Tag Archives: facebook

Thank You, FaceFriends (or, Why I Love Social Media)

First, a bit of catch-up… I’ve been off the blog for a while. A few things have happened in my life since the last time I blogged here:

  • I started a new job as Administrator of Educational Technology in Waltham, MA
  • I bought a house in Newton, MA, and moved into it
  • I had a baby girl

Needless to say, life has been a little distracting, but one of my many goals for the new year is to make time for one of the most important things in my life — my writing — which has taken a backseat to work, family, and running over the past year and a half or so. With a few papers that need to be revised, a book on digital PD that’s been slowly creating itself in my imagination, and a grant project that’s practically begging for some collaborative writing, I need to get my act together. So here’s a promise: I’ll be here more often this year.

Now, for today’s topic: a thank you to my Facebook Friends and a bit of reflection on the role of social media in my (and our) lives. I recently celebrated my 31st birthday. It was a special birthday, in that it was my first birthday as Mommy. It was a completely unspecial birthday, in that nobody really cares that much about the number 31, nothing particularly exciting happened, and I was really too exhausted to celebrate in any way other than getting a few more hours of sleep.

But something struck me on that 6th day of February as I nursed my daughter, talked to my husband, and dinked around on my smartphone: I know the most incredible and amazing people. As they chimed in to wish me a happy birthday on my Facebook wall — a social media tradition I’ve never thought about much — I couldn’t help but notice the diversity of these people and reflect on the experiences that brought them into my lives. My FaceFriends live all over the country — no, all over the world — and I am able to continue knowing them because of social media. This makes my life richer, fuller, and more exciting. This makes me an empathetic human who understands many different walks of life, in different places, through different lenses.

My partner and I are now living in our fourth state since we started dating back in 2002. At each step of my career, I have met incredible people. I have tailgated on muddy, grassy fields at 7am with them. I have established conference traditions that involve 5am runs in new places with them. I have seen some of them only once every other year, others I haven’t seen in nearly a decade, but their lives and experiences are important to me. We swap war stories, we share career wins, and we celebrate life’s milestones together. Sure, we post and comment, but we also message, text, and playdate with our puppies and, now that I have one, our babies.

Many have argued that social media renders relationships “meaningless,” or worse, that social media actually undermines human relationships. See here. Or here. Or here! Or here. Research from my alma mater has even shown that social media can make us “unhappy” (there is also research to counter this argument). These narratives posit that because of social media, we have fewer and less personal face-to-face interactions, we empathize less, and we become obsessed with a “perfect” version of life based on others’ curated social media personas. I’m not here to argue that these perspectives, some of them based on solid research, are false. I’m here to offer an counter-narrative.

Those of you who know my research know that I am particularly obsessed with social ties, what they represent, and how they influence our actions. My dissertation focused on how teachers’ colleagues, friends, and social learning impacted their teaching. As part of this research, I statistically examined not only teachers’ face-to-face relationships, but also their digital ones. This research and my personal experiences have led me to believe that social media, though certainly fraught with problematic issues related to cyberbullying (especially for today’s youth), can be a force of good in this world. Technological deterministic views would have us believe that social media is making us less empathetic and more detached. I take a more constructivist view, believing technology is what we make it (especially considering we made it to begin with).

As I have moved from state to state juggling work, school, and social, I have sometimes struggled to make and keep human connections. We live in such a mobile society, and my life with my partner is an excellent example of just how mobile, and in some cases “uprooted,” we have become. We have never lived in one place for more than four years. We have never really felt “settled.” We’re hoping to stay put this time, but who knows where life will take us? We have followed our careers across state lines and, ultimately, across the country. My social media life has allowed many of my connections to remain stable, and has even fostered new face-to-face connections. Here are just a few examples of people with whom I have digital/face-to-face relationships that social media has either started or kept intact:

  • The woman who taught me to love English
  • The woman who taught me to teach English
  • The new mom down the street
  • A bunch of new moms in my town
  • My running friend from north shore
  • My running friends from Indiana
  • My teacher friends in Michigan
  • My teacher friends in Indiana
  • My college friends
  • My former high school students, who are now doing things like getting married and having kids (what?!)
  • My professor friends in Ohio, Arkansas, Indiana… really all over the place
  • My family in Illinois, Connecticut, California, Ireland, Michigan… really all over the place

…you get the idea.

Many of these relationships would have fizzled, or never existed, without social media. The people I know and keep in touch with online hail from Connecticut, New York, Tennessee, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, California, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Florida, and Ohio. They are teachers, professors, students, parents, researchers, and administrators. Some of them, I have only met once — some of them are my best friends in the world. Some of them went to high school with me, and some of them I met last week. Some are coworkers, some are cothinkers, some are cowriters, and some fill many of these roles.

