30 Day Challenge – Day 13 – Yik Yak Accountability

My 30-Day Challenge question for today was sparked by a post this weekend from Paolo Narcisco – “Knowledge Management As We Know It May Not Exist in 2020 (and here’s why)“.

Paolo wrote:

“…Consider this scenario. In 2020, over 60% of the workforce will be made up of Millennials. While I come from the Connected Generation, those who we will lead are “digital natives”. That means that they all were born completely connected, digitally savvy, and culturally expecting that communication and collaboration to be instant and easy. While they have no qualms publishing their every private thought and activity, they are also savvy in that they expect privacy (when and where is still a debate). For instance, while we may Tweet and post on Facebook for all the world to see, they SnapChat and leave no trace of the conversation. Publish and filter may not be possible when what’s published may be gone in an instant, only meant for the viewers the publisher intended. Unlike the Babylonians who invented cuneiform so that knowledge can be archived and shared, what if there isn’t an archive?”

Yik Yak AppPaolo goes on to mention Yik Yak…to which I will admit total ignorance.  As explained in a TechCrunch article:

“…Yik Yak was launched by two Furman University students, Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, as something of a hyperlocal Twitter aimed at college students. Students could post about campus happenings and events, voice complaints, share news, and, at least in one case, update fellow classmates about weather-related closings when an official alert system had failed.

The platform, which connects nearby users automatically, doesn’t require that people identify themselves by name, but instead allows users to post anonymously or use an alias…”

Intrigued, I downloaded and launched Yik Yak on my iPhone.  What I found was the dark side of anonymity.  While there were a few “campus” comments, most were comments of sexual harassment, homophobic, or racist posts. NBC Los Angeles reported that concerns over abuse of the new Yik Yak app have ranged from fake bomb threats to bullying.  A prank threat posted on the app left thousands of students in Southern California on lockdown last week, while a bomb squad swept their campus, one of three recent Yik Yak-instigated bomb threats nationally.

Some could simply say that college kids have always made rude comments…and that they grow out of it after college.  Yet, Paolo’s question remained in my thoughts.  What if there isn’t an archive?  Put another way:

Day 13: How do (or should) we balance online accountability with anonymity?

Accountability cuts several ways.  There are obvious mechanisms to tie someone’s online work with a grade…that part is easy.  Less easy is the aspect of our role in higher education to prepare responsible digital citizens for the future.  How do you even define that?  In a Yik Yak environment, personal responsibility is left at the log-in.  With SnapChat, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.  One of the founders of Yik Yak, Brooks Buffington, stated, “Anonymity is a great thing – the whole reason why we made it is because when you’re anonymous, no one can judge you.”

Connecting DotsTo their credit, the founders of Yik Yak in response to the bomb-threats applied GPS data this past week to block the app if used at a middle school or high school…yet from what little I saw, it continues to provide a service that I found unsettling.  Many of us teaching in higher education continue to examine social media for rich ways to connect with our students…and for them to connect with each other for deep learning.  Yet, as Paolo suggests, we are not teaming with students as much to learn where they might be in social media.  A few years back, Facebook was the obvious place for connections…now, many undergraduates have left Facebook as their parents joined.  They may or may not be on SnapChat.  Do we know?  Is “anonymity” the new given?  What role should we play in mentoring our student use of social media…particularly when it comes to personal accountability?

I feel like an old fuddy-duddy…and I am wondering your reactions?  Should we be concerned about anonymity…or am I connecting dots that should not be connected?

{Graphic: NBC LA, Psychology Today}

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Yes or No on Facebook


Facebook…it came up last week at UMW’s Faculty Academy, and has kept the blogosphere buzzing.  Most of the posts I have read have been negative about Facebook.  Rob Cottingham in Canada noted (and I love the dog cartoon):

This hasn’t been a good past few weeks for Facebook. Growing concerns over what Facebook’s deliberately doing to your privacy collided with news about what Facebook’s doing accidentally with your data.

