Category Archives: 21st Century Education

danah boyd and Social Media in the Classroom

Social Media in the classroom has become a hot issue in education. I’ve talked to several teachers who want to create opportunities for students to communicate using the same technological platforms teens have already grown accustomed to. I interviewed Microsoft Social Media Researcher and Harvard Fellow, danah boyd about how teens connect using social media and asked her to suggest some tips for teachers wanting to use these platforms. I also spoke with Educational Researcher Dr. Tracey Alloway from Stirling University in Scotland about the benefits of social media in Education including the building of working memory.

Interview with danah boyd


Interview with Dr. Tracey Alloway


Paper on Participatory Cultures
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Social Media Advisory is not a Policy

The Ontario College of Teachers’ release this week of a Social Media advisory takes education into the 21st century by acknowledging that teachers and students are using the medium. Unfortunately, headlines like “Teachers banned from friending students on Facebook” and online rants about teachers with pedophilia-like tendencies show several members of the media and public have misinterpreted the advisory. Advisory is “advice”, not a rule handed down through a policy. Why is this distinction important? Because it helps us define purpose. The advice outlined in the document is meant to protect teachers from potential legal ramifications that can take place through misinterpretations of text communications. It also serves as a reminder for teachers to continue to follow, as we have always followed, The Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession and Ethical Standards for the Teaching Profession. Although, this reminder should really go without saying. Teachers have always understood that their lives are predominantly public and they must act accordingly. Online social media is much like being in public coffee shops and malls and should be an easy transition for teachers.


The advisory is directed towards teachers as its audience. Unfortunately, some members of the public and media looking in, took it upon themselves to “read between the lines”, believing the advice to teachers was laced with a hidden message warning the public to protect themselves from the misguided and predatory intentions of teachers who troll the online world. However, to be fair, the OCT writers didn’t do much to steer public opinion away from the negativity, especially by including phrases like “cellphones are the gateway to child pornography”. Such a bad call on the part of the writers. Inciting fear is a great way to get people to sit up and take notice but it does little to foster public trust in teachers. It also does little to encourage teachers who currently sit on the fence with technology to use social media in the classroom.


Parents already trust teachers with their children every day in the classroom. So, why is it that when the classroom goes online, some members of the public think teachers’ ethics change and the relationships are negatively affected? Do they really think that the technology dictates our behaviour? The public needs to give teachers more credit.


There are 60-thousand teachers in Ontario and only a few, very rare cases of teachers communicating inappropriately with students on-line. In fact, social media actually works completely against this. It encourages people to behave the same way online as they do in person by predominantly taking place in a public space. In these spaces, everyone knows that your words can and will be passed on through the community circle. That’s actually its purpose and so it serves as one of the most transparent communication platforms between teachers and students. Even private messaging doesn’t necessarily present a problem. It is just like the private conferences we’ve always had with students needing guidance on school-work and not wanting to be subjected to the scrutiny of their peers. There are many times when students are too embarrassed to ask for clarification or admit they need extra help in front of their peers.


Outlining your expectations in advance with students and discussing digital citizenship and privacy in class brings everyone in line with the appropriate use for social media in the classroom. Following this practice and modeling appropriate behaviour can only help students. And if anything inappropriate should surface, there is a textual record or paper trail.

(photo courtesy of Author: Beto Steimber, Wikimedia Commons)

Teachers as In-Service Researchers

I presented my research on teens and cell phones at an Education and Technology conference back in the Fall, outlining issues around compulsion, stress, multi-tasking versus task-switching, education, and social relationships. In the trade show exhibition room, following my presentation, I bumped into a fellow teacher colleague and asked about his experiences so far at the conference. He gave me a run down of his morning and his friend joined in and offered his opinions on the seminars he had attended. The friend mentioned that he had sit in on a presentation by a Masters student who had presented her thesis. He complained that it wasn’t anything he could use in his teaching. I noticed a slight twitch in his face as he realized that I was the Masters student (and teacher) he was talking about, and so he quickly added in, “she did a good job presenting, though”. And herein lies the problem. Teachers are still in the “tell me what tools to use and show me how stage” when they need to be at “how should these tools be used effectively, what are my expectations, and what outcomes can I project from using this technology”? Along with “does this tool help me stimulate critical inquiry and collaboration in my classroom”?


