I’ve had this kind of sick feeling in my stomach over the past few days. I don’t know if I’m getting tired of social media, over-loaded with social media, or just disenfranchised with it altogether. I’m just not satisfied with what’s happening there. And I’m starting to wonder if we’re setting the right example for our students with our own social media behavior.
Twitter, Facebook, now Google+: I feel like at this point in time these platforms would have evolved into a place where great discussion could take place, great debates would be tossed back and forth until new ideas were born. Isn’t that what arguments are for? I don’t pick fights, however, a great discussion or argument often leads to new ideas and…wait for it… learning.
Except that’s not what’s happening on social media these days. Let’s see how our platforms have evolved (or devolved) over the past couple years:
Twitter for educators has always been my favorite platform. It’s like watching a news ticker, and I know what to expect there. I like to stumble upon blog posts there, and discover news. It can very much be like kismet. But has it evolved for educators over the past couple years? Is it a place to have real debates?
- Hashtag Chats: The hashtag movement has been something that really picked up steam about a year ago, and showed such promise. Check out Cybrary Man’s hashtag list. That’s a lot of hashtags (too many?). Lately, though, if you try to have a hashtag “chat,” to follow along is almost impossible. I used to tell newly minted Twitter-teachers to go to one of the education hash chats, but they consistently tell me that it goes by so fast that it’s incomprehensible. This used to be my hook for getting teachers to use Twitter. Now it seems like a deterrent.
- The Conversation That Fell off a Cliff: How often has one gotten into a great conversation with someone on Twitter, only to have it fall off or stop altogether (for unseen reasons, I’m sure the dog had to be taken out)? Should one throw this up as side-effect of Twitter, and shrug it off? Maybe you’re tweeting from the truck bed of a Ford F150 in the middle of an off-road excursion? If you’re trying to get new teachers into using the tool, this is, again, not a promising side-effect.
- Lists: Remember lists? I know some educators still use them to curate their Twitter experience, but this was a fad that is still dying. Twitter removed mentions of lists from their homepage over a year ago. They still support the tool, but Lists were supposed to be the Klout of 3 years ago.
As Twitter ages, it becomes even more of a challenge to get other teachers to adopt. It’s getting more fragmented, and takes a level of understanding to really curate. Being an early adopter back in 2007 certainly helped me, but the prospect of trying to build 2000 new followers in this age of over-sharing, really has its downside.
- Where’s the Discussion? Facebook for educators is devolving big-time, and I think this summer is highlighting that. Facebook is becoming Family and Friends Central, Wedding Central, and I’m starting to lose faith that it’s a place where educators can really dig in their heels. It’s either the place one either shares a picture of their kid, or shares an opinion on topics that are completely devoid of common sense. One thing I’m seeing is that lots of people lately are sharing their varied opinions on controversial topics, not offering facts, but also are not interested in debating facts or having any real discussion. It’s devolved into a place where we just throw things out there into the pool, and see if anyone bites. Then if they do, it’s about telling people why they’re wrong, than about questioning one’s own personal beliefs. Facebook is becoming the ultimate soap box. It’s the guy on the street corner with the megaphone- for a billion people.
- Groups: For educators, new Facebook groups are being created daily, to the point where there is so much noise, it’s impossible to follow any coherent pattern. In fact, many educators are being added to these Facebook groups without their own consent, and it’s just getting overwhelming. Personally, I’m also getting notifications from those groups now, even though I was added without my consent. I’m over-grouped and over-notified.
- Pages: I’ve seen a lot of great Facebook pages for educators, and this is a nice way to bring in relevant news into your Facebook News Feed – if – you happen to be checking Facebook at the right time. Not totally reliable.
Facebook seems to go through ups and downs. Maybe it’s just in a downtick, or it’s evolving to become something better. The Facebook Group phenomena, seems to me like grassroots, weekend news. I don’t want education to be relegated to grass-roots. I want education to be front page.
