Google + is out. A new social network from Google. Actually, the latest social network from Google… see Wave and Buzz, both of which pretty much flopped embarrassingly soon after launch.
This time round, however, I feel it in my waters that Google has learnt some valuable lessons and is on to something great with +. The service just looks useful and full of exciting promise from the start.
Although + boasts a number of features, for me it’s its intuitive interface coupled with a genuinely useful take on Facebook’s groups called Circles that make Google + a platform I see myself wanting to use.
Most importantly of all, I think Google + is a service I can use with my students and that will enhance the quality of their education. In today’s schools a teacher’s role, as well as the more familiar aspects of the job with which we are all familiar, needs to be that of a filter – a funnel guiding our students towards relevant content. Google + could be it.
When considering innovative teaching and learning strategies, most of the people whose role encompasses worrying about such predicaments tend to focus, in my experience, on developing and sharing teacher-centred classroom strategies: using different questioning techniques (Socratic questioning, Bloom’s Taxonomy…), novel ways to plan and execute lessons, original lesson starters and plenaries…
All of which can be very useful. However, the problem I often find is that teachers seldom stop to consider using communication technologies as an innovative teaching and learning strategy to enhance both the delivery of the curriculum and learning outcomes. We all know these technologies exist, yet we choose to ignore them.
Even when the most innovative teachers progress from teacher-centred classroom dynamics to inquiry or project based learning, rarely is technology considered to supply the scaffold for a more effective collaborative and socio-constructivist approach to the acquisition of knowledge.
The reason given most often for this avoidance of the obvious benefits that new and emerging technologies confer on the education of children is that technology is not yet pervasive in schools.
The argument goes: given that children are in classrooms with no access to computers during their school day, with only a few timetabled exceptions, the focus therefore ought to be on innovative teaching strategies that do not involve the use of new technologies.
This makes sense to some. It makes no sense to me.
Neil Selwyn mounts a refreshing challenge to the accepted wisdom behind the digital native / digital immigrants dichotomy put forward by Prensky and others. As I have said before, this dichotomy is misleading and is unfortunately often used to justify poor pedagogy by promoting the notion that teachers are not able to learn about or understand the new technologies their students use.
However, Selwyn appears to play down the potential that new technologies – especially Web 2.0 – can offer education. He says:
Whilst some commentators may like to imagine collaborative communities of content creation, in reality many young people’s engagement with technology is often far more passive, solitary, sporadic and unspectacular, be it at home or in school.
Anyone who has worked in a school recently can hear echoes of truth in this statement. Teenagers in particular appear to use the internet more to gossip online and “for self-expression and self-promotion than for actually listening to and learning from others”.
Selwyn therefore advocates a blended approach to teaching and learning in which new technologies play a limited role with teachers retaining an “authoritative role” in directing the students.
This appears to me to miss the point entirely, in that the possibilities afforded to us by what we call new technologies (electronic communication has been around for a while now) are not fully explored.
The fact is that our students have a gamut of new possibilities at their disposal that can potentially have an enormously beneficial impact in the way they learn both from us and by themselves.
Many of my students often cite Facebook as one of the principal distractions from academic work, especially at this time of year when many of them are franticly preparing for their examinations. This is often seized upon by educators opposed to the use of social networking sites in schools, who use this apparent rejection of social networking sites by students to bolster the, in my view, erroneous notion that social networking sites are either just a fad or not worth the trouble.
However, this apparent rejection by students is not really surprising because schools and educators have, more often than not, shunned the use of social networking sites, even though they are quickly becoming the prevalent form of communication today – social networking sites are the C in ICT. If in doubt, ask any thirteen year old when was the last time they sent an email to a friend.
As we have consistently ignored the obvious educational potential of online social networking and communication, leisure has become the focal point of our students’ use of social networking sites. Using social networking sites for academic learning has simply never entered the equation.
And that’s not their fault, it’s ours. By ignoring the rise of online communities and online social interaction, we have essentially abandoned our students to teach themselves how to communicate in the 21st century, insisting instead on teaching them how to communicate and survive in a world that will not exist once they have left school.
It never ceases to surprise me that whenever the issue of new technologies in the classroom gets mentioned – whether it’s in blog posts, blog comments, tweets, seminars, Q&A sessions, staff meetings… – what should be a level headed debate about the future of education soon descends into full blown antagonism between unstoppable forces and unmovable objects.
This seemingly unsurmountable chasm is typically represented by those who see technology as an unwelcome alternative to good, tried and tested pedagogical practices and those who see potential in the use of new and emerging technologies …as an alternative. This, it would appear, is a topic in which there are no half measures. You’re either with us or…
It’s strikes me that both sides in this argument are being just as shortsighted as they accuse each other to be.
A case in point is the recent article published in Mashable titled 6 Reasons Tablets are Ready for the Classroom - with which I broadly agree, by the way. The article is all for tablets in the classroom, as you might guessed from its title. Not a but in sight.
Perhaps unsurprisingly the first comments this article elicited were negative. Some readers thought tablets were “expensive toys” or “books that glow” while others agreed wholeheartedly and could see nothing but tablets in their classrooms.
The use of online social networking in education – in its widest sense – is an often maligned and, in my view, misunderstood topic which engenders strong reactions both in its favour and against.
The picture above depicts movable type from a printing press. The printing press analogy is often used to illustrate the enormous impact that the internet is having in our society and civilisation.
Just like Gutenberg revolutionised the sharing of ideas when he invented the movable type printing press around 1440, the internet has revolutionised the way we communicate today. Today communication is instantaneous and, as more and more devices allow us to communicate more and more information, we have entered an era of information on demand.
The rising importance and availability of online social networks and their popularity among young people are undeniable facts. The use of the internet is becoming an ever more integral part of young people’s lives and, as a result, they are communicating with each other on an unprecedented scale.
In my view, pedagogy needs to reflect these social changes and conform to the needs and expectations of today’s young people. Using ICT with a focus on the C for Communication allows us to bring the learning online and to blend the use of traditional tools such as textbooks or dictionaries with more up-to-date, relevant and authentic multimedia materials from the web.
Online social networks provide teachers and students with a platform in which they can interact beyond the constraints of the school walls, and with which the teacher can provide personalised feedback and support.
In this post, I aim to challenge preconceptions regarding the use of online social networking in education and to provide an alternative, more positive discourse highlighting the many benefits modern means of communication can bring to education.