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Missouri’s Ban on Teachers Friending Students on Facebook is a Golden Gate to Impracticality

July 30, 2011 3 comments

[Update: newly-signed law is now being challenged in court by the Missouri State Teachers Association | via Slashdot]

The Missouri Senate recently approved Senate Bill 54 the “Amy Hestir Student Protection Act” a law aimed at preventing schools from moving teachers facing misconduct allegations around from school to school without alerting parents.

Unfortunately, however, it contains some other more draconian provisions and social media takes some shrapnel.  Of concern is that it bans teachers from friending students on any social networking site, limiting them to creating fan pages to which all students in a class may have access.

Like so many ham-handed legislative measures, it curbs speech and interferes with education in the name of saving the children.

One of the many stupid facets of this bill is that the victim for which the bill is named was sexually assaulted by a teacher 20 years ago, long before the advent of social networking. Read more…

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A Willing Casualty of the Age of Radical Transparency: Why Anthony Weiner Needs to go

June 7, 2011 1 comment

Anthony Weiner's Weiner

In a bizarre press conference, Democratic Representative Anthony Weiner admitted that he did indeed take a photo of his penis and send it to a young woman (and that this isn’t the first time – likely not the last either).

Anthony Weiner doesn’t need to resign because he went outside the bounds of his marriage to flirt with other women.  Had he disclosed that, he’d likely get to hold on to his job and career (like so many other philandering politicians).

He needs to go because he’s so stupid he actually thought (1) these photos would stay private AND (2) that he could get away with lying about this in a digital age where content has a long shelf life and is instantly shared.

Seriously.  This isn’t even the first time a politician has been taken down by messages pulled from a phone – didn’t soon-to-be-ex-Rep. Weiner learn from Kwame Kilpatrick?

Here are just some of the ways the photos and messages from Weiner could have come out: Read more…

Get up Get up and Get Get Get Down – the AUA is a Joke in Your Town

April 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Get up Get up and Get Get Get Down, the AUA is a Joke in Your Town

In the interest of transparency, I must confess that my first attempt to persuade my organization to adopt the social media policy I wrote for it as written hasn’t been successful (but I endeavor to persevere).  I once again must find my spot in the long, sad, line of public relations pros who spend their time hoping their unheeded recommendations don’t become dire prophesy foretold.

Rather than officially establish a social media policy, Grand Rapids Community College leaders decided to mention social media in the “Authorized User Agreement” (AUA) for the college.  This is a problem.

Beyond the “burying” effect it has (ensuring no one will read it in the same way no one reads the fine print of cell phone contracts), there are two concerns people in higher education should have with lumping social media policy in with AUAs:

1) AUAs only apply to college equipment and the college network.  They don’t apply to an employee’s personal phone, computer, or internet access.  YET – most (if not all) of the policies employees are bound by at work also apply to them off-hours.  The employee handbook: applies.  FERPA: applies.  HIPAA: applies.  You get the idea.

2) AUAs are obtuse and selectively-enforced.  They’re the “McDonald’s Coffee is Hot” warning of communications policies.

From all that I’ve seen, AUAs seem to exist solely to pad flimsy cases for firing employees to avoid wrongful termination lawsuits.

C-suite can’t come up with enough dirt on an employee to can them? – Throw in a trumped-up charge that they “violated the AUA” by watching YouTube videos on their lunch break (horrors!) or installed a freeware weather applet for their desktop (gads!).

If you ever see me grinning wryly with a faraway look – it’s because I’m envisioning how, at that moment, there’s an employee somewhere in the world being disciplined for violating an organization’s AUA by an HR representative who is also currently violating the AUA (by using a work email for personal use, or installing the Spongebob Squarepants screen saver on their PC).

Another unintended negative consequence of folding social media policy into the AUA is that the student newspaper for the college is now concerned about the language of the AUA, worrying it will be used to kick students off of lab computers for using Facebook.

I understand the need for IT departments to indemnify themselves and to protect the technology and network that serves their organization.  I really do; people do a lot of stupid things with their keyboards.  The AUAs we’re using, however, are not cutting it.  They need to be practical and relevant – and they need to either apply to everyone, every time or no one at any time.

Two Great Examples of the Age of Radical Transparency: iPhone 5 Leak and Gary Dell’Abate Smear Email

February 28, 2011 Leave a comment
Stamford Advocate Gary Dell'Abate Articles Compared

Stamford Advocate Gary Dell'Abate Articles Compared

I try to warn people I consult with about public relations and online reputation management to behave and do business as though their conduct could end up on Wikileaks … because it could.

