Thoughts on bells, whistles, and frivolity


Recently, I’ve had  teachers ask me questions about teaching using social networking sites like Ning and,  and I’ve noticed a trend. They like what social networking sites seem to make possible and they want to use technology to increase student engagement, but they’ve expressed concern over the fact that the sites have a lot of bells and whistles. I think they’re concerned that students will confuse the educational sites with the social sites they use outside the classroom.

I understand this concern because I am well aware that students behave inappropriately on sites like Myspace and Facebook, but if you decide to use a site like Schoology or Edmodo (which are cool–don’t get me wrong) because you don’t want to use something that looks too much like Facebook, then aren’t you kind of defeating the purpose? Aren’t you missing out on opportunities to teach appropriate use of social media? If you want to have students create Facebook-like profile pages for characters in a novel you’re studying, but you don’t want to use a site that mimics what Facebook can do because it doesn’t look “educational” … then why bother? If the goal is to increase student engagement then you should use a tool that’s … well … engaging. Shouldn’t you?

Now, I’m not saying Edmodo and Schoology are not engaging. They are. I’ve used Edmodo and my students have thought it was cool. I’ve checked out Schoology and it looks pretty useful too, but you need to really think about what you’re trying to achieve and then choose the best tool for that task.

I’ve had teachers tell me before that they tried blogging with their students but they weren’t really into it. When they tell me what tools they’re using for blogging, then I get it. The tools are boring. Yawn…. Appearance matters, okay?

I think some of the concern comes from teachers worrying that other teachers, administrators, or parents might not think that students are learning when using a site that looks too “social”. My response? Invite those teachers, administrators, and parents to join your site. People fear what they don’t understand (duh), so let them in.

And who says education can’t be fun? Bring on the bells and whistles, I say. 

5 thoughts on “Thoughts on bells, whistles, and frivolity

  1. Here here. I also notice that many teachers think they want to start with social media but a) don’t want to release any control of the traditional classroom; and b) don’t like or see value (ironically) in the social bit.

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  3. I share your pain! but you realise that ‘bells and whistles’ is just code for: I’m a total laggard who is overwhelmed by technology and I refuse to change. If these people want examples of why kids need certain features and functions, they ought to spend five minutes watching them play a video game. These games engage and require a sophisticated level of mastery that many of their teachers do not possess – and are unwilling to explore. for a gamer, the range of options and features present in most UI isn’t merely window dressing but an essential component of their experience with that particular space or tool.

    I argue that gaming, in particular, is a modelof media and social interaction that will eclipse social media and take an increasingly dominant share of our electronic activity. as we pass from text-driven paradigms into activity driven paradigms, those who refuse to keep pace will lack essential literacies needed for basic survival. That is one of the reasons I belong to a guild of educators who plays world of warcraft – to understand the future – and figure out what it is about these worlds/spaces/activities that can make learning more meaningful.

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