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As I mentioned in my last post what I love about this COETAIL program is it allows me to see education across the grade levels.

Earlier this week I was in Jim Fitzgerald’s Higher Level Year 1 IB English Class (11th Graders), where students were working on a Semester Long Unit on Ekphrasis.

Students are using their blogs as a way to document their learning (creating e-portfolios). We have a few teachers in the high school using blogs with students and I had an opportunity yesterday to chat with them in Mr. Fitz’s class about their blogs.

You have to love an English teacher who takes every opportunity to teach. He explains the naming of his netvibes page this way.

The name of my page is Quarks. I take the name from the elementary particle that is a fundamental constituent of matter; it is also an allusion to James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. The name “quark” was taken by Murray Gell-Mann (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murray_Gell-Mann )from the book “Finnegan’s Wake” by James Joyce. The line “Three quarks for Muster Mark…” appears in the fanciful book. Gell-Mann received the 1969 Nobel Prize for his work in classifying elementary particles.

Overall the students enjoyed having a space that belonged to them. A space on the web that they could customize and arrange how they wanted. Some students have put mp3 players on their blogs with their favorite song of the day, others have links to their favorite sites (One student had links to his favorite rugby teams). Another student loves watching movies and writes movie reviews on his blog in his free time.

“I like it, it gives me a place to jot down what I’m thinking.”

I thought that was a good quote and what we want these blogs/e-portfolios to become, a place for students to feel free to express themselves as people. A place for them to think out loud, and share that thinking with others.

All of this is great…but the real reason why I want to celebrate Jim is because he listens to his students.

Jim was looking for a way to communicate with all the Juniors he had in his 3 different classes. He didn’t have a system to communicate to all of them instantly when things changed, like the due date of an assignment.

So, Jim asked the kids….what system would work and without hesitation the students said Facebook.

So with the student’s help Jim set up a Facebook group and then made a couple students in every class an administrator of the group to help invite all the other students to the group.

Now when Jim needs to communicate to all his students he simply posts it to the group or messages all of them.

Why Facebook?

“Because it’s where we’re at.” was the answer I got when I asked the students. They love it and Jim loves it.

Never Ending Road Jim now had administrators who basically run the group for him. In the middle of a class he can call on one of them to post something to the group, an update, a link, etc.

When you empower kids, great things happen.

Of course the more we talked the more I wanted to know so I asked the kids “Do you think every class should have a Facebook Group?”

Heads nodded around the room.

Facebook is their e-mail system, it’s the system they use and where they spend there time. If we want to communicate with them we need to find ways to harness the power of the tools they use. Forcing them to use OUR e-mail, or OUR systems to communicate can work, but it’s not natural and it’s another place to check for information….and we all know how much we love that.

So now I’m thinking I have to find a way to integrate Facebook with our Moodle installation there’s got to be a way to take advantage of these tools, to connect them together and use them to power and socialize the learning environment.

We hear so many negative things about Facebook in schools and yet here we find a teacher who has learned to embrace it. The old saying “If you can’t beat them, join them!” still holds true. We can’t keep kids from using Facebook, for better or worse it’s where they’re at. What we need to do is find ways to use it to enhance our classrooms, find ways to show students how to use these social tools to create positive connections.

Just returning from a full day of thinking and teaching starting with Saturday school and talking to some students who got in trouble for cyber bullying on Facebook. I love getting the opportunity to talk to students about their social world and continue to find it fascinating on their views of what they consider “their world”.

My wife, being the school counselor, had the job of teaching Saturday school today and together we came up with a plan that we hoped was A) Educational B) Not so fun….after all this is Saturday school.

I only had the opportunity to spend an hour with the students before I had to run off to teach the COETAIL grad course for teachers here at ISB.

I started the morning off by talking about privacy, having the students try and define it (harder than you might think) and then talk about what’s private on Facebook. Then helping them to understand that nothing is private on the Internet….nothing. I had them do some researching on the Internet and two students found sites that even talked about “How to hack a Facebook account and see peoples wall without being their friend.” (I refuse to link to the site). The students found that shocking, and the more we talked the more shocked they seemed to be. At the end of our little chat their assignment was to write either a blog post or a paper with at least three recent resources on either privacy on facebook or cyber bullying. Most students chose to write a paper as I think the idea of putting this on their blogs was a little…embarrassing….fair enough!

