A Good Example of Bad Conclusions

Unless The Register has missed something out of its report, or I'm not thinking straight, there is a serious flaw in Hitwise's conclusion that Brits' greater use of social networking sites than search engines prove that they are  "more interested in talking about themselves than they are in learning about their world".

How does one reach that  conclusion? Perhaps there is a legitimate chain of logic, but I can't see it, and it hasn't been explained as far as I can see. It's an excellent example of the need to probe beyond the headlines and soundbites, and to teach our pupils to do the same.

Anyway, any true narcissist wouldn't bother to visit social networks to see what people are saying about them: they'd set up a few Google Alerts.

That's what I've done, anyway.

50 Rules of Social Media Etiquette for Students

I've just been checking my Google Reader subscriptions., and came across this interesting post from Social Guy. It contains 50 'netiquette' rules for students, categorised into General, Twitter and Facebook. Helpfully, there are sections devoted to job-seeking and grammar as well.

Observe the rules of etiquetteI don't agree with all of these 'rules'. For instance:

Substituting “2″ for “to” looks like you’re in junior high.

Well, perhaps, but it also saves one character, which could be crucial!

Another one:

You might think it’s nice to send an automatic message every time someone follows you, but it actually makes you look lazy and unengaged. Social media is about the personal effort behind the connection.

I agree, but not responding at all for a while also makes you look unengaged.

I shouldn't use this set of rules completely out of the box, but as a very useful starting point for discussion with students.

Why Schools Cannot Ignore Web 2.0: Economic Factors

#iCTLT2010 Last week I looked at the technical drivers for change. Turning now to economic factors, I’ve called this set of factors ‘economic’ rather than ‘commercial’ because I’m using the term in its pure sense, which is to do with efficiency rather than money.

It’s recognised in the world of business that sharing knowledge actually increases knowledge, because it enables people within the enterprise to make connections that they may not have made before. This has obvious parallels in education.

Companies are starting to use customers to help develop what they can offer to customers, and this is another example of this levelling process I’ve talked about.

There is also the point that social networks such as Linked-In are not just clones of Facebook. Many people are using them as part of their job-seeking process. By posting their details online, and also by contributing to groups – Linked-In has over half a million groups ­– people can draw attention to themselves and put into practice Woody Allen’s dictum that 80% of success is showing up. It seems to work: I myself have been contacted by companies out of the blue because someone has been looking for a consultant and seen my details on Linked-In.

Corporate recruiters use them as well. For example, the Head of Viadeo’s French operations says that the resumés online tend to be right up-to-date, and that people’s profiles give them a good idea of a candidate very quickly.

Finally, knowledge-hunting. A study last year found that workers spend between 6 and 10 hours a week hunting for information, but that using social networks they can save a lot of that time because of the knowledge-sharing and collaboration they encourage.

All this indicates that using socal networks, and by implication other Web 2.0 applications, is more and more starting to be an economic imperative. Schools which do not recognise this, and act on that realisation, are doing a disservice to their students in this respect.

The Pros and Cons and Safety Aspects of Social Networking

I'm preparing a talk on the pros and cons of social networking, with some tips on keeping safe. The talk is going to be to a group of 6th formers (ie 17-18 year olds).

I've been doing my own research to see how many social networks these youngsters belong to, and it turns out to be a modest 2 or 3 on average. Then I made a list of the ones I belong to, and had a bit of a shock.

I currently belong to -- wait for it -- 63 social networks. I say "currently" because I am about to join more, and look at another one without joining it, to see what they have to offer. The reason I don't wish to join the second one is that it's for teenage girls. (I'll come on to why I'd want to look into such a network in a second.)

Of course, it all depends on how you define "social networking". The website What is Social Networking says:

"Social networking is the grouping of individuals into specific groups, like small rural communities or a neighborhood subdivision, if you will."

That sounds pretty accurate, although I'm inclined to go further. I come from an Economics background, and I quite like the economist's definition of money:

"Money is as money does."

It takes a bit of getting used to at first, but actually it's a succinct version of the observation by Douglas Adams:

"If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands."

So, applied to social networking: if it looks like a social network and people behave in it as though it were a social network, then it's probably a social network.

On that basis I have lumped together a whole load of applications that enable me to post messages, see other people's messages, comment on those messages, share files and follow or befriend people. In other words, I've included social bookmarking applications, video sharing websites, general social networks like Facebook, specific or focused social networks like Wired Journalists, and what I suppose we might call quasi-social networks like Friends Reunited.

