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Social Media and the Election

In the wake of the US election results, many of us are left shaking our heads and picking up our jaws off the ground. What just happened? I’m not going to go on a political tirade here. That’s not what this post and site are for. It is a sounding board to promote and share the use of technology and pedagogical approaches to enhance, improve, and transform education. That’s what I will ponder here in context of the US election results.

I was just reading this National Public Radio (NPR) article called, “Did Social Media Ruin Election 2016?” I highly recommend reading it. When you’re done reading it, please don’t take up arms against social media and suggest avoiding it or banning it. Yes, social media has had an influence in dividing nations, creating more partisanship, and breeding hate, but social media in-and-of itself is not ultimately the problem. The problem is in education.

21st Century Learner by Giulia Forsythe on Flickr

21st Century Learner by Giulia Forsythe on Flickr

In our processes of teaching critical thinking and recognizing bias and fallacy through traditional resources and discussion methods, we need to help students apply these same skills in their use and consumption of social media content. It may seem that student social media use and consumption is out of our domain, but it’s not. This election has shown us how our own and others’ use of social media can affect us.

In our curricula and daily lessons we need to have students consider social media as a source of information. For them, it’s probably their biggest source of information. Have students consider who/what they follow/like, and why. Have them reflect upon and evaluate others’ and their own social media posts. Teach them to become fact checkers and meme busters. In general, facilitate discussions about what they see in their social media feeds and connect it to your curriculum.

With social media, we actually have an opportunity to make the world a better place. As this student wrote in this 2014 post about “The Power of Social Media”:

“…the Internet gives youth so much freedom. We now have a relevant voice because of social media. Granted, there are a lot of youth who don’t really know how to use that voice for the right reasons yet. In fact, I’m still figuring it out myself. Instead of discouraging youth in our use of the Internet, I think people should start encouraging us to use it for the right reasons instead of the wrong ones.”

As educators, we need to be at the front line to start teaching and encouraging our students to use social media for the right reasons instead of the wrong ones. Even if you don’t feel adept with the technical ins and outs of social media, that’s ok. You don’t need to be an expert with the technology. You just need to be the thinking expert. Start to use social media in your class. Jump into the fray and teach the students in situ. Let’s students teach you the technology while you teach them how to use it responsibly and effectively.

In my years as an educator, the biggest issue I’ve seen is students’ lack of ability to transfer knowledge and skills from one course or context to another. We can’t assume that they will transfer the critical thinking skills they learned in a recent unit the next time they open their Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, or other online newsfeeds. They need explicit opportunities to apply these in class. Please take opportunities to do this. Our future may depend on it.

A Sharing and Collaborative Culture

In order to effectively promote 21st century learning and technology integratration in our schools today, the culture within our schools needs to become an open culture of sharing best practice and collaboration.

It became clear in a recent “high level” high school meeting at my school (about the role of technology in learning) that one of the biggest barriers to effective and compelling technology integration seems to be the culture of isolation in which many colleagues work. Even though colleagues are talking to each other about various issues throughout the day, they aren’t often explicitly sharing best practices. This especially includes best practice with technology and creating 21st century learning environments. At the same time, colleagues don’t often seem to seek out this information either. For example, a few colleagues and I often offer various tech oriented workshops, but the attendance at these is often low and often have the same people in attendance. This problem of isolation isn’t only happening in my school. It’s been a problem in most schools for most of the history of education, I would say.

In a recent post on Academic Commons called “Opening Up Education- The Remix,” the authors stated:

“The failure is harder to put into words. It could be described as our lack of progress on sharing “pedagogical know-how” among educators. We have systems to run e-learning courses and content to view, but we have not captured the teaching processes that expert educators use to bring learning alive in their e-learning courses. If an educator creates a great sequence of learning activities that leads to a rich learning experience for students in an e-learning class, how does this educator share the activity sequence with colleagues so that they can automatically run the same activities or adapt them to suit local conditions? How does the educator share the thought processes that led to the design of the activity sequence?”. . . Put simply, what we lack is an agreed way to describe and share the teaching process, regardless of whether the activities are conducted online or face-to-face. As a result, individual educators spend heroic amounts of time on planning and preparation, but with enormous duplication of effort and no economies of scale. Apart from the lack of efficiency in preparation, educational quality also suffers: While some educators regularly create outstanding learning experiences for their students, some do not. How could the best teaching processes be shared among the widest number of educators?”

This culture of sharing best practice and collaboration can happen in many different ways. Professional development conferences, both regional and local, have always been a great place to learn what other educators are doing. For educational technology and 21st century learning, a couple of great regional examples here in east Asia are the Apple Leadership Conference in Hong Kong which occured this last weekend and the Learning 2.008 conference that happened in September 2008. An upcoming conference in September 2009, the 21st Century Learning Conference in Hong Kong, will surely be a great one, as well. These regional conferences only happen a couple of times a year, though, and not all faculty attend these. Furthermore, those conferences that have a educational technology focus (like the examples above) tend to be attended by ed tech leaders and teachers who have already shifted toward 21st century models of education. We obviously need to be sharing with more educators than those that have already shifted and are doing the sharing. “Regular” teachers need to be encouraged and given incentive to attend these conferences.

When time and money constrain people from attending distant regional conferences, local weekend workshops can provide wonderful opportunities for sharing best practice and building collaborative relationships. Of course, these types of workshops aren’t uncommon. They just need to be promoted more explicitly at times, I think. One that I know will be great for those in the Bangkok, Thailand area will be TechTrain 2010: Beginners Learning Technology Tools Together which will occur in January 2010. Events like this will surely achieve great in-roads to helping educate the faculty that need the most assistance. Presenters at these local workshops will be local themselves and possibly from the same school, so getting further face-to-face assistance beyond the workshops will be much easier.

The last way this culture of sharing best practice and collaboration can be promoted is by creating a viable and explicit intra-school model. For those teachers that don’t have the time or motivation to attend external workshops, having situations for learning how to effectively integrate technology and create relevant 21st century learning environments is essential to move the whole school forward. Examples can be collated and presented through online showcases; there could be face-to-face show-and-tell sessions, and there could be the usual in-house workshops that promote these instances. An example of the latter is the 7 Steps toward 21st Century Education that two colleagues and I created. Trying to make time for workshops like these during the school day is critical, however. Some people can’t stay after school or come to school early due to family or other commitments. So, it’s often these people that miss out and are getting left behind. At my school, we will tackle this time problem by having early release Wednesday’s starting next school year where we will have two hours every Wednesday afternoon for professional development.

Even if you can’t physically attend a face-to-face session in any of the contexts above, social media technologies make it easy to follow what’s happening. Most conferences and/or presenters will have a wiki or a Ning site that will delineate most of the information shared in person. At the same