For Schools, Spelling is Serious Business

As many students were coming back to school after the winter break, communities on the East Coast experienced their first real winter weather of the year. Ice and snow forecasts had students flushing ice cubes down the toilet, parents worried about childcare coverage, and school districts watching weather patterns like tornado hunters.

In Maryland, one student even went to social media to ask for time away from the little red schoolhouse, tweeting the Frederick County Public Schools to “close school tammarow PLEASE.”

Responding with the type of levity we expect to see on Twitter (at least when we aren’t experiencing vitriol), the school district’s social media coordinator tweeted back at the student, ““but then how would you learn how to spell ‘tomorrow’?” So that no one would mistake her humor for snark, she closed the message with a smiley face emoji.

Now, according to The Washington Post, that social media coordinator has been fired. The termination came after the district demanded that she delete all that the district deemed as “inappropriate” tweets and after the system’s communications director issued a public apology to the FCPS student who can’t spell tomorrow.

Overreact much, Frederick County Public Schools?

Now Eduflack gets that the school system as worried about potential backlash. As a former school board chairman, I get that the district feared parents concerned students were being called stupid or were being mocked on social media and that is could become a “thing” at the next school board meeting. But this is Twitter, folks. It is designed for interaction and give and take. A student tweeting at his or her school district is expecting a response.

One has to only look at the tweets from the school district since the incident to understand that, while the system may think it has built a “model for the state” when it comes to social media, it just isn’t the case.

  • “Schedule reminder: schools are closed on Monday, January 23rd.”
  • “All FCPS activities are canceled for Saturday, Jan 14 due to weather forecasts.”
  • “Academic Tournament continues with ‘Human Diseases’ as the special topic.”
  • “Reminder: schools are closed on Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Day.” (one has to wonder if someone is getting suspended for leaving the “Jr.” off that tweet)

Model Twitter feeds are those that happen in real time and generate discussion and sharing. They aren’t automated, nor are they approved weeks in advance on a schedule. If anything, the now former social media coordinator for FCPS provided a little personality to the site, and in doing so, ensured that students across the district were actually checking it out (if only for a little bit). She showed how school district social media feeds can actually interact with the very students they are supposed to be serving.

Unfortunately, the actions in Frederick County will have more districts pulling back that getting into the scrum. Instead of using Twitter to engage and build community, they will use Twitter as a bulletin board, thinking that a single line they post on scheduling will stay top of mind to their entire community for perpetuity. And that’s a crying shame.

If school districts are going to use Twitter, they need to use it for all it is worth. Otherwise, they may just take their messages and chalk them up on the old slate and hang it outside the little red school house. It’ll be just as effective communicating with families.

 

Thanks, Bulldog Reporter! #bulldogawards

Just wanted to take a quick second to thank Bulldog Reporter and all of those who are involved in the Bulldog Awards process. Earlier this week, Bulldog Reporter announced the winners of its 2015 Bulldog Not-for-Profit PR Awards. I’m honored to announce that dear ol’ Eduflack won the gold for Outstanding Non-Profit Communicator.

Specifically, Bulldog recognized my work with the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, where we are seeking to transform teacher education. Communications has been an important part of the Foundation’s work over the past year, and I’m fortunate to work with a number of terrific individuals on this effort. Communications is now integrated in all of the Foundation’s programmatic work, and the mutual benefits of this relationship can be seen in Woodrow Wilson’s successes.

So thanks to Bulldog, to the judges, to the Woodrow Wilson Foundation team, and to all those across the nation who are part of a shared effort to transform teacher education. We are building a movement, and I am fortunate to be a part of it.

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#Edtech and E-Learning Influencers

This seems to be the time of year for rankings and lists in the edu-space. In addition to Education Next’s annual list of the Top education folks on social media, Onalytica this week released a fascinating read, Edtech and Elearning: Top 100 Influencers and Brands.

In teeing off their study, Onalytica notes:

Blended with traditional teaching is the use of advancing technology to support learning. Institutions are behaving more like brands, looking to spur innovation in the same way that businesses can, utilising entrepreneurial and startup practices to improve learning. Being ahead of the game in the field edtech and elearning is one of the best ways to make yourself more attractive to prospective students and increase your reputation.

I’ll let you read the full report. The mapping out of the networks is particularly interesting. But let’s jump right to the rankings. First up are the influencers. For this list, Onalytica looked at normalized page ranks. And like Education Next, they are using Twitter feeds as the base.

Sylvia Duckworth (@sylviaduckworth) comes in first, with the top 10 being rounded out by David Anderson (@elearning), Alice Keeler (@alicekeeler), Jeffrey Bradbury (@TeacherCast), Scott McLeod (@mcleod), Monica Burns (@ClassTechTips), Tom Murray (@thomascmurray), Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher), Mark Anderson (@ICTEvangelist), and Kasey Bell (@ShakeUpLearning). Yours truly, @Eduflack, comes in at number 46 (somewhat remarkable as I don’t focus on edtech the way most on the list do, thought I do favor it).

And what of the brands? We see a top 10 that includes: EdSurge, EdTech K-12 Magazine, eLearning Industry, Mindshift, Education Week, ISTE, EdTech Higher Ed, Edutopia, jisc, and Edudemic.

The role of education technology and e-learning in discussions, policies, actions, and outcomes in education is only going to continue to grow. As we all try to navigate this world, the primer offered by Onalytica is a great place to start. So many of these influencers and brands are on my go-to Twitter read list. And now I have a few more to add.

The New Twitter Edu-List is Here! The New Twitter Edu-List is Here!

It is that time of year again, when kids start going back to school and the adults in their lives complain about it. I know this from my Facebook feed, as many of unhappy kids (and gleeful adults) faced a new school year. Fortunately, the edu-family here has until next Wednesday, as September 2 is D-day in the Eduflack house.

It is also that time of year when Michael Petrilli and Education Next release the annual “Top K-12 Education Policy People on Social Media” list. The list is always good for a few reasons. One, it provides a check to make sure you are following those individuals who tend to be near the center of edu-discussions on Twitter. Two, it opens up a discussion on the role of people of color and even journalists play in such social media discussions (see Alexander Russo’s discussion of that here). And third, it opens up a social media free for all from folks who believe they merit consideration for the list (and as a corollary, we have those folks who want desperately to be on the list, and then attack Petrilli’s methodology because they fall short, either by Klout score or followers).

In past years, Education Next has looked at how edu-Tweeters stack up in a number of ways. There was the educator/policy-noneducator comparison list. There was the individuals and organizations comparison. But no matter how it was disaggregated, many just couldn’t get past the Klout score as a metric. Since so few understand how Klout scores are assembled (and many who do are frustrated they don’t have enough activity to gain a Klout score), they complain about the methodology, assuming it was done to help friends and punish enemies.

In this regard, the Klout score is like the state test. Yes, it is high stakes. Yes, it may be unfair to some. But at the end of the day, there simply isn’t another metric to measure performance. It is just too hard to compare Twitter feed to Twitter feed without having some sort of quantitative measure. And for education on social media, Klout is that measure.

But to help those who don’t believe in social media “accountability” and think things should be more democratic (with a little d) and driven by the Twitter users themselves, and not by the big bad corporate Klout developers who must be profiting from social media, Petrilli and company have also ranked based on followers. The most populist of populist metrics, whether folks like a Twitter feed enough just to throw it a follow.

So how do the lists stack up? First, let’s take a look at the Klout-driven rankings. The top 10 are: Arne Duncan, Diane Ravitch, Randi Weingarten, John White, Xian F’znger Barrett, Jose VIlson, Andy Smarick, Robert Pondiscio, yours truly, Julian Vasquez Heilig, and Andre-Tascha Lamme. As one would expect, six of those names boast total followers in the five figures. All have Klout scores at 67 or higher. Lamme, from the StudentsFirst organization, becomes the true outlier with only 687 Twitter followers. That likely means a Klout score driven by other very active social media platforms, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, Blogger, and the like. Pondiscio, for instance, is masterful at driving huge engagement on edu-discussions through his Facebook page.

And the list when we through Klout accountability out the window and look just at Twitter followers? The top 10 are: Arne Duncan, Diane Ravitch, me, Michelle Rhee, Alfie Kohn, Randi Weingarten, Dorie Turner Nolt, Valerie Strauss, Pasi Sahlberg, and  Michael Fullan. There we see followers range from the EdSec’s 217k to Fullan’s 22,600.

In looking to the second list, it is worth noting that eight of the top 24 Twitter feeds (based on total followers) do not have Klout scores. Don’t shoot this messenger, or the messengers at Education Next. Take it up with Klout, my friends.

And back to that pesky question about members of the media that Alexander Russo often raises. If we look at the Klout-based, accountable list of Twitter feeds, we see Joy Resmovits (formerly of HuffPo and now part of the L.A. Times’ new education focus) leading the list of mainstream reporters, coming in at number 12). Russo comes in at 16, the New York Times’ Motoko Rich steps in at 21, joined by Vox’s Libby Nelson.

We see more reporters on the just-the-followers list, with WaPo’s Strauss at number 8, USA Today’s Greg Toppo at 12, EdWeek’s Stephen Sawchuk at 13, Russo at 17, and Rich at 19.

Definitely give the EdNext article a read. Some items will surprise you. We see names like Campbell Brown and Joshua Starr (now of PDK) quickly cementing their reps on social media. We also see go-tos like EdWeek and Politico (on the education side) not represented as I would expect.

Social media is a fickle mistress. There are bound to be many changes before Petrilli offers up the 2016 edition. Eleven months to bolster your followers and Klout scores!

What Our Edu-Tweets Say About the Debate

In our quest to find hidden meaning in those 140 characters that dominate modern-day social engagement, Education Next has a new analysis of what Tweets are saying about the education debate

The piece from the Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli is definitely worth the read. In analyzing the Tweets of those who were designated “top education policy Tweeters” in last year’s Education Next, Petrili looks at what our posts say about our emotional, social, and thinking behaviors. 

EdSec Arne Duncan is Upbeat and Arrogant/Distant (the latter isn’t what one thinks, it means tweets show one is well read and smart, but the tweeter limits the online socializing). 

Educators like Jose Vilson are Upbeat. Randi Weingarten and Michelle Rhee are both Upbeat and Plugged In. Advocate Campbell Brown is Angry. The reporters on the list don’t share a common profile. They all seem to come at Twitter differently. 

And yours truly? Eduflack is branded as both Worried and Arrogant/Distant. Boy, did they nail that!

While I don’t want to give Twitter more credit than it deserves, Petrilli’s analysis is quite interesting. Definitely worth the read. Check it out!

Is It Really Spying?

This week AFT President Randi Weingarten was in London. She wasn’t there to enjoy the sights and sounds, though. She was there for the Pearson shareholders meeting. And you can see her full remarks here

It should come as no surprise that she spoke out against high-stakes testing and the sheer number of assessments going on in classrooms across the country. But she also focused in on one of these themes ther has been popular on social media these days–cyber spying on students. 

Specifically, the issue is tracking what students on social media platforms are saying about Pearson and about the tests Pearson is responsible for. The story has become its own beast, and WaPo’s Emma Brown had one of the more level-headed stories on it. 

Granted, student privacy and cyber stalking are big issues right now. But the whole topic begs an important question. Is social media monitoring really spying?

Every student who posts to Twitter or Instagram or Facebook (though not so much FB, as there is more for his or her parents) does so because they want people to see it. They want attention. They want the clicks. They want the eyeballs. If folks aren’t watching, it might as never even happened. 

So when you put your views, even about testing, out there for all the world to see, should we get worked up when the testing company you are writing about is watching? Should we be surprised there a multi-billion-dollar company is taking note of what is said about their product?

Personally, I rarely post about companies on Twitter. Instead, I focus on education issues. But this month, I praised one company and shamed another. I offered laurels to Wicked Good Cupcakes because they offer a great product and even better customer service. I swung brickbats at Frontier Airlines because of the opposite (just awful customer service). Both were clearly monitoring Twitter. Wicked Good responded right away. It took Frontier the good part of a day to respond with a CYA response. 

I offer it as reminder that all watch social media. That’s sorta the point. So why get all worked up when companies are found to actually watch and respond to socials media? That’s what we are looking for. That what everyone who makes a post hopes for. Social media is for the attention seeker. 

Student privacy is a serious issue. It demand real policies and careful oversight. But we cheapen the issue, and risk losing control of it, when we throw the label on all sorts of issues that don’t deserve it. 

Social media monitoring isn’t a threat to student privacy. It is just good business. The threat is students who share too much information in the first place. If we don’t want testing companies to know what students are thinking, we need students to stop posting about their tests. 

#SXSWedu Tools

We are now less than a week from SXSWedu. For those attending, dear ol’ Eduflack will be doing a session on parental engagement and the importance of fathers in the education process. Following that session, I’ll be over at the SXSWedu bookstore for a book signing of my Dadprovement book.

At such events, I’m always a big fan of the online app, something that lets me see the entire schedule on my phone. As expected, the SXSWedu app is top notch. For those who will be in Austin, it is definitely worth checking out here.

I’ll admit, I’m a newbie for SXSWedu. This will be my first visit. I assume it’ll be the first for many of those who will be in attendance. So I was intrigued by a “SXSWedu Survival Guide for Educators,” offered by the folks at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education.

In the Guide, Rossier offers lists of tips, dos, don’ts, and even an organizer to help folks plan for the time at SXSWedu. Many of these items are generally useful for the education conference circuit in general, a core tick list before one descends on conference central. But for those headed to Texas next week, particularly for the first time, check out the “Helpful Links” at the end of the post. Those Trojans have pulled together blog posts from past SXSWedus to get folks in the right frame of mind. Definitely worth the look.