While social media is a cutting edge on the web it is a bleeding edge in education. This blog examines why this is such an issue now, interprets responses within a change-anxiety paradigm and suggests a way forward.
The application of technology in teaching and learning is as old as technology, teaching and learning – as is the tension caused between teacher and learner. Perhaps the most famous example is from round 370 BC in Plato’s Phaedrus where Socrates argues that reading and writing would undermine knowledge that “writing would erode memory” and that “reading would mislead students to think that they had knowledge, when they only had data”. Socrates championed dialogue in teaching and learning – arguing that the written word locks down this process – no matter how many times you ask text a question it always responds with the same answer. Socrates’ ideas about text epitomise the way technology can affect relationships in society as well as the relationship between teacher and learner throughout history.
In 1455 the Gutenberg Press revolutionised not only the production of text but the world around it. “As in the case of many inventions, there was immediate opposition. The new printing system was seen as something that would undermine the existing political and religious order” – Henry VII instituted mandatory censorship and the printing of Lutheran ideas is regarded as a major factor in thousands of people leaving the Catholic church during the protestant reformation. While allowing mass distribution of ideas the printing press mass industrialised Socrates’ concerns about push -> consume as a model of teaching, learning and communication – a model that has been institutionalised throughout the 2nd millennium, reaching its logical conclusion in late 20th century mass media.
Today social media is revolutionising communications as significantly as writing and printing did in the past. Social media introduces dialogue to text and mediated communications, it democratises communication and like pushing against an open door this is one reason why it has become so popular so quickly with people rather than institutions.
Social media is becoming integrated with the web. For example Microsoft and Facebook have announced Docs.com an on-line version of Microsoft Office for Facebook; websites can use Facebook Connect to add social interaction to their Websites and social media provides interactive back channels to events and traditional mass media.
Social media is becoming integrated with identity – in mediating both traditional and digital relationships. From “keeping in touch”; arranging meetings; sharing media and interacting, social media is becoming integrated with many people’s lives – especially young people.
The integration of social media with the web and people’s identity creates a new context for web access within institutions and especially so in education – full of young people developing their identities and so used to “web life”.
Social media has placed a new context in which traditional IT suites/computer classrooms operate – the context can be interpreted within a change-anxiety paradigm with such responses as avoidance, management, assimilation and accommodation.
Avoidance is a common initial anxiety response to change, uncertainty and loss of control – coping mechanisms may result in blocking out unwanted contexts while seeking comfort in the safe and familiar. Blocking Social media can be very difficult, counter productive and even dysfunctional.
While it may be possible to place a direct block on a site like http://www.facebook.com/ there are many ways to indirectly access directly blocked sites or just use interfaces on other sites including mainstream sites such as Netvibes, Yahoo and iGoogle – is it then necessary to block “mainstream” sites?
Blocking access creates an “arms race” as students look for ways around the filters (it’s easy enough to Google suggestions) or simply switch to alternative sites that are not yet blocked. Starting this arms race can be counter productive in terms of reputation as it is the students who usually win.
Social media is so integrated with the web and with identity that avoiding it may be dysfunctional. In social media is a cutting edge on the web I describe how social media plays an increasingly important role in education, business, politics, work, media, news etc and that to block social media cuts out a significant amount of modern life – should education be isolating itself from mainstream culture? Mizuko Ito et al provide a well researched argument on the importance of social media access in relation to identity and especially for Disadvantaged students who do not have Internet at home – “When kids lack access to the Internet at home, and public libraries and schools block sites that are central to their social communication, they are doubly handicapped in their efforts to participate in common culture and sociability”. In learning, experience is better than avoidance and in terms of safety Ofstead advise that “Pupils given a greater degree of freedom to surf the internet at school are less vulnerable to online dangers in the long-term”
Change-anxiety may be met with rationalisation and an attempt to manage responses – if social media activity is considered as a classroom behavioural issue then it can be managed with classroom behavioural management – the same techniques used to manage talking, passing notes, throwing paper and other student distraction and inattention behaviours.
“A problem is an opportunity” – rather than avoid or manage find ways to turn a problem to advantage – make use of it. Consider the philosophy of the martial art Aikido “an art that practitioners could use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury” by “blending with the motion of the attacker and redirecting the force of the attack rather than opposing it head-on”. Social media is integrated with the web and with our learners lives – educational “Aikido” seeks ways to assimilate and blend social media with learning – there are plenty of examples – here are just a few: 100 ways to use Facebook in the classroom; Facebook for ESOL classes; Twitter in the classroom; Effective use of Social Media Part 1: Twitter in the classroom; tweaching with Twitter; Using Facebook to help students pass English; Embracing the Twitter Classroom; Using Social media to improve retention; 13 Enlightening Case Studies of Social Media in the Classroom;Learning science with social media; Social Media and the 21st Century Classroom.
Systems and behaviours adjust to their environment (through avoidance, management to assimilation) but where the environment changes dramatically then systems and behaviours need to do more than just adjust – they need to change. The current model of education and the classroom is an assimilation of industrial age contexts that is maladjusted to information age contexts. Computers with Internet access are an incredibly powerful information and communication technology – imagine placing them onto the desks of a 1960s classroom – yet this is what we do in our “IT suites”, no wonder there is culture shock. Our IT classrooms are like steampunk scenarios where worlds collide – culture-technology-time mashups of information scarcity and information abundance in the same place – no wonder there are problems. The IT classroom steampunk paradigm difference is stressing the education system and those who teach and learn within it. It is time for education to accommodate to the culture and technology of the information age – to shift paradigm and change.
The resurrection of Socrates in the classroom
The Internet, Web 2.0 and social media have shifted the information gateway from teacher to learner; changed the relationship between them and redefined the role of education and the classroom. Rather than being a source of information the classroom can become a source of knowledge and understanding – a return full circle through 2,000 years to Socrates and dialogue in teaching and learning. Today it is expensive in terms of time, money and energy to bring people together in a classroom – we should use classroom opportunities to provide value unique to that situation.
What I am arguing is that the style of IT classrooms of the last 20 years are now dysfunctional and that this dysfunction is the bleeding edge. I am proposing a shift away from “traditional” IT classrooms and to develop classrooms for interaction, debate and dialogue. More of learning can take place outside the classroom – activities such as research, preparation, writing and programming can be done elsewhere and may be more effectively done elsewhere.
The big challenge for the education system is to accommodate to the its changing technical and cultural context and by so doing support our teachers and learners – I hope to explore this in future blogs.
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