After I left, my wife took over and doing the counselor thing had them reflect even deeper about cyber bullying by putting them in small groups and reading some of the letters from this great book: Letters to a Bullied Girl . According to my wife their discussions about bullying were pretty deep and meaningful and many of them talked about how they had never thought about it before, but how easy it was to slip into being a bully on the Internet. They also took a look at the middle school Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) and had a conversation around what it meant and why some of the ideas in the AUP were there to begin with. The saddest part of the day for me looking back is why it it only our students who already got in trouble that are getting this message and are we doing enough to teach kids before they reach Saturday school? Something I’m taking with me Monday to work!

The real fascination for me came when I asked the students if they were friends with someone in real life could they not be friends with them on Facebook? You would have thought I was joking by the looks on their faces. Three students spoke up and all said the same thing….”No Way!” That there is a social obligation to be Facebook friends with someone if you are friends in real life and not “friending” them on Facebook would be the same as saying “we’re not friends”.

This is the lives of our students, a world where there is an obligation to be virtual friends with your real friends. An obligation to be on Facebook and be “cool” there as well. This is their social world, and middle schoolers are developmentally in a place that is all about fitting in, being social, and belonging. That’s what is important in their lives, not school, not their homework, but their social lives. As one middle school teacher I was talking to explained “No matter how engaging our lessons are we can not compete with their social lives, they are, at this age all about finding out who they are and belonging.”

At one point today, these students who were there to learn and reflect and were in trouble, were still caught chatting on Facebook in the background by my wife. Here are students, in trouble, writing papers on cyber bullying and still need? crave? want? that social connection.

There’s a part of me that feels sad for them….as I think back on my own Jr. High years and that sense of wanting to fit in, in being “normal” and how much more pressure must be on them in these virtual places that I for one never had to deal with. When I got home….I could relax, not think about it, but now there is this obligation that you’ll be on Facebook, that you’ll be social, even in your house…that’s a lot of pressure to “always be on” for a 13 year old…..honestly….one I’m glad I never had.

There is a social pressure within these students that I honestly do not thing any of us can understand. The more I watch, listen, and interact with students today the more I’m realizing this social pressure that is on them and wondering as an educational community how do we help them, when it is so foreign to all of us? How do we help them mange these connections, use them in powerful ways, and protect themselves and their friends all while allowing them to be social where they need to be? I’m struggling with this and I’m the one that’s suppose to have the answers for parents and teachers and schools on how to handle this. I’m just not sure that we as a society are ready to handle these new social norms that we really don’t understand and for many people are so scary, or foreign that it’s easy to pretend they don’t exist and say “I hate Facebook” then to approach it with an open mind and concept for what’s new.

Privacy, Safety, Bullying….it’s a whole new world out there that I’m trying hard to understand.

Well….maybe not yet, but in the coming year if you are a private or international school you better be monitoring and using these new social tools to engage new students and families.

A Bloomberg report came out earlier this week titled: One Bad Twitter ‘Tweet’ Can Cost 30 Customers, Survey Shows.

A negative review or comment on the Twitter, Facebook or Youtube Web sites can lose companies as many as 30 customers, according to a survey by Convergys Corp.

Word of Mouth (WOM) is enigmatic - fairly straightforward and simple to understand yet elusive and difficult to engage, spread and sustain. Flickr ID: Intersection Consulting
Word of Mouth (WOM) is enigmatic - fairly straightforward and simple to understand yet elusive and difficult to engage, spread and sustain. Flickr ID: Intersection Consulting

Now…that’s the business world and if you work in a public school this might not affect you, unless you’re in a district that allows student choice…then it might be an issue.

But if you are a private school competing with other private schools this is an article that should have you thinking!

A customer review on one of the sites reaches an average audience of 45 people, two-thirds of whom would avoid or completely stop doing business with a company they heard bad things about, Convergys said, citing its own survey.

So let’s take an international school in, I don’t know, say Bangkok, Thailand. You start where most do at Google and do a quick search for Bangkok International Schools. Which returns you 10 results. You then click on the link that Google gives you that says “Local business results for International schools near Bangkok, Thailand” and you’re given a different list with addresses on Google Maps (Here’s the first issue…I know there are at least 50 international schools in Bangkok and only 10 show up on this list. Strike 1 for some schools).

There are no ratings, no comments, not much to go on here except links to the schools websites (missed opportunity not having comments or a rating on your Google Search results). Of course every school website looks great and can give you a broad overview of what the school is about. But as a parent, or a new student….you want more. You want to know what that schools like. So you head to YouTube, where a quick search for Bangkok International Schools, gives you a list of  5 star rated videos to watch.

