Archive | December, 2010

Final Project Research

5 Dec


Social Media has become part of our 21st century lives and shows no signs of being a passing fad. Having said that, most Social Media tools are not without their share of controversies. Facebook is arguably the most popular social media site with 500 million users and counting. It has had more controversies than most with concerns over it’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policies. Despite the issues, educators all over the world are embracing the idea that Social Media sites offer new opportunities to take school beyond the walls of the classroom. This has spurred many conversations and controversies as schools scramble to figure out how to regulate the use of social media in schools. This section of my project will look at the opportunities and issues surrounding the use of social media in schools.

Facebook Criticism

Facebook has been under scrutiny from it’s beginning for it’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. It has been criticized for not being transparent with

it’s policies, making it difficult for it’s users to be aware of how their personal information can be used. A change to their original Terms of Use gave Facebook the rights of ownership to all information posted on Facebook, including photos and other personal information. Facebook was openly criticized for this change and in 2009 reverted back to it’s original Terms of Service.

Facebook also promotes sharing of user information for marketing purposes. It came under fire in Canada for this when the Canadian Privacy Commissioner threatened legal action against the site. When users play games or take quizzes on Facebook, they allow access to their personal information. Facebook users must agree to allow access to basic information and allow the application to post items to the user’s wall. This permission screen also contains links to the Privacy Policy and the Terms of Use. These have both been openly criticized for being wordy and long, making it difficult for users to read. The sharing of information to these third party providers is in violation of Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. Facebook was again under scrutiny for this for it’s refusal to discuss these issues with Canada’s privacy commissioner. What makes this even more complicated is that the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy only applies to users over the age of 18, leaving those 17 and under in privacy limbo. (Facebook restricts use by those under the age of 13 but does not monitor this, allowing younger users the ability to lie about their year of birth.)

If users look into Facebook’s policies and terms of use and decide that they would like to leave the site, Facebook has made it very difficult to do so.

“It’s like the Hotel California,” said Nipon Das, 34, a director at a biotechnology consulting firm in Manhattan, who tried unsuccessfully to delete his account this fall. “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

Das learned just how difficult it is leave Facebook when it took him months of emails and the threat of legal action to have Facebook agree to delete his account. This is because when a user decides to leave Facebook they are not given the option to delete their account, only to deactivate it. Friends will not longer be able to view profiles but this leaves the user’s information on the Facebook servers for years. If a deactivated account is reactivated, the user will find their account as they left it. The only way to truly delete information from the Facebook servers is to delete each and every wall post, picture, status etc. individually. Emails to Facebook’s customer service to request deletion of an account have reportedly gone unanswered for weeks to months at a time.

All of these concerns become amplified when there are children involved as most will not take the time to educate themselves about the specifics of using Facebook. When I began this project, I searched most of my students and discovered that only one student had her profile blocked from public view. I would attribute this to a lack of knowledge of how to do this. Facebook has also been criticized for setting it’s default privacy settings to Public. A user has to manually change all of the 50 privacy settings and their 170 options to Friends Only, for all content to be blocked from public view. After realizing that most of my students had not done this, I went to school and encouraged them to change them. None have.

Issues in Schools

The concern around Facebook privacy is particularly prevalent in the discussion around it’s use in schools. There many reported cases of teachers coming under fire and losing their jobs because of inappropriate conduct with students on Facebook. In one example, a New York teacher was suspended from his job for inappropriate conduct with his students on Facebook. The teacher reportedly friended numerous female students and would leave comments about how sexy their photos were on their profiles. He also used Facebook to obtain contact information for a student and proceeded to send her flowers and other gifts to try persuade him to date her. The teacher denied the claims and the case was thrown out of court but his school board still decided to terminate his contract.

In another case, involving a female teacher assistant also from New York, photos of the assistant were posted on her Facebook profile that showed her kissing one of the male students from the school. An investigation was launched and it was found that she was indeed involved in a sexual relationship with the student. The teacher assistant in question said that both she and the student were not attending or working at the school at the time that the relationship began but the school board nonetheless has decided not to extend her contract further because of these allegations.

In another case, a teacher posted the names of her students that passed or failed her course on a Facebook group intended for use by her students. Controversy arose when the mother of a student who failed the course complained to the school about the post. School administration asked the teacher to leave the school and she has been on paid leave since the incident.

The instances of inappropriate conduct by teachers with their students surely demonstrate a lack of professionalism and common sense. Teachers that conduct themselves in this manner with their students should surely no longer be in the teaching profession. The avenue for their inappropriate behavior is not as important, as they would probably find a way to engage in their behaviors with students regardless of whether Facebook existed or not. As Mark Gabehart, Abilene Texas tech director said, ” The technology is not evil or good, it’s how people use technology that ends up being good or evil.”

