Many schools now use web-based learning platforms to support and supplement the delivery of teaching and learning. Although they are undeniably useful in the educational context, learning platforms do lilttle more than support – and thus attempt to perpetuate – the traditional model of teacher-centred pedagogy and, as such, fail to deliver the kind of transformative change that would place students at the centre of their own learning.
Many will argue that learning platforms do facilitate teaching and learning. This, in my view, is unquestionable and a positive step in the right direction. But few are able to say hand on heart that the learning platforms they are implementing succeed in engaging their students beyond low-level transactional interactions: here’s my homework, here’s your grade.
In many cases, communication is only allowed to take between teachers and students, but not among students. In fact, the one factor that would ensure student engagement is often blocked out of those platforms which do support it: social networking. Schools remain by and large terrified of allowing their students to communicate among themselves.
The levels of user engagement on which commercial social networking sites like Facebook thrive therefore remains utterly unattainable for school learning platforms that attempt to reproduce faithfully traditional models of teaching and learning. Unfortunately, this pill comes with substantial side-effects: without this coveted student engagement, learning platforms tend to become overpriced and unwieldy repository of word documents and powerpoint presentations.
For these reasons I believe that learning platforms are nothing more than a stopgap solution, a temporary workaround while both students and schools come round to accepting that web-based social networking is here to stay and that we would benefit greatly from exploiting its potential rather than legislating against what is, after all, the means of communications of choice of hundreds of millions of people.
Facebook has recently announced it’s testing a new student groups feature which will allow students from a particular educational institution to use their Facebook accounts to engage in academic business. Given that many schools are currently exploring Facebook as a means to engage their students – mostly via Facebook pages – it does not take a huge leap of the imagination to envisage a few tweaks of the code that would allow courses and resources to be shared productively, with students able to take a more active role in their learning and teachers becoming facilitators-in-chief in such a new, safe and engaging environment.
Fanciful? Perhaps. But so were Twitter departmental accounts and school Facebook pages not that long ago. This may still seem like be a step too far in the minds of many, but the path down which we’re heading ultimately leads to an education system supported and benefitting from web-based social learning platforms. And there is no reason whatsoever why Facebook couldn’t be one.
What do you think?