One video I watch has the following comment:

Oh how I hate this school! == They’re just persauding people its not REAL!!!!

and it was left a month ago, I click on the user to find out that this is the only comment this user has made. In fact it looks like this person made the YouTube account just to leave the comment. Now…I start to worry about this school (strike 2!).

Social media is changing the way organizations communicate with their audiences. Flickr ID: Intersection Consulting
Social media is changing the way organizations communicate with their audiences. Flickr ID: Intersection Consulting

I click on another 5 star rated video that has been viewed over 1,000 times. The video is a pretty cool production by students at the school. You can watch it for yourself here. Not only that, but the comments are pretty good as well. You can tell that many were written by what I can assume to be students at the school. Now I’m liking this, students being creative and I have just narrowed down my search for a school.

Of course I’d then head to Facebook and do the same search and see what I find there, continuing to narrow down my search for international schools in Bangkok until I find what I feel is a good fit for me as a student, or for my son or daughter if I’m a parent.

Here’s what private schools and international schools who are in a competitive environment need to understand. Parents and students will come to your school website for an overview, but they are going to be influenced by what they find in social spaces as well. When I can talk directly to students at a school via Facebook, or watch a production on YouTube and read comments, that is going to play into my decision…and any administrator or school that doesn’t think it will….will find themselves, in short time, loosing students.

Take control of your online profile or someone else will!

facebookI thought I would share an e-mail that was sent from our department today to a parent who had raised a concern about Facebook being unblocked at school. A very well thought out e-mail from the group. Chad Bates did most of the work with Dennis, Kim and I adding our two cents in as well.

Dear Parent,

Thanks for your email, you raise an issue that schools, teachers, parents and workplaces are currently grappling with i.e. weighing the benefits of social networks against the concerns. When considering the relative merits of Facebook, there are some very obvious negative uses as well as positive uses, and a whole lot of grey area:


  • Facebook is a 21st Century Communication tool that students use much like we use email
  • Acknowledgment of this very real social interaction and providing students with opportunities to learn with technology the way they live with technology rather than further distance school from the reality of the outside world

  • Giving students opportunity to develop their own time management skills and choices

  • Developing digital citizenship and opportunity to practice safe and responsible use of information and technology


  • Cyber-bullying issues

  • Invasions of privacy

  • Reduction in productivity

Within ISB’s Technology Department, we walk a fine line with censoring Internet content, one we don’t take lightly. When attempting to strike a balance between student safety, productivity and educational benefit; we’ve found blocking pornographic sites, gambling sites and gaming sites are no brainers. However when considering social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace (not to mention the many social non-English social networking sites) it is not so cut and dried.

These sites have emerged as social areas that form a major significant part of many of our student’s lives. This socialization is near as important to this generation as face to face time with their friends and they maintain friendships beyond ISB to include international students from schools around the world. At this point we feel that by simply blocking these sites, we as a school would be missing an opportunity to educate students about how to use them appropriately. That being said, we continue to monitor the use of these sites (and others) within the school and evaluate their value and the learning opportunity for students (as opposed to denial) versus the potential for distraction. If students cannot manage their time on computers productively at school, then they would certainly not be able to at home. Blocking access has not proven to be effective in teaching students to use a tool effectively and wisely. If you’d like to further discuss Facebook, I’d be happy for you to come by the EdTech Office (above the library).


ISB Ed Tech Team

I have to share this story with you if for no other reason….I’ve shared it with anyone that would listen to me at school today. I believe this story shows the power of:

1. What can happen when we allow students to be “out there”.
2. What happens when our teachers become networked and can bring that network to their students.
3. That through connections educational possibilities are endless!

This couldn’t have come at a better time with Clint H leaving a comment on my last post about a conversation he had with his IT Director:

He has some very persuasive arguments for his ‘walled garden’ approach (including “nobody ever reads public blogs anyway so what’s the difference?”)

Really….nobody reads public blogs anymore……..please read on!

So here’s how the story of connections played out last night.

1. I do a lesson in one of our 5th grade classrooms where we have a great discussion around what it means to blog, what good blogging looks like, and the difference between leaving a comment and a compliment. We also learn how to add an image to our post and how to add a link. Following the teachers lead based on this blog post, the students homework is to write a reflective blog post about the science experiment they did and what they learned. I leave the room with this challenge:

I will read all your blog posts tonight and the best ones I’ll send out for the world to read.

