Friday, May 22, 2009

Nothing to Fear: Communicate Your Way through the Blocks

Reader Knaus Tweets:
IT services wants me to talk with them about unblocking Twitter & uses: school page, prodev, parent contact, homework posting. Other ideas?

This is the key to unblocking social media: talking.

I've noticed lots of teachers complaining about admin and school and district rules blocking student access to social media. Questions came up earlier today in the Friday Chat.

The only thing I can say is that creating free access to social media in school is absolutely vital to running an authentic classroom and broader educational environment in the 21st century. I've given countless reasons why in previous posts. Now what I'd like to do for a second is just to describe what's happened with the process here where I am.

First of all, it's not as though teachers and admins here have always been accepting of social media. As I recall, our first introduction as a school to the matter came years ago under the banner of the 'dangers of MySpace' and 'threats on the Internet'. We were moving to a 1:1 computing environment, and, as a high school, fear of anything described as 'social' was part of the territory.

Well, that was indicative of the time. Very few of us in education knew much of anything about MySpace five or six years ago. And to believe the media, it was primarily a site where perverts stalked teenage girls.

That was then.

Social media today is working within a changed paradigm. Everybody and their grandpappy has a Facebook page. Photos of families and school events are shared on Picasa and Flickr. We now get our music via Pandora and and Blip. And YouTube? Hulu? Not to mention the amount of news and opinion we devour from blogs.

And there ain't an industry on earth that isn't experimenting with Twitter.

That's the reality of today. Yet so many folks in charge of running schools still, for myriad reasons, harbor the idea that social media is still that scary thing that the speaker from the police department warned us about five years ago.

I've been happy to see that things can change. Our admins, who have been the ones who had pushed us towards tech from the start yet who were wary of social networking, opened up to the idea of blogging and Web 2.0. They saw how well students responded to interactive tech no matter what academic discipline.

Furthermore, our IT guys and gals are in favor of experimentation; I just talked to our lead tech guy yesterday and he told me about being at a meeting of educational IT coordinators and the amazement with which many of them puzzled over how Skype could possibly be used in a classroom. This after he had received word from PARENTS thanking him for be ahead of the curve.

Things are changing.

We don't hear about fear of the Internet so much anymore; now, we're more used to Oprah embracing it. And, street cred be damned, that's a good thing. Because Oprah and other media bigshots have the power to change culture. And that's the key: if you want to get your admins and faculty on board with social and participatory media, you have to help them understand and become part of the culture of social and participatory media.

You need to arrange meetings with your admins and tech departments and present the facts to them. Demonstrate to them why it matters that the kids in their school be allowed to connect to the world. Get them Twitter accounts.

You need to talk to parents. They are such an untapped force for potential change in schools. Demonstrate to them the value of Web 2.0. Heck, many of them will probably be able to show you even more than what you now know!

Most importantly, talk to your fellow teachers and talk with the students. They are the ones who make up the living thrust of what education is all about. Teach them what this is all about. Explain why it is so important. And give them a fair opportunity to explore and experiment on their own. Give them the tools and then give them the autonomy to use them.

That, in my experience here at school, has been the source of all of our innovations. When teachers and students are given the opportunity to experiment, they produce brilliant results. And culture begins to change.

And it's the reason I am so happy to drive into the faculty parking lot each morning.

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