Monthly Archives: March 2014

New Playground

I read a neat article by Hanna Rosin in the Atlantic called The Overprotected Kid. The article includes interesting anecdotes about children growing up – especially the differences between some areas of Britain and America. It is a lengthy, well written article. The article makes several observations about the move to keep kids “safe”. I encourage you to make a good cup of tea and settle in to read it.

One of the points are that really hit home is that parents now spend more time with their children than ever before. This is in spite of adults (especially women, but also men) now working more hours than ever. That’s right, even though adults are spending more hours at work, they are also spending more hours with their kids. The article mentions how kids are rarely alone. In the author’s childhood, time was spent away from home after school and on weekends. I can relate to that. As a kid, when I got home, I checked in briefly, then headed outside to play in the park or in the street (I had the corner house, so the neighborhood kids largely gathered around my house for street games). Ms. Rosin points out that:
“ My mother didn’t work all that much when I was younger, but she didn’t spend vast amounts of time with me, either. She didn’t arrange my playdates or drive me to swimming lessons or introduce me to cool music she liked. On weekdays after school she just expected me to show up for dinner; on weekends I barely saw her at all.”

This mirrors my own childhood. But it doesn’t mirror the childhood of my kids. My kids spent much more time at organized events (one swam, one danced). In part, this was because of the culture change. There just weren’t kids hanging out for my kids to play with. (For the record, I think that my kids have turned out pretty terrific). They definitely had a different experience than I did growing up.

The article cites many cases of how we are protecting (or overprotecting) kids with little seeming benefit. Injuries aren’t down all that much. Kids are still much more likely to abducted by someone they know rather than a stranger. However, an abduction of a child hits the news hard. It makes it seem much bigger and important in our brains. So, we want to protect our kids from abduction. (Granted, we do want to protect kids from abduction, but the measures that we take are frequently irrational). (By far, the largest cause of death for children is auto accidents.)

There is a cost to all of the safety measures as well. Children need to make small mistakes as the growing up. From those mistakes, they learn important lessons that serve them well later on. This is part of the growing process.

In chatting with friends, we talked about how we used to meet up at the playground. One of my friends has younger kids. One of his sons was laying about. Dad asked his son about going out to the play or doing something.
“Hey, how about playing that game that you like” – a reference to a computer game that the kid likes to play.
The son’s response was that none of his friends were available to play.
“How about doing the campaign?” says Dad.
“No one does the campaigns Dad.”

After a bit of discussion, Dad realized that his son was doing just what he did as a kid. He was waiting for his friends to be available and gather. Only, instead of gathering at the corner or the field, they were gathering online. The characteristics are largely the same as when we were kids, the space is restricted to kids (no adults allowed), the kids all know each other, they wait for each other to be available and it is the play together that matters most. However, it looks really different to the adults.

I’m a pretty optimistic person. Times are changing. Things will not exactly the same as they did when I was a kid. That’s OK. I hope that we try to understand kids and support them. I just hope that we don’t try to support them too much so that they never get the chance to grow.

Educators and Social Media

Recently a Google employee caused quite the stir when he posted [a rant] (http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2011/10/12/whoops-google-engineer-accidentally-makes-his-plus-sucks-rant-public/) on Google+ about the failings of Google+. It seems as though he meant to post the rant to a select group of fellow Google employees. However, instead of sharing only with them, the “Public” setting was turned on and the post was shared with the world. Keep in mind that this is not a novice user. This is a Google engineer with lots of experience and understanding of how the Internet and Google products work. The post was quickly picked up by bloggers. The author decided to take the post down. However, since it had been picked up and re-shared by many others, it is still freely available.

So, if this can happen to someone who lives and breathes the web, how about teachers and social media? Teachers are taking to social media more frequently (just like the rest of the world). There is a blending of the personal and professional. One wrong setting, one mistaken click, can have tremendous ramifications. Not to mention just plain [dumb decisions] (http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2013/06/18/teachers-social-media-mistakes/).

