Social media...dirty word or essential skill?

Social media...dirty word or essential skill?

Summary: I mentioned Chris Brogan in a post yesterday from the Massachusetts Superintendents Technology Conference. He gave the final keynote of the day, entitled "The Internet has changed everything, again.

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I mentioned Chris Brogan in a post yesterday from the Massachusetts Superintendents Technology Conference. He gave the final keynote of the day, entitled "The Internet has changed everything, again." Not surprisingly, it was about Web 2.0/social media goodness (he even featured a screenshot from fellow ZDNet blogger, Jennifer Leggio).

So haven't we all heard enough about Web 2.0? As Mr. Brogan himself acknowledged, he hates using the term since we're basically on the edge of Web 3.0 eventually. In the context of the conference today, though, the short answer is "No." Plenty of educators, especially administrators, wouldn't know a blog from their elbow, let alone have a clue how they might use Twitter or Ning in their districts.

In fact, what little they know (I'm making broad generalizations here; if the administrators you know were social media consultants in a former life, feel free to stop reading this post and simply click through one of the ads featured on the page) about Web 2.0 starts with an "M" and rhymes with flyspace. Even technology directors often just see Web 2.0 applications as one more thing they need to block on their content filters.

Another speaker from the conference (Dr. Willard Daggett) made an interesting point. And yes, that means that there were at least two interesting speakers at a conference for school superintendents. I know it's hard to get your head around, but the conference was not a complete waste of time.

Anyway, back to Dr. Daggett. He asked how many of us had Blackberries. An awful lot of us very cheerfully raised our hands. People really do love their CrackBerries. Then he asked how many of us allow our students to use BlackBerries, PDAs, or cell phones on tests. Obviously we all chuckled, but then he pointed out that, while we can't let our students cheat, we're essentially barring them from using tools in class to collaborate that they are expected to use in the real world.

The same goes for social media, often a dirty word in educational circles. Yet social media (whether blogging, Facebook, or even Webkinz) pervades everything our students do and increasingly drives much of what gets done in business. Social media are really just a set of tools that can either be used for stalking young people online or can enable businesses to collaborate across time zones and connect in new and innovative ways.

If administrators and teachers can focus on the latter, we'll be a lot closer to engaging kids in those relevant skills the Gates keep talking about.

Topics: Browser, Social Enterprise

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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12 comments
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  • Striking a balance

    Interesting piece. I guess your assertion makes the
    assumption that we learn ANYTHING at school that is
    useful in business. If the curriculum does include
    genuinely useful sales and marketing modules alongside
    maths and economics, then there is much to be said for
    teaching how to exploit Web 2.0 for sales and
    marketing (or even customer service) purposes.

    But as with anything like this, its a question of
    balance. They'd probably be able to survive in their
    first job without those skills and easily pick them up
    later.

    Ian Hendry
    CEO, WeCanDo.BIZ
    http://www.wecando.biz
    ianhendry
    • Applying the Concepts

      The way higher education is set up today we are not raising youth to be excellent business professionals, we are raising them to be excellent students. We teach how to take notes and read textbooks; not how to get the ball rolling or make the sale.
      Teaching application of social media in school would make the task of making the education more practical even tougher. With the rate at which things are changing it would be hell for teachers and textbook writers to keep up.
      The answer is service learning and internships; set students up in heavily supervised but still real business situations. Then they may actually learn something they can use.
      LadyVoIP
      • Another option...

        Calcified, old-school teachers would describe using social
        media as h*ll, as LadyVoIP has said. However, as a
        younger, teach-savvy teacher I find the challenge
        stimulating. Having new things to learn keeps me
        interested in teaching. The prospect of teaching American
        Government out of the same textbook for the next 25
        years until I retire makes me want to change careers now.
        Making the job interesting keeps GOOD teachers who
        relish new technology in the teaching field.

