African Education Week, held in Johannesburg every year is the largest education conference on the continent. This year, I was asked to give a short presentation and then take part in a panel discussion around the use of the social web in the classroom. The text of my presentation is below (and thanks to Ollie Bray for the idea of using the change slides from Karl Fisch ).
Is social media disruptive in the classroom? Yes…of course it is,and this is a good thing we need to embrace and nurture
When I was preparing for today’s session, I thought for a little while on the meaning, in today’s context, of the word ‘disruptive’. Now, it can of course mean disruptive to classroom learning, or disruptive in the sense we understand by the term ‘Disruptive Technology’. But actually, both need to be contextualised in a positive way because they can be one and the same thing.
In Scotland we have had a national schools intranet since 2006. It was the first national intranet for schools in the world and…. It never really worked properly, at least,in the way teachers would have wanted it to work. It was in my personal view, almost out of date before it was actually rolled out….seriously. I’ve just spent the past year or as a part of a small advisory group set up to examine and report on the options for it’s replacement. We’ve spent a lot of time trying to design something which is based upon Self organised learning, and the social web, and is as future proof as possible.
But the biggest challenge to the whole project from it’s inception back in the early noughties to the present day has probably,if we’re honest, not been the intranet,or the idea of an intranet, but rather has been resistance to change..from educators mainly. The kids are all saying come on…bring it on…no problems fromtheir perspective.In fact, they welcome technology with open arms, embracing it, subverting it, using it for their benefit.It’s the world they live inand it needs to become one we as educators and teachers at least join in and try to become equal partners with the kids in.The balance of power in learning is shifting away from the traditional transmission model of teaching.
Education systems the world over have always had a resistance to change. Anything new or unknown, anything which challenges the current understanding or hierarchy. I bought a few examples of this with me today
Thanks to Ollie Bray for first showing me these slides in one of his presentations a few years ago
So you see….. change has always provoked fear and resistance. But we are living in a world which is going through another revolution. We’ve had the agricultural revolution in the C18, the industrial revolution in the C19, political revolutions in the C20 and now we are in the midst of the information revolution. And this cannot bypass our classrooms as if they were islands in the stream resisting the current of progress. I agree with Steven Heppell when he said that we just spent the whole of the twentieth century perfecting a nineteenth century model of education for the industrial age. I believe that it’s just not fit for purpose anymore – this idea that we can churn out compliant and malleable individuals who will fit into traditional hierarchies without kicking back at all – it’s an absolute nonsense.
Ken Robinson,in a recent TED talk put it this way. He said…
‘Our children are living in the most intensely stimulating period in the history of the earth. Yes,,, really! They are being besieged with information and calls for their attention from every platform. From computers, from Smartphones, from advertising hoardings, from 100’s of television and radio channels. And we’re punishing them now for getting distracted. From what? Boring stuff. At school, for the most part.
Now, most great learning happens in groups. Social media enables this collaboration. If we explode these groups of kids into individual parts we separate them from their natural learning environments. In school, we tell them there is one answer, and its in the back of the book so don’t look. And don’t copy. In the outside world, this is called collaboration. ( If you’re not familiar with Ken, check him out….on YouTube)
Kids today are ‘Screenagers’ and they are completely comfortable with web 3.0 – the creative web. Many of us are still coming to terms with web 2.0…the consumptive web. There is the real tension. They come into school and we expect them to ‘power down’. Why… Why…why… must they stop communicating and collaborating just because they happen to be confined between four walls *we* call a *classroom*
Now Sir Ken has more to say
‘But its not all bad news.. Many countries globally are trying to create classrooms that challenge traditional models and reverse the hierarchy, allow young people to communicate and collaborate, that provide an authentic audience for children’s work’
This is what social media is all about. It’s simply another more culturally relevant tool for facilitating learning.The frightening thing for many teachers is that they can’t control it. I think this is something we have to help our teachers let go of
Young people are engaged when they are learning about things or with things that they can relate too or that are relevant to them. Social media is highly culturally relevant at the moment for young people and harnessing these tools for education can develop really powerful contexts for learning.
Do you remember that aircraft which took off from La Guardia Airport in New York flew into a flock of birds suffered a double engine loss and glided to safety landing on the Hudson River back in 2009? Those images of Captain Sullenberger the pilot walking on the wings of his 737 guiding his passengers to the safety of waiting boats after pulling of what must truly rank as one of the most spectacular aircraft landings ever. This story hit the world first via twitter before the traditional media channels had got their acts together. Imagine if you’d had this happening during your class? What an amazing learning opportunity?
So Social media is also highly relevant across society as a whole. For example in the UK in 2012 eight out of the ten most popular search terms were directly linked to a social website. Facebook was the most popular search term. And you tube was the second most popular search engine. Young people today don’t look in books for answers on how to do things if they have a choice…they go to you tube and watch someone actually doing it. Our world is evolving. New ideas will spread the whole way around the world in less than 48 hours. That’s the power of the YouTube video clip! It’s even less time on Twitter. Social media is global and ubiquitous. This is evolution, but not as we’ve previously understood the word. Now the term evolution is used to describe changes which occur much more rapidly than Darwin could ever have dreamed about.
So with this in mind, think about this concept…. I call it ‘Knowledge Grazing’. Just looking at something on line, or searching for something specific takes us on a self organised but still very messy journey through learning. Try going to a Wikipedia page for a topic or subject which interests you. Can you defy the psychology which makes clicking on hyperlinks almost impossible to resist?
This is a heutagogical approach which could see a return to a more focussed and user-centred project- based learning, but this time, with projects directed by the individual learner. As educators, all we need to do is set the parameters, then work individually with our students, helping, providing advice, and yes, even teaching them that it’s not just ok to recycle and mash up knowledge, but that the real goal is to reboot it, make it work, and truly own it. By this I mean evaluating what is discovered, properly crediting the work of others and commenting on how relevant it might be to the project, whilst benchmarking it against the set parameters. We’re not just looking for old-style factual regurgitation. Those days are long gone, left behind by the post industrial information age. We should be in the business of helping learners to become consummate knowledge Rebooters.
It’s not what you know but how you use it.
So to sum up…yes, social media *IS* disruptive in the classroom
Yes, it disrupts traditional models of teaching (information transmission)
and honestly, if something is able to be disrupted, than it deserves to be disrupted.
Pedagogy, as we’ve traditionally understood it is being replaced by heutagogy, or Self Directed Learning.
Social Media has re energised learning. We live in the Soundbite generation. Use it, … because I tell you this….. if you dislike the change, you’ll like the irrelevance even less.
And after all, as someone else once said …. aren’t the best teachers are those who show students where to look but don’t tell them what to see?