Social Networking in the Classroom: An interesting concept but……

Photo taken in March 2011 Note: This was one of the postings I had in a seminar for the college students on project proposals.

Social networking- a concept that has changed the way we communicate forever. When we think of social networking, we think of reconnecting with people we lost contact with for many years- family, friends from high school and college, and in some cases, former students and colleagues with whom you worked with. We also think of social networking as a way of exchanging information and ideas, marketing one’s entity to the rest of the world, or even having people follow you when you post an update on your project or other endeavor you are doing.

But social networking can  be  rather dangerous if it is not used properly. One of the dangers is that it is being used as a way to defame people by making false allegations that can be damaging to one’s reputation to a point where it is irreparable. Also known as cyber bullying, these victims suffer a great deal from it, almost to a point where thy take their own lives in the end. The most dangerous part about social networking is that more and more people, ages 18 and under, are joining the social networks, whether it is Twitter, Facebook, Myspace and VZ (a German social network), without knowing the dangers of posting comments and pictures. After all, anything you post on there may be used against you in the long term.

Many schools have been tracking down and even disabling social network pages that have been deemed inappropriate. In Worthington, Minnesota, west of where I grew up (in Jackson), a group of students established the WHS Trojan Gossip on Twitter, which opened a forum for people to gossip about other people. That page was shut down last month after it was brought to the attention of high school administrators and the police department. Further action (including legal actions) are pending against those involved in this scheme. Interestingly enough, a similar page was created and shut down in a short time in Jackson, and other high schools have dealt with this issue  not only in Minnesota, but also the US and parts of Europe.

But another development in the use of social networking has come in a form of compulsory involvement of students and teachers in the social networking.  At about the same time as the crack down on Trojan Gossip, a proposal in Germany (specifically in the eastern part) would have required students and staff to register on a social network (namely Facebook) as a way of keeping track of each other, exchanging homework and information and ensure that no students are engaged in any type of activity deemed illegal, such as cyber bullying. That measure was rejected clearly for reasons of privacy and because it would force people to register on one social network when there are many to choose from. Instead measures on how to handle social networking without obliging teachers and students to join have been proposed.

There are two sides to being involved in social networking, even from my own personal experience as a teacher. Social networking is one of the quickest ways to communicate to each other and be up to date on the latest with regards to class scheduling and homework. Students with questions could contact the teacher right away without having to telephone or visit the teacher’s office. And it allows for teacher’s to be mobile and take care of business quicker and easier. By the same token, involving oneself in social networking can carry substantial risks. Many people outside your group can read the homework that is posted as well as other items posted that are none of anyone’s concern at all. Some like to comment on the postings, which can be irritating because the matter is clearly within the group. And the involvement of teachers and students in one group in a social network is almost the same as having a 1-1 personal relationship outside the office- something that is clearly forbidden in many academic institutions, while in some states and provinces, it is against the law, and teachers caught could be fired from their jobs and/or have their licenses taken away.  And while social networks like Facebook have closed groups, it is better to deal with questions and homework in person in the classroom, instead of hunkering down and being solely dependent on the computer and the internet, as an addiction.

While it is difficult to judge whether social networking should be involved in the classroom or not- each school/university, municipality and state has to decide on whether social networking should be compulsory for the teachers or students, or if should be forbidden for people up to a certain age, from my personal experience, I find that social networking is better off when it has nothing to do with course studies. I experimented with social networking via Facebook for a year at my Alma mater in Erfurt as a way of providing information, announcements and homework to the students and answering the questions they might have. It was not obligatory to join, and a few either did not have a social network account or were not forthcoming on the fastest way to communicate, which resulted in me using e-mail as well.  I found that students were quicker to respond to my postings than with e-mail and that when there was a question, I could get it answered right away. Yet when it comes to homework assignments and attachments, they were better off being sent by e-mail as there are limits to the contents that were being sent. Plus it is safer than people from outside my classroom having to read up on the announcements and posts when they know that they were for my groups only and none of my concern. When I ceased with the experiment at the beginning of winter semester last year, I realized that despite the success there are many who felt that the easiest way to convey the information is through a word of mouth and not with the computer. Privacy is a commodity that is sacred for many over here and having a social network actually invades this aspect.

