Leveraging Social Media in Times of Crisis

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on February 25, 2018

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft a-gley.

magnifying glass over social media collageI’d planned to hunker down the first week of February and write a post about using social media for good. However, life intervened and it didn’t get done. In retrospect, that was good because things happened that led me to think about social media in a different way.

The first event had to do with an education technology conference in Seattle. I attended a concurrent session presented by Conn McQuinn who has recently devoted a good chunk of his professional time to studying neuroscience in learning. The title of his session was “Being a Well-Adjusted Cyborg.” One of the first things he said was, “Neuroscience and research can help us make better and more intentional choices about using technologies.” He went on to say, “We (educators) often adopt new technologies and/or use them without truly reflecting on their impact.” I was hooked.

Key Points

Here are two points he made that deserve consideration.

Point #1: confronted with all the outside stimuli constantly bombarding us, our brains sort out what we need to pay attention to using three criteria:

  • novelty
  • things/people we care about
  • dangerous things.

Point #2: Maslow’s hierarchy identified physiological and safety needs as people’s highest priorities. Not so. Conn says our need for love or belonging supersedes our need for food, clothing, security, et cetera.

What does this have to do with technology in general and social media specifically? Let me frame this question more clearly with a few additional questions.

How do you feel about your smartphone? Where do you keep it at night—in another room or on the nightstand next to your bed? Have you ever retraced your steps to retrieve your phone after leaving it at home? Do you find yourself surreptitiously (or even openly) checking social media sites and email while attending meetings, during meals with family or friends, while watching a movie or engaging in some other recreational activity? If so, does this mean you are addicted to your phone or to social media? Perhaps. But it may also indicate that you have unwittingly fallen for triggers intentionally incorporated into the design of mobile devices and online apps—behavior you can change through awareness.

Remember, our brains are wired to pay attention to novelty, people and things we care about, and danger. Mobile devices offer us ready access to all three of these attention grabbers via the apps we use. We never have to be bored, or feel isolated and while we may not enjoy things that feel threatening, negative attention online is nearly impossible for targets of such vitriol to ignore. Does understanding what’s behind our compulsion to check Facebook or Twitter help check that behavior? I think it can, if we make more thoughtful decisions about what technologies we use and when we use them as opposed to just going with the initial impulse to see who has ‘liked’ our latest posts or to watch the latest video gone viral.

Social media in a crisis

At precisely the same time I was listening to Conn’s presentation, a 19-year-old former student walked onto his high school campus in Parkland, Florida, pulled a fire alarm, and started shooting students as they evacuated the building. As has been the case since the early days of social media, students and teachers used their smartphones throughout this disaster. Some were reaching out to friends and family members. Others were posting photos and video to social media. It was reported that a few teachers used email to coordinate with one another to try to figure out what was happening and help insure student safety. All these behaviors mirror the points Conn made.

We’ve read and heard stories about such behavior before. I remember that in 2008 during terrorist attacks in Mumbai, police feared that terrorists would monitor social media posts to keep tabs on police activity as they prepared to rescue hostages. I thought about the millions of people who turned to social media in the hours and days following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and how the friends, family members, and neighbors of people stranded during Hurricane Harvey in 2017 came to their rescue thanks to messages posted online when more traditional emergency response teams were overwhelmed by the number of calls they were receiving. Closer to home, I know two school administrators who have dealt with campus shootings in their own districts.

In the wake of the Parkland shooting, some pundits opined that students with smartphones endangered themselves and others because they were distracted as they posted messages (so they weren’t getting to safe places) or they were making noise that could have alerted the shooter to hiding places (e.g., notification sounds, talking). However, building on what Conn said about neuroscience and social media, I wondered what might happen if we had serious conversations about effective use of social media during disasters, both man-made and natural. I don’t want to give the impression that school shootings are a given that we cannot prevent because I do not believe that’s true. But there are plenty of other crises where thoughtful use of smartphones could be extremely helpful as well.

Being prepared should include social media strategies

My suggestion is to take the three things that capture our attention and sort out ways social media could be used to get critical information where it needs to go in safe, timely ways. We teach adults and students how to evacuate buildings during a fire or ways to protect themselves physically during an earthquake or lock down. Why not think ahead of time about social media strategies they can use during emergencies that would be beneficial. Take the idea a Parkland teacher had to use email and text to connect with fellow teachers and students and turn that into a plan. Or instill in students the need to silence their phones and wait to contact parents and friends until they are in a safe(r) place so they aren’t distracted during critical moments. Discuss when sharing specific information about specific locations or events via social media is helpful and when it might be a dangerous thing to do (and why).

Parents and students already view smartphones as lifelines and have since the events of 9/11. Perhaps it’s time to have frank discussions about ways to make these lifelines as safe and effective as possible.

Burns was right. “The best laid schemes” may still go awry, but it’s better—especially in times of catastrophe—to have a plan than not.


Resources for follow-up

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Classroom Visits Inform and Inspire

Posted by Devin Vodicka on November 22, 2012

After 13 wonderful years with the Carlsbad Unified School District, I made the leap to neighboring Vista Unified as the new Superintendent in July.  Vista Unified is the fourth-largest district in San Diego County with over 22,000 students (25,000 when charters are included) and 32 school sites.  To help me to understand the new setting I made it a goal to visit every classroom within the first two months of the school year.  While I still have a few to see, I have managed to see hundreds of classrooms within that timeframe.

Though the duration of each visit was relatively brief, I saw amazing consistency in many respects and I also observed some unique and innovative practices.  In all, it has been a tremendous learning opportunity and I wish that I could share the experience in great detail.  In the spirit of brevity, here are three examples I doubt I would have seen even a few years ago.

