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Archive for July, 2008

A school district in southern Mississippi recently enacted a policy prohibiting teachers from communicating with students via social networks like MySpace and Facebook.

The Lamar County School Board said the policy was approved because of concerns that casual contact between teachers and students via these sites would be unprofessional.

I am curious what you think.  Is the Mississippi policy on target or misguided? I am asking because I communicate with some of my students via Facebook.

First, some background: A couple of years ago, Towson’s PR Group, comprised of PRSSA and IABC student members, began publicizing meetings on Facebook. I serve as Faculty Adviser for the Group. Being a Facebook novice at the time, I set up a simple, basic page so I could receive the messages. Mine was completely devoid of photos, personal information, etc.

I left the page like that for months. Then one of my students jumped me: “Potter!” she chided, “Why don’t you put some information on your Facebook page? It sucks!”

I confided that I didn’t know how. Truth is, at the time, I didn’t know whether or not it was appropriate for a Baby Boomer professor like me to be on Facebook. Like many other Boomers, I arrived late to the social media party. But I am a quick learner. I am learning by doing, by being personally active in blogging, Facebook, and other forms of social media.

After the chiding from my student, I started playing around with Facebook and quickly was hooked. Over time, more and more people invited me to be Facebook Friends, including current and former students. I am always respectful of people’s privacy, images, and information, especially students. I only use Facebook in ways that are tasteful and respectful.

What we post on Facebook has the potential to be detrimental to personal image and to employment prospects. I never preach or scold anyone about what he or she includes in Facebook. Instead, I try to set an example of how I believe Facebook can be used in a responsible, creative manner.

But the Mississippi policy issue has me thinking. Is it inappropriate for teachers and students to communicate via Facebook or MySpace? From my own experience, I conclude that it is acceptable for me to communicate with students as long as certain conditions are met:

  • That communication is honorable, appropriate, respectful, and in good taste.
  • That communication has some educational value.
  • That communication is age-appropriate.
  • That communication does not get too personal so as to make either the sender or receiver feel uncomfortable.
  • That communication does not invade a person’s privacy.
  • That the communication in Facebook stays in Facebook.

What say you, More With Les learning community?

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I’ve been in the cub scouts, a college social fraternity, the U.S. Army, the Episcopal church, several corporations, and now a university faculty. I’ve seen my share of hierarchy.

But hierarchy as a model of business organization is dead. Web 2.0 is seeing to that. Collaboration is king. As I write this blog post, I am contributing to the swift demise of hierarchy. So, too, are you when you blog or use Wikipedia, MySpace, Facebook, and LiveJournal.

Hierarchy as used here is a taxonomy of organizational structure and design. Institutions like the U. S. Army are command and control hierarchies. Many corporations still operate in this manner. But the days of hierarchical structure are limited.

The new model driving the world today is collaboration — people co-creating all sorts of things with Web-based tools. When I post something on this blog, an idea or concept, it can be discussed, refined, debated, ridiculed, and improved by the comments it generates. To a blogger, comments are wonderful things.

But it is not just experts on any given subject who contribute to the co-creation with their comments. Often, it is students, while lacking in years of experience or completed educational credentials, they nevertheless contribute in meaningful ways to the subject being discussed. That is the great joy and value of my More With Les learning community.

My preferred educational theory and practice is called constructivism. In constructivist education, knowledge is built together, or co-created in community, with the instructor playing the part of coach and helper. Scholars have always relied on peer review to test and improve their theories over time. Yet in the blogosphere, this can happen in minutes. Blogs are delightfully constructivist, and as I pointed out in my last post, they are being used more and more in research.

Educators frequently use Blackboard, a flexible e-learning software platform, to augment and sometimes replace altogether (as in distance learning) face-to-face classroom activity. Blackboard’s course management system, with its customizable institution-wide portals, allows communities of learners to co-create knowledge around a subject through Blackboard’s Discussion feature.

Smart organizations are catching on to this phenomenon. Monitoring blogs is a great way to stay in touch with customers and learn what they really want from you and your products and services. The blogosphere will tell you in a heartbeat what users of your products or services like and dislike. Jim Grunig’s famous two-way symmetrical model of communication is made all the more relevant with Web 2.0.

Enter the Millennials. This generation does not trust the media and advertising. But they do trust peer opinion which they readily obtain via social networks. Organizations that learn to understand this powerful force will survive and prosper in sales and marketing, but also in employee recruitment and retention. In fact, the impact of Millennials on the workforce is profound. Millennials, who have grown up collaborating in a digital world, will not embrace the top-down hierarchies of old.

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I’ve been having a running conversation with some of my colleagues in the Master’s and Doctoral programs at Towson about digital literacy. We’ve discussed at length whether or not blogging helps or hurts literacy.

Many of my fellow educators who teach Mass Communication or Public Relations, especially writing, require students to blog. I do not. But I do use blogs in my course work. In fact, blogs and blogging are prominent features of any classes I teach. The impact of blogs on the communication/PR/IMC industry is profound. Therefore, no communication/PR/IMC course work is complete without blogs and blogging.

 

Approximately 1.4 new blogs are created every second of every hour of every day. Over 12 million Americans, or about 8% of adult Internet users, blog.  About 57 million Americans, about 39% of the online population, read blogs (Pew Internet & American Life Project).  

 

The trend appears to show no signs of abating. According to Torill Elvira Mortensen, Volda University College, Norway, there are three directions of blogging: One is that human beings desire meaning because we are thinking beings as well as communicating beings. This leads to:

·       Most recent, most sophisticated technology is built for communication.

·       Via the Internet, individuals can find, share, and contribute information.

·       Blogging’s best gift is just that – the opportunity for individuals to express themselves.

·       Impact on traditional news media is powerful.

Second, blogs are changing the concept of the sender-message-receiver model conceived in 1949. Most communicators studied this model. Mortensen says the new image of the users emerges from the personal publishing power the Internet gives the individual. This needs a new model to describe it. Much more research is needed.

Third, speaking of research, Mortensen says there is a clear distinction between the online and offline community. The computer world offers symbols, while the real world offers real sustenance. Therefore, all study of human behavior online becomes a study of the human exchange of symbols online. Sender institutions are no longer monolithic. The audience and the senders are all becoming participants.

It is an exciting new world, full of opportunities for self-expression, research, collaboration, and community.

 

 

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