Social Networks

The Wonders of Collaborative Problem Solving and Sharing…

It’s strange but it still amazes me today, how wonderfully giving and collaborative the web community is. Here are few of the recent examples in which the larger community helped:-

  • Recently I have come across problems with using Woopra on OSX and thanks to Jeff McCord was able to sort out the not insubstantial problems with Java on OSX. Note all the problems are worth it when you come to using Woopra as it is a great tool, and with a little more development will challenge Google Analytics crown.
  • The flash uploader HTTP error problem on the new WordPress 2.5 installation was another incredibly annoying problem, and one even more weird due to the uploader working on Mac OSX browsers but not through Windows. Again through searching the community I was able to find a solution, straight away rather than have to wait for a fix through a new version of WordPress itself.
  • The above problem also led me to have to find out how to create a .htaccess file, which had always been a mysterious file that my shared server provider had hidden from me. The revelation that it was only a text file and I could add these to the roots of particular installations and folders to control any Apache server problems was great.

Why this post, about these problems being solved by communities – does it have any relation to education. Most definitely and although obvious the communities of practice on the web demonstrate the power of Wenger’s theories so well. But within a traditional educational context I have still striggled to show students how important this way of learning and helping others to learn is. However much my classes use weblogs, wikis and social network based tools like Magnify I am still unsure that I am getting this message across very well. I wonder if anyone else is having more success within secondary schools not at the use of communities of practice online but laying the foundations within your students of how these communities are very powerful learning systems?

The Tethered Self…..a Student/Teacher Quandary?

It is strange sometimes how you keep back some articles for reading for such a long while, that when you finally sit down for a supposed skim through you suddenly realise what an interesting piece you have been missing. This was true of Sherry Turkle’s article entitled – ‘Always-on/Always-on-you: The Tethered Self’ – which I believe is a chapter from a book called Handbook of Mobile Communications and Social Change. The article deals with more than the any studies into ubiquitous and embedded technologies that we can now carry and wear, by seeing how these technologies are affecting simply who we are.

She describes that we are ending up with a new sense of self which is not anymore simply a ‘separate world, plugged and unplugged.’  As Turkle describes it:- ‘The self, now attached to its devices, occupies a liminal space between the physical real and its lives on the screen. It participates in  both realms and the same time.’ As such as she describes with ubiquitous technologies like the mobile phone even if we are half way around the world, emotionally and socially because of this always on connection means we are really as much at home as away. When I traveled many years ago backpacking through such areas of the world as Kashmir I was completely along, only able through some convoluted way in the largest cities to phone home if necessary. I even remember sending letters home telling my parents where I would be in a few months so that they could send things via Post Restante to that country or city.

Still I do not have the connections with technology, that the students I teach feel. As Turkle says: – ‘Whether or not our devices are in use, without them we feel adrift.’ Social networks have taken this a step further, forcing you to always check in – being the mediator to many friendships and communications. How does this feeling of having to be always connected with technology mediating that affect our abilities to be alone. Turkle goes even further to suggest that we are not only tethered to technology for communication, we are now ‘…tethered to the gratifications offered by our online selves.’ 

So how does this al affect the world of education, well I guess most of it is pretty obvious. But how many meetings as an IT teacher have I been involved with parents discussing this very problem of being tethered to a technology, which leads to students trying to multitask entertainment, communication and work activities at the same time. We all do it – at the moment while writing this blog post, I am listenign to the football on the internet streamed radio, making a CD, browsing my bloglines account – in fact I have two computers on the go…but let’s not go there. As Turkle says :- ‘The pressure to be always on can be a burden. Teenagers who need uninterrupted time for schoolwork resort to using their parents’ account to hide from their buddies.’ The answer to the problem of ‘continual partial attention’ is a difficult one to which I have seen no real answers.

When I ask students how they cope, they often say they simply have to rely on will power. But what of those that cannot stop chatting to their friends via MSN, checking their Facebook account – especially if you take it in terms of being part of ones self, ones tethered self rather than as an addiction as some would say? Although as Katie Coleman suggests, this maybe is not all bad as the ability to work with in so many disparate communities holds many promises.

