Education

Kenan Update: Networking and Expertise

I am currently in the midst of the “research” phase of my Kenan Fellowship in which one of my goals is to learn what makes a modern globally networked workplace tick.  I have been interacting (“reaching out” in the local lingo) with a variety of people both on this Cisco Systems campus and in other campuses around the world.  I’ve been able to use a lot of cool technology to do it, but the really impressive part is the people and the culture, not the tools.

What I’ve learned about Cisco Systems, which may be true for other 21st century companies, is that much of their business takes place in meetings.  Moreover, the purpose of the meetings is often to find the answer to a question or problem by bringing together the person(s) seeking the answer and the person(s) with the knowledge (or connections).  This is a wholly different philosophy than the one we typically see in education.  Our meetings generally serve the purpose of disseminating information or (less often) collecting opinions.  They are “pyramid-shaped” affairs with a leader at the top giving or receiving information.

By contrast, Cisco’s meetings (which often happen via teleconference, videoconference, or shared desktop) are about the lateral exchange of information.  Colleagues connect with colleagues to seek out information or to get the name of someone else who can help.  These meetings are relatively short (less than an hour) and remarkably productive.  This might have been the biggest moment of culture shock for this classroom teacher over my entire stay at Cisco.

While their corporate mission statement lists “Tech Agnostic” as one of the company’s priorities, there is no denying that they are a networking technology business.  Looking at their new products, however, gives insight into what networked professionals need to do their jobs.  One such tool is a sort of combination of Ning, wikis, and Twitter that connects members of a large organization and gives them space to collaborate.  Now, there are plenty of free tools that do similar things, and I am certainly not a Cisco shill, but this product has one cool feature that I found interesting.

Members of the network get “tagged” with labels that describe what they know about.  This starts with your job description and includes any tags that you manually add to the system.  Then, the software tracks the things that you write in all of the various corners of the network and automatically applies more tags based on what you seem to know.  Every member gets a rating in dozens of topics that quantify that person’s expertise in that area.

Other users can seek out those with knowledge that they need by filtering based on expertise.  It’s a method that taps the power of a network (and its members) and the best of what technology can offer to this problem.  It’s a capability that I hope to see in more software in the near future.

Do you see value in quantifying expertise?  Would you pay for this capability?

Technology

Will Facebook kill RSS?

I’m a admittedly a huge RSS fan. I use my newsreader, Google Reader (and Reeder on my iPhone), on a daily basis to pore over hundreds of news items, blog posts, YouTube recommendations, and student work.  I find that it keeps me in the know without taking up too much of my time.  It also makes it easy for me to find topics to blog about and pass along to friends and colleagues.

It has always bewildered me that so few of the folks that I work with make use of this technology.  New teachers, fresh from education programs, have often heard about RSS but don’t see the benefit for them.  Veteran teachers, even those who consider themselves techies, frequently think of it as “something extra” that they don’t have time for.

I also use Facebook actively, but only on a personal basis.  I almost never interact with colleagues or companies/brands that I like through Facebook.  Lately, however, I’ve noticed more and more that organizations are creating Facebook pages to allow users to “follow” their updates and news.  While this isn’t something that I enjoy doing, it seems to be becoming more and more popular.

Which leads me to the question: Will Facebook’s increasingly aptly named News Feed surplant RSS as the mode of choice for consumers (of products and information) to stay up-to-date?  Will Facebook mean the end of RSS?

What do you think?

Education

Cyber-paranoia

color-networkI just read this article in the Houston Chronicle, and it’s got me in a tizzy again.  Just reading that a teacher’s union representative would say this drives me crazy:

 

Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said she would advise members to avoid connecting with students on social-networking sites, though the Houston Independent School District doesn’t have a specific policy about it.

“Ninety percent of the time it would be OK,” Fallon said. “But what do you do with that one whose parent goes nuts: ‘What do you mean you’re my kid’s friend?'”

I’ll tell you exactly what I would say to that “nutty” parent.  First, I would point out that we teachers are human beings and members of the community in which our students live.  I am just as likely to bump into a student at WalMart as I am to see them online.  What makes the latter more dangerous (to the student and to my career) than the former?  Lots of child molesters troll for victims in public places, so what makes them safer than public social networking sites?  If you watch your kids at the supermarket, why don’t you monitor them online?

Second, I would remind the parent that making a connection with a student has been shown to be one of the most important factors in academic success for that student.  If a child feels that the teacher cares about him, he learns more.  It’s that simple.

Third, I would ask the parent why there is an assumption that contact online is inappropriate.  What educated adult in this era of digital records would believe that he or she could write something improper to a student on a social networking site and not get caught?  Call me naive, but shouldn’t you assume that a teacher has the best intentions until you see otherwise?  Why do you thank me profusely for phoning your child to see if she is okay after being out sick for several days, but assume that an electronic copy of the same message is laced with sexual innuendo?

Fourth, How am I supposed to find a good babysitter in a pinch from amongst the plethora of qualified former students without Facebook?