There are two upcoming ways you can protest: by not logging in on June 6, or – if you’re ready to finally cut the umbilical cord – quitting altogether on May 31. So far, while they’re getting press attention, neither initiative is showing signs of snowballing yet, with registered followers numbering only in the hundreds.

That’s not to say the discontent is limited to net activists and privacy advocates. “How do I delete my Facebook account” is suddenly a very popular search on Google.

As I noted earlier,  danah boyd “ranted” about Facebook and “radical transparency.” (but I love how scholarly her rants are!).  CogDog barked about it…but provided some th0ughtful (if graphic) commentary on the issues of privacy and sharing.  One of his quotes:

I don’t place any value judgment on quitting versus not quitting Facebook; I think the bigger lesson is what happens when a simple system overlies something quite more complex and unfathomable. I am not naive to the information I give Google, because Google gives me back useful things, tools, information, yet Facebook feels somehow more sinister, more untrustworthy, more a murky fog covered minefield.

This mirrored remarks by Siva Vaidhyanathan last week at UMWFA10 where he stated that Google was vacuuming up all your data, but that Facebook was simply evil (and Google’s biggest competitor – because when you are on Facebook, Google cannot mine your data).

Pretty damning stuff.

Yet two other posts have me thinking about Facebook in a more positive light.  First, danah followed up her rant post with one on “Facebook is a utility; utilities get regulated.” She referenced Nancy Baym’s post last Thursday: “Why, despite myself, I am not leaving Facebook. Yet.” Nancy said:

I don’t like supporting Facebook at all. But I do. And here is why: they provide a platform through which I gain real value. I actually like the people I went to school with. I know that even if I write down all their email addresses, we are not going to stay in touch and recapture the recreated community we’ve built on Facebook. I like my colleagues who work elsewhere, and I know that we have mailing lists and Twitter, but I also know that without Facebook I won’t be in touch with their daily lives as I’ve been these last few years. I like the people I’ve met briefly or hope I’ll meet soon, and I know that Facebook remains our best way to keep in touch without the effort we would probably not take of engaging in sustained one-to-one communication.

The other was an announcement from Eduardo Peirano that College 2.0 was moving from it’s Ning platform to a Facebook group.  I have enjoyed membership in College 2.0 for the past three years and immediately joined the Facebook group.  With nearly 700 members, this move just made sense now that Ning is moving to a pay for use system.

I agree with Nancy.  I get real value out of Facebook.  It is where I tend to find pictures of my grandkids, stories of what is happening in the lives of my nieces, nephews and brothers’ families, and connections with my colleagues in Georgia and here in Virginia.  There are a ton of potential social networking sites that could provide these functions, but Facebook is the one ring that binds them all.

I have also tended to see Facebook as different from other social media sites that I use.  My use of Twitter, Slideshare, Flickr, and Ning have all been while wearing my professional hat.  My use of Facebook is as friend and grandfather.  I would not want to lose those connections…and I suspect Facebook is counting on this.  The Youtube video I embedded earlier this week speaks to the size and volume of traffic that is the Facebook “utility” – as danah called it.

So put me down in the column of working my privacy settings but remaining with Facebook…at least as long as this country continues to provide utilities.  Watching the debacle in the Gulf reminds me that this is not guaranteed either!

As always, I would be interested in your thoughts.  What do you intend to do with your Facebook account?

{Graphic mashed up from images by benmarvin and themookie99}

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The Friends Question

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...Image via CrunchBase

It has been an interesting week for me in Facebook.  I have reconnected with several colleagues that I had lost touch with in the past few years.  Facebook to me is great for connecting with family and friends, but as with any social networking application, a host of questions arise concerning possible uses for instruction.  And so far, I have not used it for instruction.

In the past week, Jeff Nugent had a conversation with VCU faculty members Mike Abelson, Melissa Johnson and Stephanie Rizzi who shared their experiences with using Facebook and offered their perspectives on the pros and cons of “friending” students.  Their podcast is here. I listened to this podcast while at the gym, and I found myself arguing with them mentally.  (I have not yet reached the point where I begin talking to myself while wearing an iPod!)

