As you can see, I am smiling! For those who follow me on Twitter, you likely already know why.
TWITTER WAS UNBLOCKED IN MY DISTRICT in the early part of March.
Connecting students with scientists or other professionals is one of my primary goals. Most of my students will not grow-up to be scientists or science teachers but they might remember real discussions we had with real scientists through social media.
Twitter is the easiest way to get student connected with the outside world. Student blogs are nice but in order for the student to feel validated you have to find people to read and comment on every students post. Skyping is nice as well but it can be taxing to get 30 students to pay attention to one person. It is difficult enough to get them to listen to me and I’m in the room. I realize blogs and video chat tools have their place but Twitter is so much easier.
Once students have Twitter accounts, they can help find professionals. Searching Google is a great option. Ex. Scientists on Twitter, Engineers on twitter. Better yet is to use Twitter itself. Using a keyword or hashtag in the Twitter search bar can bring all sorts of awesome information. ex. #genetics #genomics #astronomy #nebula #crossstitch #carpentry. Next, students introduce themselves to the professionals and ask a question. Discussions can be organized where a specific list of professionals will chat with students using a common hashtag etc.
So besides the potential of what I listed above, why is my excitement through the roof? Since 2009 there have been backdoor methods for getting to Twitter. These methods leave many parts of the social media tool functionless. I did not complain about our problems and the district did not call-me-out for helping students get to a blocked site. Leadership knew students in my class used Twitter for learning and not for other questionable purposes. In fact news stations had come to my class to see how we were utilizing a tool that most people use for finding what celebrities had for breakfast.
Long story short (for this particular section). If Twitter is unblocked, students will have access to making Twitter lists, feeds will update faster, links will be viewable, clicking through a person’s followers will be possible. All these features that we have grown to love, raise the quality and quantity of interactions. So, increase the effectiveness by increased versatility and speed of access? YES PLEASE!
What was the process to get to this point?
I began using Twitter as a result of attendance at a Foreign Language conference in TN. One of the sessions was led by Amy Kelly-Graham aka @TNschatz – Her session focused on different web apps, sites, and tools to integrate technology within a foreign language classroom. One of those apps was Twitter. I, like most people was doubtful Twitter could provide any meaningful use in class. She quickly convinced the rest of us and I made an account later that night. Wide-eyed, ignorant, and excited, I had my students make accounts the next week. We had fun but it was not very productive. However I was fortunate to have an executive principal who was fully supportive and saw the potential in what I was trying to accomplish.
After some reflection, time, and input from Amy and other Twitter educators we made better use of our time on twitter. Over the next three years I invited (the invite process http://wp.me/s17e1J-208) state education leaders, school district leaders, school board members, State Senators and Congressmen to come and see what we were doing. The feedback was all positive. (Reporting back about the invite http://wp.me/p17e1J-3v) Some of those who made the visit began advocating for opening Twitter in the district. In fact some had already been working to open Youtube and Twitter prior to the visit. A student and I made a visit to the school board to plead our case. I requested help from the Twitter community as well http://wp.me/p17e1J-3Q. Here is the follow up after the trip to the school board http://wp.me/p17e1J-43.
The first visit to the Board was triggered after our last workaround to get on Twitter was disabled. After I had made my plea to the board to allow Twitter in our school system, the districts Operating Officer approached me and said he did not know that there had been a change to block our last backdoor into twitter. By the time I left the meeting and through a fury of emails the Operating Officer had discovered that the internet safety company the district and most of the state uses, had made the change. The company makes decisions about what to block or not based on a committee of Tennessee educators, principals, and others. In the spring of 2013 the committee decided that Twitter should be blacklisted, thus blocking all access even with an override code.
By the middle of the summer several district leadership were doing all they could to help our schools gain access to social media like Twitter and Youtube. In the fall they allowed me to pilot a program that would give my students access to both. Twitter access however was only through the mobile Twitter app run on a laptop which was great but a bit like trying to type with one and a half fingers. Some leaders including the director of Learning Technologies (also the president of ISTE), the Chief Academic Officer and even the Director of Schools were pushing hard to open things for us. Others leaders were concerned, and rightfully so, about students safety, CIPA laws, and maintaining ERate funding. ERate are federal funds that helped the district bring in WIFI to many of our schools.
In an effort to help eliminate some of these concerns I put out a call on twitter to find schools or districts who have ERate funds and still have Twitter and Youtube open to their students. Many responded and began emailing me and leadership information and data in support of using social media in schools. Eventually concerns were satisfied and some policies were rewritten to accommodate the planned change.
Finally we had one last obstacle. We needed to host a public hearing for parents and other stakeholders to come and voice their concerns. The meeting was well publicized. The four local news stations showed up to record and broadcast. Surprisingly, not one parent came to protest. I was the only person there who was not a member of district leadership or a television crew. You should have seen the look on the faces of those worried about the public’s push back. The relief was huge for all of us. In fact two of the major proponents of the change did not show up to the meeting because that wanted to the world to know that this change had been made at the request of teachers like me. A day and a half later, my students were on Twitter without any limitations. This all went down a week and a half ago and I am still on a High from whole thing.
This is what the news stations ended up sharing when no parents showed up to protest. The report from Fox17 http://bit.ly/1fQsDUO
The report from NewsChannel5
Are there still safety concerns for students, yes! Will students need to be trained in proper social media behavior, yes! That is part of the reason social media needs to be open in education. If we want to teach students how to be good digital citizens then we need to allow them the chance to be good digital citizens! -
I have deliberately left specific names out of this blog post. There have been many many people who have helped make this happen. I do not want to leave anyone out. All I can say is Thank You to everyone who contributed to making this change! You know who you are! I hope this summary is accurate. There was more going on behinds the scene that I did not know about.
Hmm let’s see, what do we need to do next?………