On “Students Like Social Media Infographic”

ASCD recently published their Winter Policy Priorities brief “Can Social Media and School Policies be “Friends”? One of the items that has circled around the web is the Students Like Social Media Infographic (click here for PDF).

The focus of the infographic was to show how much students like social media and how “Students like social media. Surveys show students want learning and schools to follow suit”. Reading that, it comes across as a majority statement – as the research they used for the infographic shows just how much students desire social media for formal learning and teaching. I’m not the only one it appears because this infographic was shared all over Twitter and with great excitement — the “see… we told you” tone.

But here is the thing. I don’t see it providing this at all when I actually look at the data on the infographic (perhaps it is in the original research).

The bulk of the infographic shows how students use social media outside of schooling, and then there are the two pieces directly discussing school.

Piece Number One: IT’S HOW THEY WANT TO LEARN

The infographic supports the above all caps statement saying, “63% of students (6-12) want online textbooks to communicate with classmates”. This is an intriguing finding that is well worth exploring more deeply. My local findings continue to support students desire for online textbooks to lessen the physical load, cut costs, and centralize resources. They have their communication tools (as this infographic even says) so it is probably about ensuring that those tools can be embedded within the texts or easily accessed.

But the piece that falls short with this first piece is the next line that says, “40% want online texts with collaboration tools”. This means that more than half are not interested in the collaborative potential with textbooks.

Since collaboration is one of the touted C’s of social media, this would go against the entire argument of the infographic. It isn’t how the majority of students want to learn.

Piece Number Two: IT’S WHERE THEY WANT TEACHERS AND EXPERTS

If 2/3 of a group indicated they didn’t want something, would you highlight that to support the group wanting it? In other words, the infographic states, “One third of middle and high school students want their schools to provide tools to electronically communicate with their teachers”. When I read the heading (all caps above), I take “they” to mean the majority of teens especially given the overall argument of the infographic.

But, “they” is not even close to the majority.

In fact, 67 percent of students do not fall into this camp. What does that mean? That number is much more interesting and worth exploring than trying to promote the hot topic of social media.

Don’t Just Retweet

I could very much be wrong in how I read this infographic. However, my reading of it shows it does not support the primary argument: “Students like social media. Surveys show students want learning and schools to follow suit”.

Why, then, are we promoting this so much? Why are we retweeting it all over? Is it to show there is little support for the argument or is it because we only read the heading and saw how “amazing” it looked?

Hopefully, it is because we want to discuss how many students don’t want collaborative tools in textbooks, don’t want school provided digital communication tools for use with teachers, do use their phones despite bans, etc.

Obsessed with Numbers

I wish I had Seth Godin‘s recent post “The trap of social media noise” before talking with students about blogging. It is a critical discussion point for them AND for those of us educators immersed online.

Why?

Godin drills the point home about the wrong focus: followers, quantity, and constant “noise”. In other words, flood the social media channels with your brand.

Lone surfer at Morro Rock - Big wave day in Morro Bay, CA, 08 Nov. 2009

At times, we seem obsessed with the number more than the message. But what happens when we are so focused on getting and building those numbers:

“you’re polluting a powerful space, turning signals into noise and bringing down the level of discourse for everyone” (Godin).

These are powerful words to reflect upon:

  • Are you polluting the EdTech space?
  • Are we more enticed by noise and quantity than message and quality?
  • Are you raising the level of discourse, bringing it down, or holding it in repeat cycle (just keep talking)?

The most challenging part of Godin’s position is probably the feeling of acceptance. When you find your voice minimized or even ignored in the physical, immersing yourself in large numbers of like-minded folks is euphoric. The world is no longer lonely – instead, it makes sense.

This is the power of those numbers. This is the power of more followers, more comments, more retweets no matter what difference those things make to education locally or globally.

But there is something perhaps just as challenging about Godin’s position: influence. By building larger numbers, there is a greater likelihood of broader and deeper c0nnections, discussions, and influence. So, why not focus on building numbers?

