Thursday, June 25, 2009

Farrah, Michael, Social Media, and Educational Implications…

By now, you most likely know of the unfortunate and tragic deaths of both Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson.

What you may not know is the absolute tornado of information that poured into the internet almost moments after each event happened. If you are a regular user of Twitter, you’ll know that the sidebar trending topics both surged with key words like cancer, cardiac arrest, the names of both stars, etc.

While both stories are sad, and I certainly am sympathetic for both families, it’s hard to ignore the amazing things that have happened today and how these connective technologies are having an impact on everyone and the implications for their use in an educational setting.

I found out about Farrah initially from Twitter earlier in the day. I moved from Twitter immediately to, and then confirmed the information at and I rarely just take things at face value anymore, and wanted corroboration from a trusted source before I made up my mind about what happened.

Later in the day, I had CNN and MSNBC on in my living room when the first reports came across Twitter and Facebook about Michael Jackson. had reported Michael initially dead, but the other news outlets, including the big 3 mentioned above and Reuters were not confirming.

I sent out my first tweet to see what the response would be:

As information came in over Twitter faster than it seemed to be coming into the major news services, it was hard to deny that confirmation of his death was imminent.

I wondered on Facebook if the information had been confirmed:

I also noted that the trending topic around him had been misspelled.

It wasn’t long before confirmation did indeed come, first from the LA Times, then FoxNews and MSNBC and finally, CNN. Since the news was confirmed, it’s been a nonstop flow of information, from MTV’s video retrospective, to CNN’s review of his life, even to ESPN’s angle of his Superbowl performance.

The reason that I believe that all of this has huge educational significance is the speed with which information was traveling back and forth, and the incredible conversation I was able to have with literally dozens of people over the course of just half an hour. We helped each other find information, shared links, thought critically about what information we were receiving, and drew conclusions as a group.

I think this says a lot about search literacy and critically thinking with web tools. I connected with my network, collaborated around finding answers to an issue, and came to a collegial conclusion as this all unfolded.

Today, Facebook and Twitter became my main sources for not only information, but also for determining if that information was factual, should be amended or discarded, or was worth exploring further before drawing conclusions.

This is the power of the Internet. This is the power of connectivity and Web 2.0. Isn’t this how we want our students to use technology?

An Amendment:

After I posted this yesterday, a few people on Twitter and Facebook, including our friend Bill, pointed out that there was a mountain of misinformation also being reported in social media and in the regular news outlets.

This is what search literacy is all about.  We must learn and teach to filter out the most probable information by confirming sources and connecting the pieces until we can arrive at a plausible conclusion.  Tweets and Facebook updates we're chock full of people asking for confirmation, digging for additional information, and unfortunately also dessiminated wrong information, such as the death of Jeff Goldblum. ( Link to Mashable's Post on this incident.

Bill pointed out that depending on who is in your network, the story you got could have been vastly different from what others might see.  I agree with that, but also think it's an opportunity, in the light of this morning and a continuing feed of information from traditional and modern sources of information, to examine how we receive what we read and determine how we are going to use that information.

This is a huge teachable moment.




  1. Mr. Fisher, from a student's point of view I would be thrilled if my teachers had incorporated Social Networking into lessons! I was talking to my social studies teacher, Laura Siuda, the other day, and she told me that it is unfortunate that students aren't using technology in a way that is beneficial to learning. She was genuinely depressed that the majority of my senior class doesn't want to embrace the spirit of learning, that the NYS Social Studies curriculum was outdated and poorly applied. But this it, this should be the solution to (I'm sure many) teachers problems. And with social networking growing exponentially quickly, it will probably be hard for teachers to ignore? Thank you for the insight!
    PS: I'm sure you have heard about Google Wave. right? I think that's epitome of "the speed with which information [travels] back and forth," etc...
    With great respect, John Billingsley

  2. John,

    I hope this is where things are heading. I've been developing a workshop specifically for teachers around creating a "Digital Network." In it, they learn to use Facebook and Twitter for all sorts of purposes. Google Wave is going to help, but there are already aggregate services you can try like FUSER or even a personal portal like Netvibes, Pageflakes, or even iGoogle. It's all about connections and collaboration now, and receiving information in new ways. You're right. This is the bandwagon that everyone needs to jump on! Good to hear from you!

  3. I totally agree Michael - a huge teachable moment. It is an opportunity to teach the power of an active social network, how information spreads and evolves, as well as just how (and why) to confirm information.

    Juxtapose the events of yesterday with the impact of social networking on the situation in Iran and we have quite a lesson!