Thursday, February 21, 2008

LiveJournal, Facebook, and Other Social Media

I like to think of myself as an internet veteran. I think it's safe to say that, even though I'm 25, I've been around the block and can give a brief history on this subject. When I was about 10 years old, my family got a computer with a modem in it. A friend of ours introduced us to the world of BBSes or Bulletin Board Systems. These were the beginnings of social media. Their sole purpose was sharing information to anyone who was able to dial in. They allowed us to play games, chat, and share files all in a text-only environment. I remember my sibs and I would occasionally get together with other folks we had met through our communications for parties put on by the BBS administrators, something that people wouldn't dream of doing now. Times were simpler then, I suppose. Still, I was able to make some connections that I wouldn't have otherwise, and some of those friends I still keep in contact with to this very day.

This type of internet was pretty small, but it showed a beginning of larger patterns to come. People want to know people, and they want to be known by people. Communication on BBSes was important, and on the internet it is huge! Out of this desire for communication grew things like instant messengers, online journal websites, and the new and hip social media. Even video games have taken on a worldwide approach. There is a great sense of community found on the internet that the world has never experienced before. Comment and collaboration have become such an every day part of internet use, one of my previous professors remarked on the utter lack of privacy in the world. That's an issue for another day.

In addition to this new community comes a new culture. No, I'm not just talking the generation gap, because my own generation doesn't get some of the internet culture that's out there.

Intstead, there comes a whole new set of vocabulary and language structure, often based on acronyms, mispellings, and incorrect grammar (see lolcat above). This culture gives way to the statement by Talmy Givón: "Today's morphology is yesterday's syntax." What seems incorrect grammatically will become accepted in the future.

What does all of this mean for teachers who strive to integrate these new types of social media into their classrooms? Firstly, I think it's important to just be aware of what you're up against. In many ways, it's nothing you haven't seen before. Teens have always had their jargon and sought ways (both good and bad) to integrate it into their writing. What should be taken out of this post is the idea of communication and community that the internet can provide. One of the Intended Learning Outcomes for all Secondary students in Utah states that students will be able to "use language arts skills and strategies to think critically, communicate with others, and understand our culture and common heritage."

Honestly, in my opinion, there is no better way to achieve this than through the use of the internet. Social media sites, especially blogs/journals, encourage this thoroughly. It provides an outlet for self-expression that invites others to join in and collaborate. Let them use something that they're familiar with and they're sure to start producing better work.

Well, that's enough of my opinion for one post. Now that we understand a little background information, we're going to get down to some cold hard facts as we delve into the world of Edublogs in the next post.


Jon Ostenson said...

Your thoughts about social web sites reminded me of another issue with integrating these kinds of technologies into the classroom. I know this isn't the main thrust of your post, but I thought I'd bring it up anyway.

When you (as a teacher) say things like "blog" or "Myspace," parents are likely to see images of pedophiles and predators scouring the 'net for hapless victims; these parents might be a bit concerned about their students working with this medium (and justifiably so, given their understanding of the medium). In using blogs in my classroom, I have been very careful to assure parents that our blog software was hosted at the district, that the public was not permitted to read student posts (you had to have an account with the CMS to read/post material), that I monitored the postings very carefully, etc.

I honestly didn't have many concerns from parents, but "an ounce of prevention" and all that. And fortunately I had good support form my district staff (I was working in a small district); the DO is not always so willing to accommodate individual teacher requests like mine.

Tom said...

I'm curious how you handle the posts on your students' blogs as far as identity goes. You mentioned in your other comment that your students "felt more comfortable behind the pseudo-anonymity of the computer/blog" and I'm curious as to how "pseudo" it is. Do they post under a handle or nickname? Do other students know who's blog they're reading (if they haven't told anyone what their username is)? I've always been curious as to how anonymity affects blog posting. From your description, it doesn't sound like they're holding much back. Is there anything you had to do to help them be a little bit more candid or does the blog itself do it for you?

Jumping from there, do you feel like you've had to give them some sort of motivation beyond the grade they receive in order to get them to write in their blogs or does it just happen on its own?

Jon Ostenson said...

I meant "pseudo" in the sense that there's some anonymity: when they post they're at home, alone (often), in front of just the computer screen and not a class full of real peers. We used real names for the posts (much easier for me to grade that way and, I hoped, would prevent big flame wars since they were still personally accountable for what they posted). But I know some students appreciate the chance to reflect and even draft their posts before submitting them for the whole class to read--sometimes students don't engage in a class discussion because they're careful thinkers and don't want to misspeak. Others are just shy about putting their comments out there to a class of faces, but seemed more comfortable doing so in a blog. So they weren't really anonymous, but there was some distance that gave a sense of safety for some students.

As for whether or not they were more/less candid, I can't really assess that. I encouraged openness and honesty in my in-class discussions, and I jumped on anyone in class or on the blog that might have deprecated another person's ideas or personally attacked someone. So I think that may have encouraged more candidness than just the format. (Although I do suspect, given some of the amazingly insensitive flame wars that I've seen in blogs and message boards, that we lose some inhibition when we're "speaking" to a disembodied audience through the Internet.)

The only strict motivation I offered for blogging was points. However, I often brought in ideas from the blog posts to class discussions and praised students for their contributions. (I even once had an informal contest where we judged some of the most creative or funniest titles that people came up with for their posts.) I would also try on a regular basis to have students go down to the computer lab to read and comment on posts. I think these efforts to integrate the blog into the daily routine of the classroom provided some motivation. I think that having a more authentic audience (even if it is still limited to the students enrolled in the class) is a motivating factor as well.

Cherice said...

To see as they are seen, to know as they are known . . . your thoughts about community, commenting, and collaboration were particularly interesting to me. I think working with emerging technologies foregrounds many of these issues (which have always existed in education in one form or another) in ways that make them more visible, more difficult to ignore. They are the pieces that we take for granted, the components for which teachers often fail to "officially" make space--yet they are at the heart of education, IMHO.