        For the record, I don't teach technology classes at my
        school; I am the Social Studies Department Chair. I have
        created new elective classes in Entrepreneurial Economics
        to teach Economic ideas through application. For my
        simulation, I made it myself using complex Excel
        spreadsheets, PowerPoint, and Word. Anyone else could
        do the same. Shame on them for not trying.
        YoTeach
      • What is our job?

        Not a criticism, but this is the problem with education in America. What is our job as high school teachers? I would argue that it is not to produce excellent business professionals; I hope you meant colleges when you said "higher education". High schools SHOULD be producing "students", as they can then go to a college or a job, and there learn how to be an excellent business professional, or an excellent chef, or an excellent diesel mechanic, plumber, or architect.
        Service learning is a great tool, but how do they succeed in those situations if they can't read, write, communicate in a professional way, or learn anything new once in that situation?

        Personally, I see vocational schools and colleges as exactly the thing you are talking about; a place where students can learn something they can actually use. But first, in high school, they should be learning HOW to learn those things; whether it be by taking notes on paper, reading textbooks or operations manuals, or by memorizing how to spell words correctly.
        ajole
        • High school taught me very little

          As a student just being thrown head first into the
          working world, I'd say that high school (and yes, a
          good chunk of my current university education too) is
          pretty useless. People go to high school because they
          want to go to college, and people want to to go
          college or university because employers are impressed
          by the pretty little piece of paper that you earn for
          spending a great deal of time and money there. And
          yes, I'm learning useful things: I've learned about
          how to manage my time well when I have multiple
          looming due dates, and I've learned to strike a
          balance between work and life that will make me happy,
          and I've learned how to learn effectively. But these
          aren't the things that they teach us in school. Those
          are things that I was lucky enough to learn as a
          secondary effect of being in school: not all of my
          classmates were so lucky, and struggled to get the
          grades and still struggle today in their jobs.

          Now, I am in engineering, so a lot of the stuff that
          I've learned in many classes that would be completely
          stupid for most students, I actually do make use of in
          my work. However, the vast majority of students don't
          need to learn a lot of the things that we are taught
          in school (high school is MUCH worse than university,
          but both are guilty of it). English class is a classic
          example: where I live, you have to take english for
          four years. English could be a valuable class if we
          were taught the right things. Teach us how to write
          according to what field we are entering (if you want
          to be a journalist, you english assignments should be
          a little different from mine, as an engineer). Teach
          us how to interact effectively in a professional
          working situation like a meeting. I really don't care
          about Shakespeare. Students would be better off
          learning to spell and use correct grammar, how to
          adjust their vocabulary based on the current
          situation, how to articulate themselves in a concise
          manner (I still suck at that, though I can write a
          killer essay on the themes and hidden meaning in just
          about any book you throw at me).

          So! My suggestion: either make classes like english
          more useful, or cut them out and create room for
          classes on how to effectively find information on the
          internet, basic macro writing skills (I'm a big
          advocate of everyone learning a little bit of VBA,
          because it would make everyone's lives far easier when
          dealing with Office), and tutorial-style classes where
          students are placed in business-like environments and
          given a task to complete (like a meeting for planning
          the budget for the next school year). Also, students
          should be taught things on how to keep a house:
          cooking, basic repair of things around the house,
          basic car mechanics (changing a tire,
          checking/changing oil, etc). There are too many people
          that don't know how to do these things, and too many
          people who are being guided through lessons on the
          breeding patterns of walruses. Don't care about the
          walruses unless I plan on working as a marine
          biologist, thanks (which of course, means that biology
          should still be available in school, but just not
          required :P ).

          We should base our school system less on traditional
          academia (which is generally useless outside of said
          traditional academia) and more on the life-lesson
          classes like sex-ed. Now, there's a class that's
          useful for students!! Most don't like it, but it
          dispels a lot of myths that would otherwise cause
          teenage pregnancies, etc. See? Useful!!