Two great examples highlight how porous the walls of any organization now are as a result of the Internet and social media:

Apple iPhone 5 / iPad 2 Design Leaks

Apparent iPhone 5 Faceplate From iDealsChina

There are so many ways information can find its way through the walls that organizations work hard to keep impenetrable.  This photo of the iPhone 5 faceplate went public after it was published on the website iDealsChina after it was apparently leaked from a manufacturer of the component.

Similar revelations were disclosed by another Chinese source for Apple’s proposed iPad 2.

Elsewhere many other details (including specifications) have gone public, and who can forget Apple having police break the door of Gizmodo employee Jason Chen’s residence to retrieve a prototype of the 4G iPhone after it was inadvertently left at a bar by an employee.

Smear Campaign Against Gary Dell’Abate of the Howard Stern Show

Listeners to the Howard Stern Show are likely aware that Producer Gary “Baba Booey” Dell’Abate is currently embroiled in a conflict over his appointment to a local advisory role for his local Greenwich, Connecticut Board of Parks and Recreation Board.  His employer has become a point of criticism for one of the members of the Appointment Committee, who has resorted to increasingly bizarre tactics (like carrying around a bag of feces ostensibly left on her porch by an apparent Stern Show fan).

Local newspaper the Stamford Advocate received an email from someone calling himself “Michael Obrien” who lobbed a number of libelous accusations at Dell’Abate, including that he hired prostitutes for the show.  In spite of being unable to verify Obrien’s identity, the newspaper printed the accusations.  Now they’ve retracted the original version of the story and republished a new version sanitized of the defamatory content.  The problem for the Stamford Advocate is that Google’s cache has preserved the original version, so you can view it in its libel-filled entirety here.

Even if the article hadn’t been cached by Google, anyone subscribed to the Stamford Advocate’s RSS feed would have an intact copy of the original article saved in their feed reader.

It gets worse for the Greenwich Town Government: according to Dell’Abate, a tech-savvy listener was able to track the email account (which was created 20 minutes before the email was sent) back to its original IP address which originated from the Greenwich Town Government offices.

That means an employee of the Township is behind the smear, and the “Howard 100 News” team is likely going to root out more details that won’t play well for the local government entity.  It should be easy to track the email back to the node on the Township’s network and identify the employee workstation from which it was sent (information that can be obtained via a Freedom of Information Act by the Stern Show’s news team).

Five Tips for Faculty on Interacting With Students via Social Media

February 28, 2011 2 comments

Social Media in the Classroom

Several people have asked me questions (following the social media policy webinar I did with PaperClip Communications last week) about how faculty should interact with students using social media.  It’s a pressing issue first, because there have been several high-profile cases of inappropriate conduct, and second, because social media provides an opportunity to share relevant information to an entire class (or multiple classes) if it’s handled well.

Here are a few tips:

  1. Stay “On Campus: If they’re available on your campus, course management software like Blackboard, Banner or WebCT can do nearly everything Facebook can do and there’s a “check” in place in that the school is able to oversee the interaction. In addition, it allows other students to view, participate in and learn from the interaction.  We at GRCC use Blackboard and we also use a set of tools from Wimba (like Wimba Pronto which is a client that builds in collaboration, video chat, instant messaging, chat, etc. into one tool).  Most of these systems are also able to publish content to Facebook through an application like CourseFeed (so that students can still remain in Facebook – but participate in the class and get notifications and announcements).
  2. Don’t Friend – Be Friended: Faculty(and supervisors)should never initiate friend requests – they need to respect the fact that the power inherent in their position might make students fearful to refuse the request. If a professor wants to invite students to connect with them – it should be done in the form of a general invitation to the entire class(no different than providing their email in the syllabus).
  3. Stay Public: Conduct discussions in the open (ie through wall posts as opposed to personal messages) to help ensure that they stay focused on the course and don’t deviate into personal areas that might be inappropriate.  It’s the same as the principle behind conducting an after-class meeting with a student in a hallway as opposed to a classroom so that event he appearance of impropriety is avoided.
  4. Use the Buddy System:  It would be ideal if faculty would let their department head, dean or another colleague know that they’re using social media to interact with students AND to “friend” them to give themselves a system of checks and balances.  If you’ve got another pair of eyes helping you keep tabs on what you’re doing, they may be able to help you watch out for interactions that may be problematic.
  5. Be Transparent: Behaving as though others can see your conduct is always a good policy.  Anyone trying to maintain a public face that is markedly different from their private behavior is bound for epic failure in an age where online content is easily shared, and students (and consumers) have audio/video recording equipment with them at all times (on their mobile phones).  An “abstinence-only” approach to social media is bound for failure just as much as the “abstinence-only” approach to reproductive health education.  Content about you will go online whether or not you want it to – ultimately it’s best to have a say in the conversation.