High School

At Rancho Buena Vista High School the students in an English class had worked in small groups to create posters with content that would be used in an upcoming test.  In lieu of having each student copy the documents, the teacher invited students to take photos using their smartphones and then share the images with peers.  Brilliant!

 

High school students using cellphone in English class.
Rancho Buena Vista High School student uses phone to capture image of documents in English class.

Elementary School

In a primary classroom at Beaumont Elementary School, one teacher asked students to compose messages that could fit in a 140-character Twitter post to share their impressions of the classroom with me.  This was a great cross-disciplinary idea that required students to use a sentence frame and their writing skills.  Counting the characters required some number sense and application of mathematics.  Who knew that a Twitter assignment could be used as a prompt for first-grade students?

 

Twitter messages to the new superintendent.
Twitter messages to the new superintendent.

 

Tablets absolutely are  beginning to transform the educational experience for students.  In this photo from Temple Heights Elementary School the teacher was able to replay the work that a student had done on a particular math problem to better understand their reasoning and problem-solving approach.  The ease of use, portability, and flexibility of the tablets seem to be leading to higher levels of use than the computers that have all-too-frequently been left alone in the corners of the classroom.  I saw tablets being used for independent work, guided activities, and direct instruction in conjunction with LCD projectors.  I suspect that what I saw was simply the tip of the iceberg.

 

Elementary student using a tablet computer.
Elementary student using a tablet computer.

Insights

In reflecting on this experience, here are two quick insights:

  1. This is an amazing time to be in education.  New and innovative options for teaching and learning are emerging daily.
  2. Any educator in need of inspiration should find a way to visit classrooms.  The enthusiasm of the students—and the adults—is absolutely contagious.

I am already looking forward to the next round of visits!

Stay connected and follow our progress ….

Editor’s note: Here’s one of Devin’s recent Twitter posts.

 

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What Technology Do Students Want?

Posted by Sandra Miller on May 2, 2011

Boy with smart phoneResults from the latest Project Tomorrow Speak Up Survey suggest today’s  students are looking at a different paradigm in their learning experiences.

Students today are inseparable from their mobile technologies; instant messaging and texting is a way of life.  And they want to use their technology at school.

It’s tempting to dismiss that idea out of hand, but actually,  I’m impressed with the answers kids give when asked, “How would you use your mobile technologies for help with your school work?”  Older students—those in 9th–12th grades— would use them in ways we would describe as traditional.

  • 74% would check grades.
  • 59% would take notes in class.
  • 50% would use the calendar.
  • 44% would access online textbooks.

Younger students—those in 6th–8th grades—want to leverage emerging technologies in different ways to help with their schoolwork.

  • 68% would do Internet research, anytime, anywhere.
  • 53% would collaborate with peers and teachers.
  • 37% would create and share documents.
  • 35% would record lectures/labs to review again later.

While their teachers may cite lack of preparation, antiquated equipment or slow networks as impeding the use of technology in the classroom, 53%t of middle and high school students say the largest obstacle they face in using technology in their school today is their inability to use their own devices!

While many teachers and administrators have begun to approach new ways of using technology in classrooms, this latest Speak Up research says there is more than a gap between what many schools offer and students want—there’s a chasm!  When administrators were asked, “How likely are you to let students use their cell phones?” only 22% said likely; 63% said NOT likely.

By contrast, 67% of parents said they would buy a cell phone for their student to use at school, and 54% would also buy a data plan to support their student’s work.  And we’re not talking only affluent parents.  The Speak Up Survey results did not find significant differences among parents responses for any of the demographics that were tracked.

In fact, parents’ pressure on schools may just be the next trend in moving technology forward in our schools.  Today’s parents use technology daily in their work as well as in their social lives.  The Speak Up survey showed 57% of parents today consider instructional technology to be “extremely important” for their child’s success.  Only 37% of teachers see technology as that important.  Indeed, for leaders wanting to integrate technology in their schools, this is a challenge!

Students definitely have a clear vision of the potential of mobile learning to enable, engage, and empower them as 21st century learners.  Their parents see technology’s value.  As educational leaders we must spread this vision to our teachers and help them acquire the skills and technology needed to teach in more meaningful ways that match the tech-intensive lives of today’s students.

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Sanctioned Snooping

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on June 28, 2010

Does your district provide cell phones to employees?  A ruling by the U.S. Supreme on June 17, 2010 may impact you.  The court agreed unanimously that governmental agencies may access and read an employee’s text messages under certain circumstances.

The case that was brought to the Supreme Court involved a police officer in Ontario, California whose text messages were reviewed when department officials became concerned that SWAT team officers were using department-issued pagers for too many personal text messages.  And sure enough, in one month alone, of the 456 text messages sent or received by the officer in question, 400 were personal.

The city does have a policy stating that employees have no guaranteed right of privacy when using communication devices provided by the department, but officers had been told informally that their messages would not be audited as long as they paid for additional charges.  So the officer and three others sued the department for violating their constitutional right to privacy.  A lower court ruled in the officer’s favor, but the Supreme Court reversed that decision on the premise that the search itself was reasonable.

The decision is the court’s first related to Digital Age technologies and 4th amendment guards against unreasonable search and seizure.  While the court did not provide broad guidance on employees’ privacy rights, the decision did identify conditions that must be met before government agency may review an employee’s personal texts.  They are:
• The cell phone must be provided by the agency.
• The employee must be told in advance that any messages sent using the device may be monitored by management.
• There must be a legitimate work-related reason for reviewing the messages.

As increasing numbers of education agencies provide cell phones to some employees, it is critical that policies be created that outline acceptable use and privacy expectations.  It is equally important that these policies be enforced in an even-handed, consistent way.

How does your agency handle this issue?

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