          [i]how do they succeed in those situations if they
          can't read, write, communicate in a professional way,
          or learn anything new once in that situation?[/i]

          I can definitely see where you're coming from, and
          certainly academics shouldn't be removed entirely, but
          there must be some balance between the two, and I'd
          have to say that many students DON'T learn to read or
          write in a professional way when they're in school
          (Hence my suggestions for a revamped english class). I
          certainly didn't, and neither did many of my
          classmates in university, and now we're all busy
          playing catch-up.
          Caggles
  • RE: Social media...dirty word or essential skill?

    Regarding barring use of blackberries..."we're essentially barring them from using tools in class to collaborate that they are expected to use in the real world."

    That's obsurd. That's like saying:
    "Since older generations of business people speak to each other to collaborate, they should have been allowed to speak to each other during their tests in school, in order to prepare them for how they would someday interact in a business environment."
    justin@...
    • That's not what he said...

      The speaker that cheating is not an option, but for
      collaborative work, why not allow students to text
      message? If a group member is absent, they can be
      "virtually" present to be a part of the team. This allows
      work to move forward even if key members of the
      students' groups are absent.

      As a teacher, I have seen group work hit a wall when
      critical decisions need to be made (my Coffee Shop
      Simulation for Entrepreneurial Economics Class is a prime
      example of collaborative decision making) but a member is
      absent. I tell them to call their cell number and talk it
      over. This is "real world" activity that they would do if they
      really were entrepreneurs... which is the point of the class
      by the way. This makes me officially violate the schools
      handbook. His point is that we should have the leeway to
      take these actions without hiding them from the District's
      Technology Director or the Principal. I must say, I agree.

      To balance it out, there are dangers to letting students text
      each other in class. Many a fight has been instigated in
      the hallways between classes on student cell phones.
      Cautious optimism is probably the true buzzword.
      YoTeach
  • "... dirty word ..." of course

    While people had their hands up to indicate they were carrying Blackberries, the speaker presumably then asked, "And how many people have them turned off? Those who lower your hands should do so immediately."

    If communication devices become too widespread in school districts, perhaps administrators should announce that they will be confiscated and returned only to parents. And that staff discovered with such devices will be directed to bring them to their cars and lock them in. With second offenses to be the subject of correspondence with the employee.

    This would produce the appropriate attitude toward Blackberries and their ilk in academic settings, and well prepare students for their future use of these devices in most careers in most employment settings.
    Anton Philidor
    • Re: '...dirty word..."

      Don't you mean "[when] communication devices become too widespread in school districts" and not "if?"

      And are we really sure you're solution "would produce the appropriate attitude toward Blackberries and their ilk in academic settings?"

      Academic settings do require more focus, which these devices can easily negate. Yet, as times change there still needs to be a way to strike a balance as ianhendry mentions. These devices do have a place in a large segment of business. And adoption into new areas will continue regardless of how much we want to fight it.
      pparks_2000
      • "Academic settings do require more focus ..."

        One balance which might be struck between attention and distraction is 100% attention and 0% distraction.

        Consider lectures, research in libraries, expository writing which cannot be turned into bullet points, fiction which expects inference and association, arguments in papers longer than half a page... Which of these benefit from distractions?

        An appropriate comparison: uninterrupted work vs electrical shocks and loud buzzing noises at irregular intervals. Which do you think will have better results?

        Yes, Blackberries do have a place, similar to that of cell phones. Have you noticed that every aisle in the grocery store now includes one person reading prices and discussing brands over the phone? The technology does have the important purpose of assuring that one need never be alone with a choice to make.

        Well, that and (on social sites) assuring that one's embarrassing pictures are posted where they can simplify a potential employer's decision. And validating Mark Twain's (maybe) comment, Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.

        Okay, yes, someone may wish to notify you of a problem about which you can do nothing until you return to the office. And someone may want to reach you just before your important meeting to tell you to buy milk or that your employer is bankrupt and your coming effort meaningless. But essential communications like these are rare.

        Plagues will spread on their own. They don't need official endorsements and encouragement.
        Anton Philidor
        • 10+!

          This was a great post. There are professional writers that can't write this well! Good job!
          ajole
  • Something safe, huh?

    Yeah, it's time for a rest.
    kozmcrae