As a teacher that always shares with my students that I am not the ‘font of all knowledge’ but am in fact a facilitator able to guide all students in the right direction, maybe to the right communities to be able to learn and understand if not as such remember then maybe the tethered self will become a necessity to live and work in this century. The abilities to live and survive and depend on ones self and ones knowledge will become less and less valued.

Well as I said an interesting article that links in with many ideas, that at this moment I do not think anyone has any answers to. If anyone has the answers to give to parents about multitasking and practical ways to help their chile concentrate, please comment! The worries that Turkle brings up are however I believe a little overstated, as a final quotation from her might suggest:- ‘ These questions ask what we will be like, what kind of people are we becoming as we develop increasingly intimate relationships with machines.’

Overhaul, Terry Freedman and the return of Yacapaca…

Well it seems it is the season, of beginning to think about how your weblog is functioning and yes this one is very tired. After updating all of my students weblogs for the new school, which all look reasonably snappy at this moment in time I have neglected this weblogs look. This was my very first experiment in weblogging and yes the text is way to small, and the styling all adds up to too much style over content. So over the next few weeks expect a change as I update what is happening, and the overall theme of this WordPress weblog

Hopefully it will be a little more user friendly and easy to read, and should hopefully kick start my new year and my Masters critical study. Terry Freedman over as his weblog seems to thinking along the same lines, and fingers crossed if I manage to finish my article related to Social Networking you should be able to read it over as his blog.

The year is ending up with me remembering how many useful tools and applications there are out there. It often seems that if you are a teacher who loves the use of Technology and all things new, that suddenly you look back and remember you have forgotten in your haste to use some of the better tools out there. As a informal chat with a MFL teacher led to suggest, sometimes you get snowed under with the latest modern technologies within education and forget those that work – it must be noted that she was wanting to throw out the iPOD and is annoying habits and bring back the dependable tape recorder. In many ways I sympathise especially as such a supposed superior mp3 player does not allow you to delete songs from itself but insists that you connect to a computer to delete the songs – how archaic shall I say. Although that is an Apple gripe I must say that Leopard with VMware is turning into quite a joy to use – is it true once you have turned to a Mac you never go back…lol.

Of the tools that I have remembered the wonderful Yacapaca quiz and survey tool, I have realised is an excellent and easy to use tool ready for action in a few minutes. There are no users on the site with IB related courses, so I will be making my own up over the next few months. BUT it is one to recheck if you have not used it before.

Social Networking in Education is beginning to Boom?

So is Social Networking finally catching on within secondary schools as a valid means of communication and collaboration between students? Probably not, but there is definitely many more projects that seems to be underway even if most of the writing and research is about what might happen rather than actual what is practically happening.

EdublogThe Edublog Awards has now began to include a section related to the Best Educational Use of A Social Networking Service, although of the five nominees none are actually using as a learning tool with students. I do not mean that remark to denigrate the work and the innovation of using the NING social networking tool as a way to bring teachers together to share resources but it almost seems like yet more missed opportunities.

However it is interesting to see that the Kingswear Primary School is trying to bring both teachers, students and parents together along with the fact that obviously NING is the application tool of choice due to its flexibility and ease of setup. It seems that NING has also made the decision to allow any network created within their application that is educationally based to go advert free.

But you ask, what of my recent endeavours to begin the use of social networking as a teaching and learning tool at my recent school. Well after the usual time to convince and get the filters turned off for such a website, I have found that after technical resistance follows teacher resistance. As usual a teachers’ role is often so busy that the idea of using a new fangled social networking tool that might take away from what is happening, a particular subjects coverage, is a shall we say a very adventurous one. Ideas of continuing in using a social network as a L2 support tool, seem to be disappearing although an idea has come up to support the IB Theory of Knowledge element of the course through a social network? Might be an interesting idea as the ToK element of the IB can often leave students cold, and it is all about conversation and being able to critical think their ways around particular issues? An idea anyway, to play around with.

