Category Archives: Social Networks

What Sports Betting May Have To Tell Us About Education

superbruI have become quite a fan of sports betting. Without the money, of course! I’m way too poor a gambler to risk my shirt! The site I use is Superbru, and the idea is that you make sports predictions and get points for accuracy based on whether you predicted the result correctly, and whether you predicted the correct score. Your points are not based on the absolute accuracy of your prediction, but rather on how well you did against others in your pool.You can form public or private clubs and compete against friends or colleagues for kudos! All good fun!

Within each club you can compete in tournaments, which might run for a single sporting event, or for a season, such as the English Premier League soccer. At the end of the current soccer season I was sitting in second position in my club, and the chap in first position invited myself and the chappie in third round for a drink to watch the final games and see who would win the league. By the end of the evening I had slipped down into third place and our gracious host remained unchallenged in first position! While this was all very sociable, I believe that it also has a message we can draw on for our classrooms. I’m not suggesting we introduce our students to the world of sports betting! That might represent, after all, a bit of a slippery slope. But I do think that the main mechanics of this kind of site have a great deal to teach us as teachers.

I’m not suggesting that we predict sports results on a regular basis, although that could form the basis of any number of lessons. I believe that many of the mechanisms used in sports betting websites like Superbru, would have traction in the classroom.

The first mechanism is the idea of the club. The value of team sports lies very much in what they teach us about collaboration and esprit de corps! When the top order batsmen are back in the hut, it is often down to the lower order to save the day, and the success of the team often rests on the performance of its weakest individual. How that individual is mentored and supported by the team is what makes a team a team! Clubs operate very much in the same spirit. Students are frequently organised in age cohorts, in houses which cut across age cohorts, and in form classes. A student thus might have multiple identities across a school week. During the swimming gala or inter-house debates, she might support her house, at other times she might feel closest to her form class, or even her entire grade. If she participates in extra-murals, her identity might be formed by being a member of the choir, or the music department. Or she may see herself as a History student, or a Spanish student.

What is often missing in these associations, though, is any real sense of support for the weak, which is common in sport. In our classrooms, the end result is usually a report card for each individual, with a list of grades achieved by that student. Students know that ultimately this is what matters as their grades give them points for University entrance, and prizes and kudos within the school. What is missing is the importance placed on achievements at a personal level. Sport often hinges on these moments: a personal best by a player that swings a match! In sports betting too, the battles are often not for top spot but between friends for a minor position or even just to get one up on someone you know in the pool. The friendly banter and obsessive interest that can be aroused by these rivalries is all part of what makes for a successful club environment. “I don’t mind where I come, as long as I can beat you!” It sounds daft, but sociable rivalry, sociable competitiveness is something we could perhaps explore in our classrooms to some benefit.

On Surperbru you can belong to multiple clubs, and be ranked differently within different clubs, much as any student carries multiple identities across the school. I find it fascinating to see how my performances on Superbru compare in different clubs. Amongst Spurs supporters I was in the top 4% for the recent season, I was third in my regular club, and top in another. In another tournament I am currently in twentieth position out of twenty-one – lest you think I am a whizz at this!

Within a classroom it is common to form groups at different times for different activities, and for the teacher to mix up the groups from time to time so that students learn to co-operate and collaborate with a range of different people. I would argue, though, that the greatest benefit can come from a semi-permanent grouping which brings together students who might normally not share the same interests or affiliations and ensures that students learn to work together with people over a longer period of time than the single task.

In my computer skills classes I divide each class up into Mentor Groups which have the longevity of a year. These groups are given the names of women who have shaped the history of computing such as Ada Lovelace or Radia Perlman and are encouraged to support and help each other with individual assignments as well as group tasks. I hope that by creating these more permanent sub-groups within my classes, I will provide a way of encouraging ongoing mentorship and support.

predThe second mechanism on sports betting sites which I believe would be useful in the classroom is the mechanism of Prediction. The content of much of what we teach centres around facts and certainties. We tend to forget how central prediction is to the thinking process. All knowledge is tentative and provisional, and a pedagogy that focuses on prediction is one which foregrounds thinking rather than content. It makes no sense to talk of predicting what the capital of Sweden is, but a great deal of sense to speak of predicting what would happen if you added water to phosphorus. As an English teacher I often use prediction when studying a literary text. What should, or what will a character do next? Questions about what would you do, what do you think a character will do addresses core concerns around characterization in a novel or play and opens up discussion around multiple points of view. If they do this, what do think will happen? These are powerful questions, and it seems to me that the sports prediction metaphor acts as a useful model for organising prediction in the classroom.

What do I mean?

Many teachers use polls, and these can be used for prediction. You can also use Google forms to set up quick questions. What is good about using Google forms is that it generates a spreadsheet of responses, and if you use Flubaroo it will self-assess the responses. You can then use the email address to sort responses over multiple rounds of predictive questions and a total can be generated, giving a prediction leaderboard much as you would find on Superbru. If this is a bit too much work, you can use a chart in the classroom which can be updated manually either on an individual or a “club” basis. Either everyone who gets it right gets a point added to their chart, or just the group with the highest accuracy!

