Mom’s Old Saying is Reversed on the Internet!

No rain emoticon

Image by amboo who? via Flickr

I thought I’d depart from our usual postings a little bit on a topic that I’ve been thinking about for some time.

I’ve been researching social media monitoring tools, and their ability to track what these tools call “sentiment,” which is whether a post or comment is positive, negative, or neutral.  These tools basically scrub the text of a posting looking for keywords that might define the posting as positive or negative.  In general, these types of tools do a pretty good job, and are around 70-80% accurate.  This social media sentiment article is a good write-up on sentiment and sentiment accuracy using text-scrubbing tools.

After researching these tools quite a bit, I had a bit of an enlightened moment that brought me back to my own childhood.

I argued with my mother fairly often, despite the fact that she was very good to me.  I would often use sarcasm in these arguments as a means of causing pain.  Sarcasm is easy to note when you are face to face.  I have since apologized to my mother numerous times (especially now that I have my own teenager) about how I would act during those arguments.   Her and I are still very close, as she raised me to love my family no matter what.  Sorry again mom.  I know I was a tough kid to handle.

Eventually, after an argument was over, my mom would pull an old saying out of her bag and use it.  She’d say:

“You know… it’s not what you say.  It’s how you say it.”

Given how often I argued with her, I got to hear this saying a lot.  It’s a very true statement;  body language, tone of voice, rolling of the eyes… all of these things contribute to how you express meaning in your language.

The “how you say it” part is particularly troublesome for these automated sentiment tools.  They have no way to track sarcasm, innuendo, or other creative wordplay.  Case in point:

I LOVE potatoes.  I could eat them every day.  If you serve me potatoes with every meal, I would be the happiest person alive.

My question to our readers:  Do I like potatoes?

On the Internet, mom’s old saying is turned on its head. It now becomes:

“On the Internet, it’s not how you say it… it’s what you say.”

There are many examples of this that happen to me every day.  When I read an email with someone expressing a strong opinion, I often think to myself “Now what did they mean by that?” If I had actually heard them say the same words out loud or been in the room with them, I would probably be able to tell exactly what they meant.

Why do People use Emoticons?

Emoticons have been around for a long time.  They help to convey “online body language” in otherwise nebulous text that could be taken in several ways.

Of course, there are a TON of emoticons out there that can help you convey meaning in your language.  Lots of different people use them, and being familiar with what they mean can help you “read between the lines.”   If you’re being sarcastic, you can use a “rolls eyes” emoticon.  If you’re jazzed about something, you can use an “excited” emoticon.  Most emoticons make a lot of sense if you tilt your head and take a good look.  Here is a partial list (taken from Wikipedia’s list of emoticons):

:) – a standard “smile” icon
;) – a “wink” smile
C.C – rolling eyes
:-/ – uneasiness or hesitancy
:( – sadness
<3 – love
:-O – surprise or shock

These types of emoticons go a long ways towards defining meaning in a new world where we cannot see body language.  They an interesting way to enhance the way we communicate online.

By the way…

I really do like potatoes a lot <3.  It’s by far my favorite food.  No sarcasm there. :)

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Trying Social Media in Teaching? You May Want to Visit “Skype in the classroom”

Social Media in Teaching

Image via CrunchBase

Skype in the classroom is a new service currently in beta, which uses skyping to support teaching and teachers. Service capabilities include:

  • Using skype to connect with other teachers
  • Sharing teaching resources
  • Building your own list of favorite Internet destinations – a teaching library
  • Pairing classrooms across the world

The Skype in the classroom website explains the many ways in which teachers use Skype services to enrich their teaching. For example, The Global Learning Exchange uses Skype to pair classrooms in California and Singapore for cultural learning exchange among students. Teach the World Online also uses Skype to teach English online; currently, they describe active teaching programs on-going with students in Haiti, Nepal and Cambodia.

Some Additional Ideas for Using Skype in Teaching

  1. Enabling students to see, hear, and speak with people whom they are studying – such as authors, painters, community leaders, producers, athletes, survivors, kids from other cultures
  2. Online field trips - budget-friendly, time-efficient alternatives to actually leaving the classroom (although we hope that SOME field trips remain real-life adventures)
  3. Field trips to destinations which are too far for the class to reach on their own – think North Pole, Antarctica, Kennedy Space Center, Hawaii’s volcanos, JPL and the Mars rovers; working with museum curators and scientists can help put these places within reach of the classroom using Skype
  4. Foreign language practice
  5. After school help or sick-day attendance from home
  6. Guest lecturers and speakers

From this list, it’s clear that there is a big role for parents to play in using Skype, along with teachers. Parents who want to supplement classroom learning, can do so from home. Parents can also encourage interests and help their children to develop new skills using Skype.

