Another dot in the blogosphere?

Leveraging on social media in education

Posted on: May 7, 2010

Larry Sanger, one of the co-founders of Wikipedia, wrote an article in Educause titled Individual Knowledge in the Internet Age. It was a thought-provoking read and I started writing my thoughts on it but had trouble finishing them as there were two major fragments. Of the two, the one below is a bit more developed.

[image source, used under CC licence]

I was drawn to a small portion of the article where Sanger wrote:

There is no reason to think that repurposing social media for education will magically make students more inspired and engaged. What inspires and engages some people about social media is the passion for their individual, personal interests, as well as the desire to stay in touch with friends. Remove those crucial elements, and you merely have some neat new software tools that make communication faster.

I agree. I probably harp on this with anyone who is willing to listen! But as one who tries to integrate social media into teacher education, I also recognize how difficult it is infuse the social element. It is almost as if there is an educational Web 2.0 that is almost separate from a social Web 2.0. Why else do we have the Nings, Edmodos, Edublogs and TeacherTubes alongside other social tools (see graphic)?

Consider what LMS providers like BlackBoard do. In a bid to stay relevant, they include tools like wikis and blogs within the LMS. When I say include, I mean lock because the content is limited to a very small audience who upon completing a course or leaving an institution will no longer have access to. Yes, it is sometimes important to keep interactions localized or even private. But when you do this (and only this) with teachers-to-be, you model a process that they follow later in their own practice.

We need to model more authentic processes that take advantage of what teachers and their students already do in real life. They are tweeting or blogging or sharing on Facebook. Sometimes they are doing so in selective circles, but the tools are designed to be open (not closed and controlled like an LMS) and membership is open to any and all interested parties.

I firmly believe that the control desired by teachers and administrators in using such tools cripples their use. The strength of a social tool is its use in social and informal contexts. Take those away and you have a formal and boring lesson.

For example, make blogging a requirement, even at an infrequent interval, and it becomes a chore. But motivate them to write about what interests them or to comment on a meaningful event and it gets to their core. The challenge for the teacher is then to design the task so that content, skills and/or attitudes are learnt as they engage socially. Sometimes the learning happens as they interact; sometimes it happens after.

Social media offers no magic to inspire, engage or make lessons more meaningful. It is the technology-mediated pedagogy that does the trick.

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