In the past, I’ve suggested to educators that they have two accounts- a personal and a professional account. Additionally, I’ve suggested that people make sure that they use two totally different pictures for each of the accounts. That way, they can set up one account as the professional “shout from the mountaintop” account and one account as their personal account. Additionally, I’ve suggested that people try to change the settings so that the accounts look as visually different as possible. This is certainly a start. However, the chances of error are still pretty high. Some accounts never really look very different. Facebook as an example, looks pretty much like Facebook. You can’t change the background color, layout, etc. Additionally, Facebook allows you to post pictures and status updates from various other programs. This can easily lead to thinking that you are posting a picture to one account, when in reality is going to another. The chances of simple mistake remain quite high.

Teachers need to absolutely understand that anything on the web is publicly available forever. Some things can seem to go drift off into the ether, but can be retrieved with a bit of research. This includes items from college and prior to being hired as a teacher. Again, one moment of weakness, one bad decision can have profound effects.

Teachers also need to understand the concept of “friending”. Many teachers will friend other teachers at work. Sounds great. You should be able to trust your fellow employees. And this can work out great. After all, you probably spend a lot of time together. Additionally, you have a shared experience that others just can’t understand. But friendship frequently extends more like a web with social media. Thus, something that you post can not only be seen by your friends, but frequently by friends of your friends. So let’s say that one teacher (Mary) is friends with another teacher (Jack). Mary has a bad day. Really rough. A particular student (Joe) caused ton of grief and heartache for Mary. Mary takes to social media and posts that Joe was really obnoxious and annoying today. Furthermore, Mary posts that Joe had a runny nose and hopefully will be out for a few days. Jack, the other teacher, posts a smiley face as a comment. However, Jack had at one time friended Joe’s dad. Now Joe’s dad will see not only Jack’s smiley face, but the original post by Mary. Now, maybe Jack and Joe’s dad had a great conversation at the beginning of the year. Joe’s dad seemed like a great guy (and probably is). Jack may not post much, so he doesn’t think too much about friending parents. After all, he is pretty conservative about using social media. None of that matters at this point. Mary’s post has gone directly to Joe’s dad without Mary having any clue that it was going to happen. Magnify this by the number of teachers, administrators, and staff in your buildings and district.

These issues can also get muddy quickly. There is no law against those over 21 purchasing and consuming alcohol. Posting a picture of drinking that alcohol can have unintended consequences. Never mind that the drinking may be responsible, done on one’s own time, etc. Remember the scenario above. It really only takes one common connection for information to be shared. That information may not lead to direct job loss. Rather, it can change the perception and attitude of the parents and community of the educators.

Humans have always commiserated with each other. Teachers have been known to blow off steam by complaining about things in the staff lounge. It may not even be the way that they truly feel. Rather it is just a frustration or combination of events of the day combined with being human. Many people look at social media as the new “staff lounge”. However, there is a profound difference. The audience in the staff lounge of old was known and limited. The social media “staff lounge” is unknown, unlimited and not restricted by time. Even though someone may have overheard a comment in the old staff lounge, and could repeat the comment, that was work and became less impactful with each telling (in general).

There are no easy answers. The web is not going away. Social media is not going away. Maybe some of these things will work themselves out. In the meantime, here is my advice:
• Set up two accounts on social media that you will use professionally and personally (don’t try to use all of them for professional purposes).
• Limit the professional accounts.
• Keep the professional account strictly professional.
• Keep the personal account personal. Don’t mix the professional and personal.
• Always check before you post to make sure that you are in the correct account.
• Always sign out when you are done.

Good luck.

A new perspective

In dealing with setting up accounts, ways of communicating and how people now want to interact, it's become clear that there is a new schema. In the past, we deal with locations. Now we deal with individuals. This is a profound difference and leads to some interesting effects. Let's take a look at the impact of this change. First though, let's look at the historical shift.