Skype in the classroom is offered by Skype. Skype also offers a community on its main website, on which teachers and others can share how they use the service. However, these communities are more general, without the focus on teachers offered at the Skype in the classroom site.

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Interview: Edmodo VP Answers Questions About How Teachers Adopt The Service

Image representing Edmodo as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

I am frankly excited about the learning platform, Edmodo, which I wrote about earlier this week. As I stated, Edmodo is a free service offered to teachers to help them to better connect with – and teach – their students using a secure online environment.

I reached out to the Edmodo team. I was puzzled why Edmodo was not in use in every school district. I’m a parent; why wasn’t my school district using this excellent-sounding service? I imagined that there must be some type of lengthy process or problems to overcome, in the adoption of the service. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Betsy Whalen, Edmodo’s VP of Social Media and Marketing. She set me straight on the typical process which teachers use to get started with Edmodo.

Q. I’m imaging that the process of getting Edmodo up and running is kind of hard for some teachers. Can you explain what’s involved?

Betsy: To help you understand the process, I want to give you a little background on how Edmodo got started. It was created by two Tech Directors in a Chicago school district. They were frustrated at the time, because they were told to shut down Facebook and other sites from school access. So, all of the good resources on the Internet were being effectively blocked from teaching.

In response to this, they created a safe environment in which teachers could control what their students could see on the Internet. Teachers also control student access to their virtual classroom on Edmodo, with a password. No private information about students is collected at all – it’s all administered by the teacher.

Once they had the environment created, the Tech Directors – who are our two founders – made it available for free to any teacher who wanted to use it. That was in late 2008. Since then, it’s caught on mostly by word-of-mouth among teachers.

The short answer to your question, is that the process for starting to work with Edmodo is really easy. Teachers just need to go to the Edmodo site, click on “I’m a Teacher”, and that’s it.

Q. You’re right, that’s a lot simpler than I imagined. But, how about teachers who are not as technology-confident? What about the technology divide among kids, also; for example, are teachers ever concerned that parents are going to complain about the use of Edmodo if their child does not have Internet access from home?

Betsy: It used to be the case that teachers and school boards were concerned about the technology divide among students, you’re right. But we’ve seen that change a lot in the last few years. Schools are now taking the approach, that we need to prepare students to live in a connected world. Now, when kids don’t have Internet connection from home, the thought is that we need to connect twice as much at school.

Having a computer at home is no longer the obstacle that it used to be, either. Any cell phone with a browser can be used with Edmodo. These days, kids are mostly connecting to the Internet using their mobile devices, so that really helps. Also, Edmodo can be accessed from any computer – like those in a public library.

Q. OK, so if I’m a teacher and I’m interested in Edmodo, I should just get started.

Betsy: Exactly. That’s what most of the teachers using Edmodo have done. The teachers are leading the way with this.

In fact, because of the wide-spread adoption of Edmodo by teachers, it’s the Tech Directors and administrators in schools who are the ones playing catch-up. Usually in schools, the Tech Directors and administrators make all the technology decisions; they meet and decide, and then roll out new tools to the schools.

With Edmodo, it’s been the opposite. Administrators have approached us, telling us that they’ve discovered that teachers in their district are using Edmodo – and they are asking for help from us to catch up and see what’s going on. As a result, we’ve provided district-level analytics and reporting as part of Edmodo. Administrators can see at-a-glance, which schools are using Edmodo, and how many teachers.

Q. What has the administrator reaction to Edmodo been?

Betsy: Edmodo has been very well received by administrators, because we not only help teachers to educate students better – and we’re free – but we also help districts to save money. There is a huge cost savings from not having to print out all of the materials used in a classroom. We’re providing a library of resources in the cloud, instead. Also, schools find that they don’t need to provide students with flash drives, for example; that’s another cost savings which is happening.

Q. What’s next for Edmodo?

Betsy: The team at Edmodo is really responsive to what our teachers and educators tell us that they need in the platform. One message that we want to get out there, is to let teachers know to communicate with us. We release new features every few weeks. The features in the product are what teachers have requested. It’s their environment, so we want to make sure that it fits what they need.

Also, teachers should know that Edmodo is really a professional development tool for teachers. Along with the teaching environment, we also have a community for like-minded teachers. They can share resources and information with each other.

Q. One last question, Betsy, before I let you go. How does Edmodo make money?

Betsy: Yes, we get that question a lot. Our pledge is that Edmodo will always be free for teaching and that we will never take advertising. That model doesn’t work for education.

We do have plans to monetize in the longer term. For the immediate-term, we have venture funding from the same venture firm, Union Square Ventures, which backed Twitter, LinkedIn, Formspring, Zynga - many of the popular social media networks.

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