Adding a dimension of social competition to the discussion around prediction, I believe, opens up all sorts of opportunities as it gives a weight and importance to prediction.




The Wu Wei of Whatsapp!

whatsappWith over 500 million whatsapp users, and with smartphones becoming ubiquitous, whatsapp is a part of the fabric of the school, whether you as a teacher are using it or not! It is the single biggest social messaging platform and offers key affordances in the classroom. It is cross-platform, allowing users with different phones to message each other effortlessly.

On Whatsapp you can set up groups and subscribe users (up to 30) to each group. When you send a message to the group all members are included. It is for the mobile phone what a listserv is for email! Attachments such as pictures, audio or video can be added, and messages can be sent using phone data or over wi-fi. Within a school environment where students and teachers are hooked up to the school wi-fi, this effectively means communication can be instantaneous and free to users, an important consideration. Conversations can also extend beyond school hours, and this is a huge advantage.

It seems to me that whatsapp use in the classroom started with students forming groups based on interest or need. It was a useful way to find out what homework had been set, and pages could be photographed and sent to the group. My sons use it for this purpose, and I know that as a family it is a fantastic application for spreading information quickly to everyone. My son tells me that the other day in his Maths class, many of the boys had not brought their books for whatever reason. The relevant page was photographed and sent to the class whatsapp group. It is now fairly routine for a student to photograph the homework on the board and whatsapp it to the rest of the class! It is usually best to ask your students to set up a whatsapp group for the class, and to add you to it. This gives students a sense of ownership of the group. You can then use the group to answer student queries, and to send out information such as a reminder to bring a particular book to class. It allows for those sudden unavoidable changes in plan too, including things you forgot to mention in class. You do need to remember though that whatsapp can never be an official channel for communication. Not all students have smartphones, some may run out of data, some may lose battery, and you cannot penalize any student for failing to receive a message! This is important to note – I have heard of teachers using it as if it were an official channel and seriously disadvantaging students because of this! My advice would be to keep the class whatsapp as a student run channel, which you can use, but always as a reminder, never as the primary information channel.

Students feel free to use the channel for chat, and this more sociable reaction to classroom announcements is an invaluable tool in promoting your digital presence in the class. It’s a good platform for happy birthdays and well-wishing messages when someone is ill. I encourage students to broadcast a summary of any class for those who are absent.

I find it especially useful for extra-mural activities where do not always see your students in class during the course of any given day, and unexpected changes are de rigueur! Whatsapp is clearly very useful as a classroom management tool, but can it be used pedagogically too?

One feature of whatsapp is the ability to send a recorded audio message. If everyone in your class is signed up on a whatsapp group, you can use it as a feedback mechanism in group or even individual work. Ask students to record a quick reflective feedback on any task and message it to the group. This can then be used as material for a follow-up lesson, or allow you, as a teacher, to gain insights into students’ understanding of the task. These messages can be retrieved from the whatsapp media folder if necessary, but they are essentially ephemeral in nature.

You can also use audio or video messages, or links to these as byte-sized flipped learning content as preparation ahead of a class, or as a wrap-up to a class. I like to store this content on Moodle or other platforms, and use whatsapp simply as a reminder of the link. You can encourage students to discuss the material over whatsapp, but I feel that that serves to take over the channel too much. Part of what makes whatsapp successful is that it is an unofficial channel and is student-driven. Official class chat can be housed on a Facebook group or twitter hashtag.

Essentially I see whatsapp as a tool of inaction. It’s not so much what you do with whatsapp – it’s more about what you allow students to use it for, to support that and chip in when you can!


#AChristmasCarol by @CharlesDickens tweeting the novel – Part III

In this, the last of my look at the twitter production of A Christmas Carol that I staged with my Grade 8 English students, I would like to have a brief look at the reflections of the students. What they made of the experience. I had asked students to write up a short reflection and save it on the network drive. Most students appeared to enjoy the task:

We really enjoyed this task and found it surprising that we remembered most of the characters. We found that it as easy to tweet as our character because we remembered who he was and that made it easier for us. We found that this task was enriching and that we got a real feel of the characters from A Christmas Carol.


There was in fact only one negative reaction:

“I personally didn’t enjoy the activity. It was kind of boring and I didn’t see it necessary. The concept was good but I don’t tweet a lot for myself never mind for someone else”

One group commented that “We enjoyed placing her (Mrs Cratchit) as a 21st century character.” Reactions I had had from teachers beforehand mainly revolved around what connection there could possibly be between twitter and Dickens, so I was encouraged to see that this didn’t seem to trouble the girls much.

We have learned a lot about the Christmas Carol characters, even the minor ones, and we’ve had a chance to use modern technology and Twitter to do so.   We were creative with applying an old story to modern hashtags and tweets that were funny and easy to do.

Most groups felt that they had been creative, and reading the archive certainly reveals some choice moments!

We liked it because it was a different type of fun – none of us have done it before! Some tweets were hilarious but others quite weird!

One reaction pointed out that the translation into the present time made it more difficult.

We knew a lot about the staves which made it a lot easier to write about, although turning into something they’d say if they lived in the 20th century (sic), is a lot harder. We liked the fact that we could express what we thought of the characters in our own way, as well as expressing them in a unique way.