And this brings me up to the topic of privacy. While there are some characteristics that we love to show off, there are some flaws that are best kept private. And this is what social networking does to one’s private sphere- it exposes it and in the worst way and puts it in the yellow press for others to read. While many of us (yours truly included) have been really careful about what to put in and how much, many others still do not grasp the concept of posting items, which can produce some harmful effects on themselves in the future. By being involved in a social network in the classroom, we are taking a risk with our privacy while compromising our own abilities to decide what can be posted and what not. It is something that we need to be educated on through obligatory seminars in the schools and universities, not just as teachers and students, but also the parents as well.  Forcing someone to join a network just to have a close eye on the students’ activities is the same as having a helicopter hover over you. It will make the student feel even more threatened. The most viable is to be educated about social networking, have a set of ground rules referring to social networking and identify any problems involving social networking to the right authorities straight away. All users should be held accountable for their actions and parents with children should ensure that social networking is used appropriately and at an acceptable level.

While many of you may not agree with this suggestion of not having compulsory social network  involvement in the school, there are many who believe that we do have a responsibility for how we use social networking: what we post, who we are on contact with, and many times, how long we should be contacting people in these networks. We also know that there is more to communication than just the computer, meaning it is better off to communicate in person to handle all the problems and exchange the information that is vital. But both sides of the debate will agree to one thing: what we say or post can be used against us, which leads to a quote of the 8th Commandment: “Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” The best way to explain that is through the TV series Little House on the Prairie and the episode of Harriet’s Happenings, a story of the Pen and Plow and its way of defaming the people of Walnut Grove. While such gossiping websites may have been taken off line and the debate on social networking in the classroom still lingers on, we should ask ourselves if social networking is really a help or a hindrance to the education of the student. Once that question is answered, it will make action regarding this topic much easier for the teacher, the student, the parent, the administrators of the educational institutions, government officials, and all those involved in one way or another.

2012: The Year of Reckoning

If there is a year where judgement day will take place, where our actions of the past will determine our fate in the future and where justice will be served once and for all, this year is it and for a good reason. Many sources on both sides of the Atlantic have already touted 2011 as the worst year to date, as scandals hit the airwaves, many politicians were exposed for their wrongdoing, many countries faced default as they spent more than they could save, and most of the public was led to a false sense of security, resulting in protests against Wall Street in the US and other financial institutions in Europe and elsewhere, and the Arab Spring, which is already in its second year.  While 2011 exposed all forms of lies and deception, 2012 will definitely be the year of the truth- where people responsible for the scandals and corruption will be brought to justice, old institutions will collapse and a new world order will be created, and the public will finally start getting what they deserved (and what they have been longing for since 2000), which goes beyond the color of money and other forms of financial security.

Many have gone by the Mayan assumption that 2012 will be the year Earth ceases to exist and that we will all perish on 21 December, 2012. Speaking from our past experience with Y2K and Nostradamus and its connection with 11 September 2001, this theory will never happen in practice. It will be business as usual and we will all celebrate Christmas and ring in 2013, so you can rest easily. Yet we will see fundamental changes in our way of life as many institutions will cave into the pressure by the majority who have perceived them to be corrupt and dysfunctional. What has already occurred in the Middle East and North Africa will make its way to Europe and the Americas, both legally (through the election process) and illegally (through the coup d’ etat).  It may not be like the hot summer of 1968, but it could be even hotter both literally as well as in the context.  Here are some examples of changes that we may see in this year:

The End of the Euro and the Return of the Deutsche Mark:  This week marks the 10-year anniversary of the Euro, yet there is nothing to celebrate about given the events that occurred in the last year. Countries like Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and now Italy have more debt than what their Gross Domestic Product can handle. France might follow and Germany is stretched at the breaking point after dishing out its share of money to help Greece. And now the UK wants to protect its British Pound and its own interest. It is hard to believe that the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties, which were supposed to bind the 27 countries together (17 of which have the Euro currency), are becoming null and void, but given the problems the European countries are having to keep their fiscal policies in order, it is a sad reality. Despite attempts by Germany, France and now Denmark (which leads the European Parliament for the first six months of this year) to stabilize the Euro, elections in France and possibly elsewhere will make every attempt very difficult, if not impossible. Prediction: The Euro will fall and the national currencies, like the German Mark and the French Franc will return, but European policies will remain intact albeit as a loose-leaf political federation.

