Tag Archive: social networking

Facebook and Online Responsibility

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The problems surrounding teachers using Facebook seem to be getting more and more complex. I’ve written before about how teacher’s private use of Facebook can impact their jobs, whether justly or unjustly. The issue that was brought up recently involves teachers’ use of Facebook on private mobile devices during school hours.

This is a tricky issue. We want teachers to be doing what they are paid to do – teach their classes and monitor their students. But how do you keep this in check?

We have Facebook blocked in our district because of some of the discipline issues is creates with students. It was suggested that we consider adding restrictions on Facebook usage on private mobile devices to our Acceptable Use Policy. I flatly disagreed with that. Our AUP regulates acceptable use of district-owned equipment and services, not private equipment. I don’t think should or legally could use a policy written for district equipment to be applied to private equipment. (more…)

Please Rob Me

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There’s a new website that’s been getting quite a bit of press lately. It’s called “Please Rob Me,” and it scans Twitter updates for people who have indicated that they are somewhere other than at home. The idea isn’t to enable thieves, but to highlight the carelessness of letting everyone know where you are every minute of the day.

I remember when location-aware applications were first taking off this caused me some concerns. In 2006 I came across Tim Hibbard, a programmer who had written his own routine to update his location constantly on his blog using the GPS in his Blackberry. Given such a constant data stream it should have been a no-brainer to figure out where he lived and when he wasn’t there.

Fast forward a few years and we now have applications like Google Latitude, BrightKite, and FourSquare which allow users to check-in with their GPS-enabled smart phones. Most of these services offer privacy settings so that the whole world doesn’t know your exact location, and all are user-activated so that there isn’t a constant tracking of your movements. You only check-in when you want to.

The idea behind these is that you would be able to see if your friends are nearby and could meet up with them. However, I’ve not seen that work very well. If I’m going to meet someone I usually call and confirm, or use some other communication method. I don’t rely on GPS enabled phones to happen upon someone. I guess if you had enough of your friends on the same service it would work. However, I rarely check in with Google Latitude, so it’s still showing me at my last location somewhere in Columbia. Potential burglars might be surprised if they are relying on my updates.

In reality, you don’t need a GPS-enabled smart phone to tip off potential burglars. While it might help in finding the exact location of your house, all a thief really needs is a status update that reads something like, “I can’t wait until I’m on vacation in the Bahamas next week!” While that’s OK, just make sure you don’t provide them with enough personal information to take advantage of that tidbit.

Tips for prevention social-networking burglary from Kim Kommando

Bing, Buzz, Bip Bop Boo

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Social_Icons

What’s the buzz, tell me what’s a-happenin’,
What’s the buzz, tell me what’s a-happenin’,
What’s the buzz, tell me what’s a-happenin’,
What’s the buzz, tell me what’s a-happenin’,

Why should you want to know?
Don’t you mind about the future?
Don’t you try to think ahead?
Save tomorrow for tomorrow;
Think about today instead.

– “What’s the Buzz?” from Jesus Christ Superstar by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Back in the Good Ol’ Days „¢, AOL had dominance in the online world. It started as a self-contained entity with its own news, shopping, and social interactions. The “Internet” was this other stuff that you had to pay extra to get to on a per minute basis, unless you purchased AOL’s more expensive unlimited plan. In fact, less savvy users often thought that AOL WAS the Internet, and couldn’t imagine accessing information through any other method. Browser? What’s a browser?

Fast forward a decade or so and we like to think we’re so much better off with so many options, especially within the realm of searching and social networking. However, there’s much evidence today’s social networking corporations have the same attitudes as AOL did. They only want you to play in their sandbox.

Bing

Let’s start alphabetically with Bing.com. While not a social networking site, they have inherited all of the exclusivity of their parent company, Microsoft. They have even invented their own malady, Search Engine Overload, to scare others toward their “decision” engine.” I think what sent me over the edge was when I tried to install their Bing 3D Maps, supposedly their answer to Google Earth. I go the following message:

Make Bing my default search engine and prevent other programs from interfering with my choice.

If I had checked that box I would have been locked into Bing permanently, I guess. The second part of that statement, “interfering with my choice,” is deliberately misleading. If you click this box, you have no choice. (more…)

Teachers and Facebook

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No-Facebook-for-Teachers

Yesterday there was an article in the Greenville News about development of a policy for teacher use of Facebook. The article stated that the board was holding off on approval of the policy because some members had raised “ethical, legal and technical questions.”    The new policy would put into place a procedure for dismissing teachers for improper behavior in social networking sites.