Maybe teachers expect academic sociologists to be on top of all the research so that those in the classroom don’t have to think about their selections. It’s an extremely strange and troubling stance to take, as teachers are the ones who are immersed in the classroom on a daily basis and know the way each of their students learns better than anyone in some academic lab. That’s not to discount the value of sociologists. They are an extremely valuable and necessary part of our team, rather I am working to establish teachers as valuable members of this team, as well. So does it not make sense that all teachers should become “in-service researchers” and ensure there is reflection and critical thinking in their own practice? Does it not make sense that they would share their findings with their colleagues to help support and form an effective educational learning framework, a.k.a professional development? And worse still, do teachers who want to be handed the tools actually think all of this emerging technology has been researched in advance to ensure optimal learning environments? Often what we are doing is re-purposing web applications that have been born with business productivity or entertainment in mind. There is little monetary value in developing educational applications so we are left picking through the pile of emerging apps. Again, even more reason to use an “educational filter” that calls on our knowledge of the science of learning when selecting appropriate tools.


(photo courtesy of  NASA (Great Images in NASA Description)[see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons)

Technological Determinism VS Social Determinism in Education

Greg Williams, Creative Commons

I work in education, an area that is slow to roll with the times of change. Technology has become ubiquitous in the lives of our students, as youth continue to embrace mobile technologies. Yet, there are many educators who just want to shut the door on technology, claiming that it is too much of a distraction. Common are the complaints about texting at inappropriate times, teen compulsion to stay connected 24/7, and the disruptive nature of incoming calls and texts… and the complainants are absolutely right. It is disruptive. There is no disputing that. But we need to ask, “why is technology disruptive?”


The shorter answer has its beginnings in big businesses’ quest for ultimate productivity carried over from the turn of this century when it was thought that multi-tasking meant more work would always get done. The longer and more pertinent answer to the question at hand is that technology is not being used for its greatest benefits because adults haven’t been around to guide youth in setting boundaries and defining good purpose for use. We’ve left youth out on a limb to discover possibly the most life-altering evolution of their lives all on their own. This, at a time when McLuhan’s description of technology being extensions of the self has never had more resonance.


Technological determinism does not happen in isolation. Human beings have the opportunity to mold technology just as much as technology has to mold us. Teachers need to help set the parameters for use by embracing technology, teaching good purpose, and modeling appropriate use both academically and socially.

Groundhog Day


My head is spinning this morning as I think about how to keep course work organized, relevant, accessible, organized and engaging for my students. I’ve tried numerous platforms out there from free online web 2.0 apps to sponsored education sites and apps. As I migrate my material to different platforms and sites, I feel my frustration mounting. Betas are dropped, apps are modified or commercialized and I’m left scrambling looking for the next best “fit”. It’s beginning to feel a lot like Groundhog Day.

I started using Ning last year because students love social networking. They enjoyed being able to comment on each other’s work and posts. They spent a good deal of time making their own page individualized and personalized by choosing their own page formats, colour schemes; adding videos, photos, and audio of their work. The live chat feature came in handy when I was absent in Boston. I was able to converse in real time with students as they worked on the tasks and video tutorials I had left on the site. I even linked to my Google Docs and calendar. Then Ning commercialized their site and I was lucky enough this year to get a sponsorship from Pearson for a “mini-plan”. Now I can’t create groups, post videos or music, students can no longer use their Facebook account to access the site, and I have to approve every single blog they write. I don’t have 500 dollars from my budget to open this back up to the capabilities that come with a full membership. So I started checking out other sites but then ran into the same sort of problems as these sites worked to monetize their services. It seems like there are roadblocks wherever I go.

I use Google Groups for some of my personal learning networks and for collaboration. Unfortunately, Google is taking out the page and file capabilities this January. I stumbled upon the Google Notebook, which allows for the placement of notes in a linear fashion but also uses labels as cloud tags for those who prefer being hyperlinked. It also linked in with Google Docs and Presentations, but Google took away the sharing capability of Google Notebook and has stopped support for the project.

There’s got to be a working formula some where for education.

(photo courtesy of EIC, Wikimedia Commons)