My colleagues here were nervous about responding to “friend” requests from their students.  They seemed to agree that it would be inappropriate for them to friend any of their students.  That got me thinking about my use of Facebook and my own students.

For me, my context is different.  My podcasting colleagues here at VCU teach college freshmen – I teach graduate students who are also teachers.  As such, I already consider my current students as my colleagues.   So I would not be adverse to my students friending me, though I do not actively seek them out.  Part of my reasoning for not actively seeking them out is that Facebook for me is a social connection, not a professional connection.  My friends right now consists of three groups – family, colleagues, and former students.  And by former students, I mean students I had 15 years ago at the University of Nebraska.  My colleagues span VCU, Gwinnett Tech, and Herkimer County Community College.  I use other social avenues professionally, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and the blogs I follow in Google Reader.

I think that one reason people are nervous about Facebook is the negative press it has gotten lately.  The Chronicle had a recent article on How Not To Lose Face on Facebook.  It noted:

“For years college administrators have warned students to watch their step in online social realms, noting that sharing too much could hurt them later on if future employees saw their drunken party pictures or boorish writings. Now that professors and administrators are catching Facebook fever, they should heed their own advice.”

Good advice, but it underscores that many faculty (and students) do not understand the various settings they can control in Facebook to selectively release their posts to specific friends.  Nick O’Neill had a nice explanation in his post “10 Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know.”

But as I thought about Facebook and privacy, I wonder if we are asking the right questions.  The whole issue of one’s digital footprint is raising vexing questions.  Is anything truly “private” anymore?  Maybe I am a little paranoid, but I was blown away by Pattie Maes‘ TED Talk demonstration of wearable technology.

Pretty cool, huh?  Yet think about this from the ubiquitous web perspective.  If Pattie’s vision becomes the norm, everyone will be walking around wearing a device that constantly scans the environment and through facial recognition potentially pulls up information on every person you meet.  Being worried about your cheerleader picture in Facebook might be the least of your worries.  “Privacy” will take on new and interesting meanings.

I am still wrestling with whether it would be good or bad to walk in on the first day of class, meet a student, and instantly know that student’s GPA and Facebook profile.  As my good friend Kathryn Murphy-Judy noted to me today as we discussed this, would a sound-bite be meaningful if you did not know that underneath a bad GPA was the death of parents or the ending of a relationship.  It takes time to build a relationship with people, and would this ubiquitous web presence speed that up or derail it on occasion?  I do not know.  The only thing I do know is that the world is changing and ignoring that change is not an option.

I would be interested in your thoughts?  Do you use Facebook for instruction?  Do you friend your students?  Do you have conversations with your students and colleagues about their digital footprint?  Should we? – is that part of our role as faculty?

What ever else, we certainly live in interesting times!

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Timesharing Dogs

We had a fruitful faculty brown bag lunch conversation today.  The topic was Building Connections and Communities through the Web.  Ten folks present locally, and since Jeff Nugent was using UStream, another crowd actively joined via the internet.

I used these slides to guide the conversation:

My framing questions revolved around (1) “What is a community?”, (2) “Does building community enhance student learning?’, and (3) “What web tools can now be used to build connections and community?”.  I used three vignettes to illustrate my thoughts on social media and connections.  First, my many connections with Gabriela Grosseck through College 2.0, delicious, Google Reader, our blogs, Slideshare, and Facebook, all of which have informed my own teaching and learning.  Second, the viral reach of Slideshare for one of my presentations from last year.  And finally, a Twitter shoutout by Will Richardson earlier this week and the resultant comments tweeted by others.  These all illustrated connections, but I asked the participants to reflect on how one gets from connections to community (and the image below evolved out of a sketch Jeff made on the back of a notepad):

One participant said that social media to her was like visiting the SPCA.  She could not go in and choose one dog.  All dogs were lovable, all dogs needed to be adopted, and she would leave crying and unfulfilled.  When I suggested that maybe she needed to just rent a dog this week and a different dog next week, she said, that would be like timesharing dogs – an unworkable solution!

