Social network software is a potentially powerful tool for professional development, adoption of so-called 21st century skills, and the development of personal learning networks. I use the term eduSocial Media (eSM) to distinguish it from entertainment-oriented "social media." Key tools of eSM include list-servs, twitter, nings, blogs, wikis, google docs, diigo, skype, etc. The ideas below were generated as I re-read the last chapter of Will Richardson's book, Blogs, Wikis, & Podcasts. In that chapter, he outlines 10 ways the "Read/Write Web" is changing education. His ideas resonated with me in the context of eduSocial Media, so I developed this list which is a rationale for adopting the use of eduSocial Media at an institutional level for the purpose of teachers' professional development.
1) Most of our schools are seeking to adopt digital sources of content to supplement (or even replace) textbooks. eduSocial Media is a compelling pathway to access, gather, and build this content. At its core, the experience of eSM is one of sharing digital resources and experiences with like-minded colleagues. Our list-serv messages, tweeted links, ning discussions, blog posts, and social bookmarking revolve around teaching and learning resources. The collaborative wikispaces and google docs enable participants to easily share and publish work online. Doing all of this expands one's experience with the organizing and delivery tools that are used to access, manipulate, and share digital content. Effective manipulation of digital content has been identified as critical for 21st century students' success, so why not put teachers in the position of using this skill authentically? Jumping into twitter, blogs, and nings is a bit like going swimming- you need some instruction, but the only way to learn how is to get in the water!
2) eduSocial Media helps us build skills in finding answers and solving problems through a collaborative network. A core element of eduSocial Media is the willingness of people to help each other. Those of us swimming in this stream often use it to ask questions (via twitter, list-servs, and nings) which colleagues are happy to answer. With eduSocial Media, this sharing of knowledge is visible to many other participants, so the process of asking a question and receiving an answer often results in several people who didn't even know they had the same question benefitting from the answer. Some questions also evoke corollary questions from other askers that help define other aspects of a problem/situation. This collaborative process also encourages our "life-long learning skills" because we see the power of the collective knowledge pool and become participants in both asking and answering questions. Modeling this for students is a powerful practice, and experiencing it as teachers is necessary if we want to teach students how to use networks like this. This process of solving problems by tapping into human networks using collaborative digital tools is a critical 21st century skill.
3) Students need guidance on the ethical use of information souces in the online world. Teachers participating in the eduSocial medium will have an authentic ability to teach and model this, by properly citing sources and modeling intellectual honesty. Being respectful of the human network is important- it is assumed that an asker has first tried to google the question before turning to one’s learning network, so there is also an opportunity for instruction in ethical and appropriate use of this medium.
4) eduSocial Media is a “24/7” tool, accessible in our classrooms, at home, and in-between (on our smart-phones.) This anytime/anywhere accessibility can break down the artificial time constraints on instruction tied to class periods and school days. It may seem to open the door to impinging on teachers’ personal time, but if managed wisely has the potential to provide more “just-in-time” learning for our students. Most teachers I’ve met will go to great lengths to ensure their students’ opportunity for success. I do not mean to suggest that teachers should be available 24x7, but teachers often make time outside of class to answer emails, and this is the same type of interaction that can happen over eSM tools.
5) eduSocial Media by its nature exposes us to a global and highly diverse participatory universe. Both the global nature with its diversity of viewpoints, cultures, experiences, and the participatory/entrepreneurial nature of this medium contribute to our 21st century skillset. We build our social capital within these networks by being supportive and active participants and we weave entrepreneurial webs of relationships that can be tapped on demand for our own learning and problem solving needs. eduSocial Media also levels the participatory playing-field, allowing anyone to participate in conversation on an equal footing. As we have learned from studies of online courses, some students who are normally shy or reluctant to speak up in face-to-face conversation will thrive with online communication. eSM taps into this same dynamic--valuing relevance rather than established power relationships.
6) Interacting with eduSocial Media helps keep the knife edge sharp. It "ups the game" because you are interacting with a real (and potentially expert) audience for your ideas and conversation. This is as true for teachers as for students. Incidentally, but also importantly, it is OK to make mistakes in this medium. In fact a healthy and humble recognition that occasional missteps may occur is good because if we waited until every idea were perfectly polished before presenting it, we’d have a much lower frequency of interaction. Being willing to venture ones’ ideas into the digital dialog is a key to taking value from the experience. You have to be willing to try, and to take a risk, in order to learn. In life we often learn more from mistakes than successes, so the notion of risk being involved with eSM should not be a barrier to entry; instead, it’s an opportunity to put your best foot forward and stay sharp. Interacting with colleagues online can be energizing, and has the potential to make professional development a very personally rewarding experience.
7) Will Richardson points out that because the web allows anyone and everyone to publish content, it is necessary for our students to be able to read with a more critical eye than in the past. With the abundance of information online, it is also valuable to be able to write and convey ideas efficiently, effectively, and persuasively. We can practice both of these skills when participating in the world of eduSocial Media. Will also points out that our students inhabit a multimedia and a mobile world in which our educators need to become more fluent. Will notes that the cultural transmissions of experience and knowledge now transpire across video sites like YouTube. eduSocial Media embraces and gives us experience in this new world.
8) Using eduSocial Media can be a fun and intrinsically rewarding experience on a number of levels. This element of enjoyment makes it more likely to take hold as an authentic pathway to professional development.
I'd be interested to hear your thoughts or questions on this topic, and if you have more examples of why eduSocial Media is worth pursuing on an institutional level. [Please note that in my blogging I like to incorporate comments back into the original post, so if there is something you do not want added to this list, please say so.]
While we're on this topic, I suppose it might also be useful to outline some of the pitfalls of embracing social media in a professional context which could include:
- being off-task, procrastinating, or exploring personal interests as opposed to school-related interests
- potential for inadvertent disclosure of personal, proprietary, or confidential information
- potential for misinterpreted intentions or emotional responses inflaming sensitive situations
- potential for inappropriate or malicious posting reflecting on the school
Ok, putting the rose-colored glasses back on now... I think we could work to reduce the risks by establishing clear guidelines and educating ourselves.