The End of the Dream Coalition: The sound defeat of the Free Liberals, combined with the scandals involving many members of the Christian Democrats and the lack of satisfaction among the Germans because of the Euro Crisis may spell the end of Angela Merkel’s regime as Chancellor of Germany. Already before the end of 2011 another scandal emerged with an ugly face involving the German President Christian Wulff as he was accused of obtaining a loan from a private bank, which has gotten the Opposition furious and the media happy to defame the former minister of Lower Saxony. Should he step down as president, it could create implications for possible early elections, which would not be a first in modern history. The last early elections of 2005 brought down Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder and perhaps a beleaguered Merkel could face that possibility that her coalition may not last to the scheduled federal elections in 2013.

 

The End to Washington politics: Perhaps the most pivotal event taking shape in 2012 is not the Olympic Games in London, even though the city will be touted as the first one to host the Games five times since the inception in 1896. It will be the Presidential elections in November that will remake Capitol Hill and break the deadlock that has given President Barack Obama headaches in the past two years. Health care, the debt ceiling, spending cuts, reinforcing the nation’s infrastructure, and finding ways to reduce the unemployment has caused the Republicans and Democrats to harden their stances and the public to lose respect for Washington altogether. Even the President’s performance is considered appalling in the eyes of many Americans. Yet the challengers from the Republican side of the spectrum have not been able to come up with a clear cut plan as to tackle the problems the country has been facing since the Recession started in 2008. Unless the deference of responsibility ends and there is a unified plan to handle the problems that have been left behind from the era of President George W. Bush, we could see a very hot summer over the US which could change the landscape of the US once and for all. There are three ways that could happen: a Revolution like in 1968 marked by protests and violence, a Revolution of 1848 that includes overtaking Washington and New York, or a Revolution of 1936 in Spain, which marked the beginning of the three year civil war. None of these options are desirable. Prediction: Change will come to America but only through a President with a plan and the ability to relate to the needs of the Public and a Congress that will support every policy the President has to tackle the problems that are keeping the country from becoming the best.

 

The End of Big Oil and its influence: This theory may be far-fetched but is possible in practice. After facing lawsuits because of oil disaster after oil disaster (including the 2010 Disaster off the Gulf of Mexico and the most recent disaster in northern Spain), the increasing interest in renewable energy and electric automobiles and people becoming fed up with the monopoly, increasing oil prices and its cozy relationship with politicians, the influence of the big oil companies will diminish due to regulations and the need to keep their influence in check, something that people have been asking for since 2001 but have not had their wishes respected until now.

 

The End of Ignorance to the most pressing environmental problems:  If the world ever was to come to an end on 21 December 2012, it will be because of the natural disaster of apocalyptic proportions, similar to what was seen in The Day After Tomorrow. While 2011 was touted as the wildest weather in recent memory with unprecedented snowfall and blizzards, combined with flooding and extremely hot temperatures, this year will most certainly be considered hotter and wilder. Already, both the northern half of the US and all of Europe (minus the Alps) set the record for the warmest December in recent memory with a green and brown Christmas, and 2012 started off with spring weather in Germany and all places to the north. If one follows the trend, a warm December means a January full of hurricanes and an extremely hot summer with high humidity and storms. This was certainly the case in Winter 2006/07 in Germany, where a warm December was followed by hurricane Kyrill, which devastated northern Europe, brought travel to a total standstill, and coined the word kyrillize. If people do not realize the gravity of the situation with global warming and take action, no one will and the consequences will be unthinkable.

 

And finally….

The End of Rush Limbaugh and Biased Media: In the past 10 years, we have seen the media veer away from becoming a neutral medium where people receive their regular dose of 60 minutes of news on the local, national and international levels and divulge into far left and far right media, influenced by  celebs like Rachel Madow and Keith Obermann (left) and Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh (right). With this divisive influence comes the split in family structure and value where members have been taking sides on certain issues and the ignorance of the most pressing issues that have been mentioned above.  Fortunately, thanks to the likes of CNN and the BBC, German public TV, like N24 and ARD, social networks like Twitter and Facebook, and lastly online blogs and columns, like this one, we are starting to see the influence from the extremes diminish. This is good as many people are really tired of the likes of Rush Limbaugh, who has harassed one celebrity too many too much. Earning six years worth $400 million to host his own talk show, he has influenced the public with his own version of the news to a point where many have believed his propaganda and have tried to encourage others to refer to him for guidance. Whoever says that Michael J. Fox is faking his Parkinson’s Disease and that oil is a renewable resource must be way too insane to write a column or speak on the radio. Once the elections of 2012 are finish, we will also see the downfall of many people like him and the return to reality and real news with neutral information, something that will definitely help us become more informed and indeed smarter.

