Social Media Talk

I’ve spoken to the PTA at Tuckahoe Middle School for the last two years about social media. It’s been pretty interesting both times in that I take a closer look at things that I tend to take for granted. I think both conversations have gone pretty well. I’ll document the conversation below (mixed with a few things I did with our principals a while back) for anyone who might have to do the same.


I start with a slide that mixes the pictures of as many radically different people with Twitter accounts as I can find. I get the audience to try to identify the people. The one I’m using now has the Dali Lama, Rupert Murdoch, Sarah Palin and a few others. My goal was to have a few easily identifiable people and a few that took a tiny bit more effort.1 I wanted a wide diversity in political views, ages, etc. After we’ve ID’d the people, I ask “What do these people have in common?”2 I mention that you’ve probably heard references to Twitter after shows like Good Morning America, etc. Hopefully this gets people into the mindset that Twitter (and social media in general) is becoming more broadly adopted and is being used by mainstream media.

My next move is to argue against polarizing social media. It’s not black and white. While social media is not responsible for the decay of morals in America, it is also not the magic elixir that will heal all of our ills. I will say that social media is a powerful tool that opens up opportunities to increase the consequences of your energies and actions for good or bad.

What is social media?

I’m defining social media as any platform that allow users to communicate and connect with an audience. That’s a fairly broad definition but intentionally so. If the focus is on both the positive and negative aspect of social media, both come from the ability to communicate and publish for an audience. There are nuances of difference between sites and the ability to “friend,” the types of media you can publish, internal tools, etc. but the unifier is simple two-way communication.

That opens up a lot of terrain and I want to emphasize that. It’s too easy to say “I don’t let my kids go on social media,” or to write off all social media as trivial. This is also an opening to the discussion of how it’s not an on/off decision for schools.

At this point I emphasize different aspects of social media starting with CNN comments (and their high level of offensiveness), hitting Amazon comments (and that whole weird genre of fake product reviews) and then getting into things like Instagram and emphasizing that computers are certainly no longer a necessity. This type of cell-phone-based social media also adds the more immediate and integrated geographical data issue that can be a surprise for parents and kids. It’s not that I believe there are legions of internet kidnappers out there but I do think people ought to understand what data they’re disclosing.

The Social Media Pantheon

This isn’t a bad place to start when talking about the depth and breadth of what can be meant by social media. I also emphasize that social media on the web has been around in different forms for a long time. The Well being a very early example and I talk a little about IRC and Usenet. While not exactly social media as we think of it today, I think they provide some historical context.

I then move on to LinkedIn as something that some parents have used and it provides a touch stone as well as a pretty easily seen career/income relationship.

MySpace is next mainly because I want to stress how transitory these sites can be. Banning one site isn’t going to achieve your desired result. The Internet (and what is cool/hot/hawt) is a moving target. You have to focus on behavior as opposed to URLs.

Facebook takes a little time but is once again a familiar space for many parents. Many have used the site and understand the main capabilities. FB is mainly there so I can talk about its attempts to move into the mobile space3 held more by Twitter, FourSquare, Yelp and the like. Once again, I’m focusing on the mobile component and the importance of geographically aware elements in the popularity of the services.

I highlight a few people who’ve made their names through some bad choices that were documented on social media. I work from Phelps4, to Matthew Stafford and then hit Anthony Weiner. I work up to Weiner as his behavior was especially stupid and it put quite a contrast to the teacher (Ashley Payne) in the right hand corner who was fired for posting that picture. The point being some people document their stupidity and seemingly beg for punishment but there is also some real overreaction to things going on right now. Most people can’t believe the teacher was fired for that picture. I then point out The Facebook Fired, a site entirely dedicated to people fired for their social media actions. I may get into some of the issues that I documented in this post but it depends on the audience mood.

This is playing towards what people expect and I don’t apologize for that. These are the things parents are worried about. I lighten it up a bit at the end with Literally Unbelievable with a focus on the fact that what may be documented may not get you fired but it could convince people you’re an idiot. This also give me a chance to plug media literacy.

The Good

Now I get to focus on the things that are more interesting and fun. These are the things you don’t really hear about on mainstream news shows or on Oprah.5
I have used

From this the move is towards MOOCs/OpenCourseware and the more freeform places where you can join social media communities that are focused on learning. I hit Instructables and Make so I can open up the maker movement discussion and the tie in to use for science, physics etc. in our classrooms.

I take some detours and encourage questions from the audience but that eats up an hour pretty quickly. It’s a fun conversation and I get to talk about interesting things. The fact that raisins have QR codes and ketchup has its own Facebook page is too much to resist.

I ended with this tweet and the challenge that instantaneous access to worldwide communication is something these students will always have to deal with. That’s going to be a wild ride that will require an ever increasing skill set and media savvy.

1 Don’t make people work too hard at this point or everything will stall and you will make enemies.

2 I believe you already know the answer.

3 We talked some about the purchase of Instagram. A few parents brought up Instagram as the major social media element in their kids lives right now.

