Internet Friends

It’s worth the six minutes necessary to watch the reflections from this young person as she discusses the biases and stigmas we often hear related to acquiring and maintaining Internet friendships. Much of her monologue relates well to the development of personal learning environments and Jurgenson’s notion of “digital dualism”.

Notable quotes:

“I really think that if I hadn’t joined some of these Internet communities at such a young age I would have a much more difficult time transitioning into adulthood.”

“When my cat was diagnosed for diabetes, there was a forum for that. And I would challenge you to find another group of people who were as enthusiastic and willing to give two craps about my cat’s blood sugar at four in the morning than the people on this forum.”

“They’re my classmates, and you use one another like you do when you’re in a class, when you need help, when you need to talk to peers, just as you would when taking a class on site.”

“Then you have Tumblr and everyone who’s followed my blog from the very beginning and it’s just been really awesome to grow with this Tumblr community of museum people and other scientists and to be able to share one another’s successes and really encourage one another and celebrate our achievements…”

“So it just really frustrates me that there’s still this stigma by some people that just because I haven’t breathed the same air that our friendship isn’t valid.”

 

Building Online/Blended Course Environments

I was recently invited to speak with the  #eLearnOnt “Game Changer” series where I discussed various options around building online and/or blended course environments via Google Hangout. I began with traditional LMS options and moved to the more nebulous concept of “Small Tools Loosely Joined” course/environment design.

See the recorded presentation below. As well, here are the presentation slides and a collection of related resources.

Thanks to the hosts for making this a fun experience.

Developing Upstanders in a Digital World

This past Wednesday, I was fortunate enough to co-facilitate a Day of Pink event for local school division. We invited approximately 100+ elementary students (mostly 7th graders) to participate. The themes included (digital) citizenship, (digital) identity, anti-bullying, and becoming an upstander (someone who stands up to support the protection, safety, and wise decision-making of others).

We shared a number of scenarios with the children to help them discuss the importance of empathy and responsibility for others. Some of the topics can be seen as controversial but are increasingly characteristic of the realities that children face today. One particularly authentic and timely scenario that was shared was the recent #cuttingforzayn hashtag which explicitly encouraged self-harm. This hashtag originated as a result of Zayn Malik quitting One Direction.

This morning, I received these messages via Twitter:

Twitter Messages - Upstanders

It takes a lot of courage for a child to stand up for another. And I would be naive to think that this act resulted simply from our event. Good parenting, positive role models (including teachers), and life-long experiences encouraging empathy allow kids to do the right thing and to make the world better for themselves and for others. Self-harm, suicide, bullying, and other similar issues are difficult to discuss with preteens and teens. Yet, as illustrated by this example, these conversations are necessary and can make a significant difference in the life of a child.

So please have those difficult conversations with your children or your students and continue to try your best to understand the complex world faced by our kids. Our digital world not only includes the problems and pressures that we had as children, but has also expanded to include a complex web of global and social influences that can pose seemingly unpredictable challenges. Events like this may prove to be a catalyst for change, but not without consistent encouragement and positive growth from home and school.

 

Developing Teacher Candidates in a Networked World

This post, co-authored with Katia Hildebrandt, originally appeared on the Canadian Education Association Blog.

Recently, pre-service teachers in two of our classes at the Faculty of Education,University Regina, participated in #saskedchat, a weekly Twitter chat hosted by and for Saskatchewan educators. Although the chat typically runs on Thursday nights, organizers scheduled a “special edition” of the chat on the topic of supporting new teachers. Almost instantly, our students were immersed in a global discussion about education – and what’s more, they were instantly connected to a large network of practicing teachers who were able to provide them with advice and tips for success. But while the Twitter chat was an enriching experience for our students, participation in events like these is only a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to preparing new teachers to learn and flourish in a digital world.

As the field of education changes rapidly, it’s no longer enough for faculties of education to deliver static, technical courses on the methods of teaching. Instead, we need to help pre-service teachers develop the skills and understandings that will allow them to navigate and succeed in today’s global classrooms. And perhaps even more importantly, we need to help future teachers build the personal learning networks that will provide both the support system and continuous professional development opportunities needed to become and remain successful educators.

As instructors tasked to take on these challenges, we have focused on a number of key areas that support students’ successful entry into these new digital spaces. We’ve shared and described a few of these considerations below.