Of course they no nothing of the 4700+ Twitter followers I have or the 400+ Facebook friends. Nor should they care…what is important here is that their teacher is connected into a wider community to help foster a global audience.

2. Late last night I visited the classes netvibes page and started going through the student’s blog posts leaving comments on everyone of them. I was proud to see that most everyone’s blogging had improved from before our lesson and some students had really taken the time to sit down and write out their thoughts.

img_33671One such student was Haley who wrote out the experiment that the students had done in class. A great little bit of procedural writing (writing connection). I decided that this was one of the top 5 posts in the class and sent a link to her blog post out on Twitter and to my Facebook Friends asking them to please visit the blog if for no other reason to put a mark on her map that there really are people out there who will read you if you have good writing (Hey, I’m not above a little fake audience to start a conversation with kids that will lead to deeper writing and understanding!).

3. It just so happens that Allanah K (who I had the pleasure of meeting last year) was on Twitter last night and reads my tweet about the students writing. Intrigued by Haley’s blog post Allanah takes the idea to school with her today in New Zealand and asks the students if they would like to try Haley’s experiment. By the time I get to school today Allanah and her class have finished their experiment and have blogged about it on their class blog….of course giving full credit to Haley.

Where to go from here:
Of course at this point my mind is racing. This experiment has to do with teaching variables and just think of all the variables we can now ask as we collect data.

  • What if we share our data with the class in New Zealand?
  • I wonder if longitude and latitude is a variable we need to consider (Social Studies)
  • I wonder if we’ll get the same results? (Science)
  • How can we best represent our data for someone else to read? (Math, Science)
  • Why is writing clear instructions important? (Writing)

Of course there are hundreds of possibilities now that can happen now that these two classes are connected. With a time difference of only 5 hours a Skype call even with students talking about their data and experiments to each other…or more blog posts with more explanations.

Yes this all came about because I am connected…but it’s not about me….it’s about the connections. Miss B is a friend of mine on Facebook and seeing me post the students blogs there….copied and pasted the addresses and sent them out to her Facebook friends. She too is a connected teacher, but up until this point had never thought of using her network of friends and other educators in this way.

There is great power when we put students out there and allow them to share their thinking. These students have had a blog for two weeks now and this is their first major connection as a class. As we continue to learn about blogging, as our writing improves and more importantly our thinking improves, I know we’ll see more connections like this….it’s just to powerful of a learning platform not to.

So to the IT Directors out there that say “It’s to scary.”, “We can’t do it.”, “What’s the point?” I give you this.

That making deep connections only happen when you put yourself out there….sure we can play it safe…but playing it safe has never lead to deeper understanding!

Image Credit: id-iom

Last year I was pretty critical of EduBloggerCon. For me it was too big, too scripted, and…well…you can read the post.

This year….smaller, deeper, and more thoughtful. Exactly what I was hoping for and personally what I need to push my own thinking. It was one of those days where you went to one but watch others via Twitter. You wanted to go to all the sessions…and in some ways you did via the conversations that happened between the actual sessions.

Last year I said it was too big…around 250 people. This year around 75 people….not a bad size.

Last year it was to scripted….this year it was flexible, adaptable, and conversation based. Not adaptable enough for my taste but that was due more to the people that went than the organization of the sessions.

With empty sessions all over the wiki, nobody should complain that the conversation wasn’t what they needed. If you wanted a conversation the spots were available to put up a topic. I did just that wanting to discuss the changes that are happening with blogging because of Twitter and this whole “live stream” service (more on that later).

So….here are my take aways from EduBloggerCon 2009

Best Practice of PD (My live notes)
A great session that had a group of about 30 break into smaller groups, discuss ideas on what worked at our schools and then came back together to share as a group. We came to the same conclusions that it seems we always end up at:

  • Getting administrators on board is key
  • You have to meet teacher where they are
  • There are different approaches, no one right model/way to shift teachers
  • Change is hard
  • Change is frustrating

Build Your Own Tool (My notes)
A great session that allowed us all to dream about the tool we would create if we had a coder. That’s exactly what Mark Wagner wanted out of the session and has had success with when he rents a coder to create applications for him.

Where School Reform Meets Madonna:
This session was too deep for me to even take notes on….I was too busy thinking about the conversation that was going on. It was a great intense hour with one liners that filled twitter faster than any single one person could type.