So is social networking beginning to take route and boom within secondary schools well obviously no – and even if as said above there does seem to be significant moves towards beginning to use and discuss their use. While the educational world is still more concerned and probably rightly with the dangers of social networking it will not be able to embrace such a technology.

Athens IB Conference and the Assignment

Well the usual weblog post apology will come forth – yes it has been a while but if you excuse me moving country, moving school, finishing (YES I DID!) the assignment, buying a car and finally going to the IB conference on ITGS – Information Technology in a Global Society has all taken its toll not to mention time.

The assignment ended well, with a thorough analysis of how the Social Network – The French Connection worked within a MFL secondary school environment. The conclusions were not all positive but indicate that their is a future for the use of social networks within schools under certain conditions. Over the next few posts are will place extracts of the paper, along with a link to its entirety in .PDF format.

The IB conference in Athens was very interesting mainly for being able to meet so many IT teachers in the one environment. The course itself was run by Gordon Mathewmann from the International School of Vienna. Gordon was an excellent course guide, able to fend off the many criticisms about the course and other areas while maintaining a sense of humour! Over four days the course was outlined with many practical examples of ideas for teaching and learning. The ITGS course is from first glance an interesting one which focuses on ethical and social issues as well as the technical and applications side. It seems as if there have been many changes and many more to come, but considering it is the ONLY ICT based course apart from a hardcore programming course it seems as if it will suit my conversational facilitation style. I am the moment setting up new weblogs to focus as the background the ITGS and MYP Technology courses and feel free to have a look as they are setup.

My new school starts on the 9th of August so expect more posts and research information to start coming again soon……I promise.

Tikiwiki rather than NING….and even PLIGG

LogoIndexedThe names of all these applications is laughable to say the least, but also gives such a ‘technodrooler’ as myself that wonderful feeling that I should never feel – of confusing others. BUT I shall stop now, but just recently as well as my social networking within MFL teaching exploits I have begun my first real attempt at using a Wiki within my teaching.

I decided on using the open source TikiWiki having first seen it used by Dennis Daniels – who really uses it as a full blown CMS and resource repository. However after initially looking at MediaWiki, it became apparent that this was going to be a little difficult to install and upload. What finally made me swoop to choose TikiWiki was the fact that their is a downloadable theme that looks exactly like MediaWiki and the ubiquitous Wikipedia’s theme.

The students did not particularly take kindly to Jimmy Wales’s TED talk, which maybe was a little in-depth but when some of the ideas he was demonstrating were then shown on Wikipedia itself the students suddenly got it! I was amazed to find how few knew how Wikipedia worked and most had never even looked at the history function. So when I showed them the EABIS school page and then the history behind it, along with my ‘pretend vandalism’ – the students began to understand how clever but also how amazing that only volunteers could make an encyclopedia that moderated itself.

How this will translate to a closed community of the class and producing a wiki aimed at understanding loosely the GCSE section of their course entitled ‘ICT in Society’ remains to be seen. I will be giving them specific roles not only in different research areas but also based on the Wiki Patterns idea that different contributors and editors to a Wiki fulfill different roles under titles like Gnome, Troll and Champion. The obvious leader in the school Wiki pack has been the Flat Classroom Wiki by students at the International School of Dhaka. Recently they have also begun a new project based on the Horizon yearly project predicting what will be happening within Education and Technology in the next 1 to 5 years. This is a fabulous and thoughtful read in itself. So the new wiki should be very interesting. I will hopefully report back to you both about my experiences and what I can see as the Horizon projects experiences. Most importantly what learning is coming from using such a technology.
On top of this I have rediscovered another tool that I will not play with until maybe my new school. Pligg (demo) is basically an open source version of Digg, and so as such rather than use a site like delicious to publish and collaborate with your bookmarks you could have such a site working for a school establishment with students and teachers voting and commenting on suggested good sites. Good idea -well one only in its genesis at the moment. So it is time to get back to social networking site NING – not much development but found this wonderful article that I am still digesting by Danah Boyd –‘Incantations for Muggles’.(If nothing else it gets me away from my technodrool?)