Monday, December 13, 2010

Should Teachers 'Friend' Students on Facebook?

Recently, I noticed that my son was 'friended' on Facebook by a teacher who left the school and wasn't even his teacher. On visiting the teacher's wall, it was clear they had 'friended' many students. My son is 17 and clearly almost an adult. However, as both a parent and a teacher, I feel uncomfortable about him having teachers as 'friends'. This got me thinking. Why do I feel so uncomfortable about this? How do others feel about the idea of students or former students as Facebook 'friends'? What is the view of some of the professional bodies? Is there a specific legal position?

Personally, I feel uncomfortable about a teacher 'friending' a student on Facebook as I believe it blurs the lines of the professional relationship and opens up possibilities for potential problems. Without being able to rely on non-verbal cues, ordinarily available in face-to-face conversations, communication on Facebook most definitely has the potential to be misconstrued.

As a parent, I feel ill at ease about my son having ongoing communication with his teachers outside of school, on a social level. After all, he should be socialising and interacting with friends his own age. Since I feel this way, it is quite possible that other parents also have similar beliefs - certainly not in the best interests of a school!

A number of sources on this issue clearly reinforce the view that students and teachers are not 'friends' and that it is important for teachers to maintain a professional relationship. Teachers are not there to be students' 'friends'; they are there to teach, guide and professionally care for students.
There appears to be some support for Facebook connections between students and teachers, but only after students have finished their schooling. It also seems that a few teachers find it to be acceptable to set up a separate Facebook account, in order to communicate with students on a professional/educational level. Provided appropriate boundaries were maintained, I think this could work.

Curious about the general concensus on this issue, I asked my Twitter PLN for their views by tweeting the question, 'How do people feel about students as friends on Facebook?'

Here are some of the responses I received:
  • @kathleen_morris 'nope! Although I know some teachers have two FB accounts. One professional and one personal.'
  • @CorrieB 'Just my POV, but a bridge i am not willing to cross. Needs to be a line between teacher/student.'  Corrie later added: 'FB is a contentious issue at our College. Thinking of creating a College FB account for kids to friend.'
  • @jomcleay 'I always waited to accept FB friend requests from students until the students were ex-students'
  • @johawke 'I do the same.' RT @jomcleay: I always waited to accept FB friend requests from students until the students were ex-students
  • @StephanieK 'Not until after January the year after they finish, & even then I'm very selective.'
  • @avatele 'I don't know about having your students as FB friends.....not for it really'
  • @whartonag 'I personally do not think it is appropriate while they are still studying. Only once they have graduated. You?'

My professional association, Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT), has produced The Victorian Teaching Profession Code of Conduct. The following stated principle makes it fairly clear that teachers should not communicate on a personal level via electronic means:

 
"Teachers hold a unique position of influence and trust that should not be violated or compromised. They exercise their responsibilities in ways that recognise that there are limits or boundaries to their relationships with students. The following examples outline some of those limits.

A professional relationship will be violated if a teacher:
...d holds conversations of a personal nature or has contact with a student via written or electronic means including email, letters, telephone, text messages or chat lines, without a valid context ..."


The linked clip below of a 39 News report (2010) outlines some attitudes to this issue:



Still seeking some form of 'official' or 'legal' guidelines, I had a look at a handbook recently supplied to all teachers at my school - 'Teachers, students & the law: A quick reference guide for Australian teachers' (2008). Somewhat surprisingly, I could find no mention of social networking or social communication. There is a brief reference to inappropriate relationships, whereby teachers should 'take care not to be involved in an improper relationship with a student, as such relationships can threaten the teacher's employment...' This refers to relationships characterised by 'close emotional ties, and sometimes involve expressions of love or deep affection'. Having a 'friendship' with students on Facebook, could feasibly be interpreted by others as involving such emotional attachments.

Having considered elements of this issue, I personally believe that it is not in my best interests, nor those of my students, to 'friend' current students or anyone under the age of 18. As for students who have left school and are now adults, I think perhaps I will decide on a case-by-case basis.

