Kids These Days: Facebooking Their Classes Away

An excellent video by Michael Wesch at 200 students and Kansas State University takes a look at how students view education today.

This reminds me of the concept of a “teachable moment.” The concept here is that you can really only teach someone something when you’re hitting them with something that’s within their zone of understanding and zone of interest. Frankly, much of the time spent by anyone in a classroom will fall outside of one of both of those two zones.

How often do (or did) you find yourself zoning out during a lecture when the topics moved to something too rudimentary to keep your attention? Or, what happened when things moved a bit too fast for you to keep up? In either case, you probably found yourself in a situation where you were no longer learning.

Motivated students will make the most of their time by supplementing what’s going on in the classroom with additional materials from their textbooks or online. Or, in cases where students are stuck with professors who are poor at presenting material, they’ll supplement the professor with relevant information from the web or their readings.

The thing that scared me the most in this video was watching 200 kids sit in a classroom without power outlets. That may be find for a one-hour lecture, but what happens when that’s followed by another hour and another hour after that?

Somewhat related: Stephen Dubner has an interesting interview with an economics professor on the Freakonomics blog who’s created an interesting career out of teaching online introductory economics courses for colleges across the country. From what Prof. Gladfelter explains, it sounds like his web based students may be more motivated than students who’ve dragged themselves away from their computers to stare at a chalkboard.

Should Teachers Have Blogs?

Does blogging and teaching mix? In my opinion, it should, but first, let’s look
at a few issues that may arise when teachers blog:

EdTech Avenue is a new Minneapolis based blog looking at the technology issues
facing schools. One of the first posts addressed putting teacher’s photos on a
school’s website and the resistance some at the school had to the idea:

EdTech
Avenue Blog » Teacher Photos on School Website?

Their reasoning was that if pictures are
made readily available on the internet, we subject ourselves to possible mis-use
of the photos on such sites as MySpace and other personal web spaces. While I am
not naive enough to think that our students would not think to do such a thing,
it saddens me that the majority of people visiting our site will lose out on the
personal touch the photos present. I also would have liked the idea that for
marketing and recruiting purposes, prospective families would be able to put a
face with all the paperwork and other information they receive about our
school.

There certainly is a trade-off involved in becoming more
transparent. Schools will need to decide whether then benefits gained from
building more personal relationships with parents outweigh the occasional
mis-use that eventually will happen.

Would students really abuse online photos? Look no further than this story from
the Smoking Gun about a principal who’s suing found ex-students over a
fake
MySpace profile they made of him
:

A Pennsylvania high school principal is
suing four ex-students for allegedly posting fake MySpace profiles that
described him as a boozing, MILF-chasing swinger who thought sex with students
should be legal unless “you kill them in the process.”

Beyond
photos, what about blogging? Now teachers are actually sharing their thoughts
and potentially information about their private lives on the public web where
students could find it.
EdTech
Avenue’s take:

This is a unique career we find ourselves in – my husband and his
friends don’t have to worry about who might see their blog or want to “use it
against them”. But teachers do not have this same luxury. I can only imagine the
damage a scorned student could do to a teacher’s career – we’ve seen it on some
news stories already. But how much of this is paranoia and how much is warranted
caution?

Everyone who’s gone to school thinks they’re an expert
on the education system, and I’m no exception. Here is my unqualified opinion on
why I think teachers SHOULD be blogging:

1. It’s a great way to communicate with
parents.
Parents are busy but really want to be more involved in their
children’s education. Reading their children’s teacher’s blogs would be a great
way to feel more involved, or lead to a parent becoming more involved based on
something inspirational they have read.

2. Having online credibility negates parody
sites.
Imagine searching for the principal from Pennsylvania mentioned
above and finding the parody site as the first search result. That may have one
day been the case, but not the
top
search result’s for Eric Trosch are news stories about him suing his
students. That seems career damaging to me. What SHOULD be the top result is a
personal site of Eric Trosch, where the REAL Eric Trosch communicates with the
world about who he is. His lack of an online personae allowed the parody site to
define him to the online world. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to parents or
future employers of a principal that some students can be jerks. However, if
that’s all you can find about a person online, one may wonder who the REAL Eric
Trosch is.

3. Teachers are people. There seems to be
a policy in most schools that teacher’s private lives should be closely guarded
secrets. Imagine the horror of seeing a photo of a teacher enjoying a glass of
wine in Napa on a summer vacation. Or a teacher dancing at a wedding! Or in a
swimsuit! In my opinion, teachers should be able to live normal lives. Their
students are used to seeing their parents drink, dance, and wear swimsuits, so
it shouldn’t be shocking to find out that other adults do similar things when
they’re not in the classroom.

What’s your take on this? I’d love to hear the opinions of teachers, parents,
and others throwing lobs from the stands like me.