Teaching and learning is dependent on high quality communication and interaction. Until recently, I only really communicated with other teachers through face-to-face discussion at work. However, I now recognise that interacting in this way is like using only the red bricks in a set of Lego. I work with a great bunch of people in school, however, their pool of knowledge is limited compared to the pool of knowledge and experience that can be tapped into worldwide through social media and networking tools.
My aim now is to use a giant bag of mult-coloured Lego when connecting to the latest educational thinking.
I use various social platforms such as the Secondary English community the VLN and the Mindlab Community in order to connect with teachers and discuss educational issues. These groups, because they are closed, offer professional dialogue in a secure setting where it is safe to express opinions. Twitter and Facebook have also proven to be powerful tools allowing me to throw a particular issue out to a wider audience. However, it is important that these tools are used critically and not in order to create an echo chamber of opinion. Studies have highlighted the way in which the social network sites might create pre-conditions for learning, (Melhuish, 2013 p58) but on their own lack a critical voice. It is important to create a space for critical reflection. You are currently reading mine on this blog. 🙂
The same principle applies to students. They should not be dependent on the views of the teacher or classmates and should be using social media and networking tools in order to test their views against a broader spectrum of opinion. However, they need a mechanism to make sense of the disorganised ideas that they will encounter online. Students, for example, are often too ready to reproduce the views as expressed on YouTube (sometimes through direct plagiarism) rather than challenge them. I believe that it is important for students to have a mechanism to make sense of the ideas and apply critical thought.
Traditional v Modern
Such a mechanism might well be the classroom as part of a blended learning experience, but it might also include a LMS. Where it is a LMS it is important that it is modelled on 21st century thinking rather than on traditional models. I currently work in a school in the dinosaur age where social media is blocked and where we are forced to use the school approved Ultranet in order to interact with students. The Ultranet, in my opinion, is a draconian system modeled on a traditional style of teaching where the teacher sets up class pages, controls the content and students are given limited privileges – mainly to view content and contribute to discussions. Few do.
What is required is a LMS system that integrates social media and networking tools in order to create an environment where students can test ideas, work collaboratively and where meaningful reflection can take place.
No single tool can do the job on its own – whether for teachers as part of professional learning or for students. There needs to be a synergy between a range of social media and networking tools in order to allow learners (whether teachers or students) to reflect. It is very easy to create social networks, they are very popular with students (Joosten, 2013 p21) and they increase motivation to study (Silius et al., 2010) . However, effective learning can only occur within the network if the component tools create an environment where critical thinking is stimulated.
Joosten, T. (2013, October 22). Pearson: Social media for teaching and learning. Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/tjoosten/social-media-for-teaching-and-learning-27456257?ref=professorjoosten.blogspot.co.nz/2013/10/pearson-social-media-for-teaching-and.html
Melhuish, K. (2013). Online social networking and its impact on New Zealand educators’ professional learning (Doctoral dissertation, The university of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand). Retrieved from http://researchcommons.waikato.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10289/8482/thesis.pdf?sequence=3&isAllowed=y
Silius, K., Miilumäki, T., Huhtamäki, J., Tebest, T., Meriläinen, J., & Pohjolainen, S. (2010). Social media enhanced studying and learning in higher education. Knowledge Management & E-Learning: An International Journal, 2(1), 51-67. Retrieved from http://www.kmel-journal.org/ojs/index.php/online-publication/article/view/55/39