What do you think? Please respond to my survey:

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world's leading questionnaire tool.


References:

Victorian Institute of Teaching, 2008, Victorian Teaching Profession Code of Conduct, http://www.vit.vic.edu.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/PDF/1543_Code-of-Conduct-June-2008.pdf, accessed 14/12/2010

Hopkins, D, 2008, Teachers, students & the law, Victoria Law Foundation, Melbourne

Sunday, November 28, 2010

You know you're addicted to Twitter when...

I apologise as it has been a little while since my last blog. Busy, like many other teachers, writing the very detailed reports required by my organisation, preparing for speech night and awards presentations as well as getting next year's planners ready. Despite this 'busyness', I still made sure to check in to Twitter every day! This got me thinking. Perhaps I am just a little bit addicted to Twitter?



For me, Twitter has opened up so many possibilities. I have learned so much about edtech, teaching, learning, library management, subject matter for subjects I teach (and subjects my colleagues teach), student welfare, social media, other people's stressors and their wise solutions, web 2.0 tools, classroom ideas, blogging with students, wikis with students etc etc etc. In addition, I have been fortunate to be able to share what I have learned with teachers at my school and in fact, all over the world. In so many ways, Twitter has reinforced my value as a teacher, has made me feel supported by others and has made me feel a useful member of the education society.

Therefore, I unashamedly admit that I am a little bit addicted to Twitter!

Perhaps I go too far, however, when I take it personally to lose a follower. 'Was it something I said?' 'Did I tweet something that caused upset?' An interesting tool that has helped me take things less personally has been Goodbye, Buddy! By visiting this site, I have learned that the followers I mostly lose are often tweeple in search of support for their business, charity, or with other, ulterior motives. I can live with that.

I also admit to using a combination of other Twitter tools, for fun of course, such as Tweetdeck, Seesmic, Twitter for iPhone, ManageFlitter Twitter Account Management, Unfollow Finder, FollowFriday Helper and UnTweeps.  I especially love playing with this cool tool, Twitter Parade!

Probably the greatest challenge I have faced through my 'addiction' to Twitter has been what to do with the vast quantities of information, links and ideas? Obviously, I can't use or incorporate these into my teaching all at once. However, I was concerned I would not find these ideas when needed. Therefore, I have been using a wiki to store tools and links to use in my classes. In addition, I have been using Diigo to bookmark tutorials and other important pieces of information.

Feel free to access my wiki and my Diigo bookmarks.

Finally, thank you to all the wonderful educators on Twitter for sharing information and ideas with me.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Using Technology in the Classroom - Reflections on Balance

The more I learn about technological tools available for use in the classroom, the more responsibility I feel in ensuring that I am incorporating these within my teaching. This morning, I was thinking of the challenges I have personally faced in doing so. The main word that kept coming to mind was 'balance'. Currently, I find the most challenging overall aspect of using technology in the classroom is that involving finding a suitable balance.