My take away….or just good reminder…came from Scott McLeod when he reminded me that kids that are 14,15,16 years old are all about ME. How do we tap into that ME and make the world relevant to them? It’s where they are developmentally and it’s not a bad thing. These kids are trying to find out who they are, where do they fit, and the web and their web presence is a part of that. How do we tap into that ME, find what is passionate to them, and then find them an audience that makes learning relevant? It’s good to be reminded just where these kids are at. We talked about that they don’t use Twitter or blog because that is about spreading your message and not about ME. ME is about ME and my friends, it’s exactly what Facebook offers them…a place to hang out with their friends, talk with their friends, and be with their friends. Can we tap into this? Can we use this to our advantage? How do we use this in a learning enviornment? Should we?

Edu Blogging:
Lastly was a discussion I lead on where is EduBlogging heading and/or is it dead already?

It was a good discussion that talked about how the conversation is changing. That at a point in time we use to actually take time to read and leave comments on blog posts. Now we read, and retweet blog posts. We talked about how Twitter is the new aggregator and is replacing RSS as a way people are getting their information. On this blog for example, I have more readers that come via Twitter then I do via the RSS feed.

Because of Twitters live constant scrolling feed, we also talked about how the “life span” of a blog post is shrinking. I use to get comments on a blog post lasting weeks. Now I post a blog, it gets a comment or maybe two in a the first 10 minutes, gets retweeted for about 20 minutes and then it’s old news. I’ve also been running tests about the timing of blog posts. Being in Thailand I found that blog posts that I posted on my lunch hour had fewer views then those that got posted late at night. I have a theory this has to do with time zones as most educational twitters are in North America. So I’ve set different blog posts to go live at different times and have found that I get more readers on a blog post if it is posted around 3pm EST. This is a great time to release a blog post as educators on the east coast are just getting out of school and checking Twitter, while educators on the west coast are checking Twitter over lunch. Depending on the blog post I can see views fluctuate by the 100s.

Now…please do not think that I’m all about the number of readers. It’s just an experiment that I’ve been running (and seeing I’m posting this at 11pm EST we’ll see how it goes) to see if the “life span” of blog posts are getting shorter…so far….I think they are.

We then talked about our students blogging and what is the reason for it. David Warlick brought us back from a rant at one point to focus on that all of this, whether blogging, or twitter, or facebook updates, it’s all about conversations and communication. Yes, the conversations are changing. But in the end we’re just communicating with different tools. Whether it’s paint drawings on walls in a cave or quick 140 character Twitter messages. We have an internal need to communicate and that’s the fundamental skill we need to be teaching students.

So those are my “official” take aways from today. Of course all of these conversations have been had before, and could have been had on the web. The real reason I’m here are for all the conversations that can’t be had via the web. It’s shaki
ng hands, giving hugs, and just catching up. It’s the quick conversation over lunch or over a drink. It’s the time together with people that is the reason we all decend on Washington DC. I look forward to the rest of the conference and just being with other educational technologists.

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Last week the Ed Tech team here at my school held a 3 hour social networking workshop for parents. The workshop was requested by parents after we made a brief presentation to the school board back in November.

Before we began we took a quick poll of the 20 parents (all mothers):

  • Non had a Facebook account but a couple of them had heard about it.
  • Non had been on YouTube but they all had heard about it.
  • What did they want to know: How to see what their kids were doing on the computer without them knowing about it.

In the 3 hours we covered the following:

  • 20 minutes on introductions and Inside ISB our new educational portal
  • 20 minutes on PantherNet (Moodle) our walled garden for learning
  • 20 minute presentation on why students are so connected (this year’s seniors were born the same year the Internet was invented…they will never know a time without the Internet)
  • 20 minutes on using YouTube as a life lone learning tool (parents searched for ‘how to’ videos on things they were interested in).
  • 20 minutes on Internet Safety
  • 20 minutes on web based library resources
  • 20 minutes on Facebook
  • 20 minutes on Google Search Skills
  • 20 minutes on breaks, Q&A

It was an enlightening three hours for both sides I think. I didn’t realize how little our parents knew. At one point we stopped to explain tabbed browsing and the back button.

I’ve talked about this before, that for the first time in the history of education we not only have to spend time on the students in our charge, but on re-educating our community as well on what it means to learn in today’s world.

Parents were amazed with what they could find on YouTube. One mom improved her golf swing, while another looked up recipes for dinner.