Why is any of this important? Before I go into that, let me just explain why I'd want to look at a teenage girls social network -- and I can assure you that it is not for the sort of reasons you might think! I was reading in an article on social networking in Information Age about the benefits to business of social networking, and it mentioned a site called BeingGirl, maintained by Procter and Gamble. The article states:

"The same technologies can be applied in a marketing capacity. Involving customers and prospects in a community built around products and brands is proving to be a powerful way to maintain loyalty and engagement. 

Procter & Gamble is one notable leader here with its BeingGirl website. The social network provides an environment in which young girls discuss and get answers on many of the awkward topics that arise as they enter their early teenage years, with P&G introducing marketing material for its relevant products at pertinent points."

So I am interested in questions like, does this look like a genuinely useful site for girls? What's the product placement actually like? Is one of the things we should be educating kids about the fact that product placement goes on (including in television programmes)?

I'm coming at this from a number of angles.

Firstly, I see nothing wrong in companies deciding to start a social network in order to engender customer loyalty. Ten years ago I signed up to The Beano website. The Beano is a comic which has been part of the British comic landscape for what seems like forever, and is full of cartoon strips that are so stupid as to be hilarious. Now, the Beano website had all sorts of silly features on it, and it was just a good laugh. And it was an example of product placement.

Another example: I myself started a social networking site called ICT in Education. I stopped promoting it or nurturing it because I felt that it was actually diverting attention from my main website -- although I haven't shut it down because there are nearly 200 members who may be upset if I did so. Given that I often mentioned my articles in discussions where I felt such a reference would be useful to people, that was a vehicle for product placement too.

Secondly, issues like product placement have always been important. Or, to put it more generally, media literacy has always been important to teach. Right from the time I started teaching I made it clear to my students that they should always look not just at what is being said, but who is saying it, and what they're not saying. Nothing new about that.

Thirdly, if people find a social networking site like BeingGirl useful and helpful, and the products are good, that's what's known as "good customer service" isn't it?

So what does this have to do with my talk?

Well, it seems to me that a question like "What are the pros and cons of social networks?", and the supplemental question "And how do you keep safe in them?" raise a number of issues. Taking the first one first:

  • The answer will differ according to whom you ask. The advantage of BeingGirl for P & G is, presumably, marketing opportunities and (hopefully) customer loyalty. The advantage for a young girl is the facility for discussing issues and getting advice.

In addition, the answer will depend on:

  • The exact nature of the social network.
  • How active it is.
  • Who belongs to it.
  • What sort of facilities it offers.
  • The quality of the information posted on it.
  • The quality of the discussions posted on it.
  • The quality of the resources that people share on it.

As for the pros and cons of social networking sites in general, for me it's the same as the pros and cons of social networking, ie interacting with other people, per se.

The answer to the second question, about safety, must partly depend on how one defines "safety". Everyone seems to think in terms of sexual predators, but without wishing to denigrate the importance of that in any way, it does strike me as a somewhat narrow definition. What about identity theft? What about safety from economic predators?

(I was looking at a website this morning on which people can post their stories and articles and earn a share of the advertising revenue. The "small print" says that the site owners reserve the exclusive right to use your work forever, and also to do with it as they like, including chopping it up, featuring it anywhere they like, and so on. Loads of people have posted their stuff on this site, thereby depriving themselves of other sources of income from that work in the future. I hope their earnings from the advertising revenue compensate them for that cost. Shouldn't we be making sure that youngsters are aware of the importance of not selling the family jewellery as it were?)

What about protecting your reputation, or ensuring the "safety" of your future job prospects?

As for why I belong to so many: it's because they mostly do different things. Where I am a member of two or three that do the same thing, it's because I like to try things out. And, to be honest, I'm active in only about three or four of them. Let's face it: if I were active in all of them I'd be spending at least a day a week socially networking online!

I guess that's one of the big disadvantages of social networking: it can be so time-consuming!

This article was first published on 3rd February 2009.

The Children, Schools and Families Bill

The Children, Schools and Families Bill was presented to Parliament on 19 November 2009, and made the headlines as a series of guarantees for pupils and parents.

On the face of it, that's not a bad thing, although it did receive some flack in the press for not promising anything new.

For leaders of ICT in schools there is, as far as I can see, one positive aspect of the Bill and one rather worrying one.

The positive one is that the Bill places Personal, Social and Health Education (PHSE) on a statutory footing and ensures that all young people receive at least one year of sex and relationship education.