History

In the past, everyone had a home phone. Originally, phone numbers were developed based upon where the switching building was located. Thus, my first phone number was DUnkirk6-1772 (386-1772 – the first two letters of the exchange translated into numbers). Talk about location based. Your phone number was a reflection of where you were. Growing up, you called someone's "house". You asked if "they" were home. When the phone rang, it could be for anyone who lived in the house. If you wanted to reach someone at work, there was a different number. You either called someone's home or work. Eventually, answering machines were invented and if no one was home to answer, you could leave a message. Cell phones were invented. Now you didn't need to be in one place, rather you could answer the phone wherever you were. In the beginning, a cell phone was an additional phone. Over the past few years, home phones have been disappearing entirely. Many people no longer have a home phone. Rather, the cell phone is the only phone. No longer did someone need to know if you were at home or work, they simply called you. The phone is no longer a shared family or community based utility, rather it is a device for one. Thus, when the phone "rings", it is clear who it for. If one moves from one house to another, there is no need to change a phone number. The same phone number works. The idea of a phone has completely changed. It is now a way to directly reach someone. The system for assigning phone numbers has changed as well. Originally, large cities had the area codes closest to the number one. That made it easier for the switch board operators. Now, there is no advantage or reason for an area code to be one versus zero or nine.

Identity is another big issue. Going far enough back, people were from somewhere. More recently, addresses were used for verification. In order to know for sure that someone was who they said they were, a house address was required. Now, more and more, in order to prove who you are, we use email addresses. Again, a shift from a physical location to an individual.

Impact on Education

So how does this impact education. Let's look at the example of how parents and the community contact school. In the past, an address was an address and didn't change. Communication is more often done through email now. In a person based system, this means that you must know the person that you want to contact. For example, you can't just contact the Principal of the school, you need to know the name of the individual who is the principal. May not seem like a big deal, but it can be. Principals change much more frequently now that in days past (another blog post coming on that). Also, there are times when the principal isn't known (say when one has accepted a new position and the replacement hasn't been publicly named yet).

How about how we handle documents? In the past, there was a big filing cabinet that held the important papers of the school. (Actually, there were lots of them). In the principal's office was probably a filing cabinet filled with the history of the school. Past schedules. Pictures. Schedules. Important events. (Not that this was a perfect system. In fact, there are lots of problems with a location based system. Not as many things could be saved. Many items could only be possessed by one person. Access was limited. Theft/loss was a huge issue). Now that documents are person based, if the principal of building A moves to another district, all of those documents can easily be lost. If that account is deleted, all of those documents are destroyed. Additionally, how do we sort out personal documents from school documents? There may be lots of documents that are specific to that individual and are worthless to the school. However, those personal document can be intertwined with crucial documents for understanding and running the school.

Future

So what does the future hold? We are rapidly moving toward a more personalized and person-based system. This is not to say it is good or bad. Rather, sometimes we need to think and plan for these changes. There will be unintended consequences and pleasant surprises. As we move forward, we'll need to consider how we are setting up systems and make conscientious choices about why we make the decisions that we do.

Open Source

I'm a big believer in open source. I love the idea of leveraging a little bit of work from each of us for the betterment of all. I use several open source software solutions. I'll be discussing some of these in this blog. Here are a few that I like:

  • Moodle
  • LimeSurvey
  • LibreOffice or OpenOffice
  • WordPress
    Of these, Moodle is what I'm working on most currently. Moodle is an LMS (Learning Management System). Moodle allows teachers to leverage on-line strategies. Differentiation has always been possible. However, for many teachers, differentiation was incredibly difficult because it took so much time and energy. The teachers that tend to have done it well are teachers that would spend huge amounts of time. Moodle still takes time, but it can leverage that time much more efficiently. Additionally, Moodle can help leverage time by easily sharing great resources.

The problem with Moodle is that it is incredibly powerful. (One huge advantage of Moodle is that is incredibly powerful!) It is sometimes clunky (though it is getting better and better). This combination can mean a large learning curve for new users. And, although Moodle allows for teachers to easily share activities and resources, the development of really good resources is still in its infancy. This is something will continue to develop and more and more great activities will be available.

Some day, hopefully soon, Moodle will be more user friendly. Moodle will also have tons of shareable resources that teachers can download, manipulate for their uses and use for students to learn and grow. We're not there yet, but we are on our way.

Free iOS app

For a limited time, Natural 20 (a dice rolling app) is free. This could be used to randomly select students. You can set up die to match the number of students. There are other options out there as well, but sometimes variety is good.

The program allows you to create and saved named die of different values. As an example, I set one up with 28 sides and named it "First Hour".

iTunes Link.