The Reflective Educator

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Presentation: Social Media for Parents – Updated

I’ve updated my presentation on social media, aimed at a parent audience (although I’m sure it could be used with educators just as easily). Embedded below. Note: The first few slides, up to slide 39, are intended to be shared fairly rapidly, to create a sense of overload in the viewer.

 

 

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How can social media facilitate transformation in education?

I believe that social media has the potential to facilitate a transformation in education in a way that no other communication tool before it has.

First, social media allows teachers to learn about ideas outside of their school or school district. Too often we are isolated within our classrooms, within our schools, and within our school districts, and we make assumptions about how certain educational practices should be done. When we see other schools doing things differently, it makes us wonder how we could change or improve our own practices. While other broadcast mediums (such as print and television) have this capability, social media allows us to both find out about an alternative practice and discuss the details of implementing this practice directly with whomever has created it.

Professional learning for teachers is also changing. Educators can now use social media to connect with ideas any time, any place. The #edchat discussion that happens weekly on Twitter is more similar to an Edcamp than it is to a traditional conference. An enormous percentage of what teachers learn comes from informal settings, and social media can extend the times and places where this informal learning can take place.

Just like their students, educators also need to feel like part of a community, and in some schools, they may be too different from their peers to form emotional attachments within their school. Social media allows these educators to find a peer group outside of their school with whom they can connect and form communities of care. Educators who feel like they are part of a community have greater morale, and are better able to cope with the stress their jobs entail.

I have also found that social media both exposes educators to the big ideas of education and the "what can I do on Monday" type of resource. It is important to have both – the first because the big ideas of education are what drive change, and the second because having resources available to use on a daily basis give you time to think about the big ideas.

Social media allows educators to, as a network, collaborate to solve problems that none of them could individually solve. I recently started a presentation on formative assessment. I seeded it with 20 examples of formative assessment, and then sent a link to my network of educators asking for more examples. The presentation is now up to 55 examples, and I could not have come up with all of those examples myself

There are also some problems (or maybe they are more accurately named opportunities?) with social media.

I have seen many examples (and participated in many examples) of miscommunication that occurs because of the general terseness of the medium, and sometimes because of a fundamental disagreement about what the language being used means. I had a half-an-hour-long argument with another educator which only ended when I realized that she was using a completely different definition of learning than me. It is important to take the time to clarify language, and where necessary, link to less concise explanations of what we mean. This is one reason why I think that every educator who participates in social media should have some web-space available to which they can link when necessary.

Social media also favors people who are already well-connected. I am able to use social media as an especially effective means of collaboration because I have many educators in my network already. For people who are just getting started with Twitter, they may see it as more of a means to follow people who broadcast, rather than as much of a tool for connecting with and discussing educational ideas with other educators. As someone who is well-connected, I do my best to share some of the good projects and ideas I see from people within my network, so that my network can be at least in part a shared resource.

It is also well-known that people tend to repeat opinions that are popular more than opinions held by a minority. We naturally have a desire to be part of a group, and one consequence is that we can sometimes fall into the trap of groupthink. This phenomena also happens at the school level! It is therefore important that every network should contain some dissenters, some people who are willing to go against the crowd. We also need to think about our reasons for believing something to be true – do we really believe it, do we have evidence to support our belief, or are we just following the crowd?

Social media by itself will not change education – that responsibility lies with the people who use it, but change starts with desire, and social media can provide information which may lead to a desire to change.

What is the purpose of social media?

I’ve begun to question the use of social media. I am finding Twitter to still be a valuable tool for connecting with other educators, but over the past couple of years, I have noticed that the #edchat channel has become more and more cluttered with advertisements and links, and there appears to be less discussion occurring.

When Clifford Stoll suggested that computers had no place in education, he said:

“Every voice can be heard cheaply and instantly. The result? Every voice is heard. The cacophany more closely resembles citizens band radio, complete with handles, harrasment, and anonymous threats. When most everyone shouts, few listen.”

To be clear, I don’t agree with Clifford Stoll’s assessment of the use of computers in schools. Computers can be powerful tools for education. Are they always used for the most productive purposes? Definitely not, but they have that potential, provided we (as educational technology enthusiasts) provide appropriate support and guidance, and that the teachers using the technology are thoughtful in its use. However, Stoll’s observation that there is an awful lot of noise in the Internet is totally true.

Neil Postman had the following to say of our information age:

But what started out as a liberating stream has turned into a deluge of chaos. If I may take my own country as an example, here is what we are faced with: In America, there are 260,000 billboards; 11,520 newspapers; 11,556 periodicals; 27,000 video outlets for renting tapes; 362 million TV sets; and over 400 million radios. There are 40,000 new book titles published every year (300,000 world-wide) and every day in America 41 million photographs are taken, and just for the record, over 60 billion pieces of advertising junk mail come into our mail boxes every year. Everything from telegraphy and photography in the 19th century to the silicon chip in the twentieth has amplified the din of information, until matters have reached such proportions today that for the average person, information no longer has any relation to the solution of problems.

When we post endless links after each other in Twitter (in what seems to be an effort to increase our own online profile?) and forget the social aspect of social media, we contribute to the noise. I can remember going through a phase myself where I was using scheduled tweets so that I could be posting all day and night, and fortunately, it did not take me too long to see the error of my ways; I too was contributing to the noise of the Internet.

While the regular #edchat discussion was happening today, I noticed that the stream was littered with off-topic links, mostly by well meaning people looking for some exposure for their product, service, or exciting news from their part of the world. These posts are inevitable as we want to share what we are doing, but we also need to remind ourselves of purpose of social media; it’s not about attention, it’s about communication and collaboration.

There is some room for sharing resources and links, but we need to be mindful of what the ratio of noise to conversation is at, and limit ourselves to sharing only that which is most valuable, and ideally share it outside of times people are using a particular hashtag to have a discussion. Obviously a link can extend the conversation, and where possible, we should post links which extend or challenge our thinking. We need to post a few less links, and have more discussion.

Howard Rheingold says, “If we decided that community came first, how would we use our tools differently?” The purpose of social media is to connect to other people. Let’s remember that when we post, please.