The conversation that resulted was rich and nuanced.  It flowed from professional versus personal digital identities, issues of privacy, student misunderstandings on their own digital identity, and time management regarding the tools.  Jeff made an excellent point of differentiating users of social media between broadcasters and instructional.  Broadcasters have to be present in multiple applications and visibly engaged in multiple applications.  Instructional uses suggest more nuanced approaches with clear boundaries.  Bud Deihl illustrated how “conversations” could start in one application and spill over into other applications, such as his networking with his fellow graduate students through LinkedIn.

There was some concern about how we as educators advise our younger students when we are just trying to figure out the – as Michael Wesch calls it – mediascape ourselves.  Conversations like we had today are one way – and commenting via blogs is another.  I would be interested in the thoughts of my readers on how you visualize using the Read/Write web to build connections and community, both professionally for yourself and instructionally for your students.

Of course, one benefit from today’s session was that I did pick up several new “friends” in Facebook!  🙂

ps – One unrelated and yet relevant event today.  I posted the above powerpoint in Slideshare last night so that I could embed it in our wiki and here in this blog.  Overnight, I got an email from Slideshare noting that the editorial team had selected it to be showcased on their Education page.  I also got tweeted by Gabriela saying that she had seen it there,  Another example of connections and community.

Swimming in the Complex

Every now and then, you are reading a book or article, and a phrase jumps out and grabs you.  It happened last night on page 198 of David Weinberger‘s delightful Everything is Miscellaneous.

“The task of knowing is no longer to see the simple.  It is to swim in the complex.”


David’s book is an interesting look at how our attempts to categorize knowledge by systems such as the Dewey Decimal System worked for books but fails in the messy interconnected web world…and that is not bad!  In essence, the web allows every person to have a customized library of knowledge built around what makes sense to that individual.

Teachers and educators are in the “knowing” business.  When I work with faculty and suggest 21st Century solutions to their problems, I am generally met with resistance.  It is easy to understand why.   With the exception of a few early adopters, faculty generally have an established concept of how to do research.  They correctly note that they gained their success and became tenured professors through a time-honored process that did not involve the web.  Social networking has not been part of that process.

Tomorrow, Jeff Nugent and I will be working with operational research faculty at the INFORMS Teaching Effectiveness Colloquium. We are going to discuss what the research suggests about how people learn, how students have incorporated the web into their lives, and how technology can transform teaching and learning. We have a full day with them, so it should be interesting.  I am looking forward to seeing how open they are to ideas of messiness in teaching and learning!

Two nights ago, Jeff was a member of a panel discussing the Millennial Generation to Mass Communications students and faculty. One panel member stated that FaceBook did not have a place in education. Jeff countered that social networking was vital to education today. He noted how Twitter was typically the first means by which he learned of breaking news, and tried to describe how following in Twitter was akin to friending in FaceBook. He realized that the older members listening to him had no idea what he was describing. They did not get it.

I am starting to realize that one reason I do get it is that I swim in the complex every day. My normal routine every morning  and routinely during the day (7 days a week) is to first check emails, then Twitter, and then Google Reader, where I subscribe to over fifty blogs, a dozen news feeds, and some that are difficult to classify but definitely form part of my personal learning environment. I now assume that I will be part of a backchannel conversation in any meeting or conference I attend. This did not happen overnight, but it did happen in less than two years, and I now cannot conceive of returning to the old “manual” way of learning and knowing. It certainly is not simple, but it is right in line with David Weinberger’s reasoning.

Back in June, I used the stream analogy to reflect my emersion into Web 2.0.  It still fits, which is why David’s words resonated so powerfully with me. So, my advice to my colleagues is simple – the longer you try to keep your life simple and organized, the less you will know and the less you will be relevant.

Strong words or on target? Be interested in your thought!

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