Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Attending my First ISTE Conference: Thoughts and Plans

My First ISTE Conference Experience: Thoughts and Plans This was my first time going to an ISTE Conference. It was big. It was overwhelming. It was information overload. It was fun. All that said, I feel like I left armed with knowledge and tools to make a huge positive difference in my school district, specifically relating to professional development for teachers and increasing engagement for the students. 

 At times, there were so many people there, I was standing arm to arm and could barely move, mostly at the poster sessions, because others were all trying to get information and resources. Other times, people were lined up to scan the QR codes, get the links and move on. I did the same, simply because I needed to get to other tables/posters because of time limitations. 

 As with any conference, some workshops you go to have excellent information, and you walk away with really good information. Other workshops have a clever title and are just not what you expect. One thing I experienced at ISTE, is that some workshops were so popular that there was no way of getting in. If you had a ticket before hand; you’re safe. But if the workshops were first come, first serve, and didn’t require a ticket, and were popular, it was frustrating because there was no chance of getting in. As I reviewed my schedule of the workshops I signed up for and poster sessions I wanted to visit, I noticed a common theme, which are obviously specific to either what I currently do or endeavors I would like to pursue at my school. The themes specific to my job this year were BYOD, Math resources, digital citizenship, and Ed-Tech Coaching. Our district is moving forward with BYOD and I gained many insights. I teach mathematics and work with social media so I also have many new resources in those areas. It seems that other school district ed-tech integration coaches and specialists are an excellent resource for teachers thus improving student education. I really feel the students and staff in our district could benefit from this having someone serve in this role. 

Before I went to the conference, I read blogs that offered advice to ISTE first timers. The suggestions included to be ready for information overload, stay hydrated, don’t over schedule, and be sure to network. I found the tips very useful. It feels good to walk away knowing that other teachers, administrators, and school districts are going through similar situations regarding educational technology, specifically BYOD and Ed-Tech Coaches. 

There were many workshops and poster sessions where presenters discussed their experiences of successes, challenges, research, resources, and frameworks in regards to new educational trends that increase student learning and engagement and motivate and improve teaching. It’s always great to learn about new technology that can be implemented in the classroom as well. 

One day I was disappointed to miss (the very first day simply due to work/scheduling purposes as I was scheduled to arrive Friday evening and begin the conference on Saturday morning) was the day long #edcamp experience. The #edcamp seems to be a new PD trend amongst teachers and school districts everywhere, but I look forward to learning about this from a more local perspective in the future.

Two trends that I seemed to pick up on, just from being there, listening, and seeing what vendors were pushing are: standards-linked curriculums, and pushing ed-tech startups. I’m guessing these trends may either increase or decrease in popularity in the future. 

 My next step is to sit down, review the information I learned and gathered, create and manage a plan, and put the information and resources to good use.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Geometry Technology Tools and Strategies in a Co-Taught Classroom

Educational Technology
  • to create quizzes
  • allows the students to explore and discover concept through reading and writing interactive "Gizmos" on the computer
  • allows viewing of videos that parallel real life concepts and Geometry concepts (for example surface area of the Egyptian pyramids)
  • MS OneNote allows for organizing, archiving, and modifying guided note-sheets to use every year
  • Geometer's Sketchpad allows students to discover geometry concepts through creating and interacting on a computer program
  • Brainpop contains quick videos and resources about basic math and geometry concepts
  • IXL allows students to practice concepts with walk-throughs and feedback
  • KhanAcademy allows students to research and watch video presentations of similar concepts learned in class
  • Kuta software to create tests, quizzes, and problems on the overhead for dry erase board work
Individual and Class Based Accommodations
  • Read-aloud instructions on homework, labs, quizzes, and tests
  • Allow students to work on quizzes in alternative settings
  • Allow extended time for quizzes, tests, and homework
  • Allow students to use notes on quizzes
  • Be vigilant ensuring students are taking notes, not holding side conversations, and staying on task
Interactive Learning Activities
  • Students work problems on dry erase boards and hold up answers
  • Sage and Scribe (Kagan activity)
  • Small groups (groups of 4), to work on problems together one at a time.
  • Relay Races: Groups work to complete one problem, take it to teacher, and get a new problem
  • Review that requires teacher signature for each correct problem; allowing students to ask questions per problem or when entire review is completed.
Data-Driven Decision Making (DDDM)
  • Homework quizzes, followed up by individualized explanations if necessary.
  • "Exit" Quizzes
  • Daily randomized accuracy check on homework
  • Daily completion grade on homework

  • Candy questions
  • Extra Credit questions
  • Incentives sheet: collecting signatures to trade for option of candy or extra credit
  • Lab for each unit
  • Guided note sheets, including "You Try" problems allowing time for students to ask try problems, collaborate with each other and ask the teachers questions.
  • Weekly meeting with co-teacher discussing plans, positive outcomes, and things to improve

Sunday, March 30, 2014

What is Instagram All About? An Average Joe's Perspective by Gary Feltman

My Personal Social Media Experience 
At first I thought Instagram was primarily for females; another form of Pinterest so to speak..

Then I learned that teens are flocking towards Instagram, for the most part just to socialize and get away from parents and other adults. (They haven't completely disowned or stopped using Facebook, it's just a new and different outlet of expression and communication). I've also learned from experience that adults are using it for another bunch of reasons altogether.

