Thursday, April 23, 2009

Social Media Part 2: The Effect on Education

Social Media and Social Networks are defining the next wave of the Web. There are unspoken guidelines about what it means to participate in this Web 2.0 world. Let's look at Facebook for example. Facebook just revised their governance documents to include one called Principles. They state:

"We are building Facebook to make the world more open and transparent, which we believe will create greater understanding and connection. Facebook promotes openness and transparency by giving individuals greater power to share and connect, and certain principles guide Facebook in pursuing these goals. Achieving these principles should be constrained only by limitations of law, technology, and evolving social norms."

In case you don't have a Facebook account and can't read the principles, here is a sampling of a few: "Freedom to Share and Connect; Fundamental Equality; Social Value; Common Welfare; One World". I believe that the principles which they identify apply to more than just Facebook. As you just read in Social Media Part 1: In the News, digital media is being created by everyone all around us. Individuals have an outlet for their voice as much as any media giant does. This creates transparency and our students are growing up expecting this transparency. They expect to be able to participate, vote, get involved, comment, give feedback, earn their online reputation through ratings, and communicate across borders anytime from anywhere.

So, how does this effect learning in the classroom? What is the effect of Social Media on Education?

First, we have to realize that not all students are digital natives. They come to school with different levels of technology literacy and like all subjects, we as educators, need to be able to differentiate instruction accordingly. As an example, my husband asked his 4th graders to do a biography in the form of a "Time for Kids Person of the Year" publication. The results reflected a wide variety of technology literacy ranging from a handwritten report on one sheet of lined paper to a very realistic Time "cover" adapted with student's name and date, typed with multi-columns and inline images. Quite a difference!

Second, we have to realize that while technology literacy will develop at different rates, all of our students are going to be immersed in a world where they can not escape social media and social networks. We must look at technology as though it is another language, rather than another subject to be taught. Technology must used as a tool to enhance learning in every subject just as every subject needs to rely on reading, writing and speaking.

Finally, we have to embrace constructivist learning. We can't be afraid of change. We must recognize the fundamental changes that 21st century skills will require of education. What does this mean? It means that we need to design more real-world like tasks. We need to encourage learning across boundaries: classrooms, schools, geographies. We need to ask more open-ended questions without right or wrong answers. We need to use team-based approaches to learning. We need to stop "drill-and-kill" methods of instructing. And we need to enable students to not only enter the workplace ready to participate in a social world, but encourage them to start participating now.

This is my take on how the unprecedented evolution of media from traditional sources to social, digital platforms will impact the education of our students. I used to hate watching the news when I was younger. Too much "bad stuff", but today you can choose the news you want to hear about, you can seek news of interest, you can easily find multiple perspectives on a story. Social media provides a wealth of information and the opportunity to transform yourself into the "expert" you want to become. Students are no exception.

Please share your own thoughts on how social media will impact education today and tomorrow.

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