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People Behaving Badly, Facebook or Not

With the start of graduation season, Ars Technica recently offered a world-wide round up of people-behaving-badly-on-Facebook stories, all linked in some way to kids and schools.

We have the principal masquerading as a girl on the social networking site to keep tabs on his students. And the online fight that spilled out into the real world in the form of a physical assault at school. Plus an assortment of attempts to legally restrict kids and/or adults based on perceived online threats. With a teacher-posting-stupid-things story thrown in for good measure.

It’s certainly a provocative collection of stories, the kind your local “film at 11” local news might present to goose ratings by stirring concerns about kids and/or teachers using social media (and maybe already has).

Of course, these incidents involve fewer than a dozen participants in Facebook’s 700,000+ community and the writer of the article ends with the conclusion the big media outlets should also arrive at.

Social media can go wrong in so many ways for students, teachers, and administrators, yet it can also be a terrific tool for bringing communities together and for strengthening relationships. And most of the issues here have analogues in the “grown-up” world of employer/employee relationships, and another set of analogues when it comes to government and intelligence agency use of social media posts to spot fake marriages, monitor “chatter,” and even ban people from entering the country.

In other words, technology is not the problem. Without Facebook, these same people would find other channels in which to act stupidly, although probably not with as much transparency.

Social Networking Disconnect

For my weekly dose of irony, yesterday our overly-large school district announced that we can now become a fan of the system on Facebook and follow it on Twitter.twitter-logo.png facebook-logo-2.png

Of course that’s unless you are currently in one of our schools.

Where Facebook is almost universally blocked and Twitter is being filtered out by a growing number of middle and high schools.

So, our administrators seem believe it’s important that the institution be a part of two major social networking systems.

But it’s not essential that teachers or students be a part of the conversation.

Why Tweet?

Four or five times last week I found myself trying to explain Twitter to people who had heard references to the system from somewhere in the popular media (OMG! Oprah’s twittering!) but didn’t understand it.

Mostly, they don’t get the why.

Well, when it comes to social networking tools, I’ve pretty much given up on trying to finding whys for other people.

However, to give them some idea of why Twitter has become such an essential part of my day, I simply showed them my stream.

The people I follow are teachers in Colorado, Canada and right around the corner, principals in Philadelphia and Portland, education activists in California and New Jersey, people who do what I do in Virginia, Florida and England.

And a collection of more smart folks from all over the world who constantly present me with information, new ideas, a smile or two, and make me think.

My end of the Twitter bargain is to try to do the same for the people who follow me.

Preparing for the Swine Flu

Wasn’t it just last year that we were all going to be wiped out by the avian flu?

Now we have the swine flu spreading quickly, not half-a-world away but right close to home.

As I read the stories in the morning paper, my warped little mind dredged up the memory of a meeting I had to attend a couple of weeks ago.

The gathering was part of the planning for the roll out of a new VPN (virtual private network) system for our overly large school district.

One of the motivating factors for the move was a regulation somewhere in the books requiring that our IT department make it possible for at least 75% of our staff to work from remote locations in case of a “pandemic” flu.

Our current VPN allows fewer than half through the door at any one time.

There’s nothing funny about having to close the physical schools due to a major flu epidemic, but I still had to smile at the concept of trying to operate an education system of our size completely online.

Like many other districts, we actively discourage students, teachers, and administrators from using the kind of social networking tools in their teaching and learning that would make the process much easier.

In addition, we do a poor job of training our teachers, much less our students, how to work effectively online. And we certainly don’t provide them with the tools to do the job.

Other than Blackboard, of course.

However, while district regulations require that every teacher maintains their class sites in Blackboard, it’s such a clunky system that relatively few of them (I’d estimate less than a quarter) are using it for the kind of truly interactive instruction that would be required to continue what we think of as “school” during a major shut down of the physical spaces.

Of course, in the case of a major epidemic, I’m pretty sure that maintaining our formal educational system will probably be a much lower priority for our parents than other things… like food, clean water, and staying alive.

Someone Worth Following

Howard Rheingold, one of my early influences when it comes to online communities (way back in the olden days of BBS and dial-up modems), is now writing a blog for the web version of a very mainstream old media outlet, the San Francisco Chronicle.

In it he plans to “raise issues about 21st century literacies, life online, and — to be true to blogger eclecticism — whatever I feel moved to write about”.

And Rheingold is eminently qualified to speak about living online. He’s one of the few around today who can honestly say “been there, done that”.

The Virtual Community, his book from 1993, is still an excellent read if you’re curious about the origins of all this social networking stuff.

Ten years later, he updated the evolution of those virtual communities in Smart Mobs, which described the burgeoning impact of wireless networks on society.

Rheingold is a very wise, although somewhat underheard, voice of wisdom and experience in these days of chaotically expanding online social networks. And someone worth following.

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