I use Twitter mainly for professional educational research and networking purposes, but I also use it to chat about pop culture, occasionally express my thoughts, opinions, archive resources, and share typical internet trends, or news.

I do have rather strong opinions about reasons I dislike Facebook, but I keep coming back for more. I also feel Twitter can be a powerful tool if used correctly and appropriately, especially for educators.

Partly for professional reasons, and partly for human curiosity, I make a strong effort to keep up with new internet and technology trends. I try to give most popular and trending social media or apps an honest try, for example Snapchat, Whisper, Glide, Secret, Kik…etc. Of course I'm familiar with the more mainstream social media trends or apps like Spotify, Shazam, Starbucks, and Vine. Of course I haven't named them all; there's thousands out there.

So I Gave Instagram a Try
I got to talking one night with a close neighborhood friend who is not very active on Facebook or Twitter. He was one his phone, and I was wondering, "What the heck are you doing on your phone?" So I asked him. He told me Instagram. I thought, "WHAT?!?!"

It just so happens, a few days before that, I opened an Instagram account and posted my first picture…still being clueless of why or how to use Instagram. So when my friend told me he was on Instagram, I got excited. "What's your handle? Can I follow you?" Little did I know, this guy had well over 200 hundred followers on Instagram, and he used it to push his artistic creations and agenda. I thought: "this guy's big time."

This made me realize that there was a whole other world of marketing and expression through Instagram, especially related to the arts (my artistic neighbor pushes her art through Tumblr). Not only that, I guess I didn't realize how popular it was.

So I went to work, and asked one of my co-workers the questions any normal person would ask when trying something new: "What's the purpose of this?" Followed by "Why would I do this?" "Is this supposed to be fun?" "Do I just use a bunch of hashtags?" and "What kind of pictures do I put up?"

So I dived in…as someone once told me…"You don't learn to ski by reading skiing magazines."

So What's the Purpose of Instagram?
So with some new knowledge, and a weekend getaway, I decided to post some of my pictures up to Instagram with hashtags. I gotta say, it's pretty cool! For me, here's a few purposes:

  • For one, it's an outlet for all these seemingly stupid and random pictures taken throughout the day with your phone.
  • It also allows creativity with hashtags. You pretty much make up your own hashtag, and put as many as you want per picture.
  • Compared to Facebook, it's a way to connect without being obligated to respond or get caught up in the drama.
  • Compared to Twitter, it's a lot less reading, and a seemingly more chill virtual environment.
  • In general, Instagram seems to be the perfect outlet for senselessly sharing pictures, including family moments, food, memes, quotes, memories or just silly pictures not relevant to anything; especially the things people are tired of seeing on Facebook and Twitter.
One neat thing: you'd be surprised how many other people have used the same hashtag you thought you just created by just clicking on it, and seeing anywhere between 0 to thousands of pictures with the hashtag. Looking back, I've accumulated a pretty cool collection of pictures which I've shared through Instagram.

How do I use Instagram Now?
Well, it's definitely on my "things I need to do before I go to bed and as soon as I wake up" list. Not that I need any more to do, which is a stressful idea in itself, but it keeps things fun and interesting.

I don't post daily, but I post what sometimes interests me, and sometimes what I think my followers might enjoy seeing.

I've been posting my favorite pictures of my kids and family; it's a little more private than Facebook.

Also one thing I enjoy doing is taking pictures of beautiful scenery or interesting relics. It's kind of exciting to have somewhere to put them, where the occasional Instagram user will appreciate it by liking it. So now I take and share pictures of neighborhood staples or local relics and moments after I go for a neighborhood jog.

In Closing
Several friends, family members, and co-workers already had Instagram accounts and were using them regularly.

Another coincidence, is that as I was creating and learning how to use my Instagram account for the first time, several co-workers were exploring with their new accounts as well. That made it a lot of fun when weeks later we all discovered we were all new to Instagram, each one of us thinking the others had been on for quite some time.

A seemingly obvious thing to note, is that my perspective is solely based on my background and motivations. There are many people in the world with various backgrounds and different motives. I do realize that others might use it for different reasons and motivations based on individual demographics and life purposes. These reasons may include networking, socializing, having fun, professional, marketing, or just plain boredom.

Some things I wonder are:
  • What other purposes do people use this for that I'm unaware of?
  • Is there drama or expression of differing opinions similar to other social networks?
  • How has Instagram evolved over time?
  • How will this evolve over the short term and long term?

Thanks for reading.
I welcome comments and questions.
@garyfeltman on Twitter

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Evolution of Tech at Family Gatherings: Decade Observations

Evolution of Tech at Family Gatherings: Decade Observations
by Gary Feltman

As we were participating in the New Year’s countdown, my daughter had her face buried in her iPod, and was not counting down with us. Within this 10-second timeframe, my wife and I together instinctively attempted to rip the iPod out of her hands. The response was a look of aggravation and fear, as she gripped her iPod and would not allow the device to be taken. Through this 2-second interaction, I remembered that she had been looking forward to watching December change to January, and 11:59-12:00, on the iPod.