According to the policy,  teachers €œshould recognize that they are being continuously observed by students, other employees, parents, and community members, and that their actions and demeanor may impair their effectiveness as an employee.€  It goes on to state the following:

The personal life of an employee including the employee’s personal use of non-district issued electronic equipment outside of working hours (such as through social networking sites and personal portrayal on the Internet), will be the concern of and warrant the attention of the board if it impairs the employee’s ability to be an effective teacher, effectively perform his/her job responsibilities, or if it violates local, state, or federal law or contractual agreements.

That phrase “impairs the employee’s ability to be an effective teacher” is the bit that gets me.  It was used by one of my counterparts in another district over a lunch discussion about this same issue.  The phrase is overly broad, and open to interpretation.  If a one parent takes offense at something I’ve posted, does that meet the criteria?  I have experienced first hand some of these dangers, and I know that it’s possible to make the wrong decision and wreck someone’s career for no reason.

I’m not talking about things that are obviously wrong, such as drug use or illegal activities.  I’m talking about teachers getting in trouble for normal adult activity.  Take, for example, the case of Ashley Payne.  The Appalachee High School teacher from Winder, Georgia posted the following photo on Facebook…

The photo was taken while Payne was on vacation and posted on a supposedly private portion of Facebook.  Elsewhere on her site she mentioned “Going to Bitch BINGO,” the name of a game played at an Atlanta restaurant.  A parent complained, and this was enough to get her fired – one photo of the teacher with a beer in her hand while on vacation and one word that caused offense.

Last year my Facebook profile photo was my infamous “Santa Martini” photo…

Santa Martini

I was told by another one of my counterparts that I would have been fired in her district.  The “effectiveness as an employee” clause would have been invoked.  I’m sure that I’ve used language just as offensive on this blog as the unfortunate teacher above used.  Fortunately, no one has said anything about this blog or the photo as to either being amiss or diminishing my ability to teach.

However, my situation is a bit different.  As a district administrator I’m less likely to have a kid who’s curious about their teacher Google me.  Children (and parents) are naturally interested in their teachers, and want to find out about them.  And sometimes it can have unfortunate consequences.

Here’s another example of leaping to conclusions – a case in which I was directly involved, and I was able to prevent some problems.  I received a complaint about that a teacher had inappropriate material on his Facebook page.  This was a well-respected, veteran teacher, and I had a hard time believing this to be true.  I checked out the page (which was NOT set to private), and there was a picture of a young lady, a student, with her skirt hiked up indecently high and showing her legs with colorful stockings.

On the face of it, this was incriminating.  However, there was more to the story.  The young lady was proud of her silly, colorful stockings and was showing them off for one of her friends.  The friend took a photo with her cell phone, then uploaded the photo to HER Facebook account.  Somewhere in the background of the show you could see the teacher’s left foot.  The student tagged the foot as with the teacher’s name, causing the photo to show up on his profile.  The teacher had nothing to do with it, and was even unaware that his name was associated with the photo.

In this case I recommended to the teacher than he not friend his students.  In fact, this is what we recommend in general for our teachers.  Unlike Greenville County, we currently have no plans to make this into policy.  Our district even allows some leeway when students are family friends, or are related to teachers.

When I do workshops on blogging and social networking I always tell teachers to be circumspect in what they post, because it may come back to haunt them.  However, in the case of our teacher, he was an innocent bystander who had unfortunately friended his students.  I can see this happening more and more, though, and I blame digital cameras.

People don’t share photos in print format anymore.   Online photos galleries are the most common way to share vacation photos, etc.  Someone may take a photo of a young teacher at the lake or beach in a bathing suit and post it online, or take a picture of a teacher with a drink in their hand, and some parent may find that offensive.  So what’s one to do?  Completely abandon any online life, or just make sure than no photos of them are ever taken?

I’m really glad that the Greenville County School Board decided to take a step back.   The line between public and private lives gets blurred with everything now being online, and there is really no going back.    Some members of the board have recognized that teachers have rights, and that they can’t/shouldn’t try to control all teacher behavior.   I’m glad our district has also come to that conclusion, and I just wished that other districts were as enlightened.

DARPA Challenge Update

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Well, that didn’t take long. By 5:00 PM DARPA had already announced a winner in their 2009 Challenge. The challenge was supposed to last through December 14, but it was obvious from early on that it wouldn’t take that much time. As shown on the map above, the balloons were located in places where it would have been hard to miss them (although there is a large wedge of the Midwest with no ballooons.) The winner was the team from MIT.