"What's that got to do with me?", you may ask. Well, there is scope for encouraging your PHSE and Citizenship colleagues to explore the internet for resources and exciting activities. Indeed, in this newsletter there are two reviews, one primary and one secondary, of a recently-launched website called Your Justice, Your World.

As for the sex and relationships aspect, well I don't think we want to get involved in the sex part, but I think ICT leaders have much to offer the 'relationships' bit.

Firstly, discussion of issues such as cyberbullying and online etiquette is never wasted.

Secondly, acknowledging that most of us learn by doing, why not set up or join a Facebook-like community using the free facilities at http://ning.com? Students and teachers can contribute to forum discussions, upload videos and photos, and write blogs. It's definitely worth looking into, as some of the contributors to the forthcoming Web 2.0 Projects book will testify.

I started such a community a while ago: http://ictineducation.ning.com. However, I have to warn you that I haven't had the time to administer and nurture it, with the result that spammers keep getting in, and so I have closed it down for now. For this reason I suggest that if you do start your own, set it up such that applications for membership have to be approved, or make it by invitation only (which would make sense in a school setting).

If you would like to see a particularly vibrant community, involving students as well, head on over to Digiteens. Established by Julie Lindsay and Vicki Davis, the Digiteen project and Ning was created as part of their collection of flat classroom projects. The community is open to teachers but not students, unless they have taken part in a Flat Classrooms project. There's a forum for teachers only at http://flatclassrooms.ning.com/.

Back to the CSF Bill, and the worrying part for me is the fact that it creates new powers for local authorities and the Secretary of State to intervene to raise standards in schools, especially the latter part of that. I've heard Ed Balls, the Education Secretary, speak, and he seems genuinely passionate about education. But is it healthy for him to intervene in order to raise standards? How would 'standards' be judged? Would an experimental project involving, say, blogging, be deemed to be not raising standards fast enough, and so be knocked on the head? How far would issues like that depend on the political persuasion of the incumbent of the post?

There may not be much we can do about it on a macro level, but I think this is another reason that anyone engaging in a Web 2.0-type project with their students needs to ensure that they can demonstrate that they are achieving good outcomes according to traditional measures. You can read more about this in a series on the ICT in Education website about projects, including 15 Ways to Make An Educational Technology Project Successful. You can also listen to me talking about it on Classroom 2.0 Live.

This article was first published in Computers in Classrooms, the free e-newsletter. For details of how to subscribe and to look at past issues, please go to the newsletter page.

Do you know who your 'friends' are?

In the September 2008 edition of Computers in Classrooms, I wrote an article in which I discussed how cartoons and comics could be used to stimulate discussion in a topic. A cartoon doesn't have to be side-splittingly funny to be useful. As long as it causes a smile and is pertinent to matters of concern, you're on safe ground.

The cartoon below is a case in point. You may have to explain who the Grim Reaper is, but apart from that it ticks all the boxes:

  • It's based on a pretty silly premise: I doubt that the Grim Reaper has a page on Facebook or in Twitter!
  • It's not guffaw-inducing, but it's humorous enough to take the edge off what could, if you're not careful, be a 'discussion' in which you find yourself preaching to a bunch of people who are convinced that you just don't 'get it'.
  • Humour is a good way of priming the brain to be more open to new ideas. I have absolutely no scientific basis for saying that, apart from my own experience, both personal and professional.
  • It touches a nerve which is very much raw: who exactly are  the people who ask to be your friends?
  • You can use it as the basis for further discussion, such as: is it OK to 'unfriend' someone in a social network? Is 'unfriending' enough, or should you block them too? Is blocking them enough, or should you click on the 'Report' button?
  • And, of course, you, or your RE or Citizenship colleagues (or all of you) can start to explore the meaning of the word 'friend' itself in a virtual context.



A Teenager's View of Social Networking and Digital Citizenship

MillerElaine and I had the pleasure of chatting to Miller, a 15 year-old girl living in the USA. It is so refreshing to listen to someone who is so level-headed when it comes to issues such as cyber-bullying. It is also interesting to hear how blogging and other web 2.0 applications helped Miller to find her writer's voice within, and to deal with some difficult situations.

There is a lot in this: how her class handled a setback created inadvertently by Google, how their teacher laid down the rules and gave tuition on internet safety right up front, how their other teachers are learning from Miller and her classmates, and a lot more.