This year, my daughter stayed  awake for the New Year’s Countdown for the first time in her life. During the hours leading up to this moment, my daughter had been creating on Minecraft, building a 3 floor castle with a garden, pool, chickens, and amongst other novelties. I would consider creating on Minecraft being more productive than watching countdowns and performances on television; so I was okay with that. 

Within that 10 second countdown, I briefly got upset, yet immediately gained quick understanding of her first-time perspective and experience of celebrating New Year’s eve, while using and watching her device. I realized that this device is a part of her life, and she has grown up observing others having their faces buried in their devices. Is this a bad thing? I’m not sure; but it is what it is.

When I recall about 8-10 years ago (about 2004, give or take a couple years) at family events, cell phones were just beginning to become popular. Almost everybody had a cell phone, but they weren’t the fancy smart phones with internet and multiple apps; they were flip phones used mostly for the purpose of calling and texting others. One Thanksgiving conversation I recall was when someone at the table asked what something meant, and I responded “Google it.” The response from the family member was “Google it, that’s the new term for these kids.” Then the conversation continued to how everybody just “Googles” everything, followed by a 10-minute explanation of what happens when you forgett to include an attachment and how Googling directions might not always be accurate.

Then about 5-7 years ago, tech use seemed to be a “free-for-all” at family events, where everybody just did what they wanted and used their devices however and whenever they pleased, no matter what the setting. The informal rules were being created and learned. Taking photos was a new experience. The photos were poor quality, and sharing was neither fun, purposeful, or convenient. The family discussions were about whether or not to purchase a cell phone, iPod, or other tech device. If the children owned one, they would talk about it, and take good care of it. If the children didn’t own one, they may have expressed wanting a device as a gift in the near future.

Going about 3-4 years back there seemed to be a general understanding of cell phone etiquette at the dinner table, where people shouldn’t check their phones, text, or talk at the table. There were no well-known written rules of cell phone or technology etiquette. Nobody announced or proclaimed the rules with the exception of the occasional parent explaining to their kids to put the phone away. Another exception might have been the grandmother who just got her new cell phone, and decides to answer it at the table and speak loudly, because the unwritten rules were not explained, and all the younger family members took time to explain and demonstrate how to answer calls, make calls, or introduce to the concept of texting.

Things have even changed from 1-2 years ago, where people seemed to have a good understanding of the rules and made an honest effort to either leave their cell phones in the cars, or simply put them away, not being visible to others until the family events were over. The exception to this may have been someone pulling out their new iPad that they received as a gift, or to exchange a phone number or refer back to something. Again, the younger generation would demonstrate the various things to do with tablet technologies; the basics, for example, weather, Facetime, Skype, basic games, or other common apps. However during this time, people were not comfortable enough with the technology yet, at least not enough to just pass devices around and let others use them. The device seemed to just be a really neat novelty technology toy that was pulled out briefly for demonstration. During this time frame, most realized that the procedure for proper etiquette when using a cell phone was to excuse themselves from the festivities and briefly exit the room.  When demonstrations or communications were finished, the devices are put away while everybody made an effort to socialize.

So what’s it like today? I observe nearly every family member young and old has one form of device, whether connected to wi-fi or not. Family members do not need to count on a household wi-fi connection, because everybody brings their own. People are not shy to pull out their devices, discuss the latest apps, play similar games on devices at the same time while discussing tech objectives and achievements and still holding relevant conversations. The explanation of the meaning and use of a hashtag seems to be fading as everybody is gaining understanding. The latest experience is family members taking pictures at the events and immediately sharing on social media with hash tags and tagging. Meanwhile everybody involved grabs their device and continues interacting online by liking, sharing, and commenting in the online world.

All this happens while everybody is physically in the same room. It even seems as if the main topic of conversation at these family gatherings are family member’s activity on Facebook throughout the year. It seems everybody has a working memory and understanding of everybody’s Facebook activity for the past year, even though they may not have interacted online, then everybody proceeds to discuss these events. Not only that, but everybody has their devices in hands showing photos of family or vacations.

These are simply my observations over the years. The memories mostly stem from holiday gatherings, but also just other formal or informal family meetings. I wonder if others have observed similar experiences. It almost seems as if devices have worked their way into family gatherings, being conversation starters in one form or another, and in some cases being the central point of interaction or discussion. For example, people attempt to take group pictures and share them with hashtags to participate in commercial competitions online. I’m sure at one point or another, someone has used a device to quietly communicate with someone else in the same room, because communicating said topic might not be appropriate.

I wonder how this will evolve through the next ten years.

Thanks for reading. Comments welcome.
Twitter: @garyfeltman

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Tips for School District Social Media by Gary Feltman

Tips for School District Social Media by Gary Feltman

Social media for school districts seems to be gaining popularity. The purpose of this is to give suggestions based on my experience in facilitating social media on behalf of a school district. I will discuss my experiences with details, characteristics of Facebook and Twitter, successes, challenges, future outlooks, and a few other things I've learned along the way. Hopefully readers, particularly readers or educators with a vested interest in social media or ed-tech, find this information useful to the extend they use social media in their lives,

Facebook and Twitter seem fairly new for both schools and social media, but it seems as though when the year progressed, many more schools were participating more frequently through social media as well.