1. BUILD AN UNDERSTANDING OF OUR DIGITAL WORLD

Today’s young people are growing up in a media-rich and connected culture that is fundamentally different than it was even a decade ago. Thanks to the growing trend of posting ultrasound pictures and pregnancy selfies, astaggering 30% of children have a digital footprint before they are even born, and the average digital birth of children is at six months of age. Technology has altered every stage of life: it shapes the way we meet, how we communicate, our intimate relationships, the way we mourn, even our deaths.

If technology has shaped and altered every aspect of society, then learning is no different. Unfortunately, much of what we do in schools hasn’t changed to respond to these shifts in culture – many educators continue to teach the way they were taught and try to keep the digital world out of the classroom. But for today’s students, online and offline life is inseparable. Teachers need to understand the reality of students’ digital lives in order to make education relevant and engaging for today’s young people by bringing the digital into the classroom.

2. MODEL APPROPRIATE INTERACTIONS IN DIGITAL SPACES

If we want teachers to open their classrooms to the world, we need to model effective and appropriate uses of connected spaces: both new and experienced teachers should have opportunities to see how lead learners interact in networks for professional learning. For instructors working with pre-service teachers, this means demonstrating appropriate interactions in spaces such as Twitter (as in our introductory #saskedchat example) or modeling the curation of a professional digital identity through an About.Me page or anacademic blog. In the field, principals can model appropriate digital presence through the creation and maintenance of a professional social media presence, like Chris Lehmann’s Twitter account or Tony Sinanis’ weekly video updates.

Even those in the upper levels of educational leadership should be modeling what it looks like to learn and lead online; for example, Chris Kennedy, Superintendent of West Vancouver School District, uses blogging to model transparency, open leadership, and lifelong learning.

Of course, in order to demonstrate high levels of connected learning, instructors (and other lead learners) must be able to leverage their own existing online networks. For example, in order to support our students and practicing teachers, we were able to tap into Alec’s considerable personal learning network to create a collaborative document of writing prompts for pre- and in-service educators. This means that lead learners must actively work to build their own networks so that they can be effective role models and collaborators.

3. DEMONSTRATE THE PEDAGOGICAL VALUE OF NETWORKS AND TOOLS

Just as instructors and other lead learners must demonstrate appropriate online interactions, they must also help new and experienced teachers understand the pedagogical value of networks and tools. In our classes, pre-service teachers research, create resource sites for, and present on various apps and programs, being sure to tie them into the curriculum (for instance, this site that discusses several apps to support language arts and this one that explores the use of iPads for inclusive education). These future teachers also have the chance to experience what it’s like to learn in a connected environment through our own use of various social media platforms and other tools in our post-secondary courses. For instance, we model the use of open learning and connected teaching throughcourse blog hubs and class Twitter hashtags, through the use of Google Plus communities and course sites for communication, and through the incorporation ofGoogle Docs for professional collaboration.

Pre-service teachers must also be provided with rich exemplars from the field, showing practicing teachers’ innovative uses of technology to create connected classrooms that support 21st century learning. For instance, we introduce our students to the Global Read Aloud, Quadblogging, and Mystery Skype. We also discuss thepedagogical possibilities of Twitter and point to hashtags like #comments4kids (where teachers can post student blogs and ask for feedback from their online networks) or teacher-created resources that support the use of technology in the classroom (like this tweet about how to comment on blogs, shared by one of our graduate students).

4. DEVELOP PRE-SERVICE TEACHERS’ DIGITAL LITERACIES AND NETWORKED LITERACIES AND GUIDE THE DEVELOPMENT OF THEIR ONLINE IDENTITIES

Along with these examples of great digital pedagogy and online interaction, we need to prepare pre-service teachers to be great connected leaders themselves by helping them learn and create using different elements of digital literacies and pedagogies. In our classes, students explore what it means to take part in “anytime, anywhere” digital-age education by undertaking a Learning Project where they choose a skill to learn entirely online. They also create summaries of learning that highlight the skills and networked literacies they have learned throughout the semester. Additionally, since we want these new teachers to model appropriate online presence in their future classrooms, we ask our students to build professional e-portfolios in order to take control of their digital identities (some students even choose to buy their own domains) as they work to become digital residents rather than simply digital visitors.

