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.
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
- Feross Aboukhadijeh story – 3 hours of coding, Internet fame and a job offer on Twitter. I actually offered one of our new ITRTs his job via a Twitter direct message because I knew it would amuse him.
- Kickstarter’s most funded – focus here is that with good ideas and a savvy understanding of social media marketing you can fund things in ways never before possible. I hit a few of the high roller examples, DS106 for the personal and VA connection, and ended with The Kale Guy this time because everyone likes an underdog fighting the Man with money from the people.
- Then comes some personal examples of how social media has done interesting things for me. Who would have thought Dean Shareski putting the video6 I made for a staff development day would result in nearly a million views? I hit a few other weird things like the parrot photo I took in Goochland ending up with the scientific name on Wikipedia and then in the French Museum of Natural History and the odd Tumblr popularity of a picture of a coconut (around 50,000 comments/reposts) I took in my kitchen one day. The point here is to take abstract good things about social media and make them concrete and real.7 Lest it be merely about ego gratification, I then tie these things down concretely into relationships being built, consulting opportunities, job changes etc.
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.
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.