The evolution of a conversation through the use of digital connections

               That is one long title. But then again, this is a long post. It’s also unusual in that it has many “authors” and doesn’t quite fit into any category. Still, I hope that if you are a reader of this blog, you will find something worthwhile by the end.

               Last week, something interesting happened via e-mail at our school. I asked a question, and I got many immediate responses. The “conversation” grew for a little while and then it was over (for the time being, anyway). It gave me much to think about, but I will save my observations for the end.

               First then, is the conversation in its entirety with all names removed (since I didn’t ask anyone for permission to reprint their email … and that is part of the point of this post). The digital conversation began with me sending out this e-mail to all HHS faculty and administrators:

  • Hello All, I hate to be a bother, but I would really appreciate some feedback and other people’s perspective regarding how students are currently using our schools’ computers. / More and more I see students accessing their Facebook during school hours and this worries me for a couple of reasons. First of all, while FB may be a great socializing tool, but I have not seen anyone using it for any educational purposes. / Secondly, today’s students obviously have access to cameras right on their phones and can snap pictures and take video during the school day, which they can then post (almost immediately) on FB. This is not only a nuisance, but may also be an unwanted invasion of privacy for unknowing students whose pictures are being taken and posted. / Thirdly, many of the pictures that are already posted on students’ Facebook pages are personal and may be inappropriate for school use. Just today, I had to boot a kid off who was viewing his “album” which had many pictures of himself in a steamy bathroom, shirtless. / So, my question is …. would anyone care if we blocked FB from school computers? Is there a way we can do this from the server side …. Yes I know students can find proxies and other work arounds, but at least it will provide some obstacles for the less technologically inclined. / Thank you for your time and attention. / Henry