- So Much Promise. EdReach has been using Google Plus for our live shows, and we’ve really enjoyed the Google On Air Hangouts, as they’ve given us a place to hold roundtable discussions, and show off some awesome new videos and education tools. The user interface is 1000 times better than Facebook. It’s intuitive, and isn’t trying to squeeze a hundred business models at you. But as much as Google touts the increase of users on Google Plus, engagement is a very different thing. Although the quality of the comments are fantastic, there are just not that many educators on Google Plus, and I’m wondering when they’re going to jump on. People still seem to be “figuring out” Google Plus. The audience is, however, extremely knowledgable and do usually have a technical skill that are pretty high.
- Google Plus for Education: With the age limit of Google Plus having been reduced to 13, the possibility of using Google Plus in schools is certainly better for high school, but I wonder how many schools are really going to jump in. The promise of using Google+ Hangouts in school is high, it’s just not going to happen any time soon, unless it’s through a teacher’s account.
- Still a Baby: Google Plus is still in its infancy. People are just starting to get introduced to it. I see a lot of people that have just joined, but haven’t posted and haven’t commented on anything. My guess is that when Google Plus starts integrating commenting platforms for blogs and into its products like YouTube, we’re going to see much more engagement.
Are we setting a good example?
I fear what’s happening with social media, is that we’re not able to “complete” a conversation or a debate. How many times are questions asked, discussions fall off, and there are very few resolutions? We are, however, learning to get wittier, and are getting better at coming up with a good stinger or joke in response to a topic. I get the feeling Facebook (and Twitter, to some extent) are having a negative effect on our ability to have passionate discussions. In fact, it seems like if you had any belief before you got into a conversation on Facebook, you’ll leave the conversation even more committed to your own beliefs than being swayed by others opinions. Without a real person in front of you, you can always just turn off the computer, or start watching Adventure Time on TV. It’s easier to disengage in real discussion with social media, especially when you’re on the losing side of the argument.
Does Your Opinion Really Matter?
I think the problem is- when you let anyone in the world have their own publishing platform, they’ve somehow gotten fooled into thinking that their opinion is worth something. An opinion is the lowest hanging fruit on the Tree of Debate. Can one back it up? Can one offer resources and references to create a discussion? Somehow we’ve gotten confused into thinking that people care about our opinions, simply because we have a larger audience. You still have to earn that audience.
Social media seems like a the place to tell (or even shout) one’s opinions, even if those ideas are devoid of common sense. I’m starting to want less and less to know what people are really thinking- mostly because they’re not interested in learning about opposing viewpoints. Of course, I’m doing my best to make sure that I keep my Filter Bubbles turned off, and I’m still getting all sides of the coin.
“Are we just contributing to the noise? Or are we being good social media examplars?”
Spray and Pray
Noise: that’s just what so much of this is being relegated to. When you give everyone in the world the power to publish, you hand them a great tool. Are we using it effectively? Unfortunately, I don’t think many of the people who use these tools understand how to have a thoughtful discussion, and aren’t interested in learning a new point of view. Perhaps as educators, we’re not doing an effective job of teaching the masses how to use social media. Are we just contributing to the noise? Or are we being good social media exemplars? When all there is, is noise, people tend to just…turn off. I’m positive we wouldn’t want our students to do that.
I was talking to a media marketer a few weeks ago, and he used the term “spray and pray” as a marketing term when a company pays to have an ad out there, but doesn’t really know if the ad will have any effect. Like an email blast. I kind of feel like that’s the same thing we’re doing with our social media discussions. Are we setting an example of debate/discussion as a fragmented/unresolved process? Are we all contributing to the “dumbing down” of our conversation process?
As we ramp up for a new school year here in America, I hope we can put some things into perspective. I hope we’re teaching our kids to create complete works. To write complete thoughts, to make a complete movie, to have a thoughtful discussion, to write complete songs, and to carry things out to fruition. Are we modeling poor online behavior for our students? Are we creating -by proxy- students that won’t fight for what’s right?
Social media could be a great tool, if we wanted it to be.