 

But before seeing what 2012 will really bring us, there are some memos worth noting that will help determine whether or not the theories brought forth will come true.

 

FLENSBURG FILES NEWS FLYER:

Operation Wulff:  The background to the credit scandal involving German President Christian Wulff is as follows: During his time in office, he obtained a home loan from a private bank with low interest rate to purchase a house, which is considered illegal according to German law. He tried to avert the scandal by not mentioning it in his Christmas speech or in any of his interviews and apparently threatening the yellow press and other newspapers, which is also considered illegal. Support for Mr. Wulff is waning and it may be a matter of time before Chancellor Merkel will be forced to elect a new president- another torpedo hit to a Dream Coalition that has been battered with scandals since 2009.

Link: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15642945,00.html

Farewell to Arms?:    2011 was also a record year of deaths of famous people world wide, including those who passed on either shortly before or during the holidays. Among them include Vaclav Havel, the former president of the Czech Republic who led the revolution of Czechoslovakia (a.k.a. Velvet Revolution) in 1989 and granted a Velvet Divorce from Slovakia in 1993. He was president of Czechoslovakia from 1989 to 1992 at the time of the Velvet Divorce and the Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003. He died on 18 December at the age of 75.  Dutch actor Johannes Heesters, a popular figure in the German film industry famous for Die Fledermaus (the Bat), Bel-Ami, and the Otto series passed away peacefully on Christmas Eve at the age of 108. And Kim Jong Il of North Korea died on 17 December after a long illness at the age of 70. He is succeeded by his son Kim Jong un as leader of the country and hope is still there for the country to lay down its arms and hostility and embrace peace, although it still remains many kilometers apart. All three figures were controversial in one way or another because of political spats that were considered inappropriate in the public’s eyes, yet deep down realized that peace was important and to a certain degree have set the precident for the next one to enusre that peace and prosperity dominate the global playing field for the next generation.

Links: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,6683647,00.html (Havel)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Heesters (Heesters)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Jong-il

 

The Drive to End Nationalism in Germany: In response to the recent terrorist attacks by the right wing extremists in central and eastern Germany, the drive to consider the prohibition of the NPD in Germany is gaining steam, even though critics consider this futile and will fail at the German Supreme Court in Karlsruhe. It is unclear if and when this will happen, but in order to successfully ban the party, one might want to consider rewriting the constitution, written while Konrad Adenauer was in power in the 1950s, and state that all parties that stress the importance of xenophobism, nationalism or nazisim are forbidden, and that law enforcement should be reinforced to ensure that the law is kept. A discussion on this can be found here:

Link: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15597828,00.html

 

Lowest Unemployment in 20 Years in Germany: Despite the Euro-Crisis, Germany had a record year as far as employment is concerned. During all of 2011, an average of 2.7 million Germans were unemployed, an average percentage of 8%.  Of which, 10.5% came from the eastern half of the country and 5.6% from the western half. This is the lowest since 1991, the first year of a reunited Germany.  Despite a slight increase of 67,000 people in December, the total number for the last month was 2,78 million. In addition, the Gross Domestic Product rose by 3% for the whole year, making it one of the most productive countries in the world. Unfortunately, despite the rosy numbers, dangers lurk for 2012 as the crisis in Europe may eventually drag Germany down thanks to cuts in programs and the country’s budget and companies’ planning on laying off employees, which could result in an increase in the number of unemployed. This was already announced by Chancellor Merkel during her Christmas Eve address, televised on German TV. It is unclear whether she will be right on her predictions or if Germany will buck the trend.