A few times, people have asked me why I display so much of my life on social media. Certainly, I understand why many people keep quiet. There is evidence that posting about your vacation on social media increases your risk of being robbed, for example. Others simply believe that one’s family life should be very private, not for the eyes of friends who wouldn’t otherwise participate in your day-to-day life. I not only understand these perspectives, I agree with them. The “me” that’s on Facebook is only “part” of me, not the whole me. I even curate for particular audiences: some only see the “professional me,” others see the “family me.” The pictures I do post of my family show our joyous moments, because I believe in spreading joy. They show our raw moments, because I also believe in #keepinitreal. They document our story, but only a shred of it. In and of themselves, my posts about my life and my interactions with friends in comment threads, while representations of relationships, rarely constitute the entirety of my social ties with an individual. These posts and comments are glimmers of relationships that have history, that mean more to me than a passing comment on social media or a photo of my dog. My social media self keeps up with my not-so-little-anymore cousins in Illinois, shares pictures of my daughter with her grandparents in a single click, and engages in academic discussions with my friends from graduate school.

Certainly, my anecdotal account is just that. It fails to represent the very tragic things that happen on social media. Teens and adults alike, and increasingly younger children, struggle with being tormented and sometimes are, unwittingly or knowingly, tormenters of others in spaces that feel falsely “anonymous” or safe. Social media can be used to harm one’s self-esteem, one’s public image, even one’s entire life. I won’t rehash these stories here — many of my readers are educators, and could tell ten of their own stories. Others of you have undoubtedly heard more than your fair share of these narratives on the news.

I offer my counter-narrative because I believe it shows how purposeful use of social media — use that spreads positive messages, that shares carefully-chosen moments with curated audiences, and that uses social digital spaces to bolster, not replace, “real” relationships, can be powerful (even beneficial) to our lives and the development of our social intelligence. I also believe this narrative has implications for today’s youth, who rarely hear such narratives. Instead, they hear horror stories about how social media sharing can harm, hurt, or humiliate them. They hear much about how not to use social media, and little about how to use it as productive members of a digital and global society.

So what if we changed the narrative?

Thanks, FaceFriends, for shaping mine.

Reaction to CNN Post of Student Video

When I first viewed this video and the story that accompanies it, I had the following initial reactions. You’ll have to check out the video to understand the rest of this post, but it’s only about a minute long.

My first thoughts:

  1.  I should unsubscribe from CNN’s Schools of Thought Blog. I don’t keep it in my queue because I think they say brilliant things about education (sometimes they do, but it’s rare)… I keep it because it enables me to keep my finger on the proverbial pulse of public opinion about education. This, however, nearly made me unsubscribe.
  2. How unfortunate that this kid feels this way about his classmates.
  3. How in the world can I respond to this without invalidating what this kid feels?
  4. Does anyone else find this a little outraging/outrageous?

For the life of me, I couldn’t even start writing the reactionary post. I started, deleted, started again, revised, and finally gave up. For lack of a better plan, I turned to facebook, where I’m friends with other education scholars and a number of former students. I got the following couple of responses, and though I might have liked to hear more people’s two cents, their combined comments are worth quoting. Here’s what they said:

From a former colleague/fellow ed scholar:

‎”Lack of motivation” is nothing new–it’s been around as long as schools have. This kid seems like a disaffected outsider who’s using this forum to vent his frustrations with his peers. I don’t doubt that there’s some accuracy to what he’s saying, but it’s by no means the only–or even the greatest–problem with education. If a lot of students are truly unmotivated, then we need to examine why they lack motivation–a search that, I suspect, will lead us directly to parents and home environments
And from a former high school student, currently a senior:
Being a fellow student, I understand his view. But I don’t think kids don’t have a willingness to learn. Every year is seems more materials are added to the cirriculum that there isn’t time to gain thorough knowledge of a subject and with work, school, and social lives, many teens just go for the grade instead of learning so they can pass and move on, hindering them if the subject comes up again. However I don’t appreciate the attack on the arts. The arts apply what is taught in math, english, etc which should increase their “willingness to learn.”
These reactions essentially sum up my arguments. I was pleased to hear one of my former students argue that it’s not about whether students want to learn, but about how we’re going about delivering, deciding upon, and cramming in content. He’s right — current policies like the Common Core are pushing for even more content to be covered in each discipline over the course of a school year. Instead of making smart decisions about where depth is important, we simply continue adding breadth. My philosophy when I was teaching was always to value depth over breadth. That often meant that I would spend a lot of time on a few texts (by a few, though, I mean 7 major texts plus supplementals in my 9th grade classes, which is nothing to shake a stick at) instead of a little time on a ton of texts. This meant that we spent an entire quarter compiling revised, workshopped portfolios of writing. It meant that some things “went by the wayside” — for example, grammar, which I taught in the context of student writing (try explaining that to someone who wants to see the contents of your grammar unit).
And my colleague said it better than I could have — “If a lot of students are truly unmotivated, then we need to examine why they lack motivation.” He goes on to say that this might lead us straight to their home environments, and while I agree that’s a possibility, I think teachers and policymakers need to consider what’s going on in classrooms and how we can make content and delivery more relevant to the lives of today’s kids and tomorrow’s adults. Kids want to learn. They want to learn things that will help them succeed in life. Ask any kid — she’s unlikely to tell you “nah, I don’t care whether or not I succeed in life.” Ask any teacher, and I hope you’ll hear from her that she has kids who want to learn — kids who light up when they get excited about a project or an assignment or a unit. If that never happened, teaching would be a pretty awful job. Teachers are in it for those moments… they certainly aren’t in it for the money.
Thanks to my colleague and my student. I’m keeping them anonymous here, but they helped me write a reaction when I was pretty stumped.

