Friday, January 28, 2011

'Tud-ish but true

“You fools don’t realize we use facebook to talk with each other about sharing school work because none of the sites you made for us work at all. And i filled out most of the form as a joke. There are a million ways we could get on it anyway that none of you have any idea how to stop so it is just a waste of time. Block facebook go ahead because i will go on it anyway.”

This is what one of our students wrote for his open-ended facebook survey response. There were few like this one. Most were amicable and well-reasoned enumerations of the ways in which students use facebook as a productivity tool.

But this response stuck with me, and not because it is obnoxious, but because it is true. Like seriously true. I teach in a school with open access to social media. It is an integral part of the instructional program. This weekend, for example, I am in Philadelphia chaperoning students at the Ivy League Model UN Conference. Our fifteen charges joined a facebook group to use as a portal for trip coordination. They invited their chaperons. We identified dietary restrictions, selected restaurants, plotted, then posted activities on a saved Google map. Conversations transpired about behavioral guidelines. We were able to obtain all necessary contact information. Then, when two feet of snow fell on the eve of our departure, we were able to post updates about our ETD. Kids didn't have to "go" anywhere to check for information because the were there - where else do adolescents spend snowed-in mornings other than facebook? Since we have arrived in Philadelphia, we have been posting pictures of students doing Model UN things, thus documenting the scope of the conference, and its educational value for participants. It is nearly impossible to describe what goes on here to peers, parents and board members - stakeholders whose support is vital to the program's success. This is the ideal vehicle to do just that.


So lets go back to our prickly comment above:

"You fools don’t realize we use facebook to talk with each other about sharing school work..."

Uhh, honestly? This is absolutely true. I certainly didn't until I read through all the open-ended survey responses. I get it now.

"...because none of the sites you made for us work at all." 

Humm...I think by "sites you made for us" this kid is referring to our courseware, which is open source, and teacher created. He might also be referring to Google Apps (we have and actively use a domain). While I think we use these tools innovatively at the high school, I am starting to wonder why we lock down as much as we do. I just opened a blog for the high school library - but not for blogging. Our library instructional program uses hybrid (blended online/face-to-face) delivery. We started this in 2008, and I won't explain its transformational impact here, but I describe it in a vignette I wrote for a David Loertscher and Carol Koechlin article that will appear in the Feb 2011 issue of Teacher Librarian. Here is the thing, and I think this is what our snarky kid means. Once we get the kids to log in and navigate to the resource we intended, they feel their work is done. They often turn to us and say, "Okay, I'm here. Now what?" and we answer, "Great! Now read, and follow the directions."


Ahem, have you met a millennial lately? Read and follow directions? Heck! Nick Carr can barely do that anymore! And that's kind of okay by me - they can do a whole lot of other things previous generations can't, and we mustn't forget that. Let's face it: it's on us to adapt.


So back to the tools that "don't work at all" and my non-bloggy blog. Why not move everything we currently have locked down in our courseware (or at least what we can) to the open web? Why not make it easy for kids to access it, and, while we're at it, allow other librarians, teachers, colleagues, parents, administrators...well gee, maybe the whole world to access it too? A blog is perfect for that. Post the instructions and kids can respond, ask questions, add resources, and just be good participatory learners. It's all indexed chronologically, and if I can find a gosh darn working search widget for Blogger, that would certainly help. My point is, and I think that kid says it clearly, albeit rudely, why complicate something that can be simple simply because it is educational? Point taken. Let's demystify and democratize learning! 

"And i filled out most of the form as a joke." 
Well score one for me. You took it.

"There are a million ways we could get on it anyway..." 
Yeah, agreed. Got phone?

"...none of you have any idea how to stop so it is just a waste of time." 
Not what school network regulators want to hear, but my experience backs this up.

"Block facebook go ahead because i will go on it anyway.” 
We have no intention of blocking facebook. I put out the survey to determine its impact on productivity, and in preparation for a presentation we were putting together for parents about social media. We quietly posted the survey on our library website in mid-December and a month later, almost 400 kids had taken it, 50 of whom took the time to include narrative responses. Impressive turn out!

So, as I embark on my collaboration with one of our English teachers, Aaron Gallo, on the spring junior research paper, we will be using THE ANNEX@ New Canaan High School Library (the new blog) and facebook to post ideas, research reflections, topics, thesis statements, resource ideas, queries and carry on virtual discussions. Cool! Wanna watch? You can! It's online - well not yet, let me get back from this conference. Then it will be online. But you can subscribe now.

And if you have a working search widget, let me know! All those I've tried failed. 

PS We really really really want more kids to take the survey. We revamped it and we are hoping for virality (no, not virility!). Please Tweet, blog, facebook, whatever you can to get it out. We want to compare the "blocked school" responses to the "unblocked school" responses. Please help!

Here's the link: http://bit.ly/yfilter

And there is one for teachers too! http://tinyurl.com/yfilter


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