"[I]f I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week…The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature." --Charles Darwin

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Is Google+ the solution to school social media problems?

Most thinking administrators and teachers agree that there is tremendous power and reach to be harnessed and put into the service of education in the new social media. My former boss, Eric Sheninger of New Milford High School, with over 13,000 followers, has emerged as a national leader in the use of Twitter in connection with education. But the same group has to acknowledge there are problems and pitfalls aplenty.

The biggest problem is that of one's online identity. Or should I say, identities. As you can learn from watching Sesame Street, we have different identities for different people. We are sons or daughters AND parents AND aunts and uncles AND neighbors AND friends AND teachers AND classmates AND advocates AND hobbyists, ad infinitum. Google requires all those identities and circles of friends to rub up against each other rather indiscriminately. Thus, I get unsolicited comments from friends of friends about topics on which I may have no common ground with the commenter. Unless you want to spend all your free time micromanaging your privacy arrangements on Google, everything you do there will be tossed into one common pool.

Personally, I have elected to refrain from, for example, political comment, other than to defend my profession (which has become a political hot potato). But I like to able to share pictures of my family events, vacations and all those cute pet pictures that cause the InterWeb to break down from time to time from the sheer volume. And I don't care for my students to see that. Nor do I want to know what "crazy party" they are at and what they are doing there. When I first joined Facebook I told students I would friend them because I never went there or looked at anything there. But once I started using Facebook actively in early 2010, I unfriended all my students, rather apologetically. (That is a hideous verb, based on the misconception that the people you "friend" are your friends."

Google Plus steps neatly around this by organizing your friends into separate, discrete circles and giving each member complete control as to what circle or circles see what content. I can see the savvy teacher forming a specific circle for each course she teaches, each extra-curricular activity, with some circles sharing content, such as for all-school communications, and others being directed just to individual groups. And none of these people have to see each other with mayonnaise smeared on their face at a family picnic or playing with the family ferret. Obviously, I need to discuss this with my principal and pilot the idea, but I am really hoping that this can be a useful mode of communication before, after and outside the class.

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