Give Kids Some Credit

This piece from CNN’s Schools of Thought blog on kids and facebook, in which the author notes that kids on facebook with increased parental involvement might not, in fact, be the end of the world, got me thinking more about this topic, which has been infiltrating the blogosphere this week…

One particular point stuck out to me:

Despite what some adults might think or read, teens, at least by their own account, are pretty responsible when it comes to social networking.

It was the last sentence of the piece, and I wish Stepp would have said more about this, because she’s right. Teens often get portrayed in the media as half-baked adults — immature, impulsive, and in need of policing and protection. And I’m not saying they’re not in need of protection, but I wonder what this protection should look like. In a conversation with one high school teacher in February, the teacher noted that kids are actually pretty darn smart when it comes to social networking and the self they “put out there” online. They do things like rhetorical analysis (though they might not call it that) when they read posts on blogs or facebook. They make choices about who to include in their social network of friends. I wonder if making these rhetorical, cognitive moves visible to students, and teaching them how to wield those thinking skills critically, might be the best way to protect them.

Sometimes, the choices kids make are poor ones. Hey, adults make poor decisions too, sometimes (I’ve sometimes regretted moves made online, and I’ve learned from those experiences). But just like today’s kids sometimes make dumb social moves online, yesterday’s kids sometimes made dumb social moves at school, on the playground, or at the mall (I know I did). And like yesterday’s kids, today’s kids should be able to learn from those mistakes, to move on from them, and to learn how to be more reflective, conscientious individuals in today’s digital age.

Why does panic set in when the playground suddenly goes digital? I think part of the fear stems from parents or teachers who worry about their ability to protect in a way that does not police, but instead teaches in these complex online environments. The parents of my metaphorical “yesterday” knew about the physical world in which their teens roamed, making their poor and positive decisions in the same spaces where parents had made their own mistakes. This Internet world is far more nebulous, far harder to control, and in some cases far less familiar to “today’s” parents and teachers. To make matters worse, we know the extreme ramifications that poor use of the Internet — for example, bullying — can have on kids. Stories have paraded across the news in the past few years; Dharun Ravi, for example, was recently sentenced to only 30 days’ punishment for his merciless online bullying of his roommate, Tyler Clementi.

I think these stories, far from being a call for further policing of kids’ use of the Internet, should be a call to action for those who work closely with children and teens. Policing isn’t working. As Clementi’s case shows, prosecuting doesn’t seem to be working either. Perhaps learning is the answer. Would love to hear readers’ thoughts on this.

Kids and FB

An article on CNN about Facebook’s potential lifting of the 13-year-old age requirement caught my attention today as I was eating quinoa salad and pondering what to do next on this lovely summer day.

A few comments of my own:

  1. This, alongside FB’s recent IPO offering, is yet another reminder of how not-free some of these free web resources are. I love GoogleDocs, but Google’s hold on my life continues to frighten me. This does not stop me from using these resources with students, but it does give me pause and make me think we should be teaching our students how to be critical web consumers.
  2. Yes, FB is doing this for money. Duh. But kids have been targeted by advertising for decades. Hello, Saturday morning cartoons!? I don’t think banning younger kids from FB is the answer… clearly, that hasn’t been working. But I do think the responsibility falls on parents and teachers to help their kids and students think critically about their uses of facebook and similar media.
  3. The rhetoric both of this piece and, more so, of the comments that follow it worry me. The fear of today’s adults about things like facebook and social media corrupting the minds of our youth is only standing in the way of our ability to educate people about these tools. That’s what they are — tools. It’s about being a smart user instead of a passive one. This is true of facebook just like it’s true of email, video games, movies, TV, and yes, even literature.

I feel torn every time I see news stories on this topic, but I always come to the same conclusion — be smart, people.