Putting “Social” Back Into Learning

Last week in my Blog  I talked about personal learning networks and their potential to create professional learning communities  for teachers by providing 24/7 professional support with the potential to extend the walls of their staffroom by connecting teachers from all over the world.  Of course, personal learning networks are not, nor should they be, restricted to teacher use. When we talk about the  “the connected classroom”  – we are looking at  expanding the communication and  collaboration of our students and their  classmates to include experts, students, and facilitators from all over the world through Web 2.0 and social media. Who can argue with that? And yet, K-12 classrooms and colleges have been slow to embrace the use of social media in the classroom, with many college instructors instituting laptop “lids down” time, and states like Missouri, restricting and banning its use public education. Why? Likely, it is due to the stigma surrounding the phrase “social media.” The notion of “social” conjures up fears of idle gossip, time wasting and distractions, as well as inappropriate contact between teacher and student.  As  Jenn Pedde (May, 2011) blogged in Education 2.0: Why Facebook and Twitter Should Be Part of Your Classroom “being social is inherently human.” Social media are merely the tools that enable the student to be actively social.  Considering schools are the primary “socializing” institute! Shouldn’t learning be social? Why should the social nature of learning through communication and collaboration be restricted to the classroom?

Perhaps the obvious answer is this is the fact that education has been traditionally top down delivery. Teachers have been the gatekeepers of the knowledge, selecting what to pass down to students. Although, pedagogically, education and curricula development now recognizes the student as the centre of the learning and the teacher as a facilitator guiding the inquiry, the bias against “outside” sources of instruction may still exist within the teaching profession. Teachers who have traditionally worked in isolation are not likely to embrace opening the “windows “into the classroom.  For those teachers who have embraced technology, the challenge is to find ways to employ social media without crossing the professional line. Such practices as creating Facebook pages for the classroom where teachers would not have profiles or “friend” students, and sending Twitter messages to parents are  promising uses of social media  outlined in the Heriff Jones WhitePaper: The Educational Promise of Social Media (September 2011)  and the New York Times article Speaking Up in Class, Silently, Using Social Media .  However, the primary obstacle may still be the bias against the phrase “social media” – how do we convince teachers, parents, and school divisions that being  “social” is positive and necessary form of collaboration for our students? What suggestions do you have for overcoming this bias?

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10 thoughts on “Putting “Social” Back Into Learning

  1. lorenaleibel says:

    Kelley – five minutes ago I was reading through my school blog where my students engage in virtual journal writing once a week. One of my students was commenting on a classmates blog post and supported his comment with 2 links to youtube videos. I clicked on the links – BLOCKED! Last week I encouraged the students to support their thoughts with vidoes and articles. It is very frustrating to face these obstacles when as a teacher I am trying to be innovative!

    • Kelley says:

      Lorena, I hear you about the blocked sights! I experienced that roadblock more than once and you are right – it certainly discourages teachers and students from embracing the use of the web. However, I think that if we encourage students to access outside of the classroom and use the classroom as an opportunity to work directly with students this might alleviate the problem. My concern with this is always, equitable opportunities for students. Students without computer and internet access will be reliant on the school (either before, during or after class time) to access which if sites are blocked, will definitely discourage learning.

  2. sjphipps says:

    Kelley- I just started the process of creating individual digital portfolios for my students. I got permission for the students to participate but was very disappointed when the MAJORITY of parents indicated that they did not want to participate in their child’s blog! It is scary to me that so many parents do not take the time to comment on their own child’s learning. Guess it isn’t just the teachers that need to be convinced of the power of digital learning!

    • Kelley says:

      Sarah, you raise a great point. Here is an example of the reluctance of parents to access technology. Recently all of our RCS high schools opened up HomeLogic to parents. This allows them to access their child’s daily attendance and grade books to see how they did on assignments, what assignment is upcoming and their overall mark in the class. Last week instead of supplying paper progress reports we emailed progress reports to the failing students and invited parents to check the grades through HomeLogic (although we did send paper copies home for students for whom we had not email contacts). We were innundated with phonecalls wondering where the report cards were and asking for a paper copy instead. Part of the reluctance was not actually reading the emails outlining how to access the program, and part of it was a lack of comfort with technology. Despite the fact that we have been educating parents since the beginning of the year, it is still a slow learning process. I think it will be the same with our increased use of digital media in the classroom. We will need to be patient and continue working with both parents and teachers to develp the digital literacy skills required to fully enjoy the benefits of such media.

  3. Great post here – important articles, and excellent questions.

    There is no doubt that social media based information receives much negative reception from educators, journalists, and others related to the field of information. Just looking at how Wikipedia was first received (the concept still amazes me), and still, it hasn’t really warmed up in most classrooms (even after it has been proven to be more reliable in many cases than traditional alternatives).

    Social media isn’t perfect, but it’s here to stay – and to be literate, we must be able to think critically about the information we/it provides.

  4. allandlowrie says:

    Closed communities of learners using Social Media with filter devices to keep things in house is an important first step in helping people feel more comfortable with this new genre of interdependent educational processes using the speed of digital. There is a sense with parents that Social Media is just that, social only. However, gradual and incremental involvement of parents with their child’s learning can slowly remove the fear of trying this new media. In our school, students can use Google Docs for a variety type of lesson providing, lesson sharing and lesson interaction. We invite parents to be part of their child’s on-line work. Many parents embrace this, others are still trying to convince themselves that technology use is just not a fad.
    We too send out our reports digitally and can monitor when they have looked at the reports through a matrix that indicates when the reports have been opened. If they have not been opened we can then ask the parents how we can assist. Each time we do this our engagement in the process increases. We even have parents sending emails now demanding where the reports were if we gave the time of release as 4:00 pm and it is 4:05 with no report.

    How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

    • Kelley says:

      One bite at a time.. love that quote! I agree that the first step is to convince parents, teachers and students that social media can be used as more than a teenage hang out. As a first step I have been working with our grade 9 and 10 students on digital citizenship. As an extension I have been sending information to parents on social media – both the pitfalls and the promise! Although I am still encountering bias, as Alex said, this technology is here to stay and I remind parents that knowledge is power. Knowing how their students are and aren’t using media and providing support for them on its positive uses is our role as educators and parents.

      • mickpanko says:

        Kelley – I would be really interested to see what you have sent home and shared with students – this seems like a tremendous and useful undertaking!

  5. Don Goble says:

    Educating our educators is the only way to change the old school culture of teaching. Many educators fear the unknown or ferocious they need to be experts before they can implement. As for blocked sites, particularly with videos, we use SchoolTube.com which is not blocked. All content published to SchoolTube must be approve by an educator moderator. It us endorsed by every national school administrator organization out there. SchoolTube changed my curriculum for the better and has since changed the way in which my district communicates with the world. We use Facebook, Twitter and student blogs, all with the tremendous support of our school administrators and parents. The #1 reason? Trust. They trust me and our students are making the right choices. But trust is a tough trait to come by in public education. Great post on your part and keep pushing for educators to use social media.

  6. I agree seeing that teachers have always been the God figure in the classroom it might be difficult for some to get past that and begin to operate like the real world does. One of the primary strategies to be utilized in teaching is ‘inquiry’. However no longer is that limited to googling something. As Alec shared in class about the youngster that Our division would is wanting to incorporate technology in a big way, even the social media part but aren’t quite sure of how to do that while at the same time protecting students. If any one has any ideas I’d like to hear.

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