Links: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15642176,00.html

http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/alos100.html

 

Double Storm to pummelt Europe: For those wanting to celebrate Epiphany this weekend and take down the Christmas tree, one will have to calculate Ulli and Andrea crashing the party and leaving a mess for Europeans to clean up. On Tuesday, Ulli produced winds as high as 150 kmph (75 mph) in places along the North Sea coast and the Harz Mountain region in northern Thuringia and parts of Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, uprooting trees, tearing roofs off houses and creating traffic chaos. Thursday and Friday, the storm’s sister will wreak havoc on the region with much higher wind gusts, combined with hail and snow in many areas, making it one of the strongest storms since Kyrill invaded Europe in 2007. More information will come soon.

Link: http://www.ndr.de/regional/wetter327.html

 

 

New Facebook Features: DISLIKE!

Dangers lie ahead with social networking- beware of the consequences. Photo taken in August 2011 while in the USA

 

I have been on Facebook for over year and a half (since the end of February 2010 to be more precise), and there are a lot of advantages of being in a social network. You can reconnect with those whom you lost contact with for a long time, keep in touch with current friends, meet new people and create your own personal networks, share your interests with others, and sometimes increase your chances of getting a job through the right connections.  The downsides however overshadow the positive aspects of social networking. Reports of internet stalking, bullying and the result of suicide attempts, hacking into and stealing ones’ identity, and virtually stripping naked with personal issues make social networking one of the most abusive hobbies. But like many people, privacy is a paramount concern as our interests could be exploited by those wanting to make easy money.

Recently, Facebook went below the belt by adding the feature what type of friends you have. Now if you want to be friends with someone you know through facebook or invite an acquaintance to join your social network, you are strongly encouraged to categorize him by the basis of whether that person is a close friend, family, or acquaintance.  I found this out as I asked a person whom I met at a conference in St. Louis to join the social network and got this feature thrown in my face.  For five minutes or so, I tried to get rid of the feature and was very close to cancelling the friend request. Finally, I got rid of the feature and the request was accepted.  However, the new feature has caused a stir among people like me, who fear that our privacy, which has become more and more a tabu, was being compromised further.  While there is logic in having that feature there to identify potential stalkers and criminals who are best friends or acquaintances of those who invited them to their social network, finding out who are my real friends, and who are just acquaintances should be the responsibility of the person who meets them and wants to stay in contact with them.  Nobody wants to classify them based on what facebook has for options for them. And moreover, nobody wants to be classified by others in order to provoke jealousy, or whatever sick thoughts that are possible in the age of information. I think we have a responsibility  to determine who should be allowed to join our social network and who should be left out.  It is all part of a bigger responsibility we have when accessing the internet and either surfing for the information we need or post information online for others to see. This includes online columns like this one.  Those who are irresponsible should be educated properly so that their conduct does not affect others. This also includes those running the social network, like the founder  of facebook, Mark Zuckerberg.

Recently, Germany decided to go on a legal spree against facebook because of policy concerns the country has. While internet trafficking has weakened the boundaries of countries like the Bundesrepublik, Germany prides itself on privacy as the population treats it like they treat their books: sacred and fragile- handle with care. While it is unknown how the courts will rule on the privacy issues, perhaps Zuckerberg and other founders of social networks, like Linked-In, myspace, twitter, and StudiVZ/ MeinVZ should see this case as a wake-up call to scale back on privacy infringements and respect the wishes of the individuals who just want to be left alone to mind his/her own affairs. After all, one has to know his/her limits, those of others, and as far as the new facebook features are concerned, determine for him/herself what should  go on the profile and who should join the social network and who should be deleted altogether. In the year and a half I have been on facebook, this is what I learned, even when it was the hard way. I hope others are of that opinion, too.

 

FLENSBURG FILES FAST FACTS:

  1. The new friendship feature is one of many new features that facebook introduced as it did some upgrading to determine the interests and background of the 700 million users who use the social network everyday. Since its introduction at the beginning of the week, a lot of complaints regarding the complicity of the new page have been posted and many wanted the old format returned because of its simplicity. It is unknown whether the demands will be heeded or if they will be ignored.
  2. Litigations being sought by private groups in Germany claim that the “Like” Button on facebook as well as biometric features violate the privacy as stated by German law. Furthermore, in light of various incidents where hundreds of uninvited guests attended parties posted on facebook in Wuppertal, Hamburg, Kiel and other places, German authorities are considering measures banning facebook parties. So far no word on whether these litigations are successful at the time of this entry. Links to the stories are provided below:
Links: