An Optimistic Outlook On The Infiltration Of Technology Into Our Lives

I have two books I am trying to cram in during the vacation as I prepare for our next Parent Technology Night on Tuesday January 14.  The topic – “Parenting in the Digital Age” – is a difficult for so many of us because we cannot simply revert to some of the tactics that our own parents used due to the fact that all of this technology simply did not exist.  Whenever I am involved in conversations surrounding technology and our children, the only thing that rubs me the wrong way is responding to people who want to make this something that is either good or bad.  The fact of the matter is that it can be either, depending on the motivations of the person utilizing the technology.

My first book recommendation for those who are techno-skeptics (and everyone else for that matter) is Clive Thompson’s Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds For The Better.  I wrote a bit yesterday about the need for us to reinforce with our children the importance of not partaking in the streams of negativity that can easily be found online.  Thompson points to examples throughout this book of how the internet is being used positively to further our intelligence both individually and collectively.

“At their best, today’s digital tools help us see more, retain more, communicate more.  At their worst, they leave us prey to the manipulation of the toolmakers. But on balance, I’d argue, what is happening is deeply positive.”  Clive Thompson

Stay tuned for some more on Thompson’s book and some thoughts on the second book I am reading, The App Generation by Howard Gardner and Katie Davis.

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Our Newest Blog And Other Ways To Follow Burlington Public Schools

We are excited to announce the creation of our district’s newest blog – Burlington Public Schools Blog. The word “Blog” in the title is actually used as a verb to represent all of the active bloggers throughout our school district. This space will be utilized to share a blog post daily from one of our staff or student bloggers.

Here are a few other ways you can follow our district’s learning journey:

Our new district Instagram account – We will routinely post photos from around the district here.

Our new district Twitter Account – @BurlMASchools – While many of our staff and administrators have been on Twitter for quite some time, we have not had a general account for the district aside from @BPSAlerts, which we reserve for emergencies, and @BPSEdtech, the Twitter account of our EdTech Team.

Finally, we don’t want to forget our District’s Facebook Page which is another great way to stay on top of the happenings in our school district.

Let us know if there are any other social media resources that you would like to see Burlington Public Schools access to share information!

Do You Have Any Idea What Your Kids Are Posting Online?



I have spent a fair amount of time lately checking out the activity of some students and what they are posting online.  I am interested in the behavior of my kids online and the kids that they associate with. I have also spent time checking out the social media behaviors of a few other middle and high school aged relatives as well as some students in Burlington. As I read these Twitter posts (aka Tweets), Instagram posts, and Facebook posts I am certain that the parents of these kids are not aware of the conversations that their children are having online.  

Before I cite the negative uses of social media I am seeing, I want to say that most of the communication I see online from students is appropriate. However, I have seen examples of elementary students poking fun at classmates and using profanity, I have seen middle school students using inappropriate language, and I have seen high school students make posts using sexually suggestive language and also use a great deal of profanity.

I have a few areas of concern when it comes to this “over-sharing” that is happening online. What I mean by “over-sharing” is that these young people are sharing too much information online.   Either they do not know that the things that they post are accessible to anyone on the internet and can be copied with a quick screen shot or they don’t care. My experience tells me that it is a bit of both with younger students being a bit clueless to how things work and the older students being a bit more carefree about it (although many are also clueless).

Of course the simplest solution is for our kids to understand that the boundaries for responsible communication do not change whether you are face-to-face, on the phone, texting, tweeting, posting, etc.  But while we continue to promote respectful behavior, how can we get parents more in the loop?  Our kids have a lot more avenues for communication than we did as parents and that is not all bad. However, I think we have an obligation to get to know all of the places that are students spend time whether they are physical spaces or online spaces. 


One of the most popular social media resources with my own kids and a lot of their friends right now is Instagram.  I know that it is also popular in Burlington and we have students at every grade level using it. As we plan for our final Parent Technology Night in June, I want to share some resources below that provide a great overview of Instagram for parents.

Here’s what parents need to know:
  • Users officially need to be 13 and older to start an Instagram account. I do recommend enforcing this rule at home because I’m not entirely convinced that younger kids are mature enough to use these kinds of social media applications.
  • Lay down some ground rules, and stress that if the rules are broken it is cause for immediate account deletion.

    Our rules are:
     

  1. Only follow people you know personally. (This might be tricky, because user names are sometimes “TeddyBear456”.)
  2. Never share any personal information about yourself, where you live and go to school. 
  3. Don’t use geolocation services near personal landmarks, namely, home and school. In other words, turn off the option that allows others to know the exact location from where you’re publishing your photo.
  4. Never publish anything you wouldn’t want your parents, teachers, and grandparents to see. Photos can be shared widely, with anyone, in a matter of seconds.
  5. Practice the golden rule and treat others as you would like to be treated when you’re using Instagram. T.H.I.N.K. before you comment on a friend’s photo: is it True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, Kind?
  6. Do not upload or tag photos of other people without their permission. If you snap a photo of your friends, always ask them before sharing it on Instagram.
It’s also good idea to make your child’s account private, otherwise anyone signed into Instagram can view photos on a public user’s profile (which is easily accessed at www.instagram.com/username).
As a parent, my job is to:
  • Follow my daughter on Instagram.
  • Peek at her photos and leave comments on the ones I really like to encourage those creative efforts and keep the juices flowing.
  • Check the comments on her photos every once in awhile and see who’s following who.
  • Chat about the activity on her account every once in awhile together. e.g. “Did you see that great photo that your friend TeddyBear456 posted?”  
That subtly lets her know that I’m in the loop, and a pretty hip mama to boot! (Ha ha.) Are you on Instagram? Are your kids? Do you have guidelines at home? 