Teachers are not only coming under fire for their interactions with students on Facebook but also for the content of their own private profiles. A teacher from Barrow, Georgia was forced to resign from her position after a parent found pictures that they deemed inappropriate and emailed them to the school board. The teacher did not have any students as friends and thought that she had taken all measures to ensure that her profile was blocked from public view. The pictures that were sent to her school board featured her drinking alcoholic beverages on a trip to Europe. She was also criticized for using the word “bitch” in one of her wall posts. She is now seeking back pay and retribution through the court system as the Georgia Professional Standards Commission has found no evidence that there is no probable cause for the school board to sanction barring her from the classroom.

Concern over Facebook in schools does not just include teacher/student conduct but also the effect that Facebook has on students. In a British study, teachers were surveyed about the effects that they believe Facebook use has on their students. The study found that teachers believed that Facebook has effected their student’s attention spans, ability to concentrate and left them distracted in class. The teachers also blamed declining achievement in school on evenings spent on Facebook instead of studying. Teachers also commented that they believe that general computer use has damaged their student’s ability to spell.

Complaints of distraction, procrastination and inappropriate conduct on Facebook in schools has lead to many schools and universities around the world to ban or even block the application in the school buildings. Many school board are struggling with creating policy around using social media in schools and generally, the overall recommendation is to err on the side of caution and just don’t do it. They also point out that there are many education only tools, such as Blackboard and Desire2Learn, that can meet the needs that some teachers are using Facebook to fulfill.

Facebook in the Classroom

Watch almost any commercial on television and you will see Twitter and Facebook symbols at the end or an invitation to “find us on Facebook” The generation of students that are now entering the middle years of elementary school would be hard pressed to remember a time when social media sites did not exist. They use social media to communicate and connect with each other. Up until recently, most of this interaction did not include school related collaboration but as social media becomes more prevalent in mainstream society, many teachers are beginning to explore the opportunity that social media interaction could offer in terms of education. As explored in the sections above, this has been fraught with many issues and controversies but also offers many possibilities that deserve to be explored.

To effectively use social media in the classroom, teachers would have to become familiar with the technology themselves. As Steve Dotto of Dotto Tech said, “Social media are changing our world profoundly, understanding this world is our responsibility and we have to provide some form of leadership.” This comes back to becoming a digital role model for our students. When I think back to discovering that most of my students do not have their Facebook profiles blocked, I now realize that as a digital role model, it should be part of my responsibility to teach my students to successfully navigate social media. Using social media in the classroom would allow teachers to model how to protect their privacy as well as open up a conversation about why they need to. Teachers are already expected to teach students how to critically assess a website, successfully navigate the web and other information literacy skills. Teachers should also teach students how to write for an online audience and share their learning. These are 21st century skills that they now require. Using social media in the classroom would allow teachers to use the technology themselves and model effective and appropriate social media use. Having guidelines and expectations for this could eliminate the need to punish students and teachers for misconduct.

One of the most important skills that students must now develop to be successful in the workforce are collaboration skills. Facebook could allow for collaboration between themselves and their peers as well as themselves and their teachers. Collaboration on this manner brings this skill to a platform that they are already comfortable with sharing on. It could be argued that tools like Blackboard also offer this opportunity but that again is asking students to access another resources that is not part of their everyday lives. Technology offers the unique opportunity to break down the divide between school and “real life”. Collaborating using social media allows students to combine both their school life, social life, and would make them have to present themselves appropriately online. Extending their learning outside the classroom walls also encourages them to see their learning as something that is not separate from their everyday lives, encourages them to become life long learners and combines informal and formal learning.

In one example of successful Facebook use, Miami teacher Brent Solomo, uses Facebook to post lesson reviews, questions, answers, video and assignments. Since beginning to use Facebook with his students, he has seen an 80% increase in assignments being turned in and says that his students and their parents are using it to communicate with him and each other. With more cases such as this being broadcast publicly, Facebook could become the communication/collaboration platform of choice despite privacy concerns.

In an idea situation, we could find a way to use social media like Facebook while still maintaining privacy and professionalism. Perhaps Facebook itself should look to creating a tool that could be used by teachers, monitored by officials and accessed by students through their personal profiles. Certain things like personal information and photos could be blocked (unless tagged for school use) and news from their teachers still could be delivered into their news feeds. Instead of fighting against it, lets make it work for us. Inappropriate conduct will still exist online between teachers and students as it is the teacher that is causing that to happen, not the technology. Creating a platform for school use would allow those that see the possibilities to explore them without fear.

Engaging in this project with my students has put me in a situation that my school board has warned me not to be in but the feedback from my students has made me see the possibilities and I hope that one day the use of social media in the classroom will be encouraged and supported.