I’m so glad we had this time together …

click on image to view video

The Carol Burnett show premiered the year I was born and carried on for 11 seasons. I grew up admiring Carol and her team of performers – who can forget how Harvey Korman would crack up in his scenes with Tim Conway? They worked beautifully together and complemented each other’s strengths, and were willing to be as silly and playful as needed in order to make the audience laugh.

That importance of play was a common theme in my childhood. We regularly played games as a family; board games, card games, sports. My parents showed us how to play with each other by modelling turn-taking, following the rules, accepting failure and being a gracious winner. And most importantly, they showed us how to play by letting us go out on our own without their supervision. We would spend endless hours in the playground and the wilderness behind our house playing games of imagination where we created the rules, or games where there were set rules and players were invited. There were no adults to lead these games, and as a result we learned how to negotiate, problem solve, cooperate and compromise as we had to learn to work together in order to have fun.

That balance between structured and unstructured play aligns with psychologists such as Bruner, Piaget and Vygotsky whose work led to the development of constructivist and social constructivist theories. Vygotsky emphasized the critical importance of culture and the importance of the social context for cognitive development, and the role of adults such as parents and teachers as conduits for the tools of the culture, including language.

If Vygotsky is correct and children develop in social or group settings, the use of technology to connect rather than separate students from one another would be very appropriate use. A constructivist teacher creates a context for learning in which students can become engaged in interesting activities that encourages and facilitates learning. The teacher guides students as they approach problems, encourages them to work in groups to think about issues and questions, and supports them with encouragement and advice as they tackle problems, adventures, and challenges.” http://viking.coe.uh.edu/~ichen/ebook/et-it/social.htm

At present, there is a generalized fear of the world that prevents parents from allowing their children to explore their neighbourhoods and communities as I once did. Gibbs (2009) reported in Time Magazine that “ in the 1990s something dramatic happened, and the needle went way past the red line. From peace and prosperity, there arose fear and anxiety; crime went down, yet parents stopped letting kids out of their sight; the percentage of kids walking or biking to school dropped from 41% in 1969 to 13% in 2001. Death by injury has dropped more than 50% since 1980, yet parents lobbied to take the jungle gyms out of playgrounds, and strollers suddenly needed the warning label “Remove Child Before Folding.”

This “helicopter parenting” is a result of the need that parents have to be continually involved in their child’s lives. They step in to protect them from harm or disappointment, and to make decisions and advocate on their behalf, all with the best of intentions. School districts in turn respond to the concerns of parents by removing hazards and blocking access to Internet and social networking sites that could potentially expose them to inappropriate material. However, as Heppell (2010) pointed out, “If we were seeking to develop water safety we wouldn’t keep children away from water until they are 16 and then throw them off the pier – similarly with social media, blindly banning them is inappropriate and equally dangerous.”  http://www.heppell.net/facebook_in_school/

What is social networking?

“Social networks focus on building online communities of people who share interests and/or activities or who are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others.” (Berger & Trexler, 2010, p. 159).

Ito et. al. (2010) discuss three genres of online participation amongst young people: “Hanging out,” “messing around,” and “geeking out”. As different times they “possess varying levels of technology- and media-related expertise, interest, and motivation,” (p. 36) and “craft multiple media identities that they mobilize selectively depending on context.” (p. 37) We will explore how each of these genres of participation is reflected in a social networking tool.

Hanging Out – Facebook

My personal learning process with the tools:

Setting up a Facebook was pretty simple, although I did contemplate whether or not to use my full name. I have been very cautious with my online identity and have chosen to use a different log-on identity for the other accounts I have created. However, I decided that the purpose of Facebook is for people to find each other and create those networks. Admittedly, it does make me somewhat uncomfortable, but that is mainly due to my own hesitation in joining Facebook in the first place. Social networking for purely entertainment and communication purposes is not something I have chosen to pursue in the past. I have seen it as something I could easily lose a great deal of time on, and felt that the people I truly want to communicate with are the ones I already talk with on a regular basis. Also, having been made aware of a few situations where teachers have ended up in difficult situations due to things they posted on their Facebook, I was not interested in opening myself up to any issues.

