer at the front of the room and more of a guide helping students through lessons delivered on computers.
*Big sigh*. Alright … first, most modern educators are being trained–and have been trained for at least the last fifteen years–to be facilitators of learning, rather than authorities who talk at students instead of engaging them in the work of discovery. And guess what? We’ve known about this theory of education for a long time. Check out the work of Lev Vygotsky, who died in 1934, but whose ideas about collaborative learning still guide teacher training programs today. Computers are not a threat to a teacher’s “place of authority” in part because a good number of teachers already adopt a style of learning coach rather than professor in the literal sense of that word.
I get that reporters might not know this. They might not have been in enough classrooms to see how often students are not sitting in tidy rows listening to the teacher, but rather are working in groups to discover answers, perform research, or wade through difficult concepts together. But it is concerning when school superintendents seem to lack such an understanding, as is the case with Idaho schools superintendent Tom Luna, who had this to say about the coming changes to Idaho schools:
The role of the teacher definitely does change in the 21st century. There’s no doubt. The teacher does become the guide and the coach and the educator in the room helping students to move at their own pace.
Again, this is not new to the “21st century.” Teachers have been playing the role of the “guide on the side” for years. And if Mr. Luna has teachers in his district who aren’t doing that, he should address that problem first before he worries about getting a laptop or tablet into the hands of every student at the school.
The frustrating thing here is how these kinds of articles so often play into an anti-teacher sentiment that appears to be creeping across the country. Once again, teachers are portrayed as merely lazy autocrats whose chief concern is for their own job, rather than for the educational well-being of their students. Are there some teachers who fit this description? Most certainly–just as every profession has people in it who appear to care little about being good at what they do. But the majority of teachers I know are people who are creative, innovative, passionate and dedicated, and who continually evolve their practice in order to serve their students better.
Obviously, as someone who is a huge champion of technology in the classroom, I think there is great potential here for Idaho’s schools to help their students become technologically literate as well as academically proficient. To me, this is not an either-or proposition. But the superintendent and others charged with implementing these changes seem to have made the classic mistake of forcing them on educators without a clear plan as to how they will help teachers make use of the new hardware and software with which they will soon be equipped. According to the Times, the details of how teachers will be trained in best practices for working with technology “were still being worked out.”
Hmmm … Well, if technology is Idaho’s number one priority going into the next academic year, my advice would be to start with focusing professional development days on technology. It’s clear some teachers have followed their own passion for these tools, and they could be the professional development leaders for their colleagues in their respective disciplines. Have a science teacher in your district who uses Google maps to chart sightings of native and non-native bird species? Great! Have her lead a session on that for the other science teachers in the district. Know an English teacher who uses Twitter to teach parody? Fantastic. Have him help colleagues learn how to use Twitter so they can then understand its implications for teaching.
Without good training, teachers who have not yet adopted technology and explored its uses in the classroom will continue to harbor fears that they won’t know how to use it or that it has no purpose. As educators, we should understand well what is at the root of people’s resistance to change–we see it all the time with our students, and we know at its core is often a simple fear of failure. If we empower educators to use technology well, they will do so.
I haven’t even addressed Idaho’s plan to require that all high school students take online courses for two of the 47 credits required for graduation. Perhaps they could begin with Code Academy, which provides free interactive lessons on coding for anyone, anywhere. High schools everywhere often lack the resources to offer coding classes, despite the fact that this skill is one that will likely seep into all manner of jobs in the years to come–not only those once referred to as “webmaster.”
The times, they are a-changin’–and they’ve been changing for quite some time. What hasn’t changed, sadly, are they myriad ways that those outside the classroom talk about change to those who work on the inside. Maybe Idaho’s superintendent Luna can find an online course somewhere in effective relationship-building and organizational management. From there he can lead by example, while also hopefully learning a few techniques to get teachers under his leadership to embrace technology rather than resist it.
Today, The Atlantic ran a blog post proclaiming, “Everything You Know About Education Is Wrong.” It’s such a sexy title–I’m wrong about everything I thought I knew about education? Oh, do tell! Perhaps teachers do not matter? Or maybe we should have shorter class periods rather than longer ones? Perhaps schools should make the football team, and not academics, their primary focus after all??? Let’s find out!
“Think of the ingredients that make for a good school,” Jordan Weissmann, the post’s author, begins. Are you thinking of them, readers? OK. Well, hopefully “Small classes. Well-educated teachers. [And] plenty of funding,” weren’t ingredients on that mental list you just made, because if they were, according to Weissmann, “your recipe would be horribly wrong.” Ruh-roh!
Weissmann draws this conclusion from the newly-published results of a study by economist (and MacArthur “genius grant” recipient) Roland Fryer, and his colleague Will Dobbie, whose determination after studying data from 35 charter schools in New York City is that far more important than money to a school is its culture–primarily one that supports teachers, allows for maximum instruction time and maintains “a relentless focus on academic goals.”
Does this information really turn “everything we know about education” on its head? I certainly don’t think so. A large part of the problem surrounding our nation’s conversation about education is how much it leaves out the voices of the people who know the most: the teachers who do the work of educating our youth, and the youth themselves, who know a decent school culture when they experience it. After ten years of teaching, I’ve come to know quite a few teachers, and none of them would find the conclusions of this study surprising. None would say that teachers would not benefit from more support and mentoring; in fact, nearly all of the teachers I know and have talked to have said that one of the great needs in education as a field is for newer teachers to have access to and continued interaction with more experienced educators over a longer period of time than is allotted during one’s student teaching days. Schools that do facilitate this kind of mentoring have vibrant departments in which all staff can learn from one another, making for a more cohesive department and a better-scaffolded learning experience for all students throughout their time at the school.
