Back in the Saddle Again

After a lengthy break from blogging I’m back at it.  It has been an eventful time in the last couple weeks the most exciting was being the Math Chair-person for the provincial Math and Science conference.  I created a wiki for people who came to see my presentation but more exciting than that was that the conference was almost entirely paperless.  We purchased a thumb drive for each person that came to the conference and I had the honor of filling 360 thumb drives full of data. 

But I digress there was another more interesting thing that I thought about/discovered:

While I was in Kipling we allowed Facebook usage for the students.  That meant once a month or so when Facebook would change their privacy policy I would take the students through their options.  I realize more and more there are skills with Social Media that the students need to learn.  One of which is that they do have a right to privacy even on social networks.  Over the last few weeks I got curious about a few old students and decided to look them up on Facebook.  I was proud when I saw that they had no visible information, not even the ability to add them as friends.  They had taken control over their online profiles and even though I was curious about how they were doing I was more impressed that they were figuring things out for themselves.

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Facebook Messaging System

Well the folks back at Facebook are trying to change the way we do everything again.  This time they are trying integrate text messaging, email and the regular Facebook messaging system into the same thing.  The hope on their part is that by consolidating a person’s messaging they will use it almost exclusively.  What is neat about the system is that it allows people to reply from whatever device they would like.  If the person in question has a smart phone then they can chat using the application for that phone. If the person has a “dumbphone” then the messages will show up as text messages from Facebook.  They are also allowing people to limit the people that can send them messages.  By coordinating everything through their Facebook lists people can switch to an allow messages setting which starts limiting who can contact who.

Mark Zuckerberg said in his press conference, “Email is just too formal”. To combat this they have taken out the need for a subject line and tried to model this new messaging system around a conversation.  They are going to have every message that you send between friends whether it is through SMS, Email or Facebook show up in the same conversation so you don’t need to go digging through seperate accounts to figure out what was said. 

To put on my tin foil hat for a second here this gets a little daunting.  Facebook at this point starts to control everything about how people speak to each other.  The same can be said about Google I realize but Google has a better track record in terms of privacy. 

For more information it is here.

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An Interesting Problem

For my Media Production class I had a group of students working on a Machinima style video (using Halo 3 to act out scenes for a video that they are making).  I left the room for a moment and came back and the students were playing the game improperly.  I told them to get focused and play the game the way they were supposed to.  At which point one student said to the other, “You know that is the first time that I’ve ever been told by a teacher to focus on my Halo playing”.  The students then had a debate whether that was a good or bad thing.

The interesting thing I find that is that they came up with that it was a bad thing.  They realized that by including the video games they loved in a project they were then creating a thought that playing that game was work.  In hindsight I realize that it is a fine line that we walk between incorperating pop culture and involving the students that way and having them back off because it is co-opting their interests and using them for education.

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Facebook Security

This post isn’t terribly related to the class but I will keep it short.  I just finished reading the article here. To summarize it, if you are using a unsecured wireless network at your house or a coffee shop etc it is trivial for a different person on the network to gain access to your Facebook account or many other accounts listed in the article.  Please use caution and good judgement while using unsecured connections.  Unfortunately its stories like this that make schools nervous about allowing free and open access to their networks.

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Thoughts on Open Education

What are your thoughts so far on open & networked learning?

I had a chance to participate in this class 3 years ago and it was structured much the same as it is now.  As a person who was taking part as a non credit student I enjoyed the class, now as a person who is actually taking the class for credit I’m less sure.  I have documented some of my struggles with Social networks and using an online network for anything other than social reasons.  I have been reading my colleagues blogs and haven’t had much to say as I have different interests and concerns surrounding this technology.  I feel bad that I haven’t been participating more but I don’t really know what to say in response to other people’s posts.

What are the pros and cons of this type of learning experience?

Pros: We have access to experts in the Educational Technology and can get feed back from our classmates.

Cons: For myself I wanted to take this class because I was hoping I would gain some insight into how things are progressing in terms of social media but it seems like we are just looking at things that I have been using off and on/have had access to for a few years.  It feels like if technology is moving as fast as people say it is that things should be different already.