What I took away from the three hours and what has me the most worried is, that it seems that up until now these parents had taken an “Ignorance is Bliss” approach to technology, and rather than learning the tools what they really wanted was to find a way to spy on their kids.

Of course this is a similar approach many schools take….if we just ignore the changes happening then maybe they will go away. The problem is the Internet and all of its content is not going anywhere anytime soon. Worse yet, by taking this approach both in the home and in our schools, the gap between what the students know and what the adults know continues to widen.

The 20 parents that showed up obviously want to learn, think it is important and are hungry to learn more. How many parents at your school would come to a three hour workshop on social networking? 20 is a start…but we have a long way to go in re-educating our communities.

The best advice I ever give to parents is one of conversation. On more than one occasion parents have asked me where should they start. My answer is always the same. Start with your own children. Grab a pen and piece of paper and really care about these spaces. Have them walk you through their Facebook account. Try and learn and understand what they do there. If they won’t let you see their account, then you have an issue. Facebook is not a private space. If they are willing to share that information with their friends, they should be willing to share it with you. Have a conversation about what you see. See a picture that upsets you? Talk about it in an adult fashion. Ask the questions:

  • What do you think this pictures says about you?
  • Do you know all (number of friends) of your ‘friends?
  • Can you trust everyone on your ‘friends’ list not to download that picture?
  • What does that update say about you as a person?
  • Is that who you want to be known as?

These are just a couple questions that parents can use when starting those conversations with their children…again be open and listen to their responses. Even better advice….have your child help you set up your own Facebook account. This has been the most powerful moment for many parents I have talked to.

Limiting access to the computer is also not a bad thing (See Will Richardson). We need to remember that students see the computer as a ‘social gateway‘. The same rules could easily apply that have always applied about visiting or chatting with friends. The conversations remain the same, just the context changes.

Mom: “You can go play with your friends, but be home in an hour.”

which is what my mom use to say….today:

Mom: “You can go on Facebook, but you need to be back here in an hour.”

It’s the same message.

Dad: “Yes, you can go to the store with your friends, just know that dinner will be served at 7 and you are expected to be here.”

which is what my dad use to say….today:

Dad: “Yes, you can go on the Internet, just know that dinner will be served at 7 and you are expected to be here…and disconnected.”

The conversations haven’t changed…or at least haven’t changed that much, we just need to update our vocabulary and understand these social spaces are the new ‘hang outs’ for students.

What is even more important I think are the after conversations….the conversations that allow both you and your child to debrief about their day. My mom use to always ask me how my friends were doing….in fact she still does. 🙂

(After time on the computer)

Mom: “How are your friends doing?”

Son: “OK”

Mom: “What is John up to?”

Son: “Not much, his mom is away again so he and his dad are going out for dinner.”

Mom:  “Oh, how about Susie?”

Son: “She updated her status from downtown somewhere….not sure where but I’m sure she’s with Chad.”

Mom: “With Chad? Are they a…..”

Son: “Yeah, happened yesterday at school….”

Kids want to talk about their friends….we just need to ask. This is the time of their life to be soical and this generation has more ways to be connected socially than any generation before it. But they still want to know we care, we just need to update our conversations…but the conversations are the same.

What I love about kids is that kids are kids. The language might have changed, the conversations might be different, but in the end they just want someone to care about them. They want to know you care enough to ask the questions, to get to know their wired world, and to be facinated by it, not scared by it.

Strike up a conversation with a kid today, learn about their world….they are the most facinating of human beings. 🙂

(Full Disclosure: I do not have kids of my own)

Just finished up a full day at UNIS-Hanoi and thinking about where the conversations focused today. I spent the day talking with groups of teachers; Math/Science, Languages, Humanities, etc. We talked about my opening session and then got into some ideas on what learning looks like in a 1:1 tablet program that they have launched this year…how does it change the learning landscape for students?

11 days before I board a plane to my new home in Bangkok, Thailand and the itch of the network is slowly starting to return.

I’ve almost felt guilty these past couple of weeks coming up with reasons not to be connected. I check e-mail and either delete things or put them in the to-do list of things to complete later. But it’s summer and that’s what summer’s about. Taking time off, re-energizing, and getting ready for another run.

I was getting worried a couple weeks ago that the ‘itch’ wouldn’t return this year. That maybe I had burned myself out and that this would be the year I wasn’t looking forward to returning to education, to intentional teaching, and everything else that goes with this profession.

