Nick Dennis' Blog

Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

Tag: twitter

The 140 character problem

In a post a few months ago, I discussed the growing issue of ‘silence’ in the education debate on Twitter. People keep their views private (but use Direct Messages to share concerns) for fear of reprisal and exclusion if they deviated from a fashionable idea or use of terminology.

Last week, TED released Jon Ronson’s talk on public shaming via Twitter. For him, using Twitter at the start was a vehicle for emancipation:

Voiceless people realised that they had a voice, and it was powerful and eloquent. If a newspaper ran some racist or homophobic column, we realised we could do something about it. We could get them. We could hit them with a weapon that we understood but they didn’t — a social media shaming. Advertisers would withdraw their advertising. When powerful people misused their privilege, we were going to get them.This was like the democratisation of justice. Hierarchies were being levelled out. We were going to do things better.

However, use of the service also has its drawbacks:

Twitter is basically a mutual approval machine. We surround ourselves with people who feel the same way we do, and we approve each other, and that’s a really good feeling. And if somebody gets in the way, we screen them out. And do you know what that’s the opposite of? It’s the opposite of democracy.

Where it really becomes problematic is when poor phrasing and the lack of context around the 140 characters becomes a mechanism of damnation:

You can lead a good, ethical life, but some bad phraseology in a Tweet can overwhelm it all, become a clue to your secret inner evil. Maybe there’s two types of people in the world: those people who favour humans over ideology, and those people who favour ideology over humans. I favour humans over ideology, but right now, the ideologues are winning, and they’re creating a stage for constant artificial high dramas where everybody’s either a magnificent hero or a sickening villain, even though we know that’s not true about our fellow humans. What’s true is that we are clever and stupid; what’s true is that we’re grey areas. The great thing about social media was how it gave a voice to voiceless people, but we’re now creating a surveillance society, where the smartest way to survive is to go back to being voiceless.

I remember running training sessions urging teachers to use Twitter as a professional development tool with Doug Belshaw in 2008. The sense of idealism driving the workshop has since been dulled because there seems to be more of a ‘surveillance society’ in the use of Twitter in education circles.  If you have a few minutes, I recommend watching the clip below.

Share Button

Open Public Services and Social Media

In the last week of November I spoke to the Public Policy Exchange about the effective use of Social Media in schools. I can’t say who attended or what questions they asked as the meeting was held under the Chatham House Rule. What I can reveal is a brief summary of what I discussed.

In 2011 the government published a White Paper on the future of Public Services (schools, hospitals etc and which served as the basis for the the conference). One heading stuck out for me:

The old, centralised approach to public service delivery is broken.

This line of thinking has huge implications if made into a reality. Two other quotes struck me from the White Paper and the progress update released last year:

Public services should be decentralised to the lowest appropriate level.

We will ensure fair access to public services.

Within this context, how could Social Media help deliver or enhance Public Services? My view is that despite the desire to move away from centralisation, that is a fundamental function of the state (see Steven Johnson’s ‘Future Perfect’ for a recent example of this)and we should really think about how we can enhance or add to the existing delivery of centralised public services.

Why Social Media and Public Services? Brief context is needed. A recent survey of students at HE suggests that 72% of them spend at least four hours a week on social networking sites a week (25% said they spent upwards of 11 hours a week). Are Public Services ready to reach such people on their terms? Can Public Services incorporate this information into what they do?

Social Media Landscape diagram

Social Media Landscape 2012 by Fred Cavazza

As there are so many tools to think about, I limited my talk to three of the most common (Facebook, Twitter and Google +) and returned to the work of Simon Sinek for helping us to understand why, how and what Social Media can do in terms of a particular Public Service – Education. Purpose/principles are very important in any endeavour and Social Media can help schools fulfil their core purpose of providing opportunities, celebrating success and ‘living’ the idea as a organisation geared towards learning.

I provided three (nowhere near exhaustive) ways that Social Media tools can be used by schools.

Reminders

On a basic level, Social Media tools can be used as reminders for students, parents and colleagues. This works for promoting events, homework etc. I showcased examples of tweets announcing public lectures, teachers/lecturers reminding students about assignments and to reminders to watch particular documentaries.