Getting pictures, photo and info is necessary and efficiency helps. When teachers and staff have pictures of positive things students and teachers are doing around the school, they need to be reminded to forward the pictures. Some teachers are good with emailing. Others need to be approached and reminded. It's comparable to customer service where the customers and product providers are both your teachers and students, and then the users are compared to the customers on the other end when viewing, interacting with, and sharing the information.

It's impossible to be at every school sports event, activity, performance, or even classroom. It helps to ask people to send pictures, but coaches and staff are always busy. One way to get pictures is to ask spectator staff attending the events to text or email an image of the event. A cup of coffee the next morning is a small price to pay in exchange for a school event picture being texted or emailed for posting purposes.

Facebook needs pictures. Just about every post needs a picture. Without images, the posts do not get any exposure. Also Facebook and Twitter are two different things. Twitter is a constant running feed and not every post requires a picture. Facebook requires pictures, and less frequency of posts.

Too many Facebook posts can be annoying; they need to be paced appropriately. For example, if there are a lot of happenings throughout the week, A good number of posts for Facebook is 3 per day, one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening. Another thing to be aware of is that too many Twitter posts at the wrong time or geared towards only one group can lose followers. In order to increase users engagement, the director must also strategically promote certain concepts at certain times. There are certain times when a post needs to be left for a few days. One example of this would be a huge district success, for example a team winning first place. The post should be posted for a few days and left alone. During times of nation or world disasters or events, it seems proper etiquette to quietly post apologies, recognitions, and condolences, and refrain from posting for a while.

Posting Content
The time of day when posts are made makes a difference depending on who is being targeted and how many viewers will see the post. Also the contents of the post make a big difference. There is much research for social media marketing in the business world that shows what times of day and what types of posts are most effective when marketing to promote the brand. One trick is understanding these viewpoints and using the marketing data geared towards a school environment. For example, in the business world, people work 9-5, but in a school the times are mostly 7-3.

The times make a difference when marketing to students, parents, alumni, and the school community. It seems as the majority of alumni check Facebook according to times before or after typical 9-5 work hours and mostly on weekends. It seems as if the older possibly retired generation checks during the middle of the day. Students tend to check either immediately before school, immediately after school, or after sports about 6pm. Finally it seems there are users that check in in the late evening, comprised of a variety of users; parents, students, alumni, and community members.

Understanding the district's culture is very important in order to successfully run the school's social media. This all depends on the community's beliefs, demographics, interests and priorities. Urban, suburban, and rural districts based in various regions may have differing needs, viewpoints, and opinions. Each school community places priorities in different areas including sports, clubs, referendums, neighborhoods, finances, alumni relations and various other agendas. Different school communities have different online participants, users, and followers; some have more parent involvement, some more student involvement, some more teacher involvement, community involvement, and even alumni involvement. Each party has different interests, motives, and purposes for using and connecting to the social media. It's important for the director to understand that various parties have different interests, and to cater to these needs and interests during various times of the day.

There are many purposes for social media in school districts, but the most important focus should obviously be education, both promoting the successes and positive aspects of the educational institution and system while educating and modeling to the school community about events or information. The idea of education still encompasses many factors, including informing the school community of happenings in the classroom, showcasing student successes sports and club achievements, alumni relations and events, promoting fundraisers, and much more.

There are many successes for school social media. Besides being a venue to share positive news and important information, it serves as a platform for the school community to socialize and communicate with each other. One of the benefits for students is that it makes a connection from their academic life to their personal lives, where there tends to be a wall dividing the two. Another benefit it does for the students is increase their awareness that the content and profiles students share are publicly available. Their words are public. It seems as though this would automatically make a social media user aware of the public's perception in seeing comments.

Another benefit of school social media is that all other schools, government institutions, and businesses are using it. Without it, it may seem as if a school or district is behind the times. It's possible that they want to move forward, and are having qualified or interested parties involved in facilitating it.

Positive behavior is encouraged. In the beginning, there were not so many comments on Facebook, and students seemed resistant to follow the school Twitter. Yet through "liking" positive comments on Facebook, and retweeting positive mentions on Twitter, it seems as the appropriate interactions are reinforced, which allows them to evolve and continue through the social media. It seems as the are and amount of appropriate and positive activity has grown exponentially.

One final thing social media benefits the school community is its a place to model and practice appropriate online communications. One of the best examples of this is when a sports team or club makes first place in a competition, the online Facebook and Twitter communities click "like", make many supportive comments, and retweet and "favorite" posts.

Engaging the users is necessary to promote social media, yet it needs close monitoring to ensure comments being made are appropriate. There aren't too many challenges, although the occasional inappropriate or snarky comment appears, an inappropriate profile bio or pic, or an angry user.

This activity happened more so in the beginning when the school's Facebook activity was in its early stages and users would use inappropriate language or being snarky, whether directly commenting to or describing a picture. There are several ways to deal with this depending on the severity of the post or communication. If it's an appropriate respectful expression of disagreement with the post, as long as it doesn't violate any rules or policies and is in relation to the post, it usually works out fine to leave it and let others respond. Conversations tend to die down after a few days. In many cases, both parties communicate good points in a civil manner, and others witness various viewpoints on a situation while observing demonstration of civil disagreement online. Others might throw in an occasional jab at a topic or person in a picture. A polite reminder to the community, not directed at any user in particular, just posting a general statement reminding the rules of etiquette and guidelines for social networking seems to work.

Occasional language not appropriate for school settings appears, seemingly with good intentions, for example, "Let's kick the other team's ass!" These types of situations are just hidden from the public, yet still viewable by the poster and their friends. Last but not least another Facebook offense is when users get really upset or angry and use the social network as a platform to vent their opinions on a situation while possibly including staff names and/or false statements. These users are blocked and banned. Again these are rare instances that deserve immediate attention or close monitoring. I do wonder what other types of situations directors face and how they are dealt with.

On Twitter, there seems to be more of a following from the students, with a higher frequency usage from staff and teachers, rather than alumni and parents. Some accounts are blocked due to inappropriate usernames, bios, profile pictures, or handles. It seems these users have either not been educated on the appropriate online behavior, or just simply do not care for their actions or public perceptions of the way users portray themselves online. It seems commonplace for organizations to block inappropriate Twitter handles, even though the users have positive intentions of attempting to network with an organization and communicate and share information with users.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest barriers in starting social media is fear. There seems to be many fears, especially from people unfamiliar with social media. Even those that are, seem skeptical due to horror stories of Facebook or warnings from legal organizations in regards to online behavior. Of course, it's a public online platform where virtually anybody can express their thoughts or feelings in a manner they choose. Yet, just like in the physical world, there are consequences for that behavior. In every system, there is a system in place for dealing with situations, and there are typically good or bad consequences for every action made, depending on each situation.

One thing a director needs to be ready for are situations where the school urgently needs to communicate information. One example is if school will be cancelled or post-poned or dismissed early to due dangerous weather conditions. This might mean standing by for a phone call in the very late evening or early morning hours to report the info online. Social media allows for more than one manner to communicate and contact with the school community.

A final challenge from the social media director perspective is continuing the use of social media through other school staff. It seems some users get excited, open Twitter accounts or group/department Facebook pages, but then there is not continued use. Almost as if they try it, yet don't continue to maintain using it. I'm pleased the users gave it a try. But I do wonder what happens that it doesn't continue to get used. I personally can't see myself stopping using Twitter any time soon. They're probably just not that into it. Should there be more support, or is there a disconnect somewhere?

Final Thoughts
Social media and technology moves at a rate typically faster than people can keep up with. One thing social media directors should be aware of is not getting too comfortable, because trends change and new fads quickly replace old ones. In moving forward with school social media directors should be ready to address the school community if the community requests to be more educated in the area of social media. Another trend that seems to be rising in both high school and college settings is student-created and maintained accounts, appropriately representing school clubs, organizations, or activities. Similar to teacher or program related accounts that begin and do not continue, there are a couple student accounts that aim to make a positive online change through the online school community, however do not continue to be active, or are sporadically active. Some staff seem to find useful professional development in various areas of social media.

One last thing to think about is that occasionally Twitter users request follow-backs. As of now, it seems the norm to not follow the majority of followers, and only sticking with official educational accounts or local education-related handles, yet it seems as though bigger organizations are beginning to follow back their followers. For right now, I would suggest to follow back established alumni or accounts with a positive objective.

Thanks for reading. I always welcome any questions, thoughts, comments,  experiences, or any thoughtful answers to above thoughts and questions regarding social media for schools.

Gary Feltman

Twitter: @garyfeltman 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Experiences and Thoughts About Facebook: A User Perspective by GaryFeltman

For the last few years, there have been many articles about Facebook getting people into trouble including people losing jobs, Facebook ending relationships, and Facebook being used as court evidence. Facebook is a social networking platform that users of all ages and demographics interact with each other globally.

Now new studies are out saying that using Facebook causes anxiety and depression.

That makes sense. I can understand this.

Many people probably use Facebook as either a primary or secondary means for their social life. I don't think it's humanly possible to keep up with more than a couple hundred "Facebook" friends. I've also heard people say that Facebook is the grown-up online version of being in high school again.

There are many reasons people use Facebook. Some use it to share posts, statuses and updates, observe other posts and updates, be aware of commercial products and community services, communicate with family, and play games. Some people use it professionally for research, marketing, and communication. Others use it to share vacation pictures with family members across the world. Some actively engage themselves while others quietly observe.

I use Facebook and most other social media in one of two ways: personally and professionally. The purpose of this post is to discuss my personal experiences possibly giving specific examples and insight from a user's perspective of why I might agree using Facebook might cause anxiety and depression. At the end there are related links and resources you may find interesting.

Requesting friends, being friends, and un-friending others

One time a while back I friended almost everybody I work with that had a Facebook account. Later I had second thoughts and unfriended many people I was not familiar with, or comfortable sharing my personal posts with. I do realize settings can be modified so people won't see your posts, but then they could see others commenting or hear about it in real life.

When people request me as friends there's always a feeling of brief excitement followed by many questions and an underlying tone of uncomfortableness, regardless of who is sending the request. I think I understand people's expectations in the physical world, I am sometimes unsure those same expectations apply in an online environment. I wonder if my posts that I find amusing may offend other viewers with different beliefs or ways of thinking.  These thought processes alone create anxiety about friending new people online, while managing and maintaining relationships with current "Facebook" friends, regardless of my will/want to continue any of the friendships.

Everyone has their own reasons for un-friending people; even I have my reasons. But it's not a good feeling when I am unfriended by someone else. It leaves me with a feeling of wondering: "was it something I did, said, or posted?" At least I used to have that feeling. Lately I have gotten over it. When  I am un-friended, or when I un-friend others. Then I also feel horrible when un-friending others. I just have to let go of the fact that everyone including myself has reasons for doing so. Yes this thought process of friending and un-friending seems to cause racing thoughts, therefore creating anxiety.

Posting and Sharing

Then there's the postings.  There are many reasons and purposes Facebook users have when they make posts. I have learned that most Facebook users either find those views interesting or feel uncomfortable after learning the type of Facebook user they themselves may be. Others may be completely comfortable and accepting of their posting reasons and style. Posts range from the things people are doing, places they've been, bragging about luxuries, sharing information, promoting their interests or products or soliciting.

The recent research seems to say that people simply view what others have, possibly get jealous or an empty feeling of sadness, and begin thinking about the things they don't have in their lives. It's just a possible sad reminder of things that might be missing from other people's lives. I don't speak for everybody. Sure there are Facebook users who are perfectly content with things in their own lives. But I'll admit seeing pictures allows my mind to wonder about others lifestyles and how time is spent.

Businesses have gotten savvy in targeting Facebook users based on their interests and activity. This makes me wonder who's watching my activity and how it's being analyzed. There is an entire marketing and business world to Facebook that most users don't even realize.

I personally don't enjoy when people use Facebook as an outlet for political or religious beliefs. The things people post depend on what type of Facebook user they are. I feel like just un-friending, but I don't want to cause stress in the physical world, possibly leading to discussions of reasons behind the un-friending. So I usually just block the posts so they're not on my feed, which leads to the question of "why am I friends with them in the first place?." Again, more anxious thoughts.

Sometimes when I make posts, I wonder why not many people clicked "like." I'm not even that into Facebook; although I don't worry about it too much.  I wonder the anxiety that other people go through when nobody clicks "like" on their posts. Some people may choose to think about this, and it may bother others subconsciously.  My objective when making a post is to either share funny content or share a cute image of my kids. Everybody likes posting cute images of their kids. But even I get sick of looking at other people's kids, and if I'm thinking it, I KNOW others are thinking it about my kids. But on the other hand, there are other users who genuinely enjoy viewing all posts that others share on Facebook, just to see how people's kids are doing.

Finally I constantly choose to just scroll through my Facebook feed on my phone when I'm bored. My phone is there, or course, connecting me 24-7 to my email, Twitter, Facebook, and other time-consuming apps and feeds. I get bored and check my Facebook. Maybe in a store line. Maybe at a long stoplight. Then people post, and my mind starts racing with statements and questions: Is this video worth my time? do I have to click "like?" "This is in bad taste… I don't care to read this," "why am I friends with this person?" All these thoughts happen in a mere matter of seconds that I choose to view my phone because I was bored. Then there's always unfinished business. Yet me and all the others, for some reason or another, continue coming back for more.

Final Thoughts

This is just my view and experience. Maybe it gives insight or not, but I don't need convincing from the articles that Facebook causes anxiety and depression. I could definitely understand why. There are some many things to think about. Facebook causes so many unanswered questions. Questions that have no definite answer and challenge a mind to question so many topics on so many levels.

I continue to be fascinated by what and how the Facebook experience continues to evolve into over the years. I am amazed by the amount of time some people spend on Facebook. I am shocked at the comments people put at the end of articles and blogs that point out various types of Facebook users. People get angry and defensive about the purposes of Facebook and perceptions of how Facebook is used.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. Here are some links and resources I've collected that you might find interesting.

Can More Friends on Facebook Induce Stress and Anxiety?

Facebook is Bad for Your Health

Facebook Causes Depression

Social Media is Causing Anxiety

7 Ways to Be Insufferable on Facebook Replaces (anything you want) In Your Social Media Feeds with Things You'd Like to See (Like Cats) in a Google Chrome Browser

23 Parents Who Facebook Better Than You

20 Things Your Most Annoying Friends Do on Facebook

What Your Facebook Likes Say About You

This Tells You the Type of Person You Are Based on Your Facebook Likes

Selected Most Predictive Likes

Last but not least, below is one of my previously unpublished and blog posts, which I never really intended to publish. It started as a draft for venting about Facebook. I decided to share it here. If one finds the above blog and links interesting, one might find my next post interesting as well, as it might give more insight to people's thought process while using Facebook. It's more me explaining the actual history, successes, and challenges, and thoughts I've encountered while using my Facebook account. At the end of the post, it also contains links to resources/articles about how Facebook relates to teachers and education.

Facebook: Observations, Evolutions, Implications, and Possibilities by Gary Feltman

Facebook: Observations, Evolutions, Implications, and Possibilities byGary Feltman

This is my opinion based on my experience using my personal Facebook account.

Facebook: Observations, Evolutions, Implications, and Possibilities

Most of the time I have the opinion that Facebook is the cesspool of social networking. If used correctly Facebook can be a powerful tool, but for the most part, just my opinion, Facebook is dead.

Of course Facebook paved the way for social networking and social media; some might even say Facebook defined social networking; some might even say it's flourishing. I give credit to the creators and Facebook staff for creating and maintaining a powerful social media tool. People use Facebook for many reasons. My experience with Facebook includes many reasons which continue to evolve over time.

Over time, I have come to the realization, as unfair as it may seem, that as an educator, I am held to different behavior and ethical standards on Facebook. Therefore, I am now very careful with my actions and postings on Facebook, as they may be seen and misunderstood by education stakeholders, no matter how secure I think my account may seem.

Reasons for Using Facebook
People use Facebook for many different reasons. For some Facebook is a means of entertainment. For others Facebook is a way of communicating with family members, friends, or random strangers who have things in common. Facebook also serves as a marketing tool in the business world. Many people seem to use Facebook simply to talk about themselves or what they're doing in that minute of their life. Some use Facebook to get in touch with people from their past whether it be friends from grade school, high school, college, or significant others from past relationships. Employers use Facebook searches to spy on their clients before deciding to hire. Some use Facebook for trolling. Others use Facebook for gaming.

I have experienced and learned a lot from Facebook.

I have been un-friended, and I have de-friended others. Some without warning, and some with reasonable explanations.

My Personal Facebook Evolution: Starting My First Facebook Account

I have experienced and therefore learned a lot from Facebook. The reason I started using Facebook was solely for entertainment purposes. One night, my wife left her account open, I started playing Mafia Wars. I got addicted and then I opened my own Facebook account to play Mafia Wars. I was addicted to Mafia Wars for a year and a half, and then Cityville for two more years. I say addicted because I woke up early and stayed up late to play and occasionally spent real money to upgrade my account and achievements. The way we justified this, was that we're not paying to rent a movie tonight; instead we're playing online games; it's just a different form of entertainment. Recently I learned that this concept is known as gamification. I was a victim of gamification and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Through Mafia Wars, I racked up about over 800 "Facebook friends," from all around the world, most with the same interest: working together to collectively advance and collect achievements in Mafia Wars. I say most, because I am confident some "friends" were there just either collecting friends or maybe there were personal reasons possibly including hacking, business ventures, or simply building networks. A small number of my Facebook friends included people I knew from grade school, high school, college, and my work colleagues. I mostly friended old friends in hopes that they played Mafia wars as well, and most of the time they did not.

Like I said, I didn't regret it. Through Facebook, I got to know many of these once players on a personal level. Some Mafia Wars players had family members in the hospital or knew people that passed away and requested prayers. Others knew victims to tragedies including hurricanes or tornadoes, and again requested prayers. These "friends" I got to know over the years have had children and grandchildren born. I have seen my "friends" lose their jobs, and get new ones. I have witnessed the meals people cook for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; kids break their bones; war photos in their neighborhoods, read racist viewpoints, have known people getting suspended or banned for posting anti-government list could go on and on.

For some reason one day I woke up and said "What am I doing?...I'm friends with about 800 strangers from all over the world, and I'm posting pictures of my kids...what am I doing?"

My Personal Facebook Evolution: My Two New Facebook Accounts

Upon a combination of Mafia Wars getting old and reflecting, I came to the realization that people (especially co-workers) don't appreciate both the repeated postings requesting collection items (which could be considered trolling) and repeated references to violence, undergarments, and organized crime. After my Mafia Wars experience, and deciding to shut the account down, I opened two new accounts. I decided one account was my professional account and the other my personal. I set my own rules for my professional account including only friending co-workers and a few family members. This has been a fairly positive experience, allowing me to socialize with my colleagues in an environment outside of work. This professional account has now evolved into a place to research educational technology related resources.

My personal account was for friends, family, and Cityville. I brought my most "trusted" Mafia Wars friends who also played Cityville with me; only the most dedicated, the ones who gifted back, the daily players (morning, noon, and night), the hackers, and the ones I really got to know over the years like I mentioned above. I also brought with me only my closest friends from grade school, high school, college, and family members; in other words I let go of the majority of my acquaintances that I accumulated from previous educational experiences that I'm not really friends with. The Cityville experience lasted another two years. I still never closed the account, and my city is still up and running. Eventually Cityville got old, but this time around I wasn't only on Facebook to play Cityville; I also practice socializing a little and "liked" things that I truly enjoy; basically personal preferences having nothing to do with my professional life.

For a long time I was scared to share with my colleagues that they were part of one account and not the other for fear of hurting their feelings that I was not letting them be a part of my personal life. Not that anybody would seriously care, but I make a general effort is made to not to indirectly hurt people's feelings

Teachers and Facebook
Now if you're a teacher or an educator posting strong opinions or images, which some may consider inappropriate, you're playing a whole different ball game because then you might lose your job or teaching license. For lack of a better description, one would have to be a complete idiot to post something that will get them in trouble. Now I am not sure if the spotlight is only on educators because I pay more attention to those articles, or if anybody is judged for their comments. Commenting is the equivalent of voicing your opinion in public; the only difference is the footprint is left on the internet.

In other words as much as I want to click "like" for my teacher-friend's posting on the photo of the refreshing Sangria they're drinking 60 miles away at 2pm, Big Brother may be watching, and he may not like what he sees. What's more important to me, clicking "like" or keeping my job. I know this ida may seem outrageous, but it seems many people including teachers, are judged for being normal.
Positive Reasons for Having a Facebook Account
  •  The local police posted about a guy in the neighborhood assaulting children and possibly trying to abduct them. I shared this information for all my local Facebook parent and neighbor friends.
  • One time, I took a Facebook survey for a company, and they sent me a free shirt in the mail. That was awesome!
  • I find a lot of really good professional development and educational technology articles on Facebook, which help me excel in my job. I enjoy reading these articles, and I often share them with my co-workers.
  • Marketing
  • Socialization
  • Gaming

Facebook Undesirables
  • Observing how people use Facebook: When family members, specifically teenagers visit the house, and request to login to their Facebook accounts, (we are not fans of letting others surf the internet in our home unless it is closely monitored or a Holiday), and it seems they use Facebook to socialize with friends and search for popular music, videos, or celebrities. I have also observed friends view Facebook accounts and sift through all of their friends photos, verbally (not typing) commenting on each photo, some comments positive, some comments ridiculing. I realized, "Oh my gosh, people do this with my account...I don't want people doing this with my account."
  • De-friending: I know how it feels to be defriended, and its not a very good feeling. When one notices that friends on Facebook are no longer your friends, one wonders if they de-friended you or if they just closed their account. My feelings were hurt when I was de-friended by a close family member due to an argument. Lately, these feelings, at least for me, have evolved a more or less "I don't care" attitude. I don't care if I ever get de-friended by anybody because people have their reasons for un-friending people or closing accounts. I also don't care if people wonder why I have un-friended them, if they request an explanation in real life; I"ll give it to them.
  •  Because of Facebook, I know what a "muffin top" is.
  •  Because of Facebook, I now know what a Jack-Rabbit is.
  •  Because of Facebook  I now know my close friend's parents are animal lovers; just my opinion that it wasn't necessary to see the bloody picture to understand this.

Final Thoughts
I was "friends" with many of my colleagues at work, but I've come to the realization that I'm not really friends with them. I work with these people. I say hello in the hallways, establish working relationships, and strive to build and maintain professional relationships. I have a difficult time connecting Facebook to these goals.

Before school let out this year, I decided to de-friend the majority of my colleagues: the ones I do not know very well. Even simply reading their comments, posting my own comment, or clicking "like" might make me liable for any future undesirable outcome of a specific comment. I don't know who they're friends with. I don't know who reads my comments or posts. In other words. I have also stopped clicking "like" and commenting on other posts. I'm almost to the point where I don't want to post any comments, and possibly just shutting down my Facebook account.

Is Facebook to blame? Maybe people should learn how to act online. But who am I to explain to another person my age or older about appropriate social norms, whether or not they're online.

On the other hand, if it wasn't for Facebook, people wouldn't have the ability to communicate these things with people. I'm kind of torn.

Now...what's the purpose of being friends with someone on a social network if I prefer to not listen or read what they have to say. That's the equivalent of me wearing earplugs when someone talks. I'll admit I'm not fond, nor very good at, discussing or debating controversial issues. But if people wouldn't bring up these topics at a typical dinner or morning cup of coffee share certain photos in public, what makes it okay for people to share them on the internet?

I treat it all as a learning experience, but I think I've moved on from Facebook.

(Update (about a year later from writing this original article), I now use Facebook fairly regularly as an attempt to improve my social skills with friends, family, and colleagues. I mainly use one account, but did not shut the other account down).

Closing Comments
In today's society, you almost need a Facebook account, just to at least keep up with the times, keep in touch with friends and family members (especially the younger incoming generation), receive neighborhood safety alerts, to have water cooler conversation, and possibly entertainment purposes. In some cases, you may need a Facebook account just to show you're somewhat tech literate or tech saavy.

Any person, especially educators and other public servants, should practice caution with any posting whether they be pictures or comments. You may know what you're posting. You may think its innocent. People who truly understand you may not see any harm. But there may be that one powerful person who just doesn't get it...maybe they've been waiting for this opportunity, and you don't really know them or what they're capable of.

Businessnewsdaily, 7 Unexpected Ways Facebook is Good For You Social Media Guidelines for Administrators

Facebook links, references, and articles Teacher's Guide to Social Media

Edutopia Social Media Guidelines

Facebook, A student union group is a forum to bring student voices to education reform

Facebook in Education Page to Assist with Using Facebook in Education, Website Plans to Fight Crime Through Crowd-Sourcing on Facebook On Social Media and the Power of Real World Serendipity School Social Media Policies: Should Students and Teachers Be Friends on Facebook

IBD, Social Media Checks of Job Candidates Cuts Both Ways Why Schools Must Teach Social Networking

LATimes, Teachers Under Morality Microscope: Teachers Disciplined and Fired for Posting Lawful Behavior During Off-Hours, a Social Network Helps Families Coping with Autism, I Can Count to Potato Meme Mom Uses Facebook to Epically Put Her 13-Year Old Daughter in Check

PBWorks, A Collaborative Project to Generate Social Media Guidelines for School Districts NYC Department of Education Social Media Guidelines

Smartmoney, Does Facebook Wreck Marriages High School Principal Resigns Amidst Facebook Scandal Why Teachers Need Social Media Training, Not Just Rules

Mashable, The Teacher's Guide to Facebook