5. UNPACK ISSUES OF POWER AND PRIVILEGE IN ONLINE SPACES

As we encourage pre-service and practicing teachers to bring the digital world into their classrooms, we must be sure to address oppression and inequity as they play out in online spaces. On a technical level, we need to help educators understand the legal aspects of terms of service agreements and the implications of big data when asking students to enter online worlds in their school work. Additionally, pre-service teachers are oftenhesitant to speak out about “touchy” subjects online, fearing that it might affect their future careers, but this type of silence on the part of educators creates a dangerous hidden curriculum that announces that these topics are unimportant. We need to have frank and open discussions about how gender or racial inequity can be both reinscribed and deconstructed online (for example, interrogating the GamerGate hashtag, discussing the events in Ferguson and the subsequent Black Twitter movements like #BlackLivesMatter, or examining the rise of #IdleNoMore). We also need to provide opportunities for students to reflect on these topics in digital spaces both through course assignments and by providing support for student initiatives (such as the StarsRegina site set up by pre-service teachers to create a hub for information about anti-oppressive education). And as lead learners, we need to model the importance of having these discussions out in the open.

Clearly, there’s a lot of work to be done if we want to prepare both new and existing educators to teach in ways that take up the incredible affordances of our global community and digital spaces. But there are also so many inspiring examples of teachers, principals, and other lead learners doing great things online – we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s already being done around the world. What amazing things have you seen in your own learning community, and how are you helping the next generation of educators to be connected future leaders in our field?

Generosity and Relationships

I was just moved by this video/story that I discovered on Reddit.

And in case you missed what was in the envelope …

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I don’t know anything about this family, but I can relate to the son’s relationship to his parents. I loved this way his father nuzzled up against his son, not afraid to show his love, and clearly comforted by their close relationship. This is very much how my dad showed his love for me and likely one of the many reasons that his passing has been so difficult for me and my family.

I hope that anyone reading this is fortunate to have had such relationships with their parents. I know that I will do my very best to build such strong and caring bonds with my own children.

All the best in the New Year!

Dot.con – Documentary on Internet Scams

Tonight, the CBC aired a documentary on Internet scams including the romance scams that I’ve been discussing on my blog as of late. The video is worth sharing and discussing. As well, I believe that this documentary is relevant to the #ccourses participants who are considering the possibilities around connected learning. I feel that it is incredibly important to fully disclose issues/risks such as internet scams to students as we begin to connect them in online spaces.

Check out the documentary here. If the video is blocked in your region, take a look at my blog post that will get you around international content restrictions.

Facebook’s Identity Authentication Is Broken

Update: Within 24 hours of writing this post, Facebook restored my account. I am happy for this but the problem for Facebook’s identity authentication still exists. It is my hope that engaged thinkers around network identities will continue to put forth potential solutions to these emerging and difficult problems.

You may have read my previous posts about scammers using my personal photos to construct fake identities for the purpose of entering into online romantic relationships with women and defrauding them out of money or goods. If not, here’s the original post which outlines the problem and here is the followup.

Over the better part of seven years, I have notified and reported hundreds of fake profiles, some that have been made up of my name and photos, and others comprised of my photos and alternate names. These profiles have shown up on sites such as Twitter, VK.com, Match.com, Christian Mingle, and most prominently, Facebook. At any given time, there are at least three fake Alec Couros’ on Twitter or Facebook, and likely dozens if not hundreds of others that I do not know about. It has been a frustrating game of wack-a-mole. The other discouraging piece is that many women (at least one per week on average) continue to report to me that they have been scammed, or nearly scammed, by these criminals. In many cases, even when there isn’t a loss of money, there is certainly a high incidence of heartbreak and hurt.

And, while I have successfully had Facebook take down hundreds of profiles, apparently they no longer believe that I am Alec Couros. My Facebook account has been suspended as seen by the notice shared below.

Support_Dashboard

I’ve submitted my government ID with the hope that this will be resolved soon. However, this is incredibly frustrating. My assumption was that a Facebook account that is 7+ years old with over 2000 friends and hundreds of posts would have had some weight in terms of authenticity. I assume also that my profile has been taken down by one of the very scammers that I have been reporting, likely from an account that is fairly new (less than a few months old) and connected to a limited number of friends.

But mostly, I’m really frustrated because the response from Facebook on romance scamming has been entirely absent. Through messages sent through reporting dozens of these fake profiles, I have been regularly, and perhaps naively, offering Facebook my services (for free) to better help them envision a way that they can fix their reporting and authentication system. I am more than happy to pay my way to get to Facebook HQ (or wherever I need to be) to sit down with people and help them fix this. And while, part of this is selfish (I want this 7+ year problem solved once and for all), I really do want to fix this for others.

