Friend/Inbox/Tweet Me – Perceived challenges and implications of Social Media

“Friend me on Facebook and I’ll totally confirm” (Dialogue from ‘Sorority Row’ – Hendler, 2009: [00:27:50])

The above dialogue demonstrates how online practices with social networks have become embedded in popular culture and media and how the boundaries of offline and online ties have become blurred (Ellison et al, 2007). As the result of their popularity, new social networks continue to be developed and used by different communities.

The rise of social networking systems such as Facebook and Bebo has attracted increased scrutiny from the press and privacy advocates, primarily focused on the safety of school-aged users (boyd and Ellison, 2008; Rose, 2010). As Davies and Merchant (2009) suggest:

Much of the moral panic around new media focuses on the idea that they distract the attention of children and young people from engaging with print literacy practices and are a causal factor in falling standards in literacy in schools (Davies and Merchant, 2009: 111)

However, there is little evidence to suggest that children’s reading of print has actually declined when using digital technologies (Buckingham, 2002: 8). Boyd (2007) also suggests that a large proportion of adults are panicking and simply do not understand the shifts in terms of the changing communication landscape. Furthermore parents are sometimes anxious about the networks they believe their children are participating within online as well as insecurities about a ‘digital divide’ in knowledge and understanding. They may also have a different ‘mindset’ to how their children view the internet and digital technologies (Lankshear and Knobel, 2006). What is clear is that just like the offline world there are dangers and risks that cannot be completely eliminated (Bryon, 2008). Boyd (2007) also suggests that if a teen is engaged in risky behaviour online then it is typically a sign that they are engaged in risky behaviour offline. She argues that the technology is too often blamed for what it reveals and suggests destroying the technology will not solve the underlying problems that are made visible through mediated spaces like SNS (boyd, 2007: pg5). In contrast Rose (2010) highlights that a common problem with social media such as SNS is that there is the tendency to ‘over-share’ too much information such as their exact location. He suggests that:

Sharing location-based information just means there is another layer of personal information exposed which, in most cases, is not really necessary (Rose, 2010: 810)

Despite this location-based social networks such as Foursquare have seen membership rise significantly in recent months (Beaumont, 2010). Such services allow users to ‘check-in’ at certain locations and gain experience points and badges as well as the title of ‘Mayor’ if they check-in most frequently at a particular venue. This location-based news stream is posted onto the Foursquare website for any user of the SNS to read. This essentially creates an online digital footprint of a user’s offline activities and as Rose (2010) suggests is seen by many as unnecessary. Furthermore there are privacy and indeed offline security concerns since the website can be used to show users current location.

Above: A Screen Capture of a Foursquare Profile showing badges, mayorships and current location

Regardless of privacy concerns from some commentators it is clear that such networks are here to say since other social networks such as Facebook are now integrating location-based services (Richmond, 2010). Davies and Merchant do suggest that real-experiences of Web 2.0 technology within the education system are likely to be more effective than applying blocks, filters and other controls (Davies and Merchant, 2009: 112). Embedding a Web 2.0 system into the everyday practices would allow pupils the opportunity to learn safe practices within online mediated spaces within a real and meaningful context. This was my aim when I introduced @ClassroomTweets as a way of allowing children to learn safe practice within a real online social networks.

EDIT: Foursquare now hides your current location by default – a welcome move.

Social Media and other Web 2.0 jazz…

I’m currently in the process of researching various types of Social Media and Networks for my MA research. I hope to build on some of the work I have written up recently in relation to New Literacy Studies and @ClassroomTweets.

It’s apparent from my classroom experience and reading that the simplicity of creating and updating content with Web 2.0 systems empowers readers to write – @ClassroomTweets has really made me realise this. But what the literature also tells us is that audience is key and that Web 2.0 allows users to create imagined audiences as well as real networks through social networking systems (SNS). Web 2.0 clearly allows users to create the web and collaborate. However, large proportions of schools (including my own) now use virtual learning environments (VLEs), where communication tools such as discussion forums, blogs and wikis usually serve single class instances – not a larger network. Furthermore, although content creators within a VLE can easily link to the outside Web, the reverse is not true, because inbound links are often blocked (Alexander, 2008). This really asks the question – how do you maintain conversations on either side of a password barrier?

I don’t have the answers, but I hope my current research helps to inform the debate. I’m currently in the process of looking at social networking systems such as Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare and the potential education and privacy issues that arise from them. Over the coming weeks I plan on writing a series of blog posts that explore different social media as well as reporting my overall findings at the end of the project. For now I’m going to leave you with the excellent ‘A Vision of Students Today’ video which really highlights the need to rethink education in the light of the impact of Web 2.0:

UKLA Conference

Greenwich University

Last week I spent four days in Greenwich while I attended the UKLA conference and focus day on writing. It was great to see so many people attending the conference and a chance to meet up with old friends is always welcome. I enjoyed catching up with Guy, Julia and Jackie as well as Lynda and Angela (who incidently has a new blog).  I also had another chance to get to know Angela Thomas and chat about the fantastic work she is doing in second life (which I must start to use more). I was in complete awe when when I got to meet Courtney Cazden (one of the inventors of multiliteracies) as well as the amazing Elaine Millard, who is genuinely one of the loveliest ladies I have ever met. It was great also to meet with Bill Lord who I’ve spoken to frequently on Twitter about educational issues and new technologies and his collegues at Birmingham City University. I also convinced David who I work with on the Multiliteracies Learning Initiative to attend the conference so it was great to see someone from the North East there too.

The symposium went very well and the room was packed. It was real honour to speak in front of so many distinguished members of the literacy community about the fantastic work that Orange Class has produced.  The keynotes and parallel sessions were very interesting and there seemed to be a lot about digital literacy coming through, which is encouraging. It does confuse me however at the lack of emphasis on multiliteracies as a means of transforming education and the curriculum. It covers so many different types of literacies in the world – cultural, social and professional to name a few but just doesn’t seem to be mentioned that much.

Also while in Greenwich I had the most amazing Jack Daniel’s flavoured steak at a tiny cuban bar and finally got to ride the Docklands Light Railway (on a hilarious journey with Julia and Kate). I’m looking forward to Winchester already!