I immediately went into the privacy settings to ensure that I was only allowing friends I invited to see my content, and then proceeded to upload some photos. I searched around for friends, checked out a few groups, and tried out some linking of videos to my Facebook. I haven’t got to the point of putting more detail into my Facebook profile yet, or even updating my status. Too many other tools to try out in a short time!

Supporting personal learning:

When exploring groups, I looked for libraries that were using Facebook and found pages such as the Edmonton Public Library and Geek the Library (an advocacy site). I was interested to see how they were using social networking and whether it might be an option for my library. I can see how using the wall and creating events is a way to communicate what is happening, but I was not seeing a great deal of discussion going on which made me wonder how networked it really is. So then I looked for pages related to education and found the Facebook in Education page, which provides some ideas and more interactivity than the others.

Supporting teaching and learning:

I can remember hanging out with my friends for hours, talking, laughing, and creating our own lip-synched versions of the music videos we saw on television (or recreating our favorite Carol Burnett characters like Mr. Tudball and Mrs. soWiggins). And when I wasn’t with my friends, I took over the one telephone in our house and dragged the cord down the basement stairs where my conversations would not be overheard, so we could stay in constant contact.

In an environment where there are fewer and fewer spaces for kids to hang out informally in public space, these online friendship-driven networks are critical contexts for these forms of learning and sociability. Rather than construe these dynamics negatively or fearfully, we can consider them also as an integral part of developing a sense of personal identity as a social being. (Ito et. al., 2010, p. 21)

I see that Facebook is really being used as a place to socialize, try on different identities, and experience affiliation (or perhaps even belonging). What I wonder about though is whether they are actually networking with others, or simply talking with the same people every day just as I once did. Boyd states that,“Social network sites do not help most youth see beyond their social walls. Because most youth do not engage in “networking,” they do not meet new people or see the world from a different perspective. Social network sites reinforce everyday networks, providing a gathering space when none previously existed.”

Erin Schoening shares how she is using Facebook to communicate with her grade 1 students and their parents: Using Facebook in the Elementary Classroom – Prezi. I really like how the parents are involved as contributors as well, and would be interested in trying something like this out. However, we are already using our SchoolZone to communicate between home and school as a district, and therefore another platform would just become confusing for parents.

The challenge is that Facebook is blocked for all of our students, which limits the opportunity to provide guidance and instruction in how to build a network and what is appropriate use. We know our students are creating profiles and participating on Facebook, even those students younger than 13 who are not allowed to set up an account. I do see the purpose of Facebook to be on the social side and not necessarily as a networking tool, and therefore probably would not be using it for teaching and learning.

Messing Around – Nings

My personal learning process with the tools:

“One of the first points of entry for messing around with new media is the practice of looking around for information online.” (Ito et. al., 2010, p. 54). This was my exact approach when I first started exploring Nings. I looked around at a number of them and then decided to sign up for a few that met particular learning needs. Signing up was easy once again, just requiring a log-on ID and password.

What I discovered was how involved and complex a Ning can become, as there are a number of groups and forums to join and participate in. Classroom 2.0 has over 50,000 members and is impossible to keep up with, so it is important to focus in on what you want to follow and start small. The power of the Ning is that it truly becomes a social network; a question or a request for advice leads to a number of responses from educators all over the world, allowing for sharing of ideas and perspectives.

With that in mind, I decided to explore the creation of a Ning to bring together teachers and students between my two schools. I thought I might begin with creating one around award-winning literature, and start out with the Young Reader’s Choice Awards as I will be starting to booktalk them. The appeal of a Ning is that I can set it up for our students only, and they can use their share gmail accounts to log in. This allows me to put in protections and involve students in social networking where I can model and support appropriate online behaviour.

