The birds-eye lowdown on the good, the bad, and the ugly of social networks in education.

“Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it. Thank you” (Willy Wonka).

This first week already challenged me to examine my attitudes and beliefs about certain tools and how I use technology in my teaching. My teaching is almost entirely online these days, but I resist stepping outside of the learning systems of my universities (HPU- Blackboard & UH-Laulima) for a number of reasons. Notably, I am nervous about exposing student information and violating FERPA, but I could also relate to several issues of personal boundaries discussed this week. My thoughts for the week follow, adapted for blog.

The ugly:

The main thing that holds me back from using Facebook for teaching is that I need a life outside of teaching. I really do not want my students having access to my friends and family, and the lines blur every time privacy settings change. I have had people I blocked show up again, so I have serious doubts that barriers cannot be crossed on any platform, especially ones that regularly monitor activity for profit.

I am a psychologist, and I can assure you that 3% of your students will develop a psychotic disorder during their lives (I suspect the number may be higher among administrators), with about 1/3 of those eventually being fully schizophrenic, hopefully not while in your classroom. At any time, 12% will be depressed, etc. What disturbed me, looking up these stats, is that 5.9% will develop something called Borderline Personality Disorder, in which they glom onto people like an emotionally challenged lamprey. The film Fatal Attraction (1987) was Hollywood’s version of that. I have an ex-wife who came close.

A goodly number of my instructor friends have a story about some whackadoodle student who made their lives miserable for some amount of time, from stalker sex-offenders to extreme classroom disruptors threatening students and teachers with physical violence or extended, tangential tirades (I am not sure which is worse). If you wondered, they all have internet access, too, especially the ones where you wish they needed a background check to get online. I want to be able to go home from work and not have them follow me.

The bad:

Those points having been raised, and despite a host of reasons why not, I see the educational tide going toward widespread use of FB and other social networks, and towards massive expansion of MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses) as the norm for online education. “Resistance,” as The Borg would say, “is futile.” Despite Snowden’s elimination of any illusion that sweeping government surveillance is not a fact and is just a delusion of our psychotic 3%, we are mid-leap from that cliff like lemmings into the churning sea. We now know for sure that any private electronic communication with a student is an open book and, yes, you violated FERPA already somewhere. Keeping it within university firewalls at least gives us plausible deniability.

The slightly worse part is that admin is infatuated with MOOC’s, taught by superstars at MIT and Stanford and robo-graded, because admin has not yet figured out that the “Open” part means there is no resulting institutional income and they will also lose their jobs. Much as automation and outsourcing has killed manufacturing jobs, higher-ed is on borrowed time as an employment option. Well, if you want income to pay for food. I actually aspire to gear the text I am writing toward MOOC usage (feel The Dark Side pulling within you…). It is like academic Stockholm Syndrome. (Note: psychological studies say Stockholm Syndrome is not empirically supportable)

The good:

All hope is not lost. Best evidence says a really bored Disney (1958) film crew had little Inuit kids gather up lemmings during a horribly boring stint filming in the Arctic, and made up a fictional, fatal migration so they would not return with 0 interesting film moments ( My crap filter is stuck on high J

As Rheingold (2012) says, nothing is set in stone. Yet.

If Gutenberg perfected the printing press in 1450, even accounting for the acceleration of cultural change (see Shirov and Gordon, 2013), we are probably only shortly past Luther’s Ninety-five Theses in 1517, counting from the dawn of The Net. The equivalent revelatory power of Darwin’s (1859) Origin of species may not happen for a decade or so. What happened as a result of Gutenberg has been a phenomenal expansion of knowledge, unfortunately a lot of it about refinement of ways to kill all life on the planet (I rarely compose any music all in a major key). Amazingly, it took less than two minutes to find my desired Willy Wonka quote above, so all important knowledge is immediately available, hurray! Well, except perhaps knowledge about how to be happy and how to work toward a sustainable future as a species. Our ratings on those measures are slipping.

But expand knowledge the printing press did, and still accelerating in development we are in this age of digital publication across the globe (go grammatically correct Yoda!). If we can save ourselves and the planet, it will probably be as a result of our coming together digitally on a planetary level, because boundaries are becoming meaningless, and everywhere but Texas and the Sudan, young people are likely to find shared identity on a global level.

(Note: this new dissemination of media info is also pushing adolescent rebellion and hyper-sexuality of youth into the faces of very conservative cultures every day, which may be a little more troubling to them than “our freedoms.”)

The birds-eye lowdown:

As educators, we still have a few moments to shift the trajectory of this mammoth vessel on which we travel. A fraction of a degree difference in direction can result in a remarkably unexpected destination in only a few million miles. Considering that we in Hawaii are spinning at about 970 mph and orbiting the sun at 66,660 mph, the proverbial butterfly’s flap in education today may be the difference between heaven and a living heck for our descendants.

The assignment questions:

I will address the assignment questions individually to assure thoroughness. I think most elements are covered above, but I just got peer-reviews back on something last night, and I accept that I do not always make explanations clear and explicit to a degree where all humans understand.

  • What new technology and concepts did I learn this week?
    • I am really enjoying this, so please do not misinterpret me.
    • I immediately set up an account on Twitter, and I still loath it. I already had the other accounts and use those services
    • The concepts are not new, but they have been refined to an incredible degree in just 1 week
  • What excited me about the week’s activities? Why?
    • Most exciting is the opportunity to explore ideas I have resisted.
    • Why? I really prefer not to fossilize while I still breath, and it is getting close.
  • Which of the week’s activities helped me to understand emerging technologies better? Why?
    • Just picking the platforms to compare for the group assignment stretched my awareness and thinking nicely.
  • Which of the week’s activities was least useful to me? Why?
    • No activity was not useful.
    • I say this because they all made me think in new ways.
  • How can the week’s activities be strengthened?
    • On a very minor note, please do not force me to devalue any activity, as is required to answer the previous question affirmatively.
  • What new insights and problem solving strategies did I realize during discussions or while working with others?
    • I think this will play out over a long time, yet to come.
    • In this first week, I am more aware of problems raised regarding privacy and protection of the young.
    • This week has forced me to face the fact that I must figure out how to connect my teaching to the social tools in my daily life- the ordering of elements in that question are a direct result of this week’s discussions.
  • What would I like to learn more about? Why?
    • There are two topics about which I feel a need to learn, the first of which is about ways to use commonly accessible tools to facilitate learning amongst my students.
      • Obviously, I need to do this to keep my students engaged and to keep my course relevant to their lives.
    • The second big thing is to know clearly what the legal ramifications of using social media in my courses might be, and that is because I do not want to be sued.

A suggestion would be to have a designated place to correspond with other students at low-stakes. We have no location to just bond without penalty or reward, and hence have less chance of creating a community for social support.  This can be as simple as an unmonitored student chat room, which I normally put into my classes.


© Stephen Fox, 2013, contact


3 thoughts on “The birds-eye lowdown on the good, the bad, and the ugly of social networks in education.

  1. nankc

    Thanks for your well-written post, Stephen. You’ve thoroughly analyzed and internalized the concepts for the week. I also appreciate your suggestion to add an unmonitored chat room. I’m not sure where we could host it given the different accounts everyone has to monitor already. I had hoped that Facebook would be the place where everyone can connect “without penalty or reward”, but I can see why one may be hesitant to use that as the forum.

  2. Pingback: Blogs… not too bad | nsalexander

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