I didn’t participate in the challenge as I thought I might. However, I did check in on the progress from time-to-time on Twitter. It was interesting to watch the competition progress. Most of the Twitter traffic seemed to be from those involved in the hunt, and I saw only one from someone that seemed to have honestly stumbled upon one (…sort of, but more on that in a bit.)

As I saw reports of balloons I wondered if I shouldn’t try to find the location and report them as my own. However, I figured that if the reports were THAT public, then others would have reported them. I just decided to watch the spectacle. (more…)

99 Red Balloons

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You and I in a little toy shop,
Buy a bag of balloons with the money we’ve got.
Set them free at the break of dawn
‘Til one by one, they were gone…

Actually, it’s 99 minus 89, but references to the 1980’s hit by Nena are inevitable. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Internet, DARPA has come up with a creative challenge “that will explore the roles the Internet and social networking play in the timely communication, wide-area team-building, and urgent mobilization required to solve broad-scope, time-critical problems.”

According to the challenge website ten red, eight-foot weather balloons will be tethered to locations around the United States. The first person (or team) to provide the latitude and longitude of all balloons will win a $40,000 prize.

CNN.com quotes Johanna Jones, a spokeswoman for DARPA, and provides a few more details…

At 10 a.m. ET, the 8-foot-wide red weather balloons will be released on property accessible to the public.

“They’re not going to be out in the middle of nowhere,” Jones said. “They’re going to be near places where there is traffic.”

She said the balloons will be tethered and will remain aloft for at least six hours. Each will be accompanied by a DARPA representative.

The first person to report the latitude and longitude coordinates of all 10 balloons will win the prize. The competition will remain open until December 14.

Nationwide balloon-hunt contest tests online networking
By Doug Gross, CNN
December 4, 2009

So, the balloons will only be aloft for a few hours on one day. That means no individual could travel to all 10 locations. Seekers will be forced to search for references to the balloons and reports in social media such as Twitter, Facebook, or Flickr. That is, of course, assuming someone reports the sighting and is willing to provide coordinates. If I didn’t already know about the challenge, I doubt I would stop and Tweet about a red balloon, giving its lat/long coordinates. (more…)

More Google Wave Thoughts

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I finally had some time to play with Google Wave, and actually had some friends online who would wave back. While I don’t think the program is as useless as I had originally thought, I still think there are too many kluges required in order to get it to do what I want. Here are a few more observations and tips.

Chip and I got online at the same time the other night and were able to experience some of the real-time collaboration capabilities. It was cool to see what Chip was typing as he typed it and to see the components he was adding appear in real-time. However, all this glitz only served to slow things down. Even with just two of us working on a single wave the lag times were horrific. I would have typed several words before anything appeared on my screen, and I was working on a very fast Mac.

As you are working collaboratively on a wave you can reply to specific comments.  However, this tends to make the conversation disjointed.  Sometimes it’s not easy to spot when someone has commented on or modified a portion of the wave that took place early in the conversation.  Because of the way waves develop, one naturally expects newer material to be at the bottom of the page as it is added, and that’s not always the case.  There is an indicator on your inbox to show how many additions there have been to a wave, you sometimes you have to search for them.

The other problem is the limited functionality of Google Wave.  You can make things work, but it’s a pain. Unless you want to just do the basics, you have to use an extension to accomplish anything else. However, folks are writing more and more of these, so you might find something that will work.

Take, for example, photos from Flickr. If you know the specific URL of your photo, then you can use the Google image search function to look for the image. Even then you only get a thumbnail and a link back to your photo (if it works at all.) Two different Flickr users have developed their own extensions that work a bit better.  Benjamin Smith has one where one modifies the extension URL to get the specific photos for the Wave.  Flickr user Schani has one that’s a bit easier to use, and can be installed so that it’s ready to use. The screen capture below shows it in action…

Screen shot 2009-11-19 at 6.54.37 PM

You can add more than one photo from Flickr, but it does tend to slow things down even more.

Probably the easiest way to add more content is through either the <iframe> extension or the html extension.  The <iframe> extension allows users to embed actual web pages into their waves.  The html extension lets users add bits of code to the wave.  The coding would be more useful, because you can use the <img src= … > tag to add images from any source.  It also allows you to use embed codes from other social networking sites.   Both are demonstrated in the screen shot below:

Screen shot 2009-11-19 at 6.52.14 PM

In this shot I’ve used the <iframe> extension to embed RandomConnections into a wave, and I’ve embedded a slide show from Flickr using the html code.

While this is immensely useful, there is no way to install these extensions for repeated use.  You have to copy the extension’s URL and paste it into the “Add gadget by URL” box every time you want to use it.  Talk about a pain!

With so many websites such as Ning.com and PBworks.com offering much, much better and easier to use interfaces, having to jump through this many hoops is just ridiculous.  Google Wave just isn’t there yet.  It may look cool, but it’s clunky, slow, and inconvenient.   Chip and I both wondered if Wave is the next Segway – lots of hype, cool on the surface, but of no practical use.

Google Wave – First Impressions

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Google Wave Logo

Like any geek worth his salt, I’ve been waiting for my invitation to preview Google Wave to come through. I’ve only been playing with it for a bit, but so far my first impression has been, “So this is what all the hype has been about??” Maybe it will grow on my, but it hasn’t knocked my socks off.

I won’t repeat all of the other blog posts or embed any of the multitude of YouTube videos that demonstrate its capabilities. However, here are some of my other observations.

Google has touted Wave as being email on steroids. While that may be true, Wave only works if everyone is on the same system. Unless you’ve got a Wave account, you can’t play. Therefore, comparisons to email aren’t really valid.

Google Wave has been hailed as a breakthrough collaboration tool. Really? While real-time typing is cool, you could get that with any chat application. Google already offers collaboration tools through Google Docs, so some of this seems redundant. Existing resources such as the many wiki systems already available do a much, much better job that what I’ve seen on Wave.

Accomplishing anything on Wave is actually more difficult than than using a wiki system. First, there is no easy way to embed images. You just can’t do it, and this is a HUGE flaw. You can upload images, but you can’t easily link to those already online, such as Flickr images. You can embed YouTube videos, but that’s it. There’s no way to include videos from other resources such as Vimeo, or even Google Video. Part of the problem is that you can’t use HTML directly, so the embed codes for these services don’t work.

You can add extensions to Google Wave, but these, too, are a pain. The only ones readily available are a few featured by Google. If you want to reuse an extension that’s not sanctioned by Google, you have to install it upon each use via URL. Talk about tedious!

I know that Wave will improve, and that there is lots of potential, but for now I think I’ll stick with my other, easier to use collaboration tools.

Literary Characters on Social Networking

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It started with a call similar to one I get very frequently in my position, although taking an opposite tact – “Can you unblock Facebook for a class?” Usually I’m being asked to make sure it’s blocked. When I asked why the site should be unblocked, I was given one of the best explanations and classroom ideas I’ve had in a long time. While I wasn’t able to unblock the site, I was able to point the requester in a different, more appropriate direction.

Here’s the proposal…

A teacher at our Freshman Academy wanted her students to sign up for Facebook, BUT, they had to sign up as a character from one of the books that they were studying. All of their interactions on the site had to be from the perspective of that character. Think back to the “Hamlet as a Facebook Feed” that I posted last time, and you get a taste of the idea.

Instead of using Facebook, I suggested setting up a Ning.com network. Ning provides much of the same social interaction as Facebook, but can be more closely monitored by the teachers. It’s the perfect environment for a project like this.

So, last Wednesday I met with the literature teacher, Susan Miles, a history teacher, Sabrina Shuler, the school’s curriculum facilitator, John Ratteree, the school’s media specialist, Candi Vaughn, and the school’s tech coordinator, Sarah Cleveland. I gave them a demonstration of the system using several Ning networks that I had created or that I am a member of.

Right away they took the idea and ran with it. Susan was the teacher who wanted to do the literary characters. Sabrina wanted to set up a network and have her students become historical figures. Together they brainstormed several cross-curricular interactions, such as “How might Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. interact with a character from ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ in a social networking environment?” The possibilities are fantastic.

As the discussion progressed the group came up with more ideas for using such a social network outside of the original project. They suggested uses for other classroom Ning sites for homework help, etc. It was one of the most exciting, and encouraging technology meetings I’ve been to in quite awhile. I’ll be following their progress closely, and I hope they are able to sustain this excitement with their classes.

The Incomparable Weirdness of Twitter

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Twitter-Capture

As if there were any doubt, my true nerd nature is about to come through.  Some of my admissions in this post will be embarrassing, but it gets my point across about Twitter.

I freely admit that I am a Trekkie.  I can usually name most of The Original Series episode titles having seen just a few seconds of one.  I am not, however, a “Trekker”.  I don’t have a Star Fleet uniform in my closet (although I did have a model phaser when I was a teenager), nor to I dress up like a Klingon and attend conventions.

So what does this have to do with Twitter?  I’ll get to that in a moment.  I signed up for Twitter as a matter of convenience.  It was a simple way of updating my blog and Facebook from one location.  I didn’t really have any intention of “following” anyone on Twitter, but soon I got tired of looking at my own updates.  I added a few friends and locals that I knew from other social networking sites. (more…)

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