29 December 2011

Sailing the Shift in 2012

Throughout 2011, anyone who spends time online will have witnessed the increased focus on leadership in education, creative thinking, the spreading of Open Education Resources (e.g. MIT Open Course Ware ,  Open Culture, among many others) as well as the growing tide of free education, especially at post-secondary level. And of course, technology, technology, technology - in all its forms and areas of influence. Gaming in education is taken seriously as are other multimodular forms of presenting and engaging learners.

Which brings me to ask about the role of social media in education - is there a place for it? If so, why?

Let me begin by highlighting what I agree to be essential skills for today:

  • Sense-making. The ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed
  • Social intelligence. The ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions
  • Novel and adaptive thinking. Proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rote or rule-based
  • Cross-cultural competency. The ability to operate in different cultural settings
  • Computational thinking. The ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning
  • New-media literacy. The ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms and to leverage these media for persuasive communication
  • Transdisciplinarity. Literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines
  • Design mind-set. Ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes
  • Cognitive load management. The ability to discriminate and filter information for importance and to understand how to maximize cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques
  • Virtual collaboration. The ability to work productively, drive engagement and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team

More than only for an unknown distant future, these are skills which learners today need to be comfortable and confident in. It is when they are at school/college that they can practice them in  a safe,  peer-level environment. From learning how to conduct efficient and effective online searches, being able to sift through the never-ending data available, to learning how to blog and use Twitter as a collaborative learning platform, educators have the responsibility to teach these skills, not only to motivate and engage learners, but to help prepare them for their futures. 

I have frequently been confronted with the time-consuming argument that not all learners need to learn about social media and that  "successful education" is really about passing exams. 

Although I may understand this limited view of education (after all, it is an opinion among many other attitudes and approaches to education), it has certainly never been one that I share or practice. Not all skills may necessarily be labelled as "21st Century Learning Skills" - collaborative learning is how humans learn, after all. Throughout my life in classrooms and staff-rooms, collaborating in teams, with partners, with the local community,  has always taken place. What is different today is how much broader and wider these collaborations can effectively occur. From the above list, sense-making, social intelligence and adapting to new ways of thinking are also not unique to "21st Century Learning". They have always been required as they are inherent features of what it means to learn. 

What is strikingly new,  is the need to guide learners with media or digital literacies.
This skill is not merely the ability to use a digital tool; it involves so much more. Let's take blogging, for instance.

Blogging contributes to a student's E-portfolio; SlideShare, creating a Prezi,  participating in a Voxopop or any of the many tools available to all. Learners may be on social networks and attached to their mobiles, but it is quite another matter to use digital tools for learning. This where a teacher needs to facilitate and guide learners to develop their digital literacy skills.
not one that is tucked away in an institution's system or VLE, but one which is available anywhere, anytime - even when a learner leaves that particular institution. When regarding a blog as a portfolio, students can more easily demonstrate how they communicate with digital tools, whether these be image editing, uploading a PowerPoint presentation to

There is so much to say about blogging, and so very much may be easily found as well (see references below as an example). What I would like to highlight, are a couple of other reasons why, in my view, blogging is an excellent activity for classrooms:

* Blogging encourages transparency - learners can share their blogs with friends and family; after all, so much of what happens in classrooms remains behind walls and doors. There is also no excuse of having forgotten a book or class project in the classroom (and sometimes, there are projects which need to be kept in the classroom) as a learner can share his/her blog with their family anywhere where there is an internet connection. Another consideration to bear in mind, is that this transparency also leads to a dialogue with the curriculum. More on that below. 

* Digital Citizenship - Digital citizenship covers issues such as E-Safety, Cyberbullying, one's Digital Footprint but also issues as how to participate in online communities and maintain a digital identity. Blogging may be a flexible platform to show-case one's digital literacy skills, a space to develop an independent voice, but blogging is also space of dialogue - not merely a product of consumption. It this rich feature of dialogue that adds to a learner's motivation as well as to their abilities in dealing with one form of digital literacy. 

* Blogging as Dialogue - In a recent conversation with John Goldsmith (@cyberjohn07 and author of De Tools of the Trade) John expressed how being a blogger is often an act of  bearing  the loneliness of the long-distance writer as there is seldom any immediate feedback. If, on the one hand, I too understand how time is never enough and that,  I too, so often read a blog but fail to contribute a comment (and let me be honest - I read many, many blogs; I simply don't have sufficient time to comment on all of them, despite appreciating every single one!), adding a comment to a blog posting,
contributing to the open dialogue is an essential skill of blogging practice. Again, even though our learners may be digitally connected, providing constructive feedback, opening inquiry, adding to dialogue - whether their personal voice in an opinion/reflection, or related more closely to their studies and curriculum, these are skills which need to be tapped into and honed in.  Effective digital collaboration comes with practice, while open dialogue leads to further learning and critical thinking. 

Learning is  knowing how to face winds of change. 

Learning is leaving the fishbowl, swimming confidently in open seas of change and life.

Classroom learning in safety leads to living more confidently, more securely in today's digital world. 

How do you see the role of social media developing in classroom practices?


  1. good post with a lot to digest ~ and then share. I'm going to pull some parts, especially about blogging, for my blog based online study group (lately overshadowed by mooc participation)

  2. Hi Vanessa,

    Thank you for your feedback; please feel more than welcome to take any/all sources and resources that you find useful; I find them all useful and inspiring myself. There are so many different aspects of digital literacies that all contributions, exchanges help clarify what exactly needs to be done in classrooms.

    Best wishes for your MOOC - yes! They do take up a lot of time :-)

  3. Social media has its place in the classroom. I went to a workshop by Liam Lusk where he showed us how to use twitter, blogs, and youtube in class. Students use technology all the time, they even take their smart phones to the bathroom. If teachers catch up to their students, they'll get them more motivated and involved in class.

  4. Hi Sharon,

    Thank you for passing by and leaving your thoughts; you're quite right when you say that if teachers are more in tune with their students' use of technology, they may become more motivated themselves in teaching. Teachers always have had to reach out to their learners with points of references which interest /are meaningful to a particular generation and showing students how they can harness technology for their own development is no different.

  5. I was very inspired to read your post on Sailing the Shift. I was interested in the list of essential skills for work and life. As an educator at the coal face we are in a unique position to provide learning options that help growth these skills. What is the real challenge is how to do this within very limited and narrow curriculum offerings. Curriculum development is really failing to meet the needs of learners today. It might be we need different models for curriculum development. I often see educators becoming skilful at meeting the needs of the curriculum and then being 'released' to get on with the real learning. In our ESOL classes we have competency units such as prepare to use email and prepare to use internet for learners who are already technologically savvy users of social media!..

  6. Hi MOOC Meanderer,

    Thank you for your kind words and yes, I am in complete agreement with you - it is our responsibility as educators to guide learners through these changes. Students may be savy at social media and communication, but they hunger for their talents to be released, to create something they can also learn while doing. There is so much potential and possibilities. It is a shame that so many educators still prefer mindless drills and excuses that it is not their responsibility to "teach Tech". It is not teaching tech - it's teaching, facilitating digital literacy which is quite different.

    Best wishes for your MOOC meanderings! :-)