In the end, as more of our communication moves to social media – eventually this will become the dominant paradigm for faculty as well as professionals in the private sector.  Better to get a head-start on familiarizing yourself with its nuances now than wait until it’s mandated as part of your contract.  Not only that -but I think you’ll find (as I have) that your teaching experience is richer for the relationships you’re able to maintain with students after the class has ended.  I’ve been amazed and humbled by the pursuit of scholarship that some of my students maintain outside the classroom – and I often learn just as much from them as they hopefully do from me.

The Case for Investing in the Mobile Web Continues to Build

August 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Students Accessing the Web

Too many resources are sucked up by the process of designing and re-designing our websites.  We’re wasting valuable time poring over navigation, color palettes and spiffy Flash animation.

None of those aesthetic flourishes matter for a great many of the people who actually visit the site, because they do it through aggregators or on mobile devices:

How grcc.edu Shows Up on a Blackberry Curve

How grcc.edu Shows Up on a Blackberry Curve

PRSA Tactics had a brief (“Survey: Blacks, Hispanics are Most Active on Mobile web” by Kyra Auffermann) in the “Diversity Dimensions” section that cited Pew Research Center numbers that reinforce the case for everyone (but especially higher ed institutions given the dramatic increase in minority enrollment during this economic downturn) to do more to invest in making information and services available to the mobile web.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Among the findings (which continue to show that mobile phones are the primary connection of minorities to the web):

  • Rate of Cell Phone Ownership:
    • African Americans & English-Speaking Hispanics: 87%
    • Whites: 80%
  • Rate of Wireless Internet Use:
    • African Americans & English-Speaking Hispanics: 46%/51%
    • Whites: 33%

The days of establishing a hub and forcing people to make a pilgimage to it are in the past.  The new dynamic is reaching people where they are, on their terms.  Increasingly that is on social networking platforms, and increasingly that is mobile.

On Tim Pawlenty, Privatization and “iCollege”

June 11, 2010 Leave a comment
Recently the Chronicle of Higher Education featured some discussion on an interview the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart did with Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty in which the Governor attacked the public higher education system in favor of privatization and instead proposed “iCollege.”  You can watch the clip below (the salient portion of which starts at five minutes in):
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Tim Pawlenty
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party
Not that it’s news, but Tim Pawlenty is woefully ignorant and misguided.  There are a number of things wrong with his anti-government/anti-public education position:
  1. Virtually everything online (particularly e-commerce) was developed as a result of the work done by nonprofits like SRI International and other other segments of the public higher education system.
  2. 2) His metaphor of the iPhone/iPad and “iCollege” is a poor choice for at least two reasons:
    1. Apple Computer built on the research done by the nonprofits to launch its computing devices (a tradition that continues to this day).
    2. The iPhone and iPad have been roundly criticized for locking down the browsing experience to only the applications/tools permitted by Apple.  Moreover, users are limited to AT&T as the sole provider for 3G wireless service for both devices.  They are, in fact, the mobile computing example of a “one-size-fits-all monopoly provider.”
Certainly more can be done with technology to not only reduce costs but extend the options available to students for education.  However, whenever practical hands-on experience is required, the “drag of atoms” will always necessitate some form of institutions that provide those
educational experiences.   (Just think of the practical applications in the medical field alone: do you want to have surgery at the hands of someone schooled at a profit-driven “iCollege”?)
That’s also to say nothing of the fact that many students need one-on-one time with educational professionals to advance as they’re ill-equipped to be self-guided learners.
The deregulation Gov. Pawlenty is proposing is the reason we have catastrophes like the BP Deepwater Horizon spill; oversight of the industry was long ago delegated to the equivilant of an “iOversight” app.  We don’t need more of that – and we certainly don’t need more of it in higher education (a fact reiterated by a superb PBS Frontline documentary “College, Inc.”
[PS – “Dial that up” on their iPad?  Did he actually say that?  #fail]