Who is Correct?
So is Godin correct in what he appears to be promoting (quality and deep discourse for influence)  versus what educators online appear to be promoting (quantity and noise for influence)?

Through my own reflections, I am leaning heavily towards Godin’s position:

“Relentlessly focus. Prune your message and your list and build a reputation that’s worth owning and an audience that cares. … Leadership (even idea leadership) scares many people, because it requires you to own your words, to do work that matters. The alternative is to be a junk dealer” (Godin).

It is that position I think our students and colleagues need to hear, explore, and practice. It is that position we should be modeling.

What strategy/position are you promoting and modeling for both your colleagues and students?

(Image: Lone surfer at Morro Rock – Big wave day in Morro Bay, CA, 08 Nov. 2009, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from mikebaird’s photostream)

Straight No Chaser and Community Building

The Chicago Theater has played host to incredible talent over the decades and last Saturday I had a chance to witness one of those great talents: Straight No Chaser.

Beyond the talent of this musical group, the history of the group rooted in social media and their continued focused on social networks to expand their fan base is a stellar example of the power of today’s technology.

In fact, the group’s national recognition grew virally through the posting of their music on YouTube in 2006 where millions experience their style and skill – their 12 Days of Christmas is now well over 12 millions views after the original posting in 2006 of their 1998 performance at Indiana University and one key viewer gave them a record deal.

While the group could move into some simple uses of social media and rest upon the foundation they created, they’ve continue to celebrate the power of connections and networks.

First, a simple visit to their website brings the visitor into a rich environment created almost exclusively by fan content and with two-way communication in mind:

  • Fan Upload Area
  • Remix Video Contest
  • Highlights of Chasers
  • Ning-Like Community Area with discussions, fan pages, promotion badges, etc
  • Cellstream
  • Common Social Media Pieces: Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, etc
  • Blog Area

Second, they are proud of their social media roots and say it loud… over and over again. Throughout their performance, they mentioned their start stemming from YouTube and encourage the audience to not only celebrate that campaign but to add to it:

  • At the start of the concert, they announced that they encourage people to take photos and videos. They simply pushed the crowd to share those pieces on the web. How cool? They didn’t resist this 21st Century reality. Instead, they embrace it!
  • In the middle of the concert, they asked that the house lights be turned on, they came out on the stage with cameras, and started taking photos of the crowd. After they hosted their own photo shoot honoring and celebrating their fans, they told us that these photos were going on Facebook so we needed to go on their and tag ourselves.
  • Throughout the performance, they mentioned various social media tools and encouraged the crowd to use these and talk about the evening.  Over and over, they reminded us of their videos on YouTube and how that is where they got started. Both of these together bore witness to a really interesting seen at intermission – everywhere I turned, mobile devices were out and people were clearly posting photos, videos, tweets, updates, and more. The vibe and chatter was buzzing throughout the Chicago Theater

Finally, it didn’t feel forced or out of place. They clearly were having fun and proud of their “up bringing”. But more importantly, they were not afraid of openly sharing the experience we were having with fans and potential fans world wide. They were not concerned that they would lose money from the photos and recordings – they realized this was surely going to be a much greater gain.

Straight No Chaser is amazing story that speaks to the heart of social media, community, and networking. While it may seem like a bit of stretch, I spent much of my evening post-performance wondering why schools don’t look to build such a lively community. How much talent, ideas, and energy does our school community have to share and how are we providing them the streams to make this a visible reality for others?

A Stage for Schools: How Will We Embrace It?

The social media phenomenon continues to bring interactivity to the mainstream and lead more and more people into a connected world.

A clear example of this is the upcoming Emmy Awards where NBS is rolling out social media on the red carpet:

  1. Official Twitter Stream: Follow all the news as it comes through on the Emmy’s Official Twitter page
  2. Tweet About Presenter to Jimmy Fallon: “Tweet something about the presenter and Jimmy may use your tweet as part of his introduction for those presenters during the show”
  3. Backstage Ustream:  8 Camera webcast of various events backstage taking place live
  4. Red Carpet Live UStream: Watch all the chaos and fun live on the Red Carpet
  5. YFrog: Using #Emmys, the Emmy Awards are aggregating photos and videos taken by fans and celebrities.
  6. Ol’ School but Still Valuable: Discussion board, Interactive Ballot, and I’m sure official Live Blogging (didn’t see this though)

These different ways to engage with the event highlight how social media has become part of everyday life, and the reason why companies are going to great lengths to ensure social media is embedded into their events and practices.

