This has already been widely blogged, but the fact that the National School Boards Association is encouraging schools to take another look at the use of social networks in classrooms is big, big news. And I have to tell you, after reading through the results of a study NSBA undertook, it all of a sudden feels like their be a moment close at hand where “innovation” (as Chris puts it) might be possible.
While the study confirms that the risks of the Internet are overblown, here’s the finding that really raised my eyebrows:
Social networking may be advantageous to students â€” and there could already be a double standard at work. 37% of districts say at least 90% of their staff are participating in online communites of their own â€” related to education â€” and 59% of districts said that at least half were participating. “These findings indicate that educators find value in social networking,” the study notes, “and suggest that many already are comfortable and knowledgeable enough to use social networking for educational purposes with their students.”
To be honest, that’s not representative of the reality I’ve found as I’ve talked to teachers over the past couple of years. I think it would be interesting to see what the definition of “online community” is in this instance. Still, even if it’s defined very broadly, that’s an encouraging number. And I wonder how many of the students surveyed would affirm that their teachers are involved in these communities. How much modeling is going on? I’d be interested in what others think of that finding.
And here’s another finding that I found interesting:
In fact, 76% of parents expect social networking will improve their children’s reading and writing skills, or help them express themselves more clearly, according to the study, and parents and communities “expect schools to take advantage of potentially powerful educational tools, including new technology.”
Now that is very cool, and clearly gives an opening to this conversation on a broader scale.
It’s nice to get some good news on the social networking in schools front, isn’t it? Now we need to think about the best ways to move toward a systemic, K-12 integration of these tools into the curriculum.
Technorati Tags: social, education, learning, teaching, schools, nsba
76% according to whom? Your reference is…?
Art Gelwicks says
It’s critical that we as edtech advocates leverage these kinds of reports to convince administrators and staff of the advantages and benefits within and outside the classroom. Statistics and reports won’t sell the ideas and get the head nods we need to move forward. That’s up to us.
a. woody delauder says
I too was excited when I read this study. I am confused as to what types of on-line communities these educators are taking part in. Most teachers in my district have a blank stare when you mention a blog or a wiki. I don’t see it in practice where I teach. In fact, out of 1,677 teachers in our district, I am one of the only active bloggers in the education realm. I see this as a problem. Some teachers have stagnate blogs with 2-3 posts from a year ago. I believe that majority of educators in my district are still just using the informative part of the internet. They are stuck in a web 1.0 world.
Will Riohardson says
Update: Reading through the .pdf, that teachers using social networking number comes from “districts where structured online professional communities exist.” Hmmm…
Kevin Sandridge says
Will, exciting news indeed! Though, I do wonder about the update you posted re: the survey group being part of an existing online professional network. Also, if the survey used data pulled from polling students, well… i’d be tempted to say that the results may be a bit wonky. Kids will say what they think you want to hear. All in all, any positive press we can throw at our local administrators puts a check in the plus column for me. Will put this one in my ‘see, it’s a good thin!’ bag.
Bob Berry says
I appreciate the fact that parents weighed in on the topic. Most of kids’ good or bad online habits are developed at home. If schools don’t collaborate with parents on social networking, then any advances aren’t like to stick.
Chan Bliss says
Our school district is in the process of evaluating student bloging within the districts internal communication system.
Tim Goree says
As Kevin noted, I do find the results from students on a number of key items to be a bit “wonky”. I think there are plenty of dangers out there for kids on the Internet that we still (by law, especially) need to protect them from via filtering of outside websites from inside a school district. Yes, this is the district administrator in me speaking, but we do still have an obligation to also protect the district/school from liability.
I think the point that this report really misses is that we should be encouraging districts to take advantage of protected Web 2.0 tools that are made for school use or actually housed by the school or district. I think districts should make Web 2.0 tools a part of the inside part of the network, and make those tools accessible to only students and staff from the outside, rather than allow students to use a service like MySpace (that’s always the one that gets thrown out there) freely.
No matter what this article says, it would still be irresponsible of educators to allow kids to freely roam the Internet from schools without some type of automatic protection. There are a number of police officers who deal with online crime out there who would verify that the Internet cannot yet be declared “safe” for general perusal by students…
Stephen Becker, Ph.D. says
Will, this is awesome. Thank you. Your exhortation that we begin thinking about the best ways to intergrate web 2.0 tool into the classroom strikes a huge chord with me.
First off, in response to Tim’s valid concerns over the safety of major social networking sites: what if all the power of social networking could be harnessed in the classroom yet it was integrated with control features and filters especially designed for school use? This solution has actually already been developed, and I’ll explain in moment.
I would like everyone to consider something for a moment:
Yes, students are already using social networking sites extensively outside of school, BUT, it seems to me that bringing these particular sites (e.g., MySpace, Facebook) into the classroom is not necessarily what we need to be considering here. What is important, it seems to me, is not harnessing MySpace or Facebook or what-have-you but harnessing the POWER of social networking in the classroom in the service of teaching and learning–and this can be done without having to use any of the “extracurricular social networking sites” (if I may be so bold as to call them that). It can be better be accomplished by using a social networking site that, while emulative of the best aspects of, say, Facebook, is designed from the ground up with educational use, file sharing, online collboration, and learning management all in mind. In other words, a hosted solution where connection is not the end goal, as it would be in a social network, but rather the foundation for rich collaboration and classroom management.
My background is in Communication Studies and college level instruction and lately I’ve been helping out a company in Chicago called, Ecto (www.ectolearning.com). Essentially, what Ecto has developed is exactly what Iâ€™ve been referring to–a hosted, networked learning environment that allows you to map communities/groups to teaching modules and simultaneously network, form groups, and collaborate with a global community of teachers and students. The social networking is also integrated with an online LMS toolset. The every user has a personal profile page much like on MySpace or Facebook, and teachers can create homework in Ecto that integrates Web 2.0 resources from outside Ecto, such as Feeds, YouTube movies, Flickr photos, podcasts, etc. Thus, to get back to Timâ€™s point, the students are thus able to access the Web 2.0 world in the classroom but without leaving the online learning environment set up by their teacher/school. At the same time, teachers are reporting that the Ecto environment gives them great model for teaching web responsibility and internet â€œcitizenship.â€
The response so far from teachers and students using Ecto has been exceedingly positive. There is a brief, ten-minute video that the company made which contains some interesting interviews with teachers and students.
I think it’s the kind of thing that ought to fuel a great deal of discussion among this group. It really gets to the point of how do we integrate Web 2.0 into the classroom. I’d certainly be interested to hear anyone’s thoughts.
I’ve just finished watching the video about ectolearning and am definitely interested in the concept. I’ve recently been exploring facebook and agree that facebook or similar technology ought to be harnessed in the classroom. How is ecto different from something like facebook? Is it the ability to upload curriculum? I teach elementary school, so I am concerned about my students’ safety. Is it possible to make your school group private and unaccessible to anyone else and to make it so the kids couldn’t “invite” more members?
Stephen Becker, Ph.D. says
I apologize for what is going to be a longer than normal response â€“ Will, I hope you will forgive the verbosityâ€”itâ€™s my sincere hope to be adding to the discussion not â€œhogging it.â€
First off, Iâ€™d like to answer Pemilyâ€™s question about security on EctoLearning. Yes, it is possible and easy to make your group private so that it is not visible to students or anyone else outside your class, teacher group, or parent group. This is a logical choice. Itâ€™s also very easy, unlike with Blackboard, to invite guests into the private group. Whoever is appointed group admin (the teacher in this case) has a full set of controlsâ€”over visibility, authorship of content, etc. You can keep the content you create private as well, although people generally prefer to share it with the networkâ€”such is the nature of Web 2.0. â€¦and much to the horror of textbook publishers, I might add. 🙂
Now to your question of how EctoLearning is different from social networking sites.
