I’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.