Friday, May 9, 2008

A “Myspace High School” Mindset

PROBLEM: It has happened in elementary, middle and high schools across the United States,

Principals, teachers, school districts have complained that every day students would waste valuable "computer time" during school hours looking at Myspace, updating their profile or something of the sort. What's the value in that anyways? Right? …

SOLUTION: The result is that popular website such as Myspace, Facebook, and other social networking sites have been blocked so that students cannot go to them at all.

REACTION: The reaction, many students are bitter with the administration of the school, their teachers, who previously "nagged" them to stop using Myspace. Still other students have found one of the many ways to go around these blocks and still go to their favorite sites while professors aren't looking.

Am I advocating that schools allow students to use Myspace during school hours? No, not really. Actually not at all. What I'm actually going to write about has to do with how useful applying beneficial system-level patterns and behaviors such as those found in social networking sites to other contexts where the benefits should be translatable, such as schools. To do this we'll look at a sample scenario in the online social networking world and try to envision what a school environment would have that add similar benefits.

John comes home after a day of school that wasn't particularly interesting. He sits down at his computer at home, skims through his junk hotmail email that he left open this morning before school, then clicks on his myspace bookmark and quickly logs himself in to see what's new. No new messages it seems, but he has a handful of comments on his recent blog post titled "why I don't like math class" or something. He replies to the comments, then glances around some of his friend's profile pages for updates. He received a group event message for his "I love llamas" group, which he skimmed over but didn't really reply to. I could go on about John and his interactions on myspace, but that's not too exciting. …*etc*…

MySchool. (Yes, I know the name is silly.) Mary spent most of the day the same as any other school day. Her school had computers in every classroom, so she spent about a third of every school day working on projects and other things on the school laptops. This Friday her two last big social science blog entries on genetics are due. She almost finished one of these posts titled "my family history of diabetes." Not many people had yet uploaded their blog entries, so she wasn't able to get started reading the other 5 blog entries she was assigned to read and evaluate. She got home and went back to check her class's points in the intramural basketball league which see could track on the group page for her "MySchool." The school page let you chat with other students in your classroom during your open period of class, during lunch, as well as before and after school, but it wasn't active during other classes that might be having a lecture or a focused work day. For example, that day during Biology they'd had their final talk on genetics, and a couple times they'd been asked to quickly find a biology topic they though was interesting and upload a couple links to a new assignment page in their biology class folder. They had to stand up in small groups and present two of the articles they had come up with, and then the entire class had to write a short biology class bulletin on two of the topics they found interesting. The idea was that some students who hadn't started their genetics blog posts could get a head start themselves or with the help of others during these activities. In fact, Mary's second post was going to be about this bizarre epidemic in Papua New Guinea someone presented on that was aggravated by the cannibalistic tendencies of the tribes that were afflicted. Now that she was home though, Mary could stop worrying so much about class work and instead signed onto her school page to chat with some of her friends that were still at school or even home at this point. She was supposed to meet with a handful of people yesterday that she didn't get a chance to meet with about their final Math Podcast on their calculus topic of choice, which of course they hadn't gotten started on yet. …*etc*…

Well now. I'd be very interested to see what else people have to say about connecting social networking with the current student learning environment in high schools. There are certain school districts that are moving towards what is called "electronic portfolios," including the entire state of Rhode Island, where in 2008 15 schools have piloted a program which has begun to digitize the student learning experience. Who knows? Maybe US education would benefit from fusing the "biggest waste of student time" that is Myspace and electronic student portfolios.

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