Using Social Online Networks in Teaching and Professional Development

Introduction

I was (relatively) stunned when a colleague of mine showed me a photo-sharing app on their phone called ‘seesaw’ where her primary aged children’s teachers could post photos and videos of activities that they did in class, sometimes daily. Despite being immersed in digital technologies teaching at secondary level (and doing the Mindlab course), I had not actually heard of that app before. (As an aside, isn’t it interesting how the best apps seem to meet an (almost) obvious social need? I know that I would have coveted such an app when my two sons were in primary school). I can see some similar applications in both secondary classrooms (and parents) and between teachers of different schools too.

Social Networking in my Professional Practice

The main social network that I belong to and make regular contributions to is the NZ Association for Computing, Digital and Information Technology teachers.  This is a virtual necessity for keeping up with all the changes in all aspects of the job that I do particularly given the pace of change happening within schools (will the teacher-parent photo-sharing app ‘see-saw’ become mandatory in all primary and secondary school classrooms in the near future?).

I am also a member of a NZ-wide computer science Facebook group for teachers and a frequent follower of ‘Ted Talks’ on Twitter too, some of which I share in the classroom. It is hard keeping up with all of this professional dialogue though (am I making it sound too easy here?) but occasionally a nugget gets through to me that I use immediately in the classroom (as I see an immediate application).

I have not used social media in my classroom at this stage of my secondary career other than to analyse some of the statistical trends of any new app (Facebook versus Snapchat uptake for example). Keeping up with all the new apps is dizzying and I wonder how anyone makes money from so many from all the free ones available. Unsurprisingly Snapchat is beginning to be used more and more in a variety of different classrooms around the world (#1):

Since last fall, Britt has built Snapchat videos into his introductory psychology class. He takes “snaps” of real-life examples of what he’s teaching in class, and posts it to the app. He does this right before exams, so his students will look at them when they’re studying.

“The best way to learn new material is to try to personalize it to your life,” Britt says. “You know, come up with an example or attach it to some prior knowledge.”

Plus, Britt has guaranteed an audience for his effort: About 90 percent of his students look at and use his Snapchats to study, he estimates. So, it makes it easy for Britt to push a little knowledge his students’ way when they’re not in class.” (#2)

Running this BLOG is actually another way that I use a form of social media to interact with all other stakeholders beyond the students and the parents that I interact with. It’s also one that I intend to maintain as I like the fact that I can keep an online photo-orientated journal of my time in the classroom so that I can look back at any time when I (or others) want to review my body of work. In this sense I am almost using this online diary like the photo-sharing app ‘snap-chat’ used in the examples above (but with less pictures). Our lives have changed and along with that our understanding of what currently constitutes as a community:

“COMMUNITY. Social media like Facebook, Twitter, SecondLife, Webkinz, Del.icio.us, and other Web-enabled social media forms serve to make the world a smaller place. Groups of people, large and small, are better able to interact more regularly, stay in touch, and accomplish various goals, because of these technologies. Social media technologies fostering community are democratic and inclusive. Today’s technology may be the great equalizer, producing a levelling of the playing field (Johnson 2007). Many of the web technologies we may not previously have associated with social media now have a social networking component, for example eBay, YouTube, and HowStuffWorks. In addition, these technologies may be used as a platform for creating a learning organization (Andrus 2005).”                                                                                         (#3)

Challenges of Social Media

Social media has invaded our classrooms in one form or another since its inception (sometimes surreptitiously under student desks!). The difference now is that some educators are driving this process rather than following it. The challenges of utilising social media in the classroom are many and what is needed now is the pedagogy to be able to utilise it effectively for the next generation of learners and inventors but also our future fathers, mothers, caregivers and grandparents. It’s been often said that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, the difference now being that the community of stakeholders involved is not just outside the school gates but increasingly in another locality or city. Let the final word on social media use in the classroom belongs to an academic researcher, that of Americam Jennifer Shewmaker:

“The strength of all of these (pedagogical) strategies is the convergence of highly engaged students communicating and collaborating with one another in order to produce significant learning. The encouragement of communication and collaboration through activities that meet Park’s (2011) fourth level of mobile learning not only build foundational knowledge, but also promote the self-direction needed for students to learn how to learn in the Fink model (2003).

Taken together, the use of social media as one aspect of mobile learning has increased the ability of faculty members at ACU to teach their students effectively. But in order to fully realize the benefits of social media in education, faculty members must become comfortable with the use of such technologies and be provided with a consistent level of support. The use of the inspirational, educational and just in time online faculty development activities provide faculty members with the ability to grow in their understanding of social media technologies, become confident in putting those technologies into place, and access to ongoing support as needed in order to best serve their students.” (#4)

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(#1) http://www.emergingedtech.com/2016/08/how-educators-are-using-snapchat-for-teaching-and-learning/

(#2) http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/03/29/467091289/how-teachers-are-using-snapchat

(#3) Using Social Media Technologies to Enhance Online Learning, Friedman, Linda Weiser; Friedman, Hershey H., Journal of Educators Online, v10 n1 Jan 2013 (full text: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1004891.pdf )

(#4) http://thejsms.org/index.php/TSMRI/article/view/73/35

 

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