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Facebook for Educators: Safely & Securely

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I came across a great post today on the TL Advisor Blog.  The information presented is very helpful for educators who are interested in using the Facebook social network for professional use, but may be uncertain about how to do so safely and securely.

As the Director of Technology for a K-12 school district, I do not block many of the sites that my colleagues in other districts do.  It has been my experience that the more barriers and limitations that educators encounter in their quest to utilize the latest technology, the more it will result in the educators becoming frustrated and giving up quickly on the use of technology in general.

I also recognize that the educators in my district are professionals and should be treated as such.  Each day these educators present materials to our students in many different formats.  Being professionals implies that they will use their best judgement and carefully monitor the information they are presenting or is being accessed by their students.  

Yes, there are those that may not behave as professionals, but my experience has been that this is the rare exception and far from the norm.  I will not burden the vast majority of the educators, who are working hard each day to provide  the best learning environment for their students, with road blocks put up to prevent a limited few from behaving inappropriately.

There are tools for me to review online activities, when warranted, after a problem is brought to my attention.  I have no desire or need to be monitoring the activities of the educators in my district in real-time.  

Instead, I prefer to spend my time working to assist my colleagues in their efforts to find the and utilize the best technology resources for and with our students.

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“Advice for Choosing Pages, Groups or Profiles When Using Facebook for Education by Lisa Nielsen

I’m an advocate of using real world tools in school.  After all, if we’re not using tools of the world in our classrooms, then what world are we really preparing students for?  The one that is most convenient… or the one that is right for kids?  If you want to do what is most convenient, then you can work at a school where they ban, block, filter and restrict.  You know those schools.  Some kids’ heads are on their desks, others are facing forward listening (but are they really?), and others are engaged in the outdated skill of taking down the words their almighty teacher says or writes on the board. Paper, pencils, pens, outdated textbooks are plentiful.  In schools where we’re doing what is right for kids, you see engaged youth who use the filter between their ears to determine how to best access information. Students are empowered rather than restricted from using personally owned digital devices in school.  At these schools they understand that people, not tools, have behavior.  Fortunately, more and more often these schools that mirror the real world are starting to crop up in places like New Canaan High School in Connecticut and The School in Harlem, New York.

When I speak about schools such as these, I often get a lot of questions like this one I received recently from a Twitter follower. 

“Great ideas for Facebook, but would we be taking a social risk? Facebook is taboo for many admins and districts are frowning on FB because of the potential risk for unprofessional behavior bit.ly/gCEp2n .”

My reply to such inquiries is always the same.  Tools have no intent.  Facebook doesn’t cause a risk for unprofessional behavior, but it catches those who engage in such behaviors.  What we’re really saying when we block and ban is that we don’t want to bother dealing with issues such as those who have chosen to publicly engaged in unprofessional behavior.  It is much more convenient to turn heads the other way.

After I’ve convinced educators that Facebook is a powerful tool in education because it’s one that our kids are already using and it is our professional duty to use and help keep kids safe in the environments of their worlds, I’m often asked this question: 

“Would you encourage using a Facebook page or profile to connect with students? Is there a difference?”


Students bring their own devices to New Caanan High School
and use an unfiltered internet

There is not a one-size-fits all answer.  It depends on your intent.  If you are like me or Principal Chris Lehmann you have one profile because it’s just another way to communicate and you’ll communicate with your students in any way they wish.  The idea of being two separate people may just be too hard to keep track of and you enjoy being a professional and social role model for students.  If you are like librarian Michelle Loots (Luhtala) you use a personal page to connect with friends and family, a professional profile for students and apage to keep students in the know about library activities.. If you are like first grade teacherErin Schoening you create a page as a window into your classroom to connect students with parents.  If you are like Brooklyn Tech High School you use a page as a place to connect with present and past students and teachers.  You might be like Education Land, a group created to connect those who are interested in education.

If you want to understand how you can maintain a professional presence on the site separate from your personal profile, here are some tips, directly from Facebook’s Safety for Educators page (note: You may also want to visit the “Teachers” page in the Facebook Safety Center.)  First they suggest that if you are a teacher and have a personal profile, you can consider creating a group or a Page specifically for interacting with students, parents, or colleagues. Create Friend Lists to control what parts of your profile students are able to access.  If you don’t get the difference between pages, and groups, and friend’s lists here is how it’s explained on Facebook’s Safety for Educators page.