How can we improve this learning experience?

What I be interested in is looking at the communities that are formed and how they become prevalent and then how they get integrated into people’s daily lives or get tossed away.  Even some of the negative things that come out of the use of Social Networks whether it is from /b/ or various people using them for their own benefit at the expense of others.  It is these stories that will allow us to mentor our students to see when people are trying to take advantage of them.  I find the networks themselves interesting and not just in the context of education but the tools themselves.

Does any of this inform the way you teach or learn (or could/should teach and learn)?

Yes and no.  Alec has been a good example on how teacher/professor can make their classroom open.  It hard for me to give my students the same access to myself and the tools we use in the classroom as they are so specialized.  I know that I am absolutely spoiled with the amount of technology that my students and I have access to that it provides a barrier to us working outside of the classroom.

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Ok I think I get this now . . .

I’ve been thinking a lot about my last post about not having faith in social networking.  During my travels through the internet I happened across this interview with Stephen Fry which really started to bring things into perspective (it is a half hour long and while the whole interview is interesting most of the point that I got from it regarding this class is in the first 2 minutes or so).

Here is the video (it wouldn’t embed for some reason).

The reason why social media works for so many people is that (~4:20 in the video) is that there are always people more interesting than themselves and social media allows you to connect with those people.  It isn’t that I think that I am more interesting than others its that social media sites/texting/etc have become too slow for me.  I’ve started to appreciate actually talking to people either on the phone or face to face which gives you instant feedback to what you are saying.  Your sample space is minuscule in comparison but the amount of information about the other person you get through a conversation is so much more than through twitter or other forms of social media.

I realize that only looking around at the people in your immediate network limits the people you can talk to and it is limiting but I have started to realize that I find the social networks limiting in the same way.  I keep picking on twitter but statistics recently released show that twitter conversations are not terribly deep.  Only 1.53% of twitter conversations are three levels deep (there are all sorts of interesting twitter stats found here).

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My Issue with Social Media

I don’t understand the appeal of using a blog, twitter or other forms of social media for much of anything.  I have Facebook, twitter and this blog and have used various forms of Social media for years.  I’m starting to waiver however in how useful they are in general.

This could be because of my real life social networks being so strong that if I had a question about any curricular problem or new program in general I could ask someone that I know personally.  I have a lot of connections to people from all fields of study and rely on them to help me with things more than I do asking people on the internet.

There is a growing sentiment of disassociation with Facebook and other sites.  People in their 20s are growing dissatisfied with the interactions and usefulness.  Planning events through Social media sites has become almost useless as people can/will commit to and invitation or decline one at their whim.  There is no accountability for something like this as the thought is that they were just part of giant list of people.  This carpet bombing of communication makes the individuals being contacted feel less connected to the process. This is mostly anecdotal but I feel like this is part of a growing trend.

There was an episode of South Park in the last season that started to make reference to this feeling.

I realize above I singled out Facebook more than others but if you look at the other larger social media sites they all go through cycles of being a young upstart, hitting their stride, becoming bloated shadows of themselves and then people start leaving and not paying attention.  For examples of this you can look towards Usenet, myspace, slashdot, digg and looking at the sentiment in the comments reddit as well.  If we look at the time each one of these the time that it is taking for people to lose interest in these networks is diminishing.

Twitter is an example of a site that is used widely in University but not to interact with students.  Current studies say that there are more user accounts than ever yet almost 80% of them have tweeted less that 10 times.  The rate at which people are using it has diminished significantly over the last 3 years (showing the tool is probably already on the decline for usage/favor with people.  Usage with in the Faculties of Universities use twitter as a real time news source with their colleagues instead of trying to engage students with it.

I know that this class is concerned with trying to put together a smaller student network which is based around a class and not as concerned with the larger trends in social media.  But if we are looking at this from a teacher in the classroom the engagement we see from the students might not be what we think it will be with the tools currently in front of us.  I am skeptical whether it will be worth trying to keep up with the trends of Social media for a little bit more engagement from our students.

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