Last week on #edchat we discussed the myths of social media and how it gets a bad reputation. The conversation was scattered in many directions, but most came back to one simple solution: transparency.
Social networking is nothing new, just like incorporating tools into content-driven curriculum, the technology has evolved the game while maintaining the fundamentals. When I was in high school we were all part of a social network. We made fun of each other (wall posts), passed notes (private messages/DM), snuck out of our houses to meet up with girls/boys (texting), got in fights (cyber-bullying), talked about sex (sexting), drugs, and tried to keep ALL OF IT from our parents (facebook privacy settings).
Social media is nothing new. Sometimes we act as if we were all home schooled in the past and we never socialized. And now with the ease and accessibility of communication we want to say it's taboo and too private. I can assure you the generations growing up prior to the Internet age were just as mischievous and private. In fact, now parents can at least summon a status update to know (pending it is true and their son or daughter has allowed them in to this realm) where their precious child is.
No matter the decade there has always been one common goal among adolescents: "Don't let Mom and Dad find out." I always found it funny to hear my dad reveal stories of his youth to me in front of my grandparents. We would always laugh about it and it seemed completely innocent.
In education, technology is simply a new tool that is helping drive the content. Teachers are, and will always be, necessary. Classrooms are still a good place to provide direct instruction. And yes, direct instruction is STILL relevant and necessary, however, there should be a balance between DI and independent...(insert the newest buzzword here).
Meet the Parents
My solution to all of this...invite the parents to the social networking in your classroom. Let them be a part of the process, the analysis, and the reflection. Use social networking in your classroom to your advantage. Make it completely transparent and allow parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins to participate in the learning. Before this can happen, you need to train them.
One of my initiatives for this upcoming year is to take two nights per month and hold free workshops for parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, etc. and show them how to access all these cleverly named tools that we are consistently using in school.
In the past I have seen districts provide workshops to parents on how to use the school website or to access the parent portal. While this is a great idea, it is only scratching the surface of how we can include parents in the game. School websites are great for information and updates, but are very static in nature. They are usually non participatory and serve as an overpriced message board.
Suggested Workshops for Parents
Here are some of the workshops I am suggesting that you provide to parents. I plan on implementing this bi-monthly, but depending on your schedule and you may want to create your own schedule.
1. Google Docs and Applications
Even before you pitch the idea of Twitter to them, show them a basic web tool that is easy to use and will allow parents the opportunity to see student work throughout the year. Incorporate a Google Calendar into your classroom website and show them how they can track student homework and see daily and weekly agendas.
For my AP students I invited all students and parents to our classroom wikispace and embedded a Google Calendar that housed weekly assignments and updates. Parents and students subscribed to this calendar and most students and parents could receive text or email updates when the calendar was updated. At the end of the year last year I showed all parents and students how to set up their own Google Calendar and then showed them how they could receive update via their phone and via email.
In Google Docs show parents the basic functionally of the site. Explain to them that this is just like MS Office, but you can access it from any computer that is connected (Do we even need to say this anymore?). Show them the chat window, how to access a documents history, and how they can collaborate on a document at the same time.
Some of my parents were awestruck by this type of tool and had no idea it was even out there. Some asked how much it cost or what's the catch. Overall this presentation went fairly well and after about a 90-minute session on these tools, I had most of my parents using Google Docs and exploring new applications.
2. The Classroom Website
Most teachers are now required or choose to maintain their own website that houses information about their specific class. There are various platforms that you can use depending on what your school offers. Some teachers are using Moodle, Edmodo, Wikis, Google Sites, Schoology, etc. Whatever the platform, give them a basic overview of what the site can offer. Encourage them to check in daily or set a time throughout the week that they check in with their son or daughter. This is your opportunity to really get the parents involved. Plus, this type of classroom structure will allow for easier parent teacher conferences throughout the year.
A wikispace has always been my tool of choice when it comes to class pages. The collaborative nature of the page has always been one of the top selling points for me as a teacher. I like that students and parents can take ownership of the page and really make it theirs.
Start by showing Lee LeFever's Common Craft video on "Wikispaces in Plain English." Review the video and ask them, "What is a wiki?", "How can we use this in the classroom?", etc. The combination of this short, simply stated video combined with a few simple questions will allow parents to understand the relevance of this tool and why we are using it.
Follow this up by creating a dummy wiki that all parents can access (or you can simply use your classroom wiki). Show them the basic functionality of the page and explain that every page - pending it is not locked - can be edited like a word document. Hold off on showing them how to embed photos or videos initially, but focus on navigation of the page and accessing the page.
There are many other tools out there that you may want to show parents in order to bring them into your classroom. Introduce them to the positive attributes of social networking in the classroom and explain that it is not cutting them off, but simply bringing everyone together. Show them it is safe and private. Students will not be exposed on the Internet and all work will be safe. I assure you, the social networked classroom is something you do not want to keep from Mom and Dad.