It’s. About. Time.

web20logosI’ve been studying various educational uses of social media tools lately, trying to learn how my colleagues are using them educationally, how they are affecting learning and teaching, what the possible implications are, and why we should care.

I’ve learned that one colleague is using Twitter as a formative assessment tool; another is using Facebook as his main advising space; another uses blogs to extend relationships and learning with her current and prospective students; and several are incorporating social bookmark tools such as Delicious and wikis such as Wetpaint into everyday educational activities — online, and off! I am doing my own dabbling, as well.

It’s a whole new world.

In the book Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom: How Online Social Networking Will Transform Your Life, Work, and World, Fraser & Dutta (2008) capture how Web 2.0 tools are changing things:

Power is shifting, for better or worse, from institutions to networks, from vertical structures to horizontal systems, from hierarchies to heterarchies, from bureaucracies to individuals, from centre to periphery, from bordered territories to virtual cyberspace. (p. 2)

They continue: “Web 2.0 social media are producing three profound social eruptions: identities are becoming disaggregated, status is becoming democratized and power is becoming diffuse” (p. 20). When I think about how this applies to my experiences in higher education and what I’m learning, I do not think it is a stretch to say that when these technologies are employed, these three eruptions likely do occur in particular ways (for better or worse).

The one way that seems most interesting is the notion of power shifts: from teacher to student and learning community, from content to co-constructed meaning, from campus student group to Facebook page, from the Career Center to LinkedIn. Of course the issue about the role and toll of power in education is not a new one, and some of my favorite teachers have touched on this concern in different ways. Dewey, in 1916, wrote about this issue in Democracy and Education; Daloz described it in Mentor; Palmer discussed power concerns in The Courage to Teach; and Freire championed for a power shift in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Numerous others have contributed to the conversation as well.

And as I take this idea one step further, I believe that the very notion of power in education — in learning! —  is subject to interrogation and reconsideration altogether when we start to consider how these various technologies can affect us. The subtitle of Fraser and Dutta’s book — How Online Social Networking Will Transform Your Life, Work, and World — will likely not prove to be an overstatement.

And frankly, it’s about time. For the sake of learning: It’s. About. Time.

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4 thoughts on “It’s. About. Time.

  1. Social networking tools are fast becoming a new and important way of connecting with students in the online classroom setting. No doubt, they will be fully integrated into that setting shortly!

    However, there are at least three administrative challenges with using social networking tools that have not, as yet, been resolved. These are important issues, with several of them covered by federal statute:

    (1) Ensuring student privacy (FERPA) – Social networking sites are public spaces. In line with FERPA, students will need to give their prior consent for their work to be made public in a social networking site. Currently, privacy controls in Facebook and other social networking sites are not sufficient to cover FERPA requirements.

    (2) Ensuring student identity / who did the work – Federal law (HEOA 2008) requires that institutions must be able to show that the work a student submits (particularly the work that is assessed for a grade) is actually submitted by that particular student. This requires a secure logon that (a) is used every time the student participates in the online class and (b) is linked to the university’s Student Information System (SIS) or other identity management system. Currently, at least at Marylhurst, there is no way to link usernames and passwords used for social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter with the SIS system. Hence, there is no way to identify that assessed work done by the student in social networking site(s) is the student’s. Ideally, this issue will be overcome eventually with the implementation of an OpenID single sign on. However, few institutions have graduated to OpenID for user verification / identity management as yet, because of network security issues.

    (3) Finally, there is the issue of how materials and work (particularly assessed work) in a social networking site can be archived for a period of time in order to be available if there is a grade dispute. Social networking sites can change overnight but, for legal purposes, the university needs to be able to show the scope of work for which the student received the grade. Some of this can be captured through screen shots. However, screen shots do not show the dynamic nature of social networking sites. In addition, to cover all of the screens in a social networking site via screenshots uploaded to a learning management system could become very cumbersome to shoot, to upload, and to review.

    This is not to say that the future of teaching and learning is not changing dramatically with the introduction of social networking technology. Student control of their own data and learning are the wave of the future. (Just wait until Google WAVE is up and running!) What it does mean, however, is that, for right now, issues of privacy, security, and archiving make it difficult to use social networking sites for assessed online classroom activities and the materials which inform that assessment (ex., course readings, etc.).

  2. It is long about time! I had one instructor this past year who didnt even use email!! I dont know HOW that person got along in life without it.

    All told, LinkedIn is my favorite for professional networking followed by Multiply for keeping trrack of friends and family because the site is geared toward people who like to write (a lot!).

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