Celebrate work

On another level, Social Media can be used to celebrate work publicly and in a timely fashion. This is especially interesting as Public Services do not have the marketing budgets commercial companies to show the brilliant work that is often undocumented. I used a few examples of Sixth Form Colleges showing off their colleagues wining teaching awards, teachers showing work on walls and the picture below of a Motte & Bailey castle made by one of my Year 7 historians. This tweet was retweeted and picked up by a national organisation and when I told the pupil, he was beaming which would translate into increased effort in his lesson (benefits for all).

Motte & Bailey Castle made of cake

Amplify intelligence

The third example of how Social Media can help deliver effective Public Services was in the area of professional development. Twitter has been incredibly helpful in spreading ideas in terms of teaching and learning and I used examples of hashtags on Twitter to link professionals across the country and generate discussion  (such as #TeachMeet, #edtech and #SLTchat). Talking online is useful but what is impressive is how these discussions lead to action or physical meetings in an attempt to solve a common concern. Using TeachMeets, Meetups and the forthcoming Teaching, Learning & Assessment Conference, Berkhamsted as examples, I argued that the professional development that could be generated via Social Media could be more effective and targeted than what an instiution could sometimes provide. Using the example of TeachMeets and Meetups, I made the point that people gave up their time freely to discuss issues and learn from others which in a time of reduced budgets was something to seriously consider. The use of Social Media in this way was a clear example of  Steven Johnson’s ‘Peer Progressives’ – amplifying and developing expertise through distributed networks.

How could the example of schools using Social Media apply to other Public Services? In the first instance, it could be used to celebrate the work within the institution – something that is not done enough. With so many services under public scrutiny, Social Media could be used to raise staff morale in a very cost effective way – all you need is a smartphone (and an awareness of what is appropriate). Secondly, it creates the possibility to amplify what is already good within an institution not just through publicity but also through linking with other interested groups who can provide news ways of approaching a problem. If you have a common concern as a Public Service, would it not be useful to discuss this with other colleagues in different areas of the country?

I then suggested that there were three key things to consider when thinking about Social Media in Public Services.

  1. Does your use of Social Media fit the purpose of your organisation? For education it is a natural fit but if you are constrained by budgets, does it really fit into what is the main thing your organisation does? This is the ‘why’/purpose question.
  2. Do you have a framework to help schools/other Public Services to innovate? This means being able to take managed risks and a willingness to learn from mistakes (as this will happen).
  3. Be prepared for criticism as it will come. How will you deal with a disgruntled user of public services on Social Media channels? You need to plan ahead as it will happen.

The discussion and questions were really interesting (but I can’t say anymore than that)! I want to thank for the team at the Public Policy Exchange for their hospitality and understanding (especially Alex) that I had to leave after my talk to go back and teach my Year 10 GCSE History class. Yes, my class was also thrilled about it too.

Social Media Landscape image from Fred Cavazza.

Share Button

Conference Update #5 – laying some snakes straight

The conference website is up and tickets are on sale for £40 : http://tla.berkhamstedschool.org/

Speaker and workshop leader profiles will be added in the next few days. Details on the TeachMeet on the Friday night are to come along with hotel prices so you can make a weekend of it!

I also thought it best, in the words of my friend Iain Biddle, to lay some snakes straight.

There has been much comment passed in the last few weeks about the negativity of Twitter. This is surprising as it is only a tool and serves to amplify the thoughts, feelings and moods of the person using it. In the case of the conference and Twitter, many of the workshop leaders came to my attention via the service which aptly caught their passion for the work they do with colleagues and with students. Some of the other workshop leaders are people I have had the pleasure of working with in some capacity and I feel very pleased that they have all agreed to share their knowledge and experience with all.

The workshop leaders include classroom teachers, Heads of Department, SLT and academics covering primary/prep/independent/HE/state sectors. I firmly believe the conference will be a celebration of excellent teaching and learning and if you really would like to see what can be done when people are positive, respectful and open to learning in all its forms, then we hope you do join us.

Snakes laid straight.

Share Button

© 2017 Nick Dennis' Blog

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