Sunday, April 26, 2009

To Facebook, or not to Facebook; that is the question…

Social networking sites have been a source of debate for several years. First is the topic of safety. Will young people meet up with strangers intending harm? Will bullies abuse others via such sites, emails, and text messages? There is no doubt that some Internet users have alter egos, pretend they are other than themselves, and have ill intentions. Caution should always be used when confronted by a stranger, both online and off. I think everyone would agree that those under the age of 18 should be protected by limitation of their access to risky sites and chat rooms. But, if it is true that on the Internet “no one knows you are a dog,” can risks be entirely eliminated? Probably not. Education is one of the best answers we have for Internet ignorance. Teach people responsible use, online common sense, and best practices for Web activities. Teach them early, reinforce often. Then there’s a chance to limit the dangers by preparing the vulnerable. This task falls to both the teaching and parent professions.

Next is the possibility of ruining your job opportunities as prospective employers peruse social networking sites to gain an inside look at possible hires. People over the age of 18 have posted controversial photos and ill-advised comments. Employers quickly eliminate such candidates from their lists. First amendment rights aside, a job seeker should use discretion in keeping a private life as private as possible.

Now an entire profession is being singled out for social networking cautionary tales. (For the sake of the "debate," read an NEA article on the benefits of using social network sites.) The teaching community, the same group of people that should be entrusted with half of the responsibility I mentioned above, has demonstrated some of its own foolishness, naivety, and ignorance. The NEA has published an article called “The Whole World (Wide Web) is Watching; Cautionary tales from the ‘what-were-you-thinking’ department.” Cases of foolish, and sometimes reckless, teachers from across the country have come to public attention. (Disturbingly, reporters from one local newspaper actually sought Facebook profiles of teachers working in a particular district. They wanted to expose the less discreet employees to their administrators!) See the articles in the Washington Post, eSchool News, and the News & Observer. Perhaps it’s risqué photos, or derogatory comments about a school system, or even online friendships with students. All these can land you in the unemployment line. If what you do online interferes with the integrity and functioning of your school or district, the first amendment will not help you keep your job.

I used to think I was staying away from Facebook or MySpace because there were tales of students posing as teachers, setting up nasty, phony pages under teachers’ names. Who would want to deal with that?! Now I choose to find other ways of connecting with people in my profession and other options for students to collaborate online. Facebook will wait for me, if it’s worth waiting for. The other options still require a lot of common sense and caution, but Web 2.0 offers too many exciting and creative opportunities for teachers and students; I can’t wait on the sidelines. For those who use Facebook, et al, the challenge is to be vigilant - with your own pages as well as those of your friends. Keep everything private that should be private. Teach yourself to be a wise web user before you teach others.

“It is the unknown that excites the ardor of scholars, who, in the known alone, would shrivel up with boredom.” Wallace Stevens, poet (1879-1955) So embrace new technologies, but do it with a bit of sense. “The key to keeping your balance is knowing when you've lost it.” Unknown author

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Jane Austin vs. the Vampires...

Driving this morning to a doctor appointment I was listening to NPR on the radio. There was, what seemed to be, such an odd piece that left me yelling at the void inside the car. (I believe it was a replay of an interview from March 29.) Writers taking the text of Jane Austen's novels and dropping horror scenes within the story line! They call this a mashup... but I call it obscene. The author, Seth Grahame-Smith, was speaking to a reporter about how the use of Pride and Prejudice combined with vampires or zombies would enrich the lives of both horror fans and Austen's loyal readers. Nonsense! The horror genre may be entertaining and even worthy in its own right. But butchering Jane Austen will no more make a zombie love Mr. Darcy than make Elizabeth fall madly in love with Dracula. In my opinion, the writer (or writers) of such books are using well written prose that's in the public domain as a cheap way to enhance their own talents and SELL, SELL, SELL. There is a large audience, especially among young people, for vampire stories and the like. Grahame-Smith's books are already being produced into movies. He can't really expect us to believe that it's to broaden our interest in other literary genres!

Novels like Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice are timeless classics because of their fundamentally captivating stories and beautifully written words. While I actually do like reading about vampires and thoroughly enjoyed all of Anne Rice's vampire novels, I do not appreciate mixing, or mashing-up, the two. I am more interested in preserving the past's perfection
than helping today's young people enjoy an Austenesque zombie encounter. If you want to help young readers broaden their consumption, rent a movie rendition. Colin Firth will either make them want to read Austen or at least expose them to her words. Watch Shakespeare on stage or in a movie, but please don't ever think you can mashup Lady Macbeth Confronts Dr. Frankenstein!

Picture from Evert A. Duyckinick, Portrait Gallery of Eminent Men and Women in Europe and America (New York: Johnson, Wilson & Company, 1873)

I've strayed a bit from the technology theme of this blog, so I thought I'd add this survey you can take from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Answer the questions and find out what type of technology user you are:
Technology User Types

Then take a look at these videos (they're not brand new, but we're still wrestling with their concepts in the classroom):

A Vision of K-12 Students Today
Since the embedded video seems to be problematic, you can view this video here:

Did You Know? (animation version)
Sorry, the embedded video seems to have a problem embedding itself, so you can view this video here:

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Tweets and Other Forms of Written Communication

I just "found" a great link on Twitter... from an educational "tweeter" that I follow. It's on Laura Walker's blog and it's called "Nine great reasons why teachers should use Twitter." My favorite line is a quote from someone Walker follows: "Following smart people on Twitter is like a mental shot of expresso [sic]." How fabulous it is to learn what interesting people are doing around the world at any given moment! Subtract the minutiae of an everyday life and sift the gold nuggets that can potentially enrich you, professionally and personally.

A friend tweeted her "Twitter profile's worth" which was several hundred dollars. I think mine is less than $10. Could be that I spend much more time reading tweets than writing them. Could also be that I follow fewer people than she does, and, consequently, fewer follow me back. I don't think I have more time (than writing this paragraph) to ponder my lack of Twitter worth. But I'm sure it will nag at me deep in the recesses of my mind...

So, is email dead? I don't really think so. It's so much more satisfying than a text message because you're allowed (perhaps expected) to use proper spelling and grammar and complete sentences. Yet, IMing, Tweeting, text messaging from a phone -- all of these do teach a person to be more concise and get to the point. Guess I'll cut this post short, then. One more advantage an email or hand written note has over shorter forms of communication is that there's room to express some emotion, to explain your feelings and thoughts. Try that in a 140 character Tweet!

Last item concerns the invention of what sounds like new vocabulary. I'm not too fond of some "new" words. Here are a couple:
1. Incentivize. The online Merrian-Webster dictionary does have a definition so maybe this one's not even new. But why can't you just say "create an incentive?"
2. Strategery. This word supposedly began with its usage on a Saturday Night Live sketch in 2000. It was a mockery of our former president's misuse of language. And, it sounds like it too. So I bristle when someone on the radio uses this word as a legitimate noun in weighty discussions of policy and politics. First use: funny. Continued use: not so much.

Looking for you on Twitter!