Then two weeks ago my mom, who teaches an Organizational Leadership class for would be Principals at Whitworth University, invited me to come talk to her class of six about technology. Of course I jumped at the chance to talk with pre-principals about how to support technology in their schools.

I opened up a lot of tabs in my browser and had two Power Points plus my presentation wiki standing by, not knowing what they knew or what they wanted to talk about.

It didn’t take long for the conversation to get rolling and right away I had some push back about a new literacy that is forming in our schools.

The conversation had two interesting points.

First we talked about Google and about verifying information on the Internet. I asked them how they verify the information they find on the Internet. Nobody answered and one even said he never trusts anything on the Internet. So I walked them through Google. We did a search for on of the guys in class and talked about how Google ranks returns. I could tell that I was losing them so I did a quick search for Martin Luther King Jr. and we walked through the links reading the little blurbs that came up for each site. Of course the fourth link down is the famous site that is ran by a white nationalist community.

I clicked on the link and we went to the site. As soon as the site finished loading I asked the group to give me a thumbs up or thumbs down on whether this site was reliable (Students decide within 7 seconds).

six thumbs ups.

We then talked about how students today trust the Internet and how teachers send students home to do homework on the Interent because sites at school are blocked.

I walked them through a validity process that took us to the white nationalist community website and use Whois.net to find out that they owned the site.

Six jaws drop to the floor.

And the next thing that is said

“I’m sure that’s blocked by our school filter.”

and right there…we’ve missed the point. The point is not whether or not this site is blocked by the school filter the point is are we teaching students today to verify information for themselves on the web?

After I got them past the shock of what they were looking at and tried to answer the question “but how does that happen?” the conversation continued.

I’m not sure how, but we ended up talking about Facebook. Of course I told them all they should be on Facebook or at least have knowledge of what’s there and went into my talk on taking control of your online profile. Which as soon-to-be Principals I thought was relevent.

Right away I again had some pushback.

Student: “I understand what you’re saying but there is no way that will happen in the States.”

Me: “What do you mean?”

Student: “My school will fire you if they find out you have a page like that or what’s the other one? Myspace? Yeah, if you have a site there and the school finds out you’re fired.”

Now my jaw drops and all I can think is that schools can now tell you where you can and can’t have a presence on the web?

I did do a little research into the above statement by the student. I talked to other employees of that same school district who have Facebook pages and use Facebook regularly. They said “You just have to be careful and know that you are a teacher.” What bothers me is that there are some teachers out there that think they’ll get fired for exploring a social network. 🙁

The conversation continues and as I show them some of the ways International Schools (because that’s what I know) are using Facebook to engage students in these social places, and using them to empower and teach students the more they’re looking at me like I’m crazy.

Student: “There’s no way you’d get a school to do that here. A kid posts one bad thing and you’d be sued! You forget that our job is to not get sued!”

Right….I forget as apposed to teaching kids.

It was a interesting conversation and we all ended up agreeing that schools in my hometown have taking the approach to pretend that things don’t happen in Facebook that might cause the school harm. The take from the six students was to pretend it doesn’t exisit and that way they can’t sue the school for not knowing what’s there.

WOW…if this is the American approach to these new social tools, America is farther behind then what I thought!

But now the itch is slowly coming back with 11 days of vacation left. I believing even more that Internatioinal Schools are where we’re going to see large scale shifts happen.

So I woke up this morning to find that my post last night on school’s taking control of their profiles has started a little conversation. I gave a talk on this topic to educators and administrators at the EARCOS conference in March that scared a few, made a few jump into action, and others left shaking their heads not knowing what to do.

So where do you start? First you need to understand that I work at a private international school. At the end of the day we are serving customers and need to understand where our customers are coming from and where they go to find information about our school. This is the reason why I think my talk at EARCOS hit home with so many. There are over 100 international schools that belong to EARCOS. We are all private, we all have customers, and in many cases we are completing with other international schools in our cities for those customers.

So the image of our schools might be different then those of a public school. Although I would argue that a public schools image has a lot to do with how students ‘feel’ about school to begin with.

In the comment that Doug Johnson left he asks what steps I think schools should take, where should they start?

The long and short of it: Start where your customers (students) are! You need to start shaping your school’s profile in those social-networks that your students use. Internationally, that mean Facebook. I encourage you to go to Facebook and start searching high schools that you know (this is more of a high school thing).