Addendum:
As an addendum to this post, I want to share my reasons for even wanting a Facebook account. I know that there are countless reasons to quit Facebook altogether. I have thought about closing it down many times. However, I have continued to use Facebook for three main purposes:

  1. I enjoy it. Still. I connect with people there that I do not connect with in any other place. And I enjoy what they have to share. Although there is much content that can be annoying, I feel that Facebook still connects me to people I know well, and people that I want to know more about, in ways that other spaces do not easily allow.
  2. My timeline is meaningful. I regularly look back through my timeline to see what I have posted, and it gives me a sense of who I am and who I have become. Interactions that I’ve had with friends in Facebook still make me laugh and make me cry. My message history, for instance, includes conversations I’ve had with hundreds of people, including my dad. I don’t want to lose those meaningful artefacts.
  3. I’ve used it to verify who I am. Due to the fact that my profile was long-standing and well-connected, the profile seemed from the outside as being more authentic. Thus, this was the place where many of the romance scam victims felt safe to come forward and trust that I am who I say I am. In this way, Facebook helped me protect my identity. While, I’d rather have my identify authenticated through other personally-controlled spaces (like this blog), for many of these victims, my Facebook profile felt like a familiar and trustworthy space.

So, I don’t do this often, but could I ask you to share this post? Certainly, I want my profile restored, and perhaps I’ll only have to wait a few days for this to happen. But more so, I want to help Facebook recognize, remedy, and acknowledge this huge problem that they have with romance scams. Facebook’s identity authentication is broken and it needs to be fixed. And daily, people are being hurt and scammed because of this problem.

Thanks for listening,

The ‘real’ Alec Couros

Would The Real ‘Alec Couros’ Please Stand Up?

Last September, I wrote a post about how scammers had been using my photos to lure women into online, romantic relationships for the purpose of ‘borrowing’ or extorting money. Since that time, the scams have continued. I get, on average, one new report a day from women (and occasionally men) who have been tricked, or nearly tricked, into sending money. In many cases, individuals have reported forming deep attachments or even falling in love with these scammers. This has been a frustrating predicament that has been going on for many years now. In this post, I thought I would share a few of the things that I’ve learned about the scams, the scammers, and their potential victims. Here we go.

  1. These scams are likely not perpetrated by a single individual. In fact, they are most likely perpetrated by groups of individuals, or even gangs, most likely situated in Nigeria or Ghana. These are typically known as “romance scams“, and I feel strongly that recognizing and understanding these types of scams are essential skills for digitally literate individuals.
  2. These scams take place over a number of popular social networking and communication tools. While I’ve taken down nearly 50 fake Facebook profiles, I’ve also had my photos appear in profiles set up on dating sites such as eHarmony, Christian Mingle, Match.com, and Plenty Of Fish. There are also dozens of Skype accounts that have been created using my photos. The ones that concern me the most are those that actually use my name and photos. For instance, if you search ‘alec couros’ on Skype, you will get five accounts under my name. Only one of them is mine (‘aleccouros’ is legit, btw), and three have photos of me. It worries me that my friends or professional contacts may connect to one of the fraudulent accounts.
    Searching 'alec couros' on Skype gets these results

    Searching ‘alec couros’ on Skype gets these results

     

  3. Continue reading

Shared Human Moments

Take a few minutes to watch this video.

Powerful. Here’s the backstory.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how Twitter is not simply about sharing information – it’s much more about sharing our collective human experiences. When we read tweets, we read lives – or at least the parts that someone chooses to share. Don’t take that for granted.

Getting Around International Content Restrictions

I was asked by Rachael Bath about how I get around international content restrictions (i.e., location-based content blocking). There are two tools that I typically use. First, I pay about $70/year for a full-featured VPN service called Witopia that allows me to get around content restrictions, as well as providing me with other privacy and security features. Second, for basic location spoofing, I use a great little Chrome extension called Hola. It’s free, works really well, and will do the trick for those looking to access services like Pandora, Hulu, Spotify, etc. where they are not available, or to get better or alternate programming from sites like Netflix (you can access Netflix UK, or US, for instance).

I’ve put together a short video to show you how it works. Hopefully this is helpful. Please let me know if you have any questions.