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mobile social networking

Image by Will Lion via Flickr

There are a number of posts about the ways in which ‘we’ use social media that puts us into ‘categories’. What I think adults often miss is that young people (not us) are using social media to strengthen their existing friendship networks, not necessarily to widening them.

Educators who are forming new personal learning networks have the life experience to see professional value in it, to deem it as beneficial. These networks create new friendships.  However, the majority of adults (parents) use them as young people do – as friendship networks. They use Facebook in largely facile ways and if anything the depth of conversation and interaction between people is eroding down to 140 characters or less as they abandon email communication for more sporadic Facebook updates and Tweets.

There are countless educators who are masters at their craft, currently employing an array of exceptional instructional strategies, and I think that attacking them for not adopting Web2.0 technology is counter-productive to education. We live in times where group unity and diversity is more powerful than any single solo performance. I think that there is an educational perspective that questions the whole Web2.0 debate and are viewing social media as un-sustainable professional practice. Few schools are bringing sufficient scale to adoption and so quite rightly, teachers stick with what they know has worked in the past, and works in the current assessment systems.

I talk with (to) classroom teachers who are often interested in widening the ‘learning experience’, but struggle scale their innovation beyond a few classrooms. They may introduce a wiki or a social network, perhaps collaborating over a few schools with a few like minded teachers to look at some issue – beyond the text book. But I wonder if talking to an adult who has just experienced some high or low in their life via Skype adds any real depth to their understanding, unless of course they are sure of what students already think, feel and understand.?

If students  do use technology to strengthen existing relationships, then focusing on the student-teacher relationship is more authentic to them than talking to a politican over Skype. It is comparatively more interesting and innovative – but how do we know it is better? Is this new, or have instructional teachers been doing this for decades – with technologies of their time.

I can read about the Somme, I have photos of relatives who died there, and whilst at school attended remembrance parades and talked with veterans who came into the school. We didn’t have the internet or Skype but never the less, my instructional, industrialist History teacher (Mr. Key), did more to focus it that give me a text book and an exam. I was aware of the wider-issues and had empathy and understanding of the events but it was not until years later, when I visited the graves of my relatives (that I never knew), that what I had ‘learned’ about became personally relevant.

I wonder about the transference of understanding. Is it improved with technology or simply an alternative (which may be just as valid), or is the transference between Skype and GTalk, WordPress and Facebook – like adpting from Halo to Warcraft. What are the metrics being used not just to assess the attainment of student in relation to standards and outcomes, but to measure the engagement in deeper learning though the focus on ‘soft skills’ though Web2.0.

Antimacassar on a rail carriage seat

Image via Wikipedia

Perhaps to know the answer, we need to focus on the individual teacher-student relationships. How are  communicating to them: where they are; where they might go; and their attainment levels. A-E and marking merely classifies them to suit our measurement strategies.

We should be allowing them to use digital text as they see fit by understanding more about their ‘types’.

Is the student a ‘pioneer’ who has been psuedo-blogging before the phrase had been coined, using discussion boards and forums.. Are they creative producers building websites, posting movies, photos and music to share with friends, family and beyond? What is their motivation for doing this?. Are the simply everyday communicators, making their lives easier through texting and MSN  or perhaps Information gatherers using Google and Wikipedia addicts, ‘cutting and pasting’ their way though school as strategic surface learners.

I think that young people are very conscious that some activities were more worthwhile than others and are highly tuned into ‘teacher enthusiasm’. They like teachers who are motivated and provide interesting learning opportunities, but at the same time are also conscious that in school – over use of technology will label them as ‘geeks’. We should avoid identifying good ways or bad ways of using technologies because young people move between these ‘types’ constantly. They should be selecting the modes and moving fluently between them.

The problem is that teachers are still the decision makers who shape the way that digital technologies are used in the system and who set them up to limit their use and role in everyday life. ‘Don’t bring that game to school’ and ‘Put away that mobile phone’ co-exist within classrooms who are ‘Skyping out’. I don’t believe in ‘technological determinism’ in today’s schools and don’t think young people are interested in ‘social media’, just interested in using it. In student co-horts, I have always found a ‘leader of the pack’ – a pioneer, often not the student who demonstrates interest in technology in the classroom.

The current generation of young people will probably reinvent the workplace, just as the current one has and in turn this will change society, regardless current policy. For schools, pedagogy is central to relevant curriculum, and relevance is directly linked to understanding student motivation and interests.

In designing effective learning frameworks, we need to get used to the idea that collaboration, participation and co-production has happened for today’s young people, and they are comfortable with friend networks.

What I think teachers need to be acutely aware of is that in order to ‘widen’ their interest, they first need to establish how they are going to add value to ‘their networks’ though a two way flow of knowledge. Teachers don’t know everything and perhaps rather than try to ‘create authentic learning’, they need to simply ‘go with the flow’ of what young people are doing – and build upon what they know, not what we think they know – or think they want to know – by building stronger relationships, not wider experiences – though pedagogy.

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