However, my concern about Ning is the cost that is now associated with setting one up. In order to do this between the two schools, I would not be able to go with the Ning Mini account that is sponsored by Pearson, as this only allows for 150 members. I would need to pay $20 per month for the Plus account which allows for unlimited members.

Tolisano (2010) shares the same issue when considering what to do with the successful Around the World in 80 Classrooms project. Saying Goodbye Ning. What I discovered in reading this post was a potential solution to my problem:

Click on image to go to site

Buddypress is a plug-in for WordPress.org, allowing for a social networking site to be set up without cost. It just requires me to set up a wordpress.org blog, and we already have a website host that has room to accommodate both. I could then have my library blog with a social networking feature incorporated that would allow for both schools to be communicating in a protected, moderated manner. Of course, I have to jump through some hoops first to get the wordpress blog hosted, get permission for students to participate in the Ning, and then get everything created, so I did not go ahead with creating it yet until I know that everything is in place. No sense doing all the work if something isn’t going to be ready to go!

Supporting personal learning:

Along with the previously mentioned Classroom 2.0, I am also a member of TLNing and ReadKiddoRead.com. I’m finding these three nings to be a wealth of information and are most aligned with my three areas of interest and need right now: Web 2.o, teacher-librarianship, and literature.

What I am now interested in is started to participate in select discussions – in essence, to start messing around by connecting with others who share similar interests, or who have knowledge to share that would be beneficial to my own learning. Messing around involved “experimentation and play” according to Ito. et. al, and although my approach to play with Web 2.o has been to create, I am interested in seeing how to play with participating in (and eventually creating) my own network.

Supporting teaching and learning:

A Ning can be a safe way to address their responsibility online, to practice appropriate and ethical behaviour and understand the reality of their digital footprint. “We use pencils when we want to let the kids erase and start over, but the Internet is most definitely in huge Sharpie permanent ink.This brings up the point of taking kids into safe places with us where they can learn.” (Davis, 2010)  http://coolcatteacher.blogspot.com/2010/10/facebook-photos-your-delete-doesnt-mean.html

Literacy is about more than print. By having students practice communicating within the controlled environment of a teacher-created Ning, and then building an understanding of how to network and share ideas, they can move beyond the socializing aspect so familiar to them with Facebook. Utecht states,

“Networked literacy is what the web is about. It’s about understanding how people and communication networks work. It’s the understanding of how to find information and how to be found. It’s about how to read hyperlinked text articles, and understand the connections that are made when you become “friends” or “follow” someone on a network. It’s the understanding of how to stay safe and how to use the networked knowledge that is the World Wide Web. Networked Literacy is about understanding connections.

Geeking Out -LibraryThing/GoodReads/Shelfari

My personal learning process with the tools:

A place where I can go to share opinions and wonderings about books, and find out about new great reads? Sign me up!

So I was totally geeking out with these three sites …  each had features that grabbed my attention. All three sites make it easy to sign up. GoodReads had an initial step where you indicate your ratings for books in different categories, and if you had not read the book yet whether you were planning to. This provided an initial book list to start off, which I found interesting.

With Shelfari and LibraryThing, you had to start entering names of books and then could choose to read what others had said or how it was rated, or go into rating and reviewing it yourself. I like the visual bookshelf of Shelfari and could see that students would really like it as well. Of course, the widgets won’t work to embed Shelfari or GoodReads into my wordpress.com blog … argh! Yet another reason to set up a .org hosted account (or look at another blogging platform. Had the same issue with the Yahoo video above).

However, the groups in LibraryThing really grabbed my attention and seemed to have more robust discussions around books and topics of interest (first literary crush? Good to know that others had the same crush on Gilbert from Anne of Green Gables!)