The following are just some of the areas that I find to be in need of balance:
  • Technology and traditional learning techniques. It is essential that the most effective (as proven by research and data) teaching strategies be utilised. Just because something is a tool of technology, does not automatically make it effective in teaching/learning.
  • Explicit instruction and enquiry based learning. Students still need to be taught - otherwise, why have a teacher? Thinking skills and enquiry skills need to be explicitly taught to enable students to use these skills and to have an ever-increasing repertoire of skills, becoming increasingly more independent as learners.
  • Breadth and depth. I am concerned that with technology, sometimes adequate depth is not being achieved. Areas of learning are becoming so vast. Pace of learning is often very fast. If not guided carefully, students may not actually be learning what we think they are.
  • Time. It takes time for educators to become confident and competent in technological tools and in maximising the effective use of these tools. It takes time to teach students how to effectively use these tools so that the learning objectives (separate from learning about the technology) can be met. Sadly, valuable teaching and learning time can be lost due to unreliability of some forms of technology. (Refer to my previous post on reliability.)
  • Teaching tools and covering the curriculum. How often do we hear about the 'crowded curriculum'? This point ties in with the previous one about time. Time spent teaching how to use tools can, if one is not careful, result in time lost to cover the curriculum. Now, perhaps the curriculum needs to change further in order to incorporate technological learning objectives. Perhaps it needs to be less crowded in order to permit students to explore areas of interest and to delve more deeply? In the future employment world of our students, knowledge will certainly be less important than knowing how to source information.
  • Digital immigrants versus digital natives? Prensky (2001) coined the terms of digital immigrants and natives. There appears to have been considerable discussion on digital natives being at a greater advantage over immigrants and assumptions made that natives are comfortable in using technology and have ready access to technology. Over the past few weeks I have spent class time teaching my year 6 students how to use different aspects of technology. It became readily apparent that not all of them 'got it' straight away, nor did they necessarily feel comfortable in using technology. In addition, not all have access to computers or Internet at home. Add to this the fears often felt by their parents in permitting their children access.
I realise that each of the above points in themselves would be worthy of hours of research, thought and development. Therefore I acknowledge that I have only scratched the surface and need to spend more time reflecting on these areas.

So for me, what are some potential solutions to these issues? 
  • Persist and persevere.
  • Try to base what I do on current research and data.
  • Encourage and assist other teachers in incorporating technology - if we all do it, then the time needed to teach the technology to the students will be shared across the years and subjects!
  • Aim and push for clever design of the curriculum to prepare students for the 21st century and to ensure adequate depth and breadth can occur.
  • Collaborate and share with colleagues in order to save time. Remember that we are all working for the benefit and our students and future citizens.
  • Discourage excuses made on the basis of being a digital immigrant. We are teachers because we are lifelong learners, therefore, we can and must learn new technologies.
  • Be careful not to assume that all students have access to, and fluency in, technology.

Prensky, M 2001, 'Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants', On the Horizon, vol. 9, no. 5.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Using Twitter in Education

Today one of my wikis, 'TwitterEd', was featured in the November wikispaces blog. You can imagine my surprise when I was contacted by Carole Snitzer from Wikispaces, explaining she had noticed my wiki and could I provide some written information about it.

For those of you who know me, until earlier this year, the only wiki I knew existed was Wikipedia! Since beginning to work with wikis, I have come to realise just how useful and powerful they can be for educators and students.














The TwitterEd wiki was established to explain and outline ways in which Twitter can be used in education for both teachers and students. In addition, it provides a number of 'how to' clips, an extensive bibliography and case study examples.

Wikispaces Blog - My Story - The TwitterEd Wiki

Click on the above wikispaces blog link if you would like to know more about the TwitterEd project and also about how I have been using wikis in English to engage students in text studies.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Time to be thankful

It's that crazy time of year again at school

Major assessments are being undertaken by students. Report writing has commenced. Curriculum documentation is being prepared for next year and a major overhaul is occurring in readiness for 2012. Departmental budgets are coming to a close, many meetings are taking place and associated departmental reports are being composed.

Add to this the many school social events taking place including - Year 12 graduation and valedictory dinners, Year 8 graduation celebrations and dinner, Speech and Awards nights, House athletics competitions, Spring APS sporting championships, Community Fashion Parade, Ladies' special 'Cup' luncheon, not to mention the soon to begin early Christmas parties, due to school breaking up on 9th December.

At this time of year, it is all too easy to become exhausted and overwhelmed by the work load and its associated stress. In addition, students are also becoming weary and teary! When this occurs, there is the danger of teachers donning the glasses of negativity and forgetting all that is good. Therefore, I believe it is time for me to remind myself just how grateful I am for what I have. The following is just a snapshot of the wonderful things in my working life.

  • I work in a career that I am passionate about and I am fortunate that I have the choice to do so
  • I have the opportunity to share in students' journeys as they learn and I get to witness their 'aha' moments
  • I can watch my students grow from young children into incredibly talented and responsible young adults
  • I am fortunate to work in an environment with great facilities
  • My workplace has strong, talented and innovative leaders who listen willingly to others' ideas
  • I work with dedicated, talented colleagues from whom I am able to continuously learn
  • I am listened to at work and my ideas are welcomed
  • Although I work incredibly long hours, I get the opportunity in the holidays to 'recharge' and 'refresh' as well as to add to my professional development


Now, having looked at some of the many things in my work life for which I am really grateful, I think perhaps I need to take active steps this year towards minimising my stress levels. The following site by music educator Karen Stafford: http://www.musiceducationmadness.com/stress.shtml has some wonderful suggestions.  Particularly her fifth point: Allow yourself 5 pieces of dark, delectable chocolate. Don't wolf them down, but savor them. SLOWWWLLY.

I also like @zenhabits blog - http://zenhabits.net/start/ for suggestions and ideas.

So, here's to a far more positive and hopefully less stressful lead up to the Christmas holidays :)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Space for learning

There seems to have been some discussion recently about the use of space in education. I wanted to share some of my thoughts. Not so long ago, I was reading about barriers to effectively incorporating new technologies in teaching. One of these barriers related to space: the organisation of students, furniture and technology.

Warren (2003) in her paper on Actor Network Theory explained how the ‘machines themselves, the walls that housed them...played a powerful but largely invisible role in the uptake of ICTs.' The overall environment had a significant impact on workability of class technology success.

Honan (2008) referred to the overall effect of technology placement:

It is becoming common for primary schools to locate computers in hubs, laboratories or withdrawal rooms. While these central locations may be efficient for cabling and networking, they detract from teachers incorporating digital technologies into their daily practices. (Honan 2008, p. 42)

It is certainly challenging to fully integrate technology into classes when it is not in a suitable focal location.

At some schools, teachers have shared access with adjoining classrooms to a limited number of  desktop computers. When teachers wish to use computers for whole class access, they either need to book a laboratory (in high demand), farm students out to the various hubs around the place (difficult to actually monitor and assist students), or perhaps book a mobile laboratory (where each unit must be unplugged, unlocked, packed into a transportation container, transported to the classroom, with the reverse process occurring prior to the end of the lesson). Add to this the hope that within their teaching space, the wireless network will be accessible and functioning.

Honan, E 2008, 'Barriers to teachers using digital texts in literacy classrooms', Literacy, vol. 42, no. 1, pp. 36-43.

Warren, W 2003, 'Actor Network Theory goes to School', NZAARE Conference, PAPERCODE: WAR03832, Auckland, New Zealand.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Barriers to effective use of technology


Recently I have been having problems with the laptop I use at work. I believe it is a lemon, if that is possible! Function buttons indiscrimately cease to function, volume/sound works intermittently, program updates freeze. The laptop was carefully checked for viruses etc. The best solution offered was to reformat the drive. Problems solved? No. Intermittent faults still occur.

This brings me to the reason for my spiel today. I wasted thirty valuable minutes of a fifty minute lesson, attempting to show a clip to students via said laptop on the IWB. NO SOUND! With assistance from tech, it appeared settings kept defaulting after being changed. Finally, although probably what should have happened in the first instance, shut down and reboot.

I refuse to abandon my use of technology and will continue to persevere (although always with other ideas as a backup). However, I can certainly understand how frustrating and insurmountable problems like these could be for teachers who are reluctant to incorporate ICT in the first place.

There has been considerable research conducted into the barriers, challenges and impediments associated with the effective use of technology in schools. (For example, Charp 1997; Deaney & Hennessy 2007; Honan 2008; Johnson 2003; Keengwe, Onchwari & Wachira 2008; Molnar 1997).

One particular barrier to be identified is that of reliability. Problems with unreliability of technology contribute to a lack of confidence in the ICT system in general. When teachers feel they can no longer trust that what has been planned for the lesson will work, they often opt not to use new technologies in their classroom practice. The overarching belief is that with such a crowded curriculum, they simply cannot afford to lose valuable teaching/learning time. Monahan (2008, p. 90) discusses the behind the scenes disruption that occurs as a result, asserting that ‘students, teachers, and staff members at school sites are intimately familiar with and, by now, somewhat desensitised to technological disruptions in their everyday lives.’ 

 I'm not sure if I would completely agree with this statement. 'Familiar with' technological disruption - definitely. 'Desensitised'? No!

References:
Charp, S 1997, 'Some reflections. (the 30-year history of computers in education).', T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), vol. 24, no. 11, pp. 8-11.

Deaney, R & Hennessy, S 2007, 'Sustainability, evolution and dissemination of information and communication technology-supported classroom practice', Research Papers in Education, vol. 22, no. 1, pp. 65-94.

Honan, E 2008, 'Barriers to teachers using digital texts in literacy classrooms', Literacy, vol. 42, no. 1, pp. 36-43.

Johnson, JM 2003, 'From Lofty Beginnings to the Age of Accountability:A look at the past 30 years of educational software. ', Learning and Leading with Technology, vol. 30, no. 7, pp. 6-13.

Keengwe, J, Onchwari, G & Wachira, P 2008, 'Computer Technology Integration and Student Learning: Barriers and Promise', Journal of Science Education & Technology, vol. 17, no. 6, pp. 560-5.

Molnar, AS 1997, 'Computers in education: a brief history.', T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), vol. 24, no. 11, pp. 63-9.

Monahan, T 2008, 'Picturing technological change: the materiality of information infrastructures in public education', Technology, Pedagogy & Education, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 89-101.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

New Beginnings for Me in Education


An interesting journey...It began when, after much deliberation, I decided to embark on further study. A difficult decision - how to be a full time mother to two children (aged 12 and 17), wife, full time teacher with three positions of responsibility and a student?

Driven by what? By my own personal love of learning, my desire to be a better teacher and the belief and knowledge that there was so much more to learn.
When I began the Masters of Education program online, it was a huge challenge and a really steep learning curve. I was forced to learn how to use online libraries for research, programs such as End Note and academic expectations/formatting and so on.

By far, the biggest challenge arose when I was approached to become involved in a group project on using Social Networking in education. I didn't even have a Facebook or Twitter account. My initial response was to decline the offer; however, after some thought, reconsidered. At least I would have a group to work with and wouldn't have to spend time searching for a topic and group.

I don't know why, but I volunteered to focus on Twitter and how this could be used in education. As I learnt more and more about Twitter, I soon became consumed by the many possibilities. I opened up an account, researched a lot on the Internet and also through the university library. Suddenly, I became a Twitter enthusiast, with a really helpful and supportive PLN. This was really just the beginning. From following key people on Twitter (educators and so on), I learned about so many more possibilities for my students.

Working on the group assignment was an extremely frustrating and challenging experience. However, as a result, I learned how to collaborate using Google Docs and then using a wiki. Using a wiki proved to be a real turning point for my teaching.

The wiki got me thinking - I found working in a wiki to be really engaging. How could I use this in my English class?

In the past, my Year 7 students had read and responded to 'Chinese Cinderella' by Adeline Yen Mah.  Here was the opportunity to look at getting them to use a wiki to respond to the text. First, I set up a wiki that included the tasks students would need to complete, as well as to function as a demonstration model for students.

This can be found at
http://chinesecinderellahy.wikispaces.com/
Students then created their own wikis in groups. The results were simply astounding.


As part of my next unit at university, I was required to produce a professional development presentation. For this, I chose to focus on Using Wikis in Literacy to Engage Students in Text Studies. The requirement was to present using a PowerPoint file - which I did. However my preference was really to present using a wiki, so I established a wiki that could be used instead: http://usingwikisfortextstudies.wikispaces.com/


The above mentioned wiki contains all the details regarding my student wiki project, as well as guidelines for teachers wanting to try something similar.