Pages, Groups, and Friends Lists Overview 

Pages 
Pages are for broadcasting great information to people on Facebook. For example, you could create a Page called “Ms. Smith’s 9th Grade Science Class” where you post daily homework assignments. Anyone can become a fan of a Page on Facebook. People who choose to become a fan of a Page will see updates on their profile. To create a Page, click
 here. Pages are free, you can control them with your personal profile, and they keep your profile separate from your students.

Groups 
Groups make it easy for members of a community to connect, share and even collaborate on a given topic or idea. For example, you could create a group called “American Literature 101 Discussions” where you and your students can contribute to group discussions. Or you could create a group for all of the educators in your your department to collaborate on lesson plans and share ideas. To create a group, click 
here.

Friend Lists 
Friend Lists
 provide organized groupings of your friends on Facebook. For example, you can create a Friend List specifically for your students. Then you can control which parts of your profile are visible to this entire list. You can also filter your view of each list’s stream of activity separately on the home page, or send messages and invites to this group of people all at once. To learn more about creating and managing Friend Lists, click here.

Connecting with Other Facebook Using Educators 
If you want to connect with other educators who are using Facebook for Learning, join the Facebook in Education page.  This page is a resource for teachers, professors, administrators, counselors and others who work in education. You can refer to this page for privacy tips to help you maintain both a personal and a professional presence on Facebook. You’ll also find answers to common questions including how to report abuse to Facebook and the best way to use Facebook as a communication tool in your school. To become a fan of this page, click 
here and choose the “Become a Fan” option at the top of the page.

Read Librarian Michelle Luhtala’s response to this blog post at Y U Need 2 “Friend” ur Students!

Lisa Nielsen is best known as creator of The Innovative Educator bloghttp://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com and Transforming Education for the 21st Centuryhttp://ted21c.ning.com learning network. Lisa is an outspoken and passionate advocate of innovative education. She is frequently covered by local and national media for her views on “Thinking Outside the Ban” and determining ways to harness the power of technology for instruction and providing a voice to educators and students. Based in New York City, Ms. Nielsen has worked for more than a decade in various capacities helping schools and districts to educate in innovative ways that will prepare students for 21st century success. Her first book “Teaching Generation Text” is set for a fall 2011 release. You can follow her on Twitter @InnovativeEdu.”

Making the the Case For Social Media in Schools

October 3, 2010 Leave a comment
This is icon for social networking website. Th...

Image via Wikipedia

The use of social networking tools in schools is still a hotly debated topic.  Many administrators and teachers struggle as they try to balance the many positive aspects of allowing teachers and students to utilize social networking sites tools, with the concerns about potential abuse of these tools, as well as concerns over confidentiality and maintaining a safe educational environment for their students. A recent Mashable post on this topic makes some wonderful points on this topic.

A year after seventh grade teacher Elizabeth Delmatoff started a pilot social media program in her Portland, Oregon classroom, 20% of students school-wide were completing extra assignments for no credit, grades had gone up more than 50%, and chronic absenteeism was reduced by more than a third. For the first time in its history, the school met its adequate yearly progress goal for absenteeism.

At a time when many teachers are made wary by reports of predators and bullies online, social media in the classroom is not the most popular proposition. Teachers like Delmatoff, however, are embracing it rather than banning it. They argue that the educational benefits of social media far outweigh the risks, and they worry that schools are missing out on an opportunity to incorporate learning tools the students already know how to use.

What started as a Facebook-like forum where Delmatoff posted assignments has grown into a social mediacomponent for almost every subject. Here are the reasons why she and other proponents of educational social media think more schools should do the same.


1. Social Media is Not Going Away


In the early 1990s, the InternetInternet was the topic of a similar debate in schools. Karl Meinhardt was working as a school computer services manager at the time.

“There was this thing called the Internet starting to show up that was getting a lot of hype, and the school administration was adamantly against allowing access,” he says. “The big fear was pornography and predators, some of the same stuff that’s there today. And yet…can you imagine a school not connected to the Internet now? “

Meinhardt helped develop the Portland social media pilot program after Delmatoff saw his weekly technology segment on the local news and called to ask for his advice. In his opinion, social media, like the Internet, will be a part of our world for a long time. It’s better to teach it than to fight it.

Almost three-fourths of 7th through 12th graders have at least one social media profile, according to a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The survey group used social sites more than they played games or watched videos online.

When schools have tried to ban social media, now an integral part of a young person’s life, they’ve had negative results. Schools in Britain that tried to “lock down” their Internet access, for instance, found that “as well as taking up time and detracting from learning, it did not encourage the pupils to take responsibility for their actions.”

