Innovation is defined as making changes in something established by introducing new methods, ideas or products. The very definition of innovation allows us to glean what problems an innovator might encounter as they strive to do things differently.
Trying to change the way things have always been done provides would-be innovators first of all with a political challenge, for persuading colleagues that change is both necessary and beneficial is no easy task.
Every single educational institution is governed and shaped by macro- and micro-politics. Innovators will find hurdles in both spheres, but it is the micro-politicking that takes place in the staff room, among colleagues, that worries me the most.
Clay Shirky captures the essence of social networking rather succinctly: social networks facilitate the creation of groups and the exploration of “new ways of gathering together and getting things done”.
Theories about socio-cultural situated learning have deep reaching consequences in the appliance of social networking as the principal means of communication, collaboration and cooperation in an educational setting, not just for individual students, but also for the whole school community. Interaction between individuals, teachers and students, co-operating in a community lies at the heart of social cognitive learning theory.
The importance of community to learning is always implied but rarely stated as a significant context in education. We all understand at an implicit level that interaction between members of the school community deepens their understanding of each other and leads to learning.
So, is a social network a substitute for community? Would the use of social networking be detrimental to the wider school community? The answer to both questions is no. Of course not. If the concept of community were not important for learning, schools and universities would have little reason to exist. The critical role of interaction in learning is reinforced by the addition of social networking to the school community, not undermined. Therefore, the addition of the social learning network augments the learning community rather than provides an alternative to it, resulting in the overall enhancement of the learning environment. It also – very tantalisingly – points towards how teaching and learning within this environment can be transformed into previously inconceivable practice, not simply enhancing it.
Research suggests that individuals join social networks to associate with others of like interest or vocation, or who know more, or who would like to learn similar things. This contrasts sharply with schools’ imposition of learning management systems on their students. Some educators have pointed out that many students tend to avoid using the school-managed virtual learning environments because they either find it difficult to use or irrelevant to their daily learning needs. It would appear then that a loose network of willing participants is better able to guarantee the commitment and engagement of the vast majority of our students.
Digital textbooks are to textbooks what the iPhone was to phones. Five years ago, making phone calls and sending text messages was just about all I could imagine that I could do with my mobile phone. Then along came devices like the iPhone and the game changed: phone calls and text messages gave way to email, social networking, internet browsing and just about anything else you could find an app for.
When I say digital text books, I am not referring to Amazon Kindles. Useful as they are, I am certain Kindles will end up, sooner rather than later, in a cupboard alongside the electronic typewriter, the fax machine and the floppy disk. The reason why I think this is the case is that Kindles are intermediate devices that have been developed to suit already existing content.
South Korea has announced recently that, by 2015, all the information that would once have been in paper textbooks will be delivered on screens. These digital textbooks will be available on computers, tablets, smartphones and even internet-capable TVs. Note how here the emphasis is on the content and not on the device: they want the content to be suitable for the devices, not the other way round.
What do electric carving knives and just about every piece of technology lying around in your classroom have in common?
Electric carving knives were invented in the 1960s to facilitate the process of carving large joints of meat for families gathering around the dinner table. At a time when wives stayed at home cooking for larger families, it made sense to facilitate a housewife’s job by providing her with useful tools such as this.
Millions were sold and soon fell into disuse because the makers of electric carving knives failed to foresee the big shift in demographics that was about to take housewives out of their houses and into the workforce by the hundreds of thousands. Suddenly there was no time for cooking. Or carving. And the knives were really difficult to clean in any case, which soon put anyone off from using one more often than just once a year… at Christmas.
The way we use much of the technology in our classroom reflects what we perceive to be our current needs. Many of us happily embrace computers, interactive whiteboards and the internet as tools that enhance teaching and learning. When used effectively they do that very well. Just like a carving knife.
So what is the problem with that? The problem is that using technology to simply enhance education is a bit like carving a joint with an electric knife: great fun but ultimately pointless, as the job could have easily been done just as well without troublesome gadgets.
The true potential of technology in the classroom is in its transformational capability. We need to stop using technology simply to enhance existing practice and conceive instead of new ways of teaching and learning that are shaped by the all possibilities available to us and our students.
What do you think?
What early adopters see as tools that can help refine and develop teaching and learning can sometimes be perceived as undermining by teachers who remain sceptical about the adoption of emerging technologies because of the demands placed upon them of learning and understanding the new pedagogies involved and because they often feel constrained by the contexts and pressures in which they work (Conlon and Simpson 2003). As a result, teachers often view these new technologies as superfluous or simply not conducive to better learning outcomes.
Loss of control is also an important factor for many teachers who might see the adoption of social media, not only as extremely disruptive, but also as a further erosion of academic rigour and, ultimately, of their traditional role and relevance. This may be because the tools that are familiar to our students are not so to teachers who might therefore feel unable to control their students online. King, Duke-Williams and Mottershead (2009) suggest that teacher resistance to the adoption of Web 2.0 is present because of “the little place it plays in their lives, personal or professional, and their poor perceptions of social networking”. In this context, the challenge for teachers would be to develop new teaching and learning strategies that incorporate the use of social media and that allow them to focus on learner-centred strategies, rather than the more traditional teacher-centred use, which is still widely preferred by teachers in general (Scrimshaw 2004).
Anderson (2009) defines the term social networking as referring to “the networked tools that allow people to meet, interact and share ideas, artefacts and interests with each other”. Boyd and Ellison (2007) define social networking sites as “web-based services that allow individuals to construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system.” Shirky (2008) captures the essence of social networking more succinctly: social networks facilitate the creation of groups and the exploration of “new ways of gathering together and getting things done”.
Is the network a substitute for community? Would the use of social media in a networked manner be detrimental to the wider school community? The answer to both questions is no. As Bickford and Wright (2006) point out “were community not important for learning, colleges and universities would have little reason to exist”. The critical role of interaction in learning is reinforced by the addition of social networking to the school community, not undermined. Therefore, the addition of the learning network augments the learning community rather than provides an alternative to it, resulting in the overall enhancement of the learning environment.
Are dialogue and collaboration hampered by the addition of social networking to the learning environment? These two concepts are critical to the one-to-one and one-to-many models. However, in the many-to-many model afforded by social networking the focus shifts from collaborative to cooperative learning, from the group to the individual. Whereas collaboration demands that the group “sinks or swim together”, cooperation “focuses on opportunities to encourage both individual flexibility and affinity to a learning community” (Paulsen 2008).
Transparent information and cooperation among individuals foster the creation of personal learning environments in which participants wish to engage due to the potential benefits each can acquire. Schools and other learning outlets have thus far shied away from encouraging the development of such personal learning environments using the host of Web 2.0 and social media tools available, preferring instead to impose learning management systems, sometimes euphemistically called virtual learning environments. These systems do foster dialogue and collaboration, however, as Anderson (2009) indicates, a virtual learning environment which consists solely of students and teachers cannot profit from the benefits derived by a network because it lacks transparency of information and deep engagement between students and teachers (Bickford and Wright 2006).