â€œAfter school sitesâ€ like MySpace and Facebook are primarily about connection as an end in itself. Their primary purpose is social networking. Now, simply making a social networking site for teachers would, by itself, have valueâ€”what is happening on Ning is a good example. But the real question it seems to me is: how do we harness the power of social networking for learning in a way where itâ€™s immediately functional within the wired classroomâ€”in a way where it integrates as organically into the school experience as it has into the extracurricular experience?
Before I answer that I think it bares pointing out how organically, how naturally, these after-school social networking sites have come into use with teenagers. It strikes me that it really hasnâ€™t required marketing. It hasnâ€™t required corporations selling anyone a bill of goods. Also these sites are NOT complexâ€”all they really did was provide a bare bones environment (some would say rather clunky at that) in which kids can communicate, forge a multimedia identity, and share music, videos, and photos, and form groups to discuss topics of interest. Iâ€™m sure many of us have wondered what coming to school in the morning looks like to a kid who was up late the night before blogging, editing a video, and revising a Wikipedia entry on his or her favorite topic. Even in my day, school was a rather bland experience and all I was doing the night before was watching TV! But I digressâ€¦
What Ecto has attempted to do is carefully integrate social networking with an LMS and another key Web 2.0 component–a large open shared library with social tagging and community feedback for all items. The social networking element of it looks similar to MySpace and Facebook but its functionality often severs a different purpose. For instance, the ability to form groups is used by teachers to administer their courses. In Ecto you form a group when you teach a classâ€”as the teacher you are the group leader and you â€œinviteâ€ all your students. Everyone has their own profile page. Subgroups can easily be formed within the class for groups projects. Teachers can form groups of their own or start parent groups.
Pemily, you asked me to explain how the functionality goes beyond networking and uploading curricula. It does go well beyond that. First off, content creation is not limited to uploading files. You have tools in Ecto to create auto-graded learning items and activities. These â€œlearning pagesâ€ can involve a â€œmash upâ€ of Web 2.0 content. A simple example: say you are a biology teacher and you found a movie on YouTube that offered a good explanation of photosynthesis and a photo on Flickr that illustrated plant cellsâ€”you can embed the video and the photo in a learning page that you create in Ecto and add to it a short answer question or an auto-graded multi-choice question. Students can also create learning pages. Maybe what you just created was a short comprehension quiz.
The quiz would then become a part of the open library if you chose to share it after it was administered to the class. It would be searchable and rate-able by other biology teachers around the world. Over time, the open Ecto library will become a greater and greater resource. It will contain many different types of materials individual questions, entire exams, lesson plans, learning pages constructed in Ecto, resources and public artifacts culled from elsewhere on the web.
As I mentioned, Ecto has also managed to integrate a full set of LMS features with the library and social networking. I donâ€™t think these elements by themselves (online gradebook, attendance tracker, etc) are pertinent to our discussion, but perhaps they do become noteworthy when you consider that the presence of those things may help answer the question of â€œhow do we integrate social networking into the classroomâ€â€”the efficiency that these tools are capable of creating may help to bring the more adventurous Web2.0 features in through the backdoor. For instance, Ecto makes it easier to coordinate and assess blogging assignments because you can look at the RSS feeds for the group in Ecto and grade them there as well.
Again, my apologies for posting such a long response. I hope it fuels the discussion. The discussion around here has certainly been fueling the evolution of Ecto. Thank you!
John Krueger says
As I begin my planning for a new curriculum next year (I am a German teacher) with the intention of incorporating social networking as a key component I have been wondering about the concern for security. I definitely want a real, not “canned” environment where students can connect—sooo important!—but I must be realistic and recognize that many schools where my course will be taught (I am in Distance Learning) may have policies that will not allow students access to certain sites…
Ecto sounds interesting…I will have a look. Has anyone heard about Think.com from oracle?
Still considering the options…