Balanced Connections

The term “social media” (or “social networking”) has always bothered me for some reason… but until recently, I didn’t truly understand why.

I’ve done several presentations about web 2.0, the changed nature of the internet, and what all that interaction really means to us. Often, I’ll hear from several adults, especially those who do not use web 2.0 tools, about their concerns regarding face-to-face time. Their concerns are that kids spend too much time plugged in and not enough time learning how to interact with people in person. They don’t think that ‘social networking’ actually promotes anything truly social.

Because I came to be a web 2.0 user as an adult with what I would consider fully developed social skills, I can’t really speak from my own experience. Or can I?

I don’t really have problems interacting with people in person. Although painfully shy as a child, I learned strategies to overcome my shyness so that I could interact with others. I use those strategies every day.

When I started blogging, chatting, texting, IM’ing, Tweeting (verb for using Twitter), Second Life-ing, [insert additional web 2.0 tools here], I wondered if all of that ‘plugged in’ activity would change my social interactions. I have to say… IT DID. But here’s the surprise: I honestly think it changed everything for the better. And here’s how:

  1. When I met other ed tech people online through their blogs or via Twitter, for example, those online connections made it easier meeting them eventually face-to-face at a school or conference. We already knew we had something in common. Our previous online experiences became our ice breakers. We could get past the early (sometimes awkward) small talk that inevitably occurs when you first meet someone, and move to what we really wanted to discuss. [Image credit:pengo-au]1
  2. With people I already know, it’s difficult to maintain connections in our extremely fast-paced lives. In addition to our jobs and families, there are so many other obligations. I feel like I don’t always have time to make a phone call or pay someone a visit… especially if they don’t live in the same area. Online opportunities like Facebook have provided a quick place to catch up, share photos and videos, chat, and more. Does it replace the face-to-face I wish I had with my friends and family? Not all the time. Sometimes, however, it does provide a more timely connection than I would have with those people if I waited for the face-to-face time. Plus, I know more about some of my college friends and their families now than I ever did before. In more cases, I’d lost track of some friends who eventually found me on Facebook. I can honestly say that social networking has really enriched some of those relationships.
  3. My kids use social media. There are MANY times when Facebook, texting, or IM have taken the place of the reminder note on the refrigerator. I KNOW they check those online tools daily. Our communication has definitely improved because of these tools, AND sometimes it encourages new face-to-face discussions. All of my children have endured several conversations with me that start out, “So tell me what you meant by your Facebook status/comment/post today.” They don’t always like it, but it definitely beats the worn-out “how was your day, dear?” usual fare. Our conversational topics encompass school, friends, dating, driving… you name it. If it’s on their Facebook (or glaringly omitted), it’s open season for discussion.

In my opinion, It all comes down to balance. I do not spend all my waking hours online. I set boundaries for my kids about their online time. If a conversation can happen face-to-face, that’s encouraged. If it’s an emotional issue or serious situation, we discuss that face-to-face. [Image credit: dirkjanranzijn]2

And for those people who are concerned that our kids will turn into texting, posting, chatting machines who are completely bereft of social skills… I think you need to dig a little more deeply into what kids are actually doing online. Learn more. Try it yourself. You may be surprised how much better YOUR OWN communication can be, as long as balance is a consideration.

Oh, and don’t just take my word for it. Here’s an article in Time’s online magazine that I found today before posting.

1pengo-au. “PV Connectors.” pengo-au’s photostream.6 Nov 2008. 19 Jan 2009.
2dirkjanranzijn. “Balance.” dirkjanranzijn’s photostream. 17 Jul 2008. 19 Jan 2009.

Web 2.0 as Teacher-to-Home Communication

A question was posted regarding how the home-to-school connection (I also like calling this “teacher-to-home communication”) is coming along with new technologies and schools. Talk about a “rock and a hard place.”

I think there are a few factors that make the seemingly simple act of communicating through Web 2.0 more difficult than we would like to think.

1) TIME- yes, teachers in a lot of school systems have access to their own teacher web pages (or at least a building web page). However, how much time and money has been allotted to teaching the teachers how to use those pages? For some, this won’t be that big of an issue. For others, this is a very, very steep learning curve.

Also, it takes time to populate that web page, even when it’s a template-based system. If I want to make sure students can see a copy of the assignments we did in class, whether the student was absent or just misplaced the assignment, that will take time for me to add to the web page. Teachers already have minimal planning time for instruction. When do they find the time to add to their web pages? And what about Wikis? Blogs? Photo-sharing sites? TeacherTube?

2) INTERNET SAFETY- like it or not, it’s a federal requirement that schools keep kids safe . In some districts, that means blocking most of what we consider Web 2.0 tools. Our district blocks a lot of blogs, wikis, and photo-sharing sites because they aren’t regulated or moderated. My personal opinion, which I’ve posted many times, is that we can’t teach kids to use the internet safely when we block everything, but federal funding speaks louder than those of us “trying to make a point.” Regardless of my opinion, the situation is some Web 2.0 tools simply aren’t available in public schools.

3) USE by Parents & Students- if a teacher communicates through Web 2.0 tools ( for this example, let’s assume the teacher uses a wiki published on the web), will the students use it? Will the parents use it? Maybe a better question is: will the parents and/or students who need this communication MOST actually use it? There are so many factors here, it’s nearly impossible to know. Important questions to consider: do the families have internet access? if they do have access, will they check the wiki page every day? If they don’t have internet access, then what?

On top of all those issues, there is a HUGE divide between what some parents know and are able to do with Web 2.0… compared to what their kids know and are able to do. Web 2.0 education for the families is another need. Do parents and kids know they can add to a wiki? Or leave a comment on a blog post? Or comment on an instructional video on TeacherTube? Again, this is another learning curve that requires attention.

I don’t have any magic answers or solutions, but I do see some issues that we could begin to tackle. Dialogues need to occur amongst learning communities about how we should/could be communicating with Web 2.0.

Short side note: As a parent, I appreciate Web 2.0 as communication… and I use it. But a) I understand how to use it, b) I’m not blocked from using it, and c) I have access at home to it. How many of your students’ parents are like me?