Some were a bit disturbed by some of the more direct comments made by some characters, which was felt to be rude and “out of hand”. Some girls drew my attention to some rather robust comments during the production, and I appealed to everyone to remember that their comments were public, and not to get nasty. The comments in question were made by  Bob Cratchit and represented some unflattering views of his employer – fair enough, I felt, but it did offend some girls.

I liked the fact that nobody knew anybody’s identity and seeing people’s creative thoughts (#cripplecool, #yayhumbug). We wouldn’t mind doing it again. It was a good experience pretending to be the characters in the actual book. There could’ve been more accounts (e.g. Ignorance & want)

Some experiences were marred by technical problems and by some groups feeling that since they were minor characters in the book they couldn’t participate fully. I thought I had dispelled this notion in my introduction and notes, but clearly I hadn’t.

I think in the end we ran out of ideas to tweet about if we didn’t have main characters or characters with big parts like ours (@OldJoe8).

One of the virtues of a twitter production is that it should allow even the most minor character to take centre stage! Any character can tweet at any time.

DSC00183I have placed an archive of the tweets in the Dropbox of this blog so that readers can judge for themselves. I had asked students to reflect on whether what they’d created was Art or not. Most groups felt it was definitely not Art.

I think I disagree.


Teaching With Facebook

I have written rather scathingly in the past about the potential of Facebook game applications such as Farmville, but clearly it would be lunacy to dismiss Facebook itself as a learning tool. Especially as one who believes that the future lies with social learning!

I went to a presentation of Obami a few days ago and it looked very interesting – a secure, school-based social networking with assignment submission apps in place. As someone who has been searching for a VLE which combines the functionality of Moodle with the advantages of Facebook, Obami looks very interesting, and I will be trying it out soon.

The main argument for using Facebook, rather than a school-based network, however, remains that students are on Facebook, and it is important to engage with them where they are. I have only just begun experimenting with setting up a teacher account, partly because the issues of privacy were concerning to me. There has been quite a lot of debate around what is appropriate and what is not, but I don’t think it is in any way acceptable for a teacher to “befriend” a current student. As much as no teacher would want to see their private updates, or photos shared by students, students would not wish to have their lives laid bare to their teacher! The best way round this is to set up a Fan Page rather than a profile. You can use your profile to create a Page, but only what is visible on the wall of the Page itself will be visible to students. Students need to Like the Page, and visit it to participate in discussions and so on. The teacher’s personal profile is therefore not used, and personal updates will not reflect on the Page.

Some people use Groups for a class, and this has advantages. You will probably want, as I am, to experiment with both to see what suits your own needs best. The main disadvantage of using a group is that you then need a teacher profile which is separate from your personal profile.

Perhaps one of the most promising applications on Facebook pages is the ability to link to a Youtube Channel, allowing you to upload videos to Youtube, which will then display on your Facebook page. This allows you to run your own Khan Academy if you so wish! SlideShare presentations can also be uploaded. In this way, and sharing links, content can be brought into the page.

But it is probably in the ability to create discussions on your page that the real value lies. Facebook is a clumsy interface for storing content – a class Moodle does this so much better. Facebook, however, is superb at getting people to engage with each other in relatively superficial, but potentially probing discussions around links to content online, for example. The ability to view a link, and fire off a quick reaction is what characterises Facebook, and it should be used for this. I wouldn’t attempt to hold profound discussions around a topic. Blogs and class assignments are so much better at this. But for quick snippets relating to the course content, and quick reactions and interactions around it, it seems to work well.

As I say, I have only just begun experimenting with Facebook, but I think it is always important to explore for yourself. What works for one teacher, and one class, might not work in another context. There’s only one way to know if it works for you, and that is to jump in and give it a run.


Social Networks in the Classroom

Just heard a great presentation by Jane Hart, posing the question of how, not if, but how we use social networking in our classrooms as a learning tool. I know this will turn a few hairs grey back in my staffroom, so I had better tread warily.

Much of Jane’s presentation made a case for Twitter as the killer classroom app, and I know that many teachers just don’t get what anything involving hashtags and 140 characters or less could possibly contribute. There are many ideas out there, and Jane certainly made a compelling case, so I don’t want to rehearse a catalogue of ideas. What struck me most forcibly during the talk, was how deeply things have changed in the last ten years, and how altered the terrain is. All learning is social. We are social animals and we learn from each other all the time. The Socratic method, perhaps the earliest pedagogical method we have, is based on question and answer, and essentially that is what social learning is all about. What ICTs add to the equation is the speed and extent to which one can broadcast a question, how many people it can reach, and how quickly it can be answered.

Now, so much of social networking is just plain frivolous, the endless likes, and status updates, but used intelligently it is a powerful tool precisely because of the extent and reach it can attain. Networks are exponential. You may have 100 followers on your twitter feed, but if they each have a 100, pretty soon your question can have reached an unthinkable number of people. Thinking about it this way allows one to see that if used properly, it can become a powerful tool for enquiry in the classroom.

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Posted by on July 5, 2011 in Social Networks

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