What Does This Have to Do with Teaching?

myfacebook profilI recently sat in on a departmental staff meeting at a high school.  I was there to talk with the assembled group of teachers about the use of the web in their teaching and how best to prepare themselves, in order to more effectively use web 2.0 technologies and social networking with their students. At one point in the conversation, one of the teachers sighed and said, “I just don’t see what any of this has to do with teaching.”

My answer to her was it has everything to do with teaching.  I thought my answer was pretty compelling but, maaan, I sure wish I’d read about Megan Moreno before I went to that meeting.

In 2008, Dr. Megan Moreno and her research group at the University of Washington (Dr. Moreno is now with the Department of Pediatrics at University of Wisconsin, Madison) conducted an interesting experiment with 18-20 year-olds and My Space profiles.  Dr. Moreno had been studying “risky behaviors” among adolescents on social networking sites. That is, young people who post information about sexual activity, substance abuse, and violence.  As we know, social networking sites, like Facebook, MySpace and many others, allow users to create personal “profiles”.  The information placed there is accessible to anyone.

Dr. Moreno surveyed 190 public profiles of 18-20-year olds and found that 54% of them contained references to sexual activity and 83% of them made reference to substance abuse. Then Dr. Moreno did an interesting – and a very simple – thing.  She sent an email to half of the young people whose profiles included at least three reference to sexual or substance abuse behaviors. You can read Dr. Moreno’s abstract in the online archives for the Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (JAMA).

In her email, she identified herself as a pediatric researcher and questioned them on their public openness about sexual issues and other behaviors.  She reminded them that anyone could see this information (“Afterall, if I could see it, nearly anybody could.”) and just asked them  – “are you sure that’s a good idea?”

In follow-up visits to the online profiles, Dr. Moreno found that references to sexual behaviors went down 14% in the intervention group vs. 5% in the control group and references to substance abuse went down 26% in the intervention group vs. 22% in the control group.

That’s it.  That’s all she did.  She sent an email.  And some of the students’ behavior changed. Just think what we could do to help young people understand the promise and navigate the nuances of these powerful environments if we actually taught with them in our classrooms.  What might be the result if we modeled appropriate behaviors and made this a part of the curriculum?

Dr. Moreno just sent an email.  Teachers can do so much more.

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8 Comments

Filed under Teaching with Technology, Technology Trends

8 responses to “What Does This Have to Do with Teaching?

  1. meonmedia

    You make a brilliant statement, in its simplicity. It has everything to do with teaching.
    What teachers do not have tho’ is enough time to reflect, to interact with students, to step up and get to know the kids, so that we can say, Hey, did you want to give this impression? Comments come out in classrooms all the time: Oh I got so wasted last night” when the person may have had A single beer. Looking big in the eyes of peers is often more important than planning for the future.
    Mike Gange Fredericton

  2. rheyden

    So true, Mike. Peer recognition is mission critical at this age and I’m sure that much of what goes into those social networking personal profiles is meant just for that purpose. You’re also right that the one thing that teachers don’t have enough of is time. That’s why I think that using these tools, as a teacher, you can get a handy “two-for-one”. While you’re getting the efficiency and motivation bonus of making good use of a web 2.0 tool, you’re also modeling appropriate behavior within it. Particularly true when, as you point out, the best opportunities for this kind of learning come out in the classroom.

  3. Robert B.

    The article stated: “That’s all she did. She sent an email. And some of the students’ behavior changed.”

    Did their behavior actually change, or did they just not post it on their site any more? No offense, but I’m not sure how much of a victory this is…

  4. rheyden

    No offense taken, Robert. I had the same thought when I read about this woman’s research. She’s not making any claims about lasting behavioral change, she’s just saying that, after they received the email from her, the kids changed their profiles. But the point I’m making is that I was amazed that she even got them to do that with something as simple and low-involvement as an email! Just imagine the kind of insight and adaptation we might foster in our students if we regularly used these web 2.0 tools in our teaching, modeling appropriate use as we worked.

  5. Mary J Berger

    I must say I was unsure about MySpace, but I found out what my students were doing with their time and it was not studying. I remarked in class that it is interesting that you(students) have this social network to talk about “things”, but don’t let it become the ultimate source of your thinking.
    Students did ask me did I go to MySpace; I said yes, and so can anyone who wanted to see what was being said.
    Blogging is different in the way it is handled, because for the most part it is a controlled conversation. Threads are the evidence of interested topics by how much and how many response that the blog receives. The teacher can control what is being said but it also teaches students to organize their thinking about what they are writing about. I observed better writing, spelling, and grammar in the development of their responses.
    I am happy to say I have had staff development sessions about blogging and wiki writing and have been successful in engaging, enhancing, and enriching teaching styles of my colleagues as well as the learning experiences of students.
    So I encourage all teachers to explore and implement like our “fearless” students new learning tools.

    Good Luck to all,

    Mary J. Berger
    BS MS MAEED, EdD

  6. rheyden

    It sounds like you’ve had some great blogging and wiki experiences with teachers and with students, Mary. I totally agree with you – the process of blogging can realy help us to organize our thinking and reflect on our teaching. And isn’t it interesting how the quality of the contributions increases with time and the attention of your peer group? When you know someone is reading, you work harder to improve your writing.

  7. I can tell that this is not the first time you mention the topic. Why have you chosen it again?

  8. rheyden

    Hmmm…not sure what you mean here. Working with teachers on the challenges of integrating new media and its affordances into their teaching is what I do — and it’s what this blog is all about.

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