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Don’t Miss This Month’s Parent Tech Night – Social Media And Our Children

Social Media and Our Children
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Marshall Simonds Middle School Learning Commons
7-8 PM 

As a parent of three, I am amazed at the role social media plays in the lives of my three children. While doing my best to keep tabs on my son Timothy who is a 9th grader and recently started a Facebook account and my daughter Bryn, a 7th grader who is an Instagram lover, I wonder sometimes whether I am doing enough to guide them in the appropriate use of these communication tools.  It can certainly be overwhelming! I can’t even imagine what is coming down the road for my first-grader (pictured above) who is taking it all in

With this in mind, we invite parents to the February topic in our Technology Series For Parents – Social Media And Our Children.  Please join Burlington Public Schools Director of Instructional Technology and me as we discuss some of the most popular Social Media sources of our students. We will discuss how parents can keep tabs on their children and share best practices in appropriate use of these resources.
We will also spend a little time discussing School Connect, a wonderful communication tool that the school district will be launching in March. 

Finally, time during every Parent Tech Night session is also dedicated to technology related questions and support. All are welcome, so please feel free to bring a friend!
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Are You Sure Your Child Isn’t Using Social Media?

What Apps Is Your Child Using?
Just because your child does not have a Facebook or Twitter account does not mean they are not using social media resources.  I have been hearing rumblings from various communities (including Burlington) about elementary and middle school-aged children making poor choices with social media resources.  I am certain that in many cases that the parents of these kids are unaware that their kids are over-sharing personal information, posting and viewing inappropriate pictures, and having inappropriate conversations with friends AND STRANGERS.
The bottom line here is that parents need to check on every app at that their children are adding to their iPod, iPad, iPhone, or other web-enabled device. We have moved so quickly from the days when our biggest web-based concern regarding our children was a desktop computer in a common area of our homes. As we are well aware, many of the gadgets that they carry in their pockets can do so much more than those desktops could ever do. With new social media apps and websites coming onto the scene at a breathtaking pace, it is not surprising that parents can’t keep up. 
A Little Advice For Parents

So as I navigate this landscape with my own kids, I want to let you know that just keeping your kids off of Facebook and Twitter is a far cry from keeping them off of social media.  In an effort to promote awareness, I have a few questions for parents…
  1. Do you know what apps are on your child’s iPad, iPod, Smartphone, etc.?
  2. Do you know which apps are connected to social media resources?
  3. Do you monitor the social media accounts that you have allowed your child to create?
  4. Have you heard of snapchat
If you answered no to at least one of the above questions then you are probably in the majority of parents out there.  If you answered yes to most of the above questions then please share your knowledge with the parents you know to help them stay on top of what is happening.  The fact of the matter is that these sites typically require a user to be at least 13 years of age to register and many kids lie about their age in order to sign up which raises an additional issue.  
In regards to Snapchat, you get bonus points if you know that one.  Snapachat has become known by many as a tool for sexting as a recent Mashable post describes.  The way it works is that an individual may send another individual a picture and the sender decides how long the person receiving the picture can view it (from 1-10 seconds) and then the picture disappears “forever.”  Of course since lesson number-one in the whole social media game is that anything you say online can follow you “forever,” we know this is not true.
From a parent’s perspective, it is tough to connect the current experience that our children are having with social media resources to our own experiences growing up.  All we really had was a telephone to connect with our friends and have social conversations. In addition, most of us had some time limits in place when it came to these conversations. In my opinion, it would make sense for us all to at least have some idea of how much time are kids are spending online and what they are up to.
Some Resources For Parents
Common Sense Media has some great resources for parents to help them set appropriate ground rules for their kids. It also provides parents with great app reviews, like the one below for Snapchat. You can search with the box in the upper right hand corner for a review of most apps and find out some useful information before deciding whether or not it is appropriate for your child.  
We will continue to provide workshops for parents to learn about these issues, but in the meantime I encourage parents to check out a few of the following:
Tweens Secret Lives Online – The Wall Street Journal
If you feel you are a parent who has a good handle on this issue, then please share some of the practices that you think are working well! If you are parent who feels lost and needs immediate assistance, please contact me and I would be happy to offer some advice/assistance (larkin@bpsk12.org).

Hey Forbes Magazine! What About The Students?!

Originally posted on the Connected Principals Blog

Untitled
We won’t go wrong if we keep students the focus of our plans.