4 This may be a stretch but I’d argue without social media this would not have blown up nationally the way it did.

5 Is Oprah still on? Apparently not. Geraldo?

6 Yes, part of it is the fact that the video embarrasses me now.

7 I’m also a member.

Seeking a Blessing

I’m semi-happy with how this turned out. I lost a track twice thanks to not paying attention and some help from my kids. You might think hitting save a lot is a good idea but it also wipes out your undo options. It might have been better but waiting for good enough is the reason I have several hundred draft posts on this blog. It’s all in good fun anyway.

Anyway, here is mashup of Gardner Campbell’s Open Ed 2012 keynote and Tighten Up by the Black Keys. It is not necessarily representative of Gardner or the The Black Stripes but it ought to encourage you to check out both.


Thanks to Grant Potter for encouraging me to do something other than nothing.

Interview Process

We’ve been interviewing a lot lately between people being relocated with spouses, moving up in the world, staying home with children, etc. Historically, I had been frustrated with what I could glean from the traditional question/answer interview format. It turns out I can pretty much make up any kind of interview process I want now. So I did.

The following is what we did on our last interview. Certainly not perfect but I think it’s on the way to getting us what we want and it’s a big improvement on what we had before.

Part 1

The interview started with a 30 minute inbox activity with two tasks.

Task #1: Respond to an angry email from a parent about filtering.

Task #2: Prepare to present on your philosophy of education. This will be done Ignite style (20 slides, 15 seconds per slide on auto advance). Your slide images have been chosen. You can change the order but that’s it. This will be the opening activity for the interview portion.

Part 2 – The Interview

5 minute Ignite presentationThe Ignite presentation is going to stay. We’ve done that in two interviews now and it seems to actually show something about how people think.
(based on task #2)

10 minute role playing based on this scenario.

15 minutes with these 4 questions.

  • What is the worst thing education is doing with technology? How do you fix that?
  • Changing people’s minds is a difficult, slow process. How do you speed that process up?
  • What is the most exciting thing you see in the future for instructional technology?
  • Describe one thing you don’t like about your current job? What have you done about it?

Brief Thoughts On Digital Content in K12

I was asked to speak about OER in K12 at the VMI STEM conference a few days ago. The speaker before me gave an accurate definition of OER and listed the normal places you’d expect – OpenCourseWare, MERLOT, Curriki etc. For what it’s worth, I listed those sites as well but when the places where I found digital content to be more interesting tended to be other places.

It seems like the bridge that is far enough (but not too far) in K12 may be something that provides a central pillar of approved, vetted, standardized and permanent1 but that provides a access to fairly ephemeral, topical media elements. The image in my mind is something like the vine image below.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Randy Son Of Robert

What becomes interesting is how you might do that. You could create a platform that allows those people with the time/interest in finding and sifting through things to populate content for those that don’t. It wouldn’t be hard using RSS. It seems like it’d be something like SuperPunch where someone who is passionate about a particular topic combs through different sites for things that are interesting. You could do state standard based aggregation but that’s likely to get messy and require an organization that will be onerous if you want stuff to “stick” near the concept long term. If you’re willing to accept that the ephemeral content will “drift away” over time things become much easier. If you’re ok with simple subject tagging things also become much more pleasant (for the tagger anyway). If the learning registry takes off you’ll have a good repository of interesting metadata attached to traditional learning objects. I’d be really interested in associating data like that to media that people would use when not coerced.

In many ways, I think that a decent amount of content that is meant to bleed away is good. It would be interesting to see what became part of the core and what was let go over time. That would cause some problems depending on the source of the content. I made some argument that for all intents and purposes OER was pretty much equivalent to free media that you could link all your students to or have them download (as intended). You would wander into licensing issues if you wanted to add that PARPurposely available resources- stuff put on the Internet to be consumed or used by an audience. content to your core content with the goal of having it available year after year. I’m not sure that would happen that much or that if it did how much of a problem it would be. I have no idea how much of the web is lost to attrition or paywalls each year. It seems most of my Delicious bookmarks last a good while.

It does seem important to me to expand the concept of educational materials far beyond how we typically define them. MOOCs, OpenCourseWare, Khan Academy, for the most part, all seem to be reinforcing the idea that this material ought to be modeled after direct teaching and often is simply video lectures. That should exist sure but I don’t find it particularly interesting or new. I do think our access to raw data, live commentary from participants/experts, interactive data visualization tools etc. are both unique and important when we think about what educational resources are. I also tried to push the idea that open source tools and platforms are a vital part of the OER concept.

I also feel pretty strongly that the focus on super vetted content that parallels textbooks in terms of being of reading level X and approved by committee Y will lead us to the kind of homogenized pap that fills textbooks today. I know of few people who have ever enjoyed reading a textbook. If the teacher can’t help students work through information then you’re likely dealing with someone who isn’t going to be able to teach them either. You’d be better off firing the teacher and buying the textbook. The rise in concern over the validity of textbooks is probably tightly tied to the declining faith in teachers.

In case you wonder what random things I threw out there to the audience as potential fodder for instruction, here is the delicious list with a few random conference related items thrown in as well.

1 Think textbook refresh permanence.