The stories I mentioned in which Facebook was involved are here:

Facebook and suicide prevention

Facebook and bankruptcy prevention

Her teacher, Vicki Davis, made the following comments on the recording:

Actually, the middle schoolers aren't using Jott; they are using cell phones in English. They are using Jott to proofread papers. We just use it for 9th grade (Year 9) but they just started charging so we had to discontinue it. That was pretty recent so Miller may not know it. I actually just canceled my Jott account but they were using it like crazy in the fall. Miller doesn't use the features requiring premium Jott.

I actually do not like Jonas brothers chat rooms, etc. That is a place for a lot of predators -- Woogi world is better than Club Penguin. But Miller and I differ on our opinion on that one.

On the issue of over-familiarity between students and their teachers, Vicki said it wasn't an issue in her school because it's a small community in which many people know each other anyway.

Miller mentioned PowerSchool. Their website is here.

The recording lasts just over 25 minutes.


Miller has also written a fantastic article for the Computers in Classrooms newsletter.


Thanks to Vicki Davis for her help and support in setting up this interview, and to Miller for her time.

The music after the introduction and at the end is Simple Soulman by The Groovebusters. The music is under a Creative Commons licence. Hear the band at:


Miller's views do not represent the views of her school, her teacher, nor any other organization which she belongs to, but are solely her own views and opinions.

If you enjoyed listening to this, you may also enjoy hearing our interview with Edith, and English teenager.

10 Reasons to use Diigo

Diigo is a social bookmark service. A social bookmark service is like the Favorites in Internet Explorer, or Bookmarks in other web browsers, like Firefox. However, instead of saving a URL to your computer, you save it on the internet.

This has a number of advantages:

Firstly, you're less likely to lose all your bookmarks in the event of a hard drive meltdown: you just move on to a different computer.

Secondly, you don't have the hassle of trying to remember which URLs you saved on which computer.

Thirdly, a corollary to the above is that you don't have the annoying situation of finding yourself at work wishing you could remember the URL you saved on your home computer, or vice versa.

Fourthly, and this is where the 'social' comes in, by saving your bookmarks on the web, suitably tagged, other people will be able to see your bookmarks on a particular topic, and you will be able to see theirs. This makes for a very rich experience, and helps you to expand your horizons. It's basically a very practical demonstration of the old adage: Many hands make light work.

Think of how you might use that with your colleagues, or with your students.

Diigo is one of several social bookmarking applications that are available, and I like it for the following reasons.

  • It's very intuitive to use. In this sense, it's not that different from the others available.
  • It's also free. Ditto.
  • You can publish a bookmark straight to your blog. This is a very nice feature. It means that you can, in effect, use the Diigo description text box as a surrogate blogging platform: very handy if you're out and about, and you come across a website you'd like to draw others' attention to, but don't have the time to write a blog about it, or to repeat what you have already said in the Diigo text box.
  • If you prefer, you could send the link to Twitter instead.
  • You can also organise your bookmarks into lists. I have to say that I have not yet tried this myself, but it seems like the kind of feature you'd find useful.
  • For the time being at least, I've decided to make use of the Groups feature. You can join (or apply to join) groups within your area of interest. Doing so will mean that you can be notified of any new bookmarks that other people in your niche have made. It's like doing research, or having continuing professional development, without actually doing much apart from checking your email now and again.
  • You can also create your own groups. I've created a group called Education Technology - ICT in Education. From a sharing point of view, it doesn't really cover anything more than several other ICT-related groups already do. But I created it as a way of easily storing bookmarks I have referenced, or may wish to reference, in my own articles.
  • Remember my point about being able to publish a bookmark to a blog? Well, the feature that makes Diigo stand out for me is the facility of being able to set up an autoblog post. What that means is that I can set it up to post my bookmarks at particular times and intervals. You can set conditions too. Thus I have set it up to automatically publish, twice a day (although I may change this to once a day or even once a week), any bookmarks in the group I have created. So, if I bookmark something now, it will miraculously appear on my blog at 9 pm today. If I discover and bookmark stuff after that, it will automatically publish it tomorrow morning at 9 am.
  • Think of how you could use this in school. For example, you could require your students to join a particular group and bookmark useful sites there, and have that published once a week, say. So their weekly homework would be to check the blog every week to see what's new, and to explore the freshly-bookmarked sites.
  • As with other social bookmarking sites, you don't have to share all of your URLs with the world: you can mark them as private if you prefer.

But as I think you'll agree, the educational possibilities of using the various (non-private) facilities of Diigo are vast.