And do we really need to have a “genius grant” to figure out that more instruction time equals better academic results from our students? While they might have a reputation for watching the clock, students know when a class period is too short to allow for any mastery of the subject matter. If one of your aims is to make your students not simply know certain material but also have a degree of appreciation for it, you’re better off not zipping on through the course content at lightning speed with no time for reflection.
Perhaps the only surprising finding in this study is that schools wouldn’t need “plenty of funding” to be successful. I do wonder how schools could offer the “high-dosage tutoring” that Dobie and Fryer’s study concludes is a big factor in students’ academic success without some decent funding. Are these schools bringing on volunteer tutors who can spend hours of time after school with students without getting paid for it? That’s fine if they are, but that would be an impractical model at best if it’s one we should be trying to replicate in schools across the country.
I can’t speak for every teacher out there, but I know I personally would love a little less sensationalism when it comes to reporting on education and the changes we should or shouldn’t make to the institutions that provide it. Bringing in more voices from the teachers on the “front lines” and the students making their way through “the system” could go a long way toward providing a clearer look at what is and isn’t working in our nation’s schools. And maybe then “Everything You Know about Education” would be a lot more than what the major media outlets currently offer in their education reporting.
If you’ve wanted to integrate YouTube into your classes but have been thwarted by Department of Education Internet restrictions, rejoice! Now there’s YouTubeTEACHERS, a place to find, create, share and discuss videos that enhance the educational experience. Check ‘em out. And if you’ve used the site, let me know in the comments.
I think schools are probably three to four years behind the rest of the world in how we’re communicating.
Those are the words of Richard O’Malley, Superintendent for Edison Schools in New Jersey, as quoted in the article, Social media go from school ban to teacher’s tool. I can relate to this statement—the California schools I’ve worked in have often been at least “three to four years behind” in terms of the technology they use to communicate within the school and beyond. And this is not an issue that confines itself to how we communicate within our schools. That schools “are three to four years behind the rest of the world in how we’re communicating” is a symptom of a larger problem–a lack of available, up-to-date, working technology in schools. When I taught a group of New York City high school teachers this past summer, their concerns were the same. Their reasons for not making use of technology in their classrooms included that the technology available to them was either outdated or frequently broken. Or, in the cases in which they did have access to working technology, the resources were limited, making it difficult to share the few available computers amongst an entire department full of teachers and students.
Common frustrations that transcend departments and districts… How can we as teachers and administrators work to ensure that we don’t fall further behind as technology continues to advance?
Kids need to start establishing a positive digital impression of themselves. Without question, it will be the norm for these students to be Googled when they begin to look for jobs — even if it’s part time.
Yes!! Yes. Do read this post, via @MindShiftKQED.
This piece, by José Picardo, explores some barriers—both on the teacher side and the student side of the equation—to using social networks in the classroom. As Picardo points out:
Loss of control is also an important factor for many teachers who might see the adoption of social media, not only as extremely disruptive, but also as a further erosion of academic rigour and, ultimately, of their traditional role and relevance. This may be because the tools that are familiar to our students are not so to teachers who might therefore feel unable to control their students online.
I definitely think one barrier to the adoption of various forms of technology is this lack of familiarity with the tools and platforms involved. The key to removing this barrier, from my perspective, is to help train teachers in a way that makes them feel empowered by and excited about the possibilities afforded by these various technologies. (Shameless plug: Read about my experience teaching New York City educators involved in school change to use social media and blogging platforms to aid their research and reform efforts.)
Picardo also notes that students may not be interested in using social networks in their classes.
Anecdotal observations have led me to believe that secondary students see the internet as their territory and that they feel uncomfortable when this territory is encroached upon by their teachers. In my experience, teacher attempts to engage students using social networks can be seen by some students as initially intriguing but ultimately futile and, above all, uncool.
I have also experienced this pushback firsthand with my students, but have found that they can get past those issues if you integrate social media in a way that really has a purpose in your classroom.
Picardo’s piece is definitely worth a read, particularly if you are working to convince teachers in your school to begin incorporating new media into their classes. Those of you who have begun using social media in the classroom: What roadblocks have you encountered? How have you surmounted these obstacles?
Great tips for strategically developing a technology integration plan for your school or district.
Last week I taught a class for the New School’s Institute for Urban Education summer institute program. The class, called Rebooting Pedagogy: Digital Tools for School Change, provided hands-on instruction for teachers to learn how to use social media and blogging platforms to create a professional public presence for the work they are doing in their schools toward education reform. I turned the teachers on to free tools they can use to gather and then edit images on the web, so I thought I’d share those tools here as well.
First, one of the best free resources for fair-use images is Flickr’s “Creative Commons.” The link above takes you to Flickr’s “Advanced Search” page. From there, put in the key words you want to search for, then check the following box:
Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content
From there, you can also check either of the two boxes below:
Find content to use commercially
Find content to modify, adapt, or build upon
Since you will likely not be using your image commercially, the only other box to think about is the second box—“Find content to modify, adapt, or build upon.” Checking this box will prompt Flickr to search for photos that users have uploaded and made available for use and adaptation by others. So if you wanted to modify the image in any way, checking “Find content to modify, adapt, or build upon,” ensures that you have permission to modify any of the images returned in that search.
Wondering how to modify images without paying for Photoshop? There are lots of great, free photo editors out there. Two favorites of mine are Aviary and Pixlr. There’s also Skitch, which I found out about from a student in class last week. One of the other students used it in a presentation and loved it:
Image editors can be extremely helpful for drafting instructions for students to follow, particularly if you are trying to show them how to do something online. They could also be a fun way for students to illustrate creative projects for various classes. So try them out! Experiment! It’s fun!
Have favorite image editors not listed here? Let me know in the comments!