The Responses

  • Ewww! Gross! I say block it from the school computers. Most students can access Facebook through their phones anyway. Facebook is not an appropriate tool for during school hours. Respondent 1
  • I support Henry in this 100% and have been emailing repeatedly suggesting we block Facebook specifically, while keeping Youtube because of educational implementation. This is a huge distraction for the students. Sincerely, Respondent 2
  • PLEASE block it. The kids are also using Tumblr. Respondent 3
  • I am with Respondent 2 and Henry on this one ; ) Keep youtube, dump facebook. Regards, Respondent 4
  • agree … Respondent 5
  • Block FB …. 🙂 There is no educational value of FB, just as you say , only dangers. I would never advocate cencorship, but I see this as different. YOUTUBE is a huge tool for me and does not compare, keep that get rid of FB …. Respondent 6
  • I totally agree with you…. Respondent 7
  • No on Facebook, not sure about You Tube …. Respondent 8
  • While I agree that students probably aren’t using facebook for educational purposes I don’t think creating a more restrictive technological use policy is the answer. Especially when the district recently made a large investment in new computers, projectors, and tablets I think with the idea that as a school we would open up our uses of technology. I have read about teacher’s using facebook as a tool to keep the lines of communication with students open and I would rather that option be there for those teachers who might want it. / When I was in school kids sometimes would take a magic marker to a bathroom stall to say something unwanted and untrue about a teacher or a classmate. That is a nuisance and an unwanted invasion of privacy, but I for one am glad they kept the bathrooms open and the stalls up. / yrs, Respondent 9
  • Good Idea. You can do it right away. I use Khan Academy that requires either a Facebook or gmail account to login but I can work around it. I never allow my students to use their Facebook login for Khan. We can get them Gmail educational accounts next year and that will work. Respondent 10 
  • I totally support blocking Facebook. This is a constant problem. I agree with Respondent 4 that we should keep youtube, because it has a lot of educational applications. Respondent 11 
  • we used to have effective filtering, however. when did the filtering policy change? If facebook is not being filtered what is? and how is the filtering determined? Respondent 2, (second response)
  • Was the bathroom steamy or the pictures? Respondent 12
  • OK, here I go …. / Facebook, like any other “tool” the student body is utilizing, has to be used correctly for it to: 1. work for its intended purpose or 2: be used safely. Training makes the difference.  / No, I’m not some crazy nut from X-town, where we all use ipads to go grocery shopping because we don’t know how to write anymore, I’m some crazy nut (yes from X-town) that secretly thinks Facebook, beyond our understanding of its intended use, is contemplating something much bigger and perhaps less palatable with all of the gazillion terabytes of personal data it’s mining from us and each one of our students… even when we’re sleeping… Being smart, and alert, is the best way to proceed… / Many Haverhill school department employees, from Technology to teachers went recently to the 1:1 Summit in X-town. I went too. They have many success stories to report with regards to how they have intertwined teaching with Social Media… My daughter’s English teacher has a twitter feed displayed in his room while a lecture is in progress which opens up dialog and interaction that is far more dynamic and energetic when used this way….Kids submit projects and homework on-line and through public DropBox folders… their resources have been pushed to the cloud and Google docs etc.. it goes on and on… / That said, we have NOT done a great job in educating ourselves or the student body in general, in how to use any of these new tools correctly, safely or for their intended use. / The question is this: do we not want the tool (Facebook) at all, or do we want it used appropriately? By appropriately I mean, NOT while you are SUPPOSED to be typing a paper or taking a quiz for example. This is a behavior issue, not a technology issue. Its the same thing with games of tetris, solitaire or Googling images of shoes! / My balance that I have struck is this: IF, and ONLY IF you have completed the required assignment here in the Computer Lab, and it meets my approval, THEN you may load solitaire, or play minecraft etc. I took 5 days to explain the network, the resources and the “toilet flush while showering” scenario to ALL of the freshmen.. ask them… and about the “unprotected sex flashdrive lecture..” we had a great laugh…or how on-line games suck water out of the pipes if we ALL do it ALL the time… They get it, and respect that, even if it doesn’t make me immediately popular. / The current HHS rule does not allow Facebook use currently. Since that’s the RULE, then I ask that the students don’t access it. Most of them know about our HTTPS workaround anyway that circumvented most of our filters or they will use their phones to access it anyway, so perhaps wasting our time enforcing this is becoming wasteful in and of itself… If we do allow it, as we probably will I suspect, we should be teaching the RAMIFICATIONS and RISKS that public social media contain as well as their benefits so they can use it safely and for its intended use. / A few ideas: Let students use their phones during lunch or in passing in the halls.. let them get their social networking off their minds, relieving the in-class pressure… remembering BAD BEHAVIOR is just that- you do something inappropriate (cyber bullying, sex images etc.), you will be dealt with. However, if you are posting to your Mom’s page that lacrosse practice was cancelled, or friend’s page that she should know there is a really hard test coming in Mr. so and so’s class, or ” the homework is page 344 paragraphs 2-11…I’m at the mall or I’d help you sorry”.. then we missed the boat.. / Lets INCLUDE training on social media like Twitter, facebook, linkedin and the like… lets DISCUSS the RISKS and REWARDS of these sites and services so we can be better TEACHERS and TRUSTED sources of information for each other. Then, those who abuse the privilege, or display nasty or inappropriate images will be dealt with… / My $.02 Respondent 13
  • sounds good, Respondent 14 
  • Well what quick action! FB and Youtube are, among other sites, now blocked with no override as in days of old. I hope that youtube is quickly restored. Otherwise, how bizarre it would be to coax us old dinosaurs into using projectors only to prohibit the web’s major source of educational video clips. Respondent 13 (second response) 
  • I agree. Keep youtube, dump facebook. / Youtube has some great educational videos. I use it all the time. Respondent 15
  • Let us keep it. I have a page (just for school) that has assignments, deadlines and information on it for my kids. They get a notice when there is a change or when the assignments are published. It helps to reach them where they are paying attention. It has helped with their parents, too. / Best, Respondent 16 
  • I do not believe in blocking any sites except the explicit sites that can be blocked separately. We should all have the ability to block individual students NOT the whole student population. All students are at times distracted; ask them once to get off the site and then block them from the Internet. I find this very effective. I know we do not all have the use of LanSchool or other computer classroom management software, but maybe we should look into that and training teachers on the ability to block individuals (this can be the web or an application–(game)). Thank you. Respondent 17 
  • I am total agreement with Respondent 14! It’s not the tool that is the problem, it is our training and use of the tool that needs addressing. Respondent 18 
  • Respondent 14 and Respondent 10 have advocated well for keeping Facebook. 14 did a bang-up job of defining the issue as a behavioral problem rather than a technological problem, thus arguing for a solution based on educating students around use and misuse of FB during school hours. 10, as English teachers can be, was instructive by illustrating the reactive impulse to block Facebook with his allegory involving the ‘bathroom stall’. Unresponsive Debating Teacher, where the hell are you? This needs to be the topic of your next debate! My position: After reading what 14 and 10 had to say, I am technically with them, but I have some major reservations and here they are: / While we certainly should welcome any ‘appropriate use’ of FB during school- that is, any use for educational purposes. The trouble is where, when and exactly how do be begin educating students on the behavioral topic of use vs. misuse? Perhaps a better question, however, is; should we choose to undertake such a goal with the entire student body? Time and effort spent during the school day educating students on responsible FB use is time and effort taken away from other educational topics. / One might easily argue that most students actually possessing the readiness to receive such instruction on ‘Appropriate FB Use VS. Inappropriate FB Use During School Hours’ and respond positively already demonstrate the target behaviors, maturity and skills we would endeavor to teach. The most Chronic FB misusers are arguably students without the maturity or respect for education to even consider the possibility that they would respond positively. / If we keep FB access open to students on school computers, the problem of monitoring students and separating use from misuse remains and is open for as an opportunity for many students to lie or misrepresent information about what they are actually doing on FB and basically manipulate any good intentions we may have. / I say we block facebook from school computers, and handle the issue of appropriate vs. inappropriate use from the angle of the personal devices. Obviously many students have FB apps on their phones and, right or wrong, openly use this capability during school. (For example, perhaps we could allow students to use text or FB communication from a hand-held during class if a student asks permission and states the purpose of communication.) / We can and should support appropriate FB use during school hours. However, what we permit students to access on our server is our choice, and that access should remain at our rightful discretion. Before we open the floodgates, I think we need to think carefully about what we have the resources to handle! Respondent 19
  • I personally don’t use Facebook; too many problems, especially for public employees. Go ahead and block it. As for Youtube, we should be able to use it for our classes. There should be some restrictions however, especially for students. Respondent 20 
  • can we all revisit this discussion at a faculty meeting? Sincerely, Respondent 2 (third response) 
  • Thank you all for your feedback …. obviously I’ve touched a nerve (I’ll take a picture of it and post it later on FB) …. I hope that no one thinks I am in favor of blocking YOUTUBE … I even wrote a blog post advocating that we keep and use it for it’s many resources. / Facebook, however, is not the same kind of tool as far as I am concerned. But thank you all for the comments … it definitely deserves further consideration. / Henry