“Don’t fight a losing battle,” says Delmatoff. “We’re going to get there anyway, so it’s better to be on the cutting edge, and be moving with the kids, rather than moving against them…Should they be texting their friends during a lecture? Of course not. They shouldn’t be playing cards in a lecture, they shouldn’t be taking a nap during a lecture. But should they learn how to use media for good? Absolutely.”


2. When Kids Are Engaged, They Learn Better


edublogs image

Matt Hardy, a 3rd and 4th grade teacher in Minnesota, describes the “giddy” response he gets from students when he introduces blogs. He started using blogs in his classroom in 2007 as a way to motivate students to write.

“Students aren’t just writing on a piece of paper that gets handed to the teacher and maybe a smiley face or some comments get put on it,” he says. “Blogging was a way to get students into that mode where, ‘Hey, I’m writing this not just for an assignment, not just for a teacher, but my friend will see it and maybe even other people [will] stumble across it.’ So there’s power in that.”

Delmatoff says that at first her students were worried they would get in trouble for playing because they actually enjoyed doing activities like writing a blog.

“But writing a blog, that’s not playing, that’s hard work,” she says. “Karl and I started thinking we were really on to something if kids were thinking that their hard academic work was too much fun.”

Her students started getting into school early to use the computer for the social media program, and the overall quality of their work increased. Although Delmatoff is adamant that there’s no way to pin her class’s increased academic success specifically to the pilot program, it’s hard to say that it didn’t play a part in the more than 50% grade increase.


3. Safe Social Media Tools Are Available — And They’re Free


kidsblog image

When Hardy started using blogs to teach, he developed his own platform to avoid some of the dangers associated with social media use and children. His platform allowed him to monitor and approve everything the children were posting online, and it didn’t expose his students to advertising that might be inappropriate. He later developed a similar web-based tool that all teachers could use called kidblog.org. The concept caught on so quickly that his server crashed in September when the school year started.

Many mainstream social media sites like FacebookFacebook and MySpaceMySpace are blocked in schools that receive federal funding because of the Children’s Internet Protection Act, which states that these schools can’t expose their students to potential harm on the Internet.

Kidblog.org is one of many free tools that allow teachers to control an online environment while still benefiting from social media. Delmatoff managed her social media class without a budget by using free tools likeEdmodo and Edublogs.


4. Replace Online Procrastination with Social Education


nielsen graph image

Between 2004 and 2009, the amount of time that kids between the ages of 2 and 11 spent online increased by 63%, according to a Nielson study. And there’s no reason, Meinhardt argues, that schools shouldn’t compete with other social media sites for part of this time.

He helped Delmatoff create a forum where she would post an extra assignment students could complete after school every day. One day she had students comment on one of President Obama’s speeches; another day she had them make two-minute videos of something on their walk home that was a bad example of sustainability. These assignments had no credit attached to them. “It didn’t get you an A, it didn’t get you a cookie. It didn’t get you anything except something to do and something to talk about with other students.”

About 100 students participated. Through polls taken before and after the program, Meinhardt determined that students spent between four to five fewer hours per week on Facebook and MySpace when the extra assignments had been implemented.

“They were just as happy to do work rather than talk trash,” Delmatoff says. “All they wanted was to be with their friends.”


5. Social Media Encourages Collaboration Instead of Cliques


edmodo image

Traditional education tactics often involve teacher-given lectures, students with their eyes on their own papers, and not talking to your neighbor.

“When you get in the business world,” Meinhardt says, “All of [a] sudden it’s like, ‘OK, work with this group of people.’ It’s collaborative immediately. And we come unprepared to collaborate on projects.”

Social media as a teaching tool has a natural collaborative element. Students critique and comment on each other’s assignments, work in teams to create content, and can easily access each other and the teacher with questions or to start a discussion.

Taking some discussions online would also seem to be an opportunity for kids who are shy or who don’t usually interact with each other to learn more about each other. A study by the Lab for Social Computing at the Rochester Institute of Technology, however, found that this wasn’t the case. The study found that using educational social media tools in one of the Institute’s courses had no measurable impact on social connections.

Delmatoff argues that with her students, however, new connections were made. “If you’re shy or you’re not popular or any of those hideous things that we worry about in middle school — if you know the answers or have good insights or ask good questions, you’re going to be really valuable online.” she says. “So I started to see some changes that way.”


