Is Networked Learning Doomed in Virginia K-12?

classblogsThe Fall semester wrapped up mid-December with my departure for two weeks to visit family in New England, so I never really had the opportunity to reflect on my first use of blogging as a mode for instruction and class communication.  Three grandkids have a way of prioritizing your time!  Now that I have returned to Richmond…and before Spring semester starts, I wanted to think about my Fall class again.

Those who follow me will remember that this fall I had 13 bright Masters students in my ADMS 647 Educational Technology for School Leaders class.  Back in August, I noted that I would have my student blogging into the new academic year, something none of them had done before.  Over the 14 weeks of the class, I had the opportunity to watch each of them evolve and mature as bloggers.  We aggregated their blog posts on our class Google Sites page to facilitate viewing and commenting.  Their first posts were tentative and more like paper essays than real reflections.  Through commenting, they learned from each other and began to add links and then multimedia.  A tipping point occurred when several recorded  personal videos using Jing or YouTube and uploaded them as their blog posts.

I remember that almost all of my students self-reported themselves as technophobes back in August.  That did change.  By December, they reported that they felt confident with using blogs, and more importantly, they were experimenting with new approaches to both blogging and the use of educational technology in their classrooms.  It appeared that they were no longer scared of technology, and in fact felt empowered.  As one of my students said quoting Vicki Davis:

“…I will not be waiting on the fence where technology is concerned. As Vicki Davis had said in the video that I had outlined earlier “we need to stop waiting on SUPERMAN and be SUPERCAN“. I will definitely be looking on what I can do…”

Similar sentiments were expressed by quite a few of my students.  I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed participating in this evolution and growth.  I made a point of commenting on each blog each week, and over time, several students began to reciprocate and comment on my blog.  They easily took to commenting on each others posts, primarily since they were already an established community from the summer face-to-face classes.  By the end of the semester, I felt a part of this community, one filled with excitement!

Part of the intent of this class was to expose these future school administrators to the open and public web, with both the opportunities and the threats associated with being a public intellectual.  I was therefore disappointed that with one exception, no one outside the class ever commented on any of my students’ posts.  Over the 14 weeks, these students generated 210 blog posts covering a variety of topics.  Yet, 209 of these posts could have just as easily remained within the walled garden of Blackboard.  Of course, I do not know who outside the class might have read these posts but not commented.  If my blog is any indication, that certainly happened.

I definitely will continue to use blogs as a means of networked learning in future classes I teach.

So if I appeared to develop a class of Web 2.0 explorers, why the grim title to this blog post?  It started with a tweet from my friend Jon Becker last Friday:

becker_tweet.

That link led to a Daily Press editorial “Texting While Teaching“, which reported that Virginia is developing guidelines that require teachers to only communicate with students through official/professional/school-based channels.  In other words, as I read this – not through social media or open Web 2.0 applications.

There was an associated article Saturday in the Washington Post: “Virginia school officials consider state guidelines to prevent sexual misconduct.”  This article notes that these guidelines are a response to a horrific case of child sexual depredation by former Manassas teacher Kevin Ricks.  The article reported:

“Ricks, 50, a former Osbourn High School teacher, was arrested in February and convicted of sexually abusing a 16-year-old boy who had been a student at the school. A Washington Post investigation, whose findings were published in July, revealed that Ricks had abused boys over three decades and had infiltrated their lives by plying them with gifts, taking them on trips, staying in touch with them via Internet social networking and throwing alcohol-soaked parties.”

Definitely unforgivable.  However, the reaction by the Virginia Board of Education is that all teachers must forgo the use of social media with their students due to the actions by one.  It would be as if after a male drunk driver killed a nun in Virginia back in August, guidelines were established to ban driving by all males in the state.  I am being cynical, but the knee jerk reaction is similar.

Interestingly, the Washington Post website reporting this proposed ban gives you the ability to share this article through Facebook, Twitter, and a host of other social media.

facebook_banIt is also interesting that at the same time these guidelines are being developed, Facebook passed its 500 millionth user.  I watched Lester Holt‘s documentary “The Facebook Obsession” last night on CNBC.  There was an interesting comment towards the end of the show.  Facebook was viewed more as a utility than an application.  One person stated that Facebook is becoming a global infrastructure for communication.