My Observations

               We live in an age of gathering and analyzing numbers, so here are some. There were twenty (20) respondents in a faculty of about 150(?) … (I tried looking up the exact figures at the Mass DOE site an ended up lost for about two hours online looking through other things I discovered serendipitously, so I went with a nice ballpark figure). Since I asked the question, that started it all, I included myself as a “respondent” which means that 21 of about 150 (or 14%) of the “faculty” gave some feedback; were a part of this conversation.

               Of those who had something to say on the topic, 13 (62%) were in favor of blocking Facebook, 5 (24%) did not want it blocked, 1 comment was vague, 1 comment was unrelated, and the questioner was counted as “other”. There were 12 females and 8 males that responded. The longest (wordiest) responses were penned by men, while women were more likely to include references to other respondents’ comments. The longer entries argued for considering keeping Facebook and teaching responsible use, instead of simple filtering. 

                Interestingly, even though the conversation was had over a school e-mail system, most respondents followed the rules of standard, written English in order to convey their ideas. Whenever observation of these rules were relaxed, they tended to be minor changes, acceptable for electronic communication, but not once did anyone use an acronym like IMHO or SMH. So, what does this all mean?

                For me, anyway, it means that we need to have more conversations about the technology that has become a regular part of our lives. Obviously it is impacting the way we “do schooling”, how we communicate and the way that we spend our time. It is both a great nuisance and an amazing tool, and the most critical variable is the user.

                 As a librarian, as a recovering English teacher, as a lover of the written word, perhaps I am afraid of the easy allure and the irresistible charm of the visual image and the pulsating beat. (Even as I am writing this, I am listening to talk radio online and have a television on mute playing a repeat of The Big Bang Theory (a show I don’t like very much at all) in the background). I understand the power of pop culture, especially today, because it has really become the glue for a whole generation.

                But Facebook isn’t the problem. Neither is Tumblr or Twitter. For many kids (and even some adults) the problem is as simple as Lady Gaga vs. Logarithms, Wiz Khalifa vs. World War II review, I can haz a cheeseburger cats vs. rewriting an essay for the fourth time. Entertainment versus education. Whenever I can choose between doing a crossword puzzle and trying to write a new post, I usually do the puzzle. Thank you for stopping by and I hope you join the conversation.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2012. All rights reserved.

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About htwilson

born in brooklyn, raised in queens, massachusetts, that's where I be.
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