I’ve been thinking over the past week, since coming back from Unconference, about what “being connected” means to me. Both personally and professionally. This post is really motivated by 2 pechakucha presentations by members of my PLN, presented on the first day of unconference during our lunch break. The first, by Clarinda Brown, was a reflection on her 12 months, how her life has changed, and what’s important to her now that wasn’t a year ago. The second, by Pip Cleaves, was about the notion of 21st century learning, and a key line from her presentation struck me – “We shouldn’t be talking about 21st century skills, we’re 11 years into it. They are just skills.” (I think I’ve paraphrased Pip a little there, but that was the gist of it!!)
I was talking to my principal yesterday, who is new to our school, and the discussion got onto the topic of what’s working, and what has changed since she arrived. And that, too, led me to thinking about what’s changed for me in my professional life.
So, what has changed? For me, the MAJOR difference in my experiences and skills as a teacher is directly attributed to the expansion of my PLN. This time last year, I had very few connections to other professionals outside the boundaries of my own school. Over the 2nd half of last year, I ventured onto Yammer (which we are saying goodbye to today) and then Twitter, and the professional dialogue that opened up to me was mindblowing. I’ve always been the kind of person who has loved to share with others, but had little opportunity to do that outside the walls of my staffroom. Now, the possibilities to network, to share ideas, to get feedback … they are almost limitless, and they are expanding almost every day, as new people get added to my list!
Personally, I’ve always been a social media junkie … I love facebook. I’m a pop-culture freak. And I think that we as educators are doing our students a great disservice if we don’t recognise the role that social media plays in their lives. I also think that as an English teacher, social media can be ENORMOUSLY useful. I’ve had discussions about the groups and “like” features on facebook to help illustrate the concepts behind our Belonging Area of Study for the HSC. The opportunity to discuss modality, tone, methods of communication, characterisation …. I can’t even tell you how beneficial facebook is to me as a point of reference for students! I believe that social media, of which facebook is a part, is something that will be filling the landscape of communication in an ever-increasing way, and as a KLA which fundamentally deals with communication, we need to prepare ourselves, and our classrooms, to deal with this effectively, or we run the risk of being left behind, and teaching 20th century skills to a 21st century clientele.
So, social media in schools? Yep, I’m a fan. My school is one of the first that I know of in NSW to be creating a social media presence. We’ve set up a twitter feed, and a facebook page. We’re working on a school youtube channel. And we’re moving towards a more regular email newsletter update about what’s going on around our school. A few other schools are doing this too, and it’s great to be able to chat to people I know in twitter about our experiences with this – and, I must say, it’s kind of cool when people approach me to ask how I did this, or what we have done there …. I don’t often consider myself an “expert” on anything!! lol
How’s it working? A lot more successfully than I’d envisaged, actually! There is a lot of negativity in mainstream media about facebook in schools, and it’s potential for cyberbullying, stalking, etc. I get that. I don’t think, however, that’s a reason to dismiss it completely – I think it’s an opportunity for us to engage with our students over these issues, to better prepare them to be “21st Century communicators”. We did little to no advertisement of our school facebook page, and about 2 months after it launched, we have over 2oo people “liking” the page. In the beginning most of our likers were my friends, who I asked to like it so we could claim our page name, but the balance has definitely shifted – most of our followers now are students and parents, and it’s been an effective tool to share information with them, as well as get some feedback, and start some discussions.
Problems? Yep, we’ve had a few. What’s surprising to me is how few we’ve had!! We’ve deleted only 3 comments – one because I accidently posted twice, one because some inappropriate language slipped by the FB filters, and one that was a spam post from a US homework help site. That’s it!! Given the clientele of the page, and the negative hype surrounding facebook in schools, I would have expected a lot more.
Benefits? Well, I’ve already mentioned the increased communication with our school community. The main benefit for me has been in my classroom discussions with students. I’m a year advisor, and with my cohort this term in Study Skills lessons, we’ve been looking at Cybersafety and Digital Citizenship. The interactions I have with them through the school facebook page have given me the opportunity to talk in real terms with them about these issues, and it’s been a really positive experience.
I feel like this post has jumped about a bit, but that’s ok … I’m not really expecting this will be anything more than a bit of a reflection for me on my place in this digital world!! If you’re reading it, though, I’d love to hear what you think, either about your personal digital presence, or the place of social media in schools. Thanks for popping by!