Our children deserve a safe learning environment in school.  At the same time, a role of education is to prepare children for the world they will inhabit…and increasingly, social media is a part of that world.  Guidelines are needed, but flat out bans are the wrong approach.  Rather, a tiered approach is needed to introduce elementary aged children to safe networks, with graduated access as students age, so that high school students understand and are capable of operating in a socially networked world as they reach their teen years.

We have not even reached Facebook’s sixth birthday yet.  Social media and networked learning are still in their infancy.  Yet amazing teachers like Kim Cofino, Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay have shown the potential networked learning affords.  It will take some time to sort through the issues and the rewards.  I find total bans on texting and social networks counterproductive at the very time we are attempting to engage our students in learning with the tools they are already using for informal learning.  We do not ban teen males from driving…we provide driver’s education.  Should we not do the same for social media?

As always, I would be interested in your thoughts.

{Facebook Graphic: Michael Garrett}

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5 comments to Is Networked Learning Doomed in Virginia K-12?

  1. Barry Dahl says:

    Hi Britt,
    I feel ashamed that I missed what you were doing with the students. I most definitely would have commented on some posts, if I hadn’t been so completely in the dark about what you were doing. Now that my time is my own, I do plan to participate more fully in those types of conversations.

    Don’t know what I can tell you about the lock-down of social learning opportunities in VA. That’s sad and short-sighted. No real consolation to know that it’s not just Virginia going down that road. We need to continue fighting those efforts, hoping that some day we start to gain some ground.

  2. John Hobson says:

    Two issues here.

    1. I think it’s probably unrealistic to expect student blogs to generate a lot of comments unless they are great self publicists. Does it matter? If a couple of million students each have a blog, then it’s more likely to be ignored than not. But as an exercise it has lots to commend it. Plus in the past nnone ever read/saw your work but didn’t stop kids trying.

    2. We are in the grip of paranoia over access and use of Web 2.0 and social networking tools. However much you take steps to encourage students to act safe, alas hormones and their famed lack of sense will continue to doom us all. Pushing the concept of a PLE at an Open Evening I was constantly questioned on the risks I was exposing students to if we used a blog or online tools. Yet when I ask the kids how many under 13 are on Facebook it’s almost 100%! So much for parental involvement. As usual they want someone else to blame rather than exercise their own responsibilities.

    We do need to resist this Luddite mentality which will ban everything due to a potential chance however remote that a paedo will abuse it. Maybe involving companies like Microsoft who are very clear about the soft skills their emploees need, which include using social networking and Web 2.0 tools, is the way to resist this agenda.

  3. As you so clearly stated banning social networks in schools is certainly not the way to go. My personal motto is ‘Educating Beyond the Classroom’ and through your course I’ve learned so many different routes to take my children through in their quest of learning. One of the solutions is really to teach students some of the pitfalls of technology – making them aware of the pros and cons.
    For example only last week I was talking to my kids (9 and 10 yr olds) about cyber-footprints. Many of them have Facebook accounts but were not aware that electronic posts were traceable. Not enough knowledge but that doesn’t stop them from participating in a social network. Now however they are armed with more information and will indeed make more responsible choices.
    I continue to hope that our lawmakers in schools will cultivate more guidelines and desist from banning access to networks. From experience as a parent and an educator, I know that the more you keep children from discovering by saying ‘no’ or posting restrictions; the more rules they are likely to break to find out. We must encourage trust in our children because as George Eliot said ‘Those who trust us; educate us’

  4. Barry – it is a fight worth fighting. Appreciate your thoughts.

    John – good points. There is a huge gap between the reality and the paranoia…and not only parents but many teachers are unaware.

    Janet – it is teachers like you that give me hope!

  5. Conscientious Views says:

    “…a role of education is to prepare children for the world they will inhabit…and increasingly, social media is a part of that world. Guidelines are needed, but flat out bans are the wrong approach.”

    I agree with this statement Sir. One must remember that whether or not we ban, students will still have access to various websites and tools that they may use inappropriately because they have no idea of the consequences. A great example was outlined by the views of Visionary Leader.

    It is typical for many of us to respond by just banning. However, this is not necessarily the correct approach. We should not have a bandage approach. NO! Students need to be educated about the use of the various technology tools. These tools should definitely be used to enhance the teaching and learning environment. Educators such as Vicki Davis showed us that it can work. Guiding, not banning, is the way to go.

    As you quoted above from my blog “…I will not be waiting on the fence where technology is concerned. As Vicki Davis had said in the video that I had outlined earlier “we need to stop waiting on SUPERMAN and be SUPERCAN“. I will definitely be looking on what I can do…”

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