I was excited to see the headline on a Forbes magazine piece in August titled – Why Public School Leaders Must Embrace Social Media Now  As I read the article, I was in complete agreement with the points that were being made by the author, Joel Gagne, a consultant who works with schools on communicating more effectively with stakeholders.

Gagne pointed to the following as reasons for schools to start using social media:

“Communications: Often, schools communicate with stakeholders via either regular postal mail or the school website. When a school district decides to utilize social media, their stakeholders can receive information like the “Principal’s Report,” event information, schedule changes, and more in real time.  They can also use social media to listen to what many in their community are thinking about their local public schools.
Public Relations: Given so much negative media about public education, schools can no longer leave public relations to chance. Social media allows schools to direct their followers to newspapers and TV segments featuring positive information. School districts can also use social media to highlight the hard work of their students and staff, and their school district’s accomplishments.
 Branding: Whenever someone sees the Golden Arches, they know they’ve found McDonald’s. This should be a school district’s goal through social media – that whenever someone sees their school district’s logo, they should think “innovation” (or whatever the desired brand may be).

The above are a great starting point in regards to why schools should be utilizing social media resources.  But are these the most important reasons for us to start embracing social media?  In my mind, these are low-level tasks that have been and always will be important to any organization, including schools.

However, the biggest concern I have with school leaders be unwilling to utilize social media resources, or even worse banning them in their school, is the fallout for the students.  Students who do not know how to utilize these current resources to communicate, collaborate, and learn are not competent according the National Council of Teachers of English  framework developed on 2008.

According to NCTE :

Twenty-first century readers and writers need to

  • Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
  • Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally
  • Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
  • Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
  • Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts
  • Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments
In looking at this list, I am concerned that we are a long way off  from having students who can meet these standards.  If the conversation with school leaders is one that focuses on the low-level tasks described above then we will never lead our students where they need to be.  The bottom line is that if school leaders do not model the use of these resources then we cannot expect teachers to make it a priority either.  If teachers aren’t using these resources then the capacity of students to integrate them will be greatly inhibited.

In closing, I want to make it clear that I intend no disrespect to Forbes or Mr. Gagne, but the fact that school leaders would need to turn to a private consultant to market their schools has me a little bummed.  There are a number of places that our colleagues can get help for free in this areas and some great models available in school leaders that are already doing this work.

I guess it brings me back to the same question we have been asking for a while here..How do we get them to get them on board and see the bigger picture? Any suggestions?  The students are missing out! 
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More Thinking About Balance And When To Unplug

Having played a big part in the fact that there are over 1,000 students in Burlington walking around with web-enabled devices, I do spend a great deal of time thinking about how to continue the important conversation of maintaining balance with regards to the use these devices. I wrote a post on this a little while back in reference to my own device use, which I admit is sometimes imbalanced.

Adding to my anxiety on the topic is the fact that there are articles with misleading headlines like this one – Many Teens Tell Survey They Are Addicted To Social Media, Texting – which recently appeared in the Washington Post.  While the headline is a bit disconcerting, the content of the article makes it clear that this there is a lot more here that we need to discuss. Check out a few of the excerpts I think we need to focus more on and decide or yourself whether the negatives really outweighing the positive.

“Two-thirds of respondents said they text every day and half said they visit social networking sites daily. One-quarter of teens use at least two different types of social media a day.”

“Three out of 10 teens said social networks made them feel more outgoing, compared to 5 percent who said they felt more introverted.”

“Still, half of all respondents said real-life communication is the most fun and fruitful for their relationships. Only 4 percent prefer to talk on the phone.”

As I see my own tweens spending more and more time using their devices to interact with their friends, I can’t help but think of the quote below by Danah Boyd. Is it really the devices and the social media platforms that they are addicted to or is it the communication with their friends? 

It brings me back to Clay Shirky’s thoughts on this topic from his book Cognitive Surplus: Creativity And Generosity In A Connected Age.  I agree with Shirky on the following:

 “when we talk about the effects of the web or text messages, it’s easy to make a milkshake mistake and focus on the tools themselves…But the use of of social technology is much less determined by the tool itself: when we use a network, the most important asset we get is access to one another.” 

I think the thing that our children need help with is learning when disconnecting is necessary to refocus and refresh. In addition, we need to be sure that they are getting plenty of technology-free opportunities for the rich face-to-face interactions and experiences that are so beneficial. This point is clearly articulated in a recent post by John Spencer titled What We’re Missing In Acceptable Use.


What we need to understand is that our children are connecting and collaborating in ways that we were never capable of.  Or as Shirky puts it:

“Although so much of what kids are doing online may look trivial and frivolous, what they are doing is building the capacity to connect, to communicate, and ultimately, to mobilize…The old idea that media is a domain relatively separate from the ‘real world’ no longer applies…”

The bottom line here is that we are never going to be in a comfortable spot with our children if we do not continue to have discussions on this topic. We need to encourage our children to use these  resources wisely and have balance, but we also have to understand that the way they communicate with one another not going to look like the same as how we communicated with our friends back in the day…and that’s OK!

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