Supporting personal learning:

These sites are an endless resource of ideas for purchasing books for my libraries, finding reviews for book talks, participating in discussions around particular books or themes. It’s an opportunity to ask questions and get recommendations, and definitely a place to geek out with other members who share my same interest and passion for picture books and young adult fiction.

Supporting teaching and learning:

“A study by the National School Board Association and Grunwald Associates in 2007 finds that “nearly all (96%) of kids aged 9-17 are chatting, text messaging, blogging, and creating pages on social sites.” They continue to say that “Online social networking is now so deeply embedded in the lifestyles of tweens and teens that it rivals television for their attention.” (Berger & Trexler, 2010, p. 161)

If this is the case, I want to leverage that interest and direct it towards conversations about the books they are reading. We have a large number of enthuasiastic readers who love to talk about books, as well as reluctant readers who may find the outlet of social networking around books a way to learn about books that might peak their interest. Teachers could set up book clubs for their students and monitor their discussions, and help them to find effective reviews and have them post their own as well.

Of course, Shelfari and LibraryThing both require students to be 13 before they can sign up for an account, which leaves my K-7 students out. I could see using Shelfari with my teachers to help them with their own literature selection, as I could tag different books related to curricular outcomes or reading/writing strategies, and then encourage them to add their own tags, ratings or reviews. The reviews can be used as mentor texts to support students in learning how to write an effective review, and could also be used for my library club members to storyboard and design book trailers.

Concluding questions to ponder

Social networks are not going away, and it is in our best interest to prepare students to participate safely and ethically. Berger and Trexler (2010, p. 173-174) point out important social network concepts that need to be addressed and discussed with students:

  • Profiles – awareness of the type of information they should and should not include in their profiles
  • Privacy settings – understand the settings and how using them gives them control over who views their information
  • Friending – understand that just because someone requests to be their friend, they are not obligated to honor the request
  • Cyberbullying – understand that what they say, do, and how they treat others can affect their own future as well as the victim’s future
  • Sexting – understand how it could embarrass them by being sent to a much larger audience or be posted online for perpetuity, and place them in a potentially dangerous situation
  • Flaming – understand the rules of netiquette which encourage courtesy, honesty and polite behaviour, and how confrontational messages break those rules

They also provide a number of links to organizations online that promote online safety and include activities, lesson plans and movies.

Our students are socially constructing their identity as they participate online, and it is up to us to ensure that they use the tools appropriately and knowledgeably. Otherwise, they may end up like Harvey Korman, when Tim Conway as his dentist had difficulty managing the tools.



About shelljob

I am an educator and life-long learner, exploring new adventures as a teacher-librarian and graduate student. This blog is part of a course on Web 2.0 that I am taking. I am also the parent of a philosopher, a velcro dog and two independent cats. They all manage to keep me humble and grounded!
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2 Responses to I’m so glad we had this time together …

  1. Erin says:

    Great blog post Shelly, it really gave me a lot to think about. I have been becoming more and more focused lately in my interest in digital literacy, so I was very intrigued with the Utecht quote you featured. I think that Davis also really drives home the point about the permanent nature of digital conversations and content with the “Sharpie marker” metaphor. Good stuff 🙂

  2. Debbie Trees says:

    I loved the Carol Burnett Show! and your last video with Tim Conway is priceless. I remember watching that one of tv for sure! So hilarious!

    Great ideas presented in your post Shelly. I love the quote,
    “If we were seeking to develop water safety we wouldn’t keep children away from water until they are 16 and then throw them off the pier – similarly with social media, blindly banning them is inappropriate and equally dangerous.” So true – We do need to teach these skills. Your picture of the bubble-wrapped kid helped drive this point of ‘helicopter’ parenting home. well done.

    Good pro-d links: Classroom 2.0, TLNing and ReadKiddoRead.com. Thanks for these!

    An enjoyable post to read! Now I have to go watch that video clip again and have my dose of laughter for the day. 🙂

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