Why Facebook? Internationally that’s where our kids are. In a presentation earlier this year to the high school student body I asked them how many had a facebook page. Easily 95% raised their hands. That should be a dead give away to the school that this is where the students are, this is where they find, and look for information. Ask the students at your school. What is the “hot” social space for them…and then get there!

Case in point. This comment written on the wall of a group started by students.

(Taken from an open group on facebook without permission)

Step 1

High Schools especially should start by creating a group on Facebook that they can control the content on. Then invite their students to join. Not sure if you have noticed or not, but teenagers like to belong to groups. Most schools have a PR department or a communications department. These spaces I believe should fall under their responsibility. We expect the PR person to work with the media including local television stations, newspapers, etc. Their roles need to be expanded to understand these new media landscapes.

Why start a new group?

You can’t stop students from making groups on Facebook about your school, but what you can do is make a group that future/present/past students will join and try and make it the most popular group. Why? So when a person on Facebook searches for your school your group…the one that the school controls comes up first. If the person can tell that this group is ran by the school they will be more trusting of that information then of the information found on student groups (in theory anyway).

A great example of this is the International School of Kuala Lumpur. Their Alumni members started a group on Facebook as a way to connect students. It is ran by the Alumni Coordinator, a woman by the name of Toni who I met while doing my EARCOS presentation in KL. I used ISKL’s site as an example of what can happen when schools take control of this area.

The group has over 1,300 members. All are past or present students and staff. Personally I think using Facebook as an alumni site is a fantastic idea.

  • Connect current students with those who have graduated and are in college
  • Connect past students to each other
  • Connect past teachers with students
  • Organize reunions, parties, etc in one simple place that gets the word out to your student community.

So now when students go to Facebook and look for groups at ISKL the first one they come to is this Alumni group, ran by a person who has a vested interest in the school.

Now, we haven’t even talked about teachers. With more and more international teachers (and people in general) creating Facebook accounts what a great way for an international school to connect with future teachers during the recruiting process.

You can’t stop students from using Facebook, but you can create a group that is the number one site when they search.

Step 2

Search Often: Schools should run searches on all major search engines to know what people will find when they are looking for your school. Using these results from different search engines a school can do its best to control the content on those top sites.

Use RSS Feeds: Using RSS feeds from sites such as Wikipedia allows a school to track changes on their school’s page. Mark Ahlness talks about this in the comments on the last post:

I created a page for my school on Wikipedia a couple of years ago,
follow changes regularly via rss – you know, the stuff a responsible
open wiki contributor would do.

Using RSS feeds from search results as well as using the RSS Feed from Technorati (you never know who will blog about the school…some of our parents are bloggers!). The RSS Feed from a Google Search on the school’s name. A Yahoo search, a Google News Search and a Google Blog search. Why not? You set up the feed and then can browse it every morning. You know what’s being said on the web and who’s saying it.

Know your audience: Signing up for a simple tracking program like Google Analytics
and install it on the school’s home page. This can give a school great
data. Know what key words get people to your
site, know what they are looking at, how long they are staying and what
seems to be the most popular. From there a school can create an online
profile that gives people the information they want.

Understand Students: Understand students today. Be connected to them, listen to them, where are they at online? What are they talking about? Where should the school be?

Doug Johnson asks this questions:

How does one make changes on privately controlled online spaces like
personal social networking sites, newspaper blog posts, “rate your
teacher” sites, etc?

The first thing you need to realize is you can’t control it. But you can have conversations about it. I have talked to a couple of our students who have started social-network groups/sites and talked about how the space is affecting their personal profile. Forget the school…hit them where it counts. Their personal profile. I’ve talked about this here and here.

As for Rate My Teache
. What could a teacher do about this? Is this part of a teacher’s online profile? Have any teachers talked about this, used this site in a positive way?

Here’s the scary thing. I’ve looked up pass teachers on the site and would say that the kids have it pretty much right! Is that something to be scared of? Or an honesty that we should recognize?

So to Conclude:

Understand you can not completely control a school’s online profile, but you can do your best to make sure that the right information is at the top.

Understand and talk to your students. I do all the time in the hallway. Had a talk with kids today about why they aren’t in Wikipedia fixing the information. It’s THEIR school that this is being writing about. Put them in control, show them how they can be in control. Give them the power they want. Treat them like the tech savvy kids they are and allow them to help you….not work against you.

Put someone in charge and take control of your school’s profile. If you don’t do it now…tomorrow might be to late!