What about Schools?

This leads me right to schools. What are we doing with social media? Put aside the formal learning and teaching for just a moment and focus on the school as a whole. How are schools understanding the social media phenemenon in order to leverage it for events, activities, and athletics? How are we allowing the community to better connect, engage, experience, and support the great work we do?

At no other time that I can recall, we have an opportunity to take ownership of our “brand” within media. For some, opening these doors means perhaps losing control, which has never been there. Through social media, you may not have control BUT you can take ownership. You don’t have to wait for the newspaper or radio to write the story, cover an event, or share news. The power is in our hands to promote and engage with others about our message.

The question is how will we help our schools embrace and leverage social media for the school’s academics, activities, athletics, celebrations, community, and events? How will our schools cultivate a social network both digitally and physically not just push information? How will we take ownership of our brand, a brand that sees the mainstream media shredding administrators, schools, and teachers on what seems to be a daily basis?

Remove the line that we are standing behind that provides a false sense of security, a false sense of insulation, and a false sense of control.

It is time for schools to rise up, tell their story, and amplify it. Social media provides that stage!

This is cross posted on Education Week’s LeaderTalk

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cc licensed flickr photo by Ryan Bretag: http://flickr.com/photos/educationaltechnologist/4934065929/

Stretch and Support Their PLN

The notion of having students develop PLNs was in part a topic on this past formal Twitter #edchat discussion. It is a really intriguing discussion and Dodie Ainslie peaked my interest when she asked “Is there anyone out there who are facilitating their students building a PLN? how and what are they sharing?”

These simple yet important questions raises many discussion points including what exactly do we mean by a personal learning network. For the sake of this post, I draw my thoughts from George Siemens‘ post on learning communities and learning networks where he defines it simply as multiple learning communities in which an individual functions to grow as a learner:

“a learning network can be defined as the connection of learning communities with the intent of sharing experiences/resources and our ultimate self-defined goal of competency/knowledge (i.e. we define what we want/need to know…and we sculpt our network to achieve these goals).”

With this view on PLNs, the notion of “should teachers have students PLNs” as framed by the edchat is perhaps a less important question than tapping into the natural instincts of humans to connect and to be social. Students enter classroom communities with various nodes in place. How are we connecting these communities? How are we providing additional platforms to create new and extend old learning communities?

The notion of a PLN is an internally driven concept that is sustainable and meaningful because individuals draw on their natural urge to grown, learn, discover, connect, and socialize. Therefore, students enter the classroom with their personal learning network formed and we offer the potential for new nodes via the physical classroom community, the digital classroom community, and the various social media platforms in which they are exposed to by the teacher and classroom.

However, by forcing the creation of an additional node on a PLN, I am not sure how sustainable and meaningful those are to the students PLN. Perhaps, these nodes do not have to be because these are temporary in nature like many, if not all, nodes (i.e. individuals create, join, and drop nodes based upon needs).

So, here are my thoughts on  “Should teachers have students PLNs?”

Students enter with a PLN already in place, so the answer is not in putting our focus on creating one for or with students but in stretching, supporting, and upon what students already bring to the classroom. This would argue for teachers to consider exposing learners to new plafforms and means in which to create learning communities that add to individual personal learning networks . This puts the focus on drawing out their natural instincts to connect and to socialize not the natural instinct of education/educators to control and dictate, which continues to push social media into the confines of legacy mindsets on teaching & schooling

What do you think?

(Like many posts of late, I didn’t go back through this post so forgive the lack of editing and stream of consciousness feel to this)

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cc licensed flickr photo by ShellyS: http://flickr.com/photos/shellysblogger/2464969989/