Monday, January 30, 2012

Social media spaces and learning potential...#change11

    At the invitation of my district’s educational technology department, I recently presented to a group of instructional leaders about the use of social media in education. Specifically, my topic was Twitter. In planning the session, I decided to avoid the discussion of how students might use Twitter in the classroom, opting instead to excerpt a couple of paragraphs from Personal Learning Networks, by Will Richardson and Rob Mancabelli, before presenting a quick YouTube video* and linking to some relevant hashtags and users.
(I used this page on my wiki and asked for participants to reflect on a Google Doc one day and an Edmodo discussion thread another day.)
    The session was a success in that it generated a big buzz among the participants, most of whom opted to create Twitter accounts although I had not required, recommended or facilitated their doing so. Principals giggled, listing and followed each other. My old boss asked why her profile picture was an egg. When I explained the relationship between Twitter's bird logo and her default profile pic, she delighted site's nifty metaphor about comparing new users with unhatched chicks.
    Since the participants grappled with the safety concerns of student use during earlier presentations on YouTube and Facebook, I closed with the first minute and a half of Will Richardson’s TED talk and made the comment, “ In the interest of full disclosure, I could have just as easily guided you through Twitter content that would have generated a strong anti-Twitter sentiment. I thought for our purposes today it was more important to show how it might be used in professional development and why a high school teacher might argue for allowing students to use Twitter for research.” I wanted to finish in a way that might both honor and push back against their critical thinking about social media tools in the classroom.
    Afterward, I returned to an analogy I’ve been kicking around: Saying that schools should not use social media tools in the classroom by citing the potential dangers is like schools citing crime statistics and refusing to do community-oriented projects in the city of Chicago. Facebook is a huge virtual space that users explore largely without tour guides. As we consider the use of virtual spaces, especially gigantic virtual spaces like Facebook and Twitter, how can we map those spaces and identify the learning spaces within with the best potential?

* In an interesting connection to Howard Rheingold’s discussion of attention and his directing participants to the selective attention test, I noticed only on the third or fourth viewing of my screencast video that one of the trending hashtags on Twitter during my recording was "#mustybutthole," which went completely unnoticed even among my co-facilitators who sat through my session twice in three days. A sadistic part of me wanted to point it out afterwards** as an example of selective attention.

**Aside from my sadistic impulse, I would direct educators’ to the inappropriate hashtag in order to point out that Twitter, like most any public space that educators might explore for possibilities, will have evidence of public use that educators might categorize as misuse.

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