6. Cell Phones Aren’t the Enemy


69% of American high schools have banned cell phones, according to figures compiled by CommonSense Media, a nonprofit group that studies children’s use of technology. Instead, Delmatoff’s school collectedstudent’s cell phone numbers.

Delmatoff would send text messages to wake chronically absent kids up before school or send messages like, “I see you at the mini-mart” when they were running late (there’s a mini-mart visible from the school). She called the program “Texts on Time,” and it improved chronic absenteeism by about 35% without costing the school a dime.

“The cell phone is a parent-sponsored, parent-funded communication channel, and schools need to wrap their mind around it to reach and engage the kids,” Meinhardt says.


Conclusion


Nobody would dispute that the risks of children using social media are real and not to be taken lightly. But there are also dangers offline. The teachers and parents who embrace social media say the best way to keep kids safe, online or offline, is to teach them. We’re eager to hear what you think. Tell us in the comments below.

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Principals Voice Enthusiasm for Social Networking, Though Concerns Remain

September 12, 2010 Leave a comment
This is icon for social networking website. Th...

Image via Wikipedia

The Journal recently included an article on the increased enthusiasm for social networking by principals.  While many principals are growing increasingly interested in the potential for true educational use for social networking applications, many principals still have valid concerns over the use of such applications in schools.

Research has shown that most school principals in the United States use Web 2.0 technologies and belong to at least one social network. And according to a new report released this week, most also indicated they think social networking has value for education–for staff and, potentially, for students alike. So why did most also say their schools ban the use of social networking on campus?

The reasons are many and varied, according to the new report. But not surprisingly (based on past research), privacy and appropriate use of the tools were among the concerns voiced.

The report, “School Principals and Social Networking in Education: Practices, Policies, and Realities in 2010,” is the conclusion of a two-phase research effort begun last year. The first phase involved a nationwide survey of more than 1,200 education professionals, including principals, teachers, and librarians. It was designed to gauge attitudes toward and usage of online collaborative tools, including social networks and other collaborative technologies (often classified as Web 2.0).

Among the findings: 54 percent of principals belong to at least one social networking site, such as Facebook and LinkedIn. And while that figure, with a reported margin of error of ±2.71 percent, lagged behind both teachers (62 percent of whom reported belonging to social networks) and librarians (70 percent of whom reported belonging to social networks), principals were ahead of teachers in their use of other Web 2.0 tools for professional purposes. According to the report, a majority (56 percent) indicated using Webinars professionally (versus 15 percent of teachers); 31 percent used YouTube, again for professional purposes (versus 17 percent of teachers); and 28 percent indicated using podcasts in their work (versus 13 percent of teachers).

Through open questioning, respondents in the first phase were able to express some of their vision and concerns about social networking. For more in depth responses and elaborations on those sentiments, researchers in the second phase of the effort held discussions with a dozen principals hand-picked for their involvement in social networking (and therefore, it should be noted, not a representative sample of the overall population). They discussed professional experiences with social networking, impressions of the capabilities of teachers and students, school policies, barriers to adoption, and other issues.

Phase 2 responses followed themes similar to those expressed by the larger sample size in phase 1. Most said social networking has value for education professionals, and many said there could be benefits for students as well. Among the information provided by the discussion sample (which, again, was not representative of the total population, but meant to elaborate on attitudes expressed by principals who self-identified social networking users in the phase 1 quantitative study):

  • Half of the principals involved in the discussion said social networking was used to some extent in their schools, which ranged from school-sponsored collaboration sites built on Moodle to cloud services like Google Apps for Education;
  • Concerns included the potential misuse of the services, a perceived need for monitoring, the idea that the services would become dumping grounds for negative comments (by parents and others), general security fears, ethics and professional codes of conduct, and a dearth of information about what works in terms of social networking in education;
  • Social networking per se is mostly blocked for students, even among the smaller sample, but most principals reported that they use some Web 2.0 technologies (such as online chat) with their students; and
  • Some said their district policies were inadequate and needed revision, including preventing social contact between teachers and students and dealing with bullying, among other policies cited.

Participants in the phase 2 qualitative research were also asked about their personal use of social networks; their colleagues’, teachers’, students’, and librarians’ expertise in the use of social media; and their views on the future of social networking and its potential impact on education. Detailed responses can be found in the complete report, which is available publicly.

The report’s authors concluded with several recommendations, including the need for teachers and principals to acquire more hands-on experience with education social networks; to develop models of practice; and to create better policies with regard to social networking and other collaborative technologies.

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