Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Calculating the odds that we'll figure this out...

Many of us remember the dark days before ubiquitous calculators, as well as the uproar when they were being incorporated into mainstream education. "If we let them use calculators, they'll never learn math!" was heard throughout the land (or at least that's how it seemed).  What was once feared has become an important learning tool, required for many junior high and high school courses...and beyond.  We teach students the requisite math skills, teach them how to use the tool, then weave both (the skills and the tool) seamlessly into educational delivery.  Though math aptitude is still a bell-shaped distribution, the assignments being completed with the new tools are far beyond what some of us were able to do in college, given our antiquated tools.  Were the concerns about calculator use unmerited?  Or did they actually help shape a better outcome?

So, what about ubiquitous social media?  From the July 2010 New York Times article about privacy issues, by George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen:
Facebook, which surpassed MySpace in 2008 as the largest social-networking site, now has nearly 500 million members, or 22 percent of all Internet users, who spend more than 500 billion minutes a month on the site.  Facebook users share more than 25 billion pieces of content each month (including news stories, blog posts and photos), and the average user creates 70 pieces of content a month.  There are more than 100 million registered Twitter users, and the Library of Congress recently announced that it will be acquiring--and permanently storing--the entire archive of Twitter posts since 2006.
The sheer volume of information being generated boggles the mind, as well as wondering who is viewing it.  A University of Southern Indiana doctoral student writes about hearing in her interview that her Facebook profile had been reviewed as part her social media internship application and found more acceptable than another candidate's page with a photo of eight shot glasses surrounding the candidate.  Her question in a social media guest blog seems fair:  "Why are today's students held accountable for not knowing how to use social medial professionally, yet they haven't ever been taught formally?"

We have recruiters and employers checking Facebook pages as part of the hiring process, personal information being shared without any (or with limited) awareness of the immediate loss of control over that information, and permanent records of what we create.  And, for the most part, we are not teaching students basic writing skills nor the proper use of social media tools.  We did far better with the calculators.

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