Archive for Social studies

Collectives, Not Communities

Viewing social networks as collectives rather than communities may help us make sense of their place in schools . How can a person have 1,000 friends? Why do students spend so much time on Facebook? What is the nature of membership in a social network?

From Community to Collective: Institution and Agency in the Age of Social Networks (PDF)

Douglas Thomas explores how social network websites act primarily as collectives, not communities. In a collective, the institution is organized to provide individual agency to its members.

In a community, the general motive for participation is belonging, principally, belonging to an institution greater than oneself or even the sum of its members. In a collective, the investment is in participating … without the immediate sense of reciprocity that community entails.

Facebook, Google, Ebay, Amazon are all large institutional structures that have the singular and sole purpose of affording an individual agency.

Sometimes, a collective contains several communities within it. This makes it easy to conflate the two. However, the collective does not depend on the communities within it for its continued existence.

A student may interact with a subset of her social network contacts as a community, exchanging direct messages and commenting on friends’ posts. The entirety of a student’s social network may act as a collective, providing the student with critical information that supports her sense of personal agency, whether or not she posts at all.

If alumni and parents join a school’s Facebook page for reasons of personal agency, not reciprocal interaction, then the purpose of posting to the Facebook page changes considerably. A school would want to consider what content it could provide that would support individual agency.

Viewing social networks as collectives instead of communities has the potential to advance our understanding of their useful purpose in schools.

Photo credit: “Face in a crowd” by vividbreeze

What I learned about technology from a Botswana marimba band

Every kid there is on Facebook, like here.

Many of the kids bought phones just for the two week stay — lots of texting.

Our Facebook page helped engage fans at the rate of 50 interactions per week. The students, however, didn’t post on our wall.

All of the electronic event bulletin boards in the world still cannot turn people out like a single Arts section headline article in the local paper.

Two of the group bought computers to take back home, one of them a netbook.

I had regular, real-time email exchanges with Botswana in the morning and at night.

Our touring vans had wireless Internet and a xbox (when running).

Google Maps Mobile was absolutely indispensable when driving from place to place.

I found it easy to set up advance ticket sales within just a few minutes per event.

It was equally easy and inexpensive to lay out programs, posters, business cards, and even a six-foot vinyl banner in InDesign and send to a copy shop for production.

It was even easier to produce hundreds of t-shirts but much harder to sell them.

Recording from a theater’s sound board straight into GarageBand was more effective than using a portable audio recorder (thank you Overlake theater tech!).

The CD replication shop accepted MP3 files by FTP and replicated the CD in two days! They printed the CD surface and sleeve a few days ahead of time.

Our small Canon videocamera captured much higher quality video than our Flip, at under double the price.

I feel like I witnessed the launch of the iPad in slow-motion across three states, as I encountered people who had just received their orders.

I saw a surprising number of cracked iPhone screens in various people’s homes, all of the devices still in use.

Obsessing about music, Botswana, and schools for two weeks helps put educational technology in proper perspective.

    Students and teachers work together to design new cell phone policy

    Our upper school students and faculty have come up with a new cellphone policy. I think this charts a great path between regulation and responsibility, responding to technology concerns in a manner that is consistent with other aspects of school culture here.

    The upper school student body president sent this message.

    Hello Everyone,

    The moment you’ve all been waiting for has arrived. We have decided on a cell phone “policy.” Throughout all of our discussion, the experiments, and the survey, we have always sought a solution that would preserve and improve the social atmosphere on campus. We have also sought a solution that could be accepted by everyone and embraced so as to work not as a top-down rule that required enforcement, but as an organic initiative. We believe in the responsibility of students here and we also believe their opinions matter, because they define the culture of the school. When people wrote in the survey that they need their cell phones during the day in order to manage their calendar and call their parents and organize their carpools, we took that into account. When other people said that they enjoyed the decreased use of cell phones during the first experiment, we listened to that also. Combining all of these sources of input and keeping our original goals in mind, we came up with a policy.

    First of all, there can be no use of cell phones in the classroom. This is already an established rule, but must be acknowledged and upheld by students in order to prove our level of responsibility with cell phones and also to prevent cell phones from interfering with the educational productivity of the school. There also are no cell phones allowed at assembly as a common courtesy to the presenter and to everyone present.

    Cell phones also cannot be used in the library in accordance with the rules set by the librarians. The library is a place for studying and the potential of cell phones to disturb others is great.

    Cell phones cannot be used in the science building either. The science building does not contain any common (lounge) spaces and so students in the science building are in class (where cell phones are not allowed anyway).

    These four restrictions are not new, but they must be adhered to in order to preserve our responsibility for our own cell phone use. The new aspect of our policy is to restrict cell phone use at school to practical purposes only. If you need to use a calendar that’s okay, if you need to call your parents that’s also okay, if you need to find a friend who you’re supposed to be meeting with to work on your history project that’s okay too. However, cell phones cannot be used for social purposes. Don’t text your friends who are elsewhere when there are so many interesting, amiable people around who you can talk to face to face. Don’t abandon a conversation with the person in front of you in order to take a phone call from another friend who is elsewhere. And when you are utilizing your cell phone for a practical purpose, use it conscientiously. Don’t text your parents while you’re talking to someone else. Don’t talk on your cell phone in a place where people are trying to study or talk or sleep. Basically, don’t be rude. During the school day you can use your cell phone when you need to, but do so in an unobtrusive way that doesn’t hinder your own or anyone else’s ability to enjoy their surroundings and this school.

    If everyone embraces this idea of having a healthy social community, this plan will be a success. So only use your cell phones when you have to (for non-social purposes), use them discreetly, and encourage your friends to do the same.

    Thank you in advance, everyone, for making this endeavor a success.

    -Your CGSA

    Sexting and Texting

    Our middle school head recently asked for resources to help understand sexting within the context of other technological risks and students’ general texting habits. I came up with the following. Do you have other good resources?

    ConnectSafely: Tips to prevent sexting

    Pew Internet Teens and Mobile Phones Over the Past Five Years

    Teens and Sexting – PEW report 2009

    Which Is Epidemic — Sexting or Worrying About It?

    Sexting — and Common Sense

    danah boyd: how youth find privacy in interstitial spaces

    danah boyd: teen socialization practices in networked publics

    Can you text with thumbscrews on?

    Catlin Gabel’s upper school head speaks to the challenge of the perceived effects of cell phone use on school culture. “CGSA” is the high school’s student association.

    Republished from the Catlin Gabel Upper School Biweekly Bulletin

    This week we had a fascinating discussion in our faculty meeting around cell phone use at the school. The CGSA came up with what I consider to be a thoughtful, cogent proposal for us to consider, and we as a faculty debated it fiercely and finally passed it as a policy. It will be revisited towards the end of the year, but we will plan on introducing it soon.

    Certain restrictions have always been in place, such as not allowing cell phone use in classrooms, the library, or during assemblies. A subtler, more complex point has been added which states that cell phones should not be used for social reasons during the day. What I told the faculty in an email before our meeting is I really like the way the articulation of this policy resists a rules-based guideline and focuses more on explaining the values we have that lead us to limit our cell phone use. For us it is not the most facile or straightforward way, but it is the better path. The French philosopher Jacques Derrida talks about culture as something that is ‘arranged’ in a certain way, and this is what we are trying to do with this kind of policy—to form culture and even identity through these values.

    Of course approaching behavior in this way is untidy. There’s a lot of gray and that makes some people nervous. That’s why a rule-based system is so much more attractive to many people. With clear rules firmly in place, you know where you stand and which side of the line the students are on. But this means you really do not need to engage and know your students. You can simply take their phones!

    Our approach is different and for very good reasons. It’s our commitment to change a culture in a deeper way, far beyond any Behavioralist model of limits and environment. We want to talk about what is going on inside each student. We speak of words like ‘commitment’, ‘decency’, ‘kindness’, and we speak to people’s hearts, not just some external indicator that leads us to believe they are abiding by the rules.

    With kind regards ~ Michael

    Michael Heath is the head of upper school at Catlin Gabel

    Facebook privacy changes in schools

    This week, I sent my first “Facebook warning” to employees, students, and parents. Here’s the teacher version.

    Dear Colleagues,

    Facebook has implemented new privacy settings that make it much easier to broadly share your personal information. If you accept Facebook’s recommended privacy settings, Facebook will make your status updates, links, photos, videos, and notes available to the entire Internet (think Google). I recommend that you instead manually adjust your settings. Select Settings -> Privacy Settings from the blue menu bar and review the options in there.

    In addition, Facebook will now share your friend list both on the Internet and with third-party Facebook applications. You do not have control over that.

    This article explains the change in greater detail.

    I encourage you to raise this topic with your students. Let me know if you have further questions.


    Facebook has made significant changes to their privacy policy before. Why did I react strongly to this particular one? So many students, a lot of parents, and a number of teachers use Facebook regularly. Privacy is an important concern for all of these groups but particularly for students. The new features directly affect user privacy, and Facebook’s recommended settings reduce user privacy. In the past year, we have gained a more detailed understanding of Facebook use in our school community. We felt it appropriate to help our users keep up with the moving target of Facebook privacy settings.

    By finely managing one’s privacy and post settings, it’s now possible to maintain a fine degree of control over one’s posts. However, that control may be illusory, as Facebook seems happy to change the rules on their platform pretty regularly. Who knows where and when they will head next.

    Kids, do you know what an IP address does?

    When it comes to student behavior on the Web, adolescents behave in a manner that suggests a lack of awareness that anyone could find out what they are doing online. I try to combat this with a simple lesson about IP addressing.

    Kids, you are not anonymous on the Internet, because there’s this identifier called an IP address. On some networks, it positively identifies you (we assign IP reservations on our wireless network). On others, it provides a temporary identifier that can be used to track one’s network activity, the pattern of which may identify you. Our wireless network, web sites, and email system automatically track user activity in this way. I’m not even getting into browser cookies and corporate tracking of user click patterns.

    When unsupervised, children may behave poorly, unaware that they could be held accountable for their actions. This is akin to the parents going away for the weekend and leaving the child at home, perhaps with the car keys! An awareness of system logs and IP addresses may encourage children to behave better. Alternately, it could encourage them to become more skilled at hiding their identity on the Internet. I like to think that behavior would improve for most students.

    Can anyone point me toward an empirical study that would help me more deeply understand this psychological dynamic in children?

    Teen Sex Culture and Technology

    Our middle school counselor researched this topic and wrote the following article for parents. I’m interested in learning what other schools are doing in this area.

    Gaming, social networks, and compulsive behavior

    We recently held a parent evening with Jerald Block, M.D., psychiatrist and expert on internet addiction. Dr. Block provided the group with a highly data-based analysis of the issues, focusing our attention on real issues that merit our concern and debunking popular, politically-motivated misconceptions about the effects of technology on kids. We had a large turnout for the event, demonstrating parents’ concern and desire to learn more about this field.

    Please visit the Catlin Gabel web site to listen to the presentation and view Dr. Block’s slides. (We have permission to post them there.)

    Block and parents

    Social Networks at Catlin Gabel

    The following parent evening presentation includes statistics on social network use in our school and examples of social software in the classroom. I wanted to provide some basics to parents unfamiliar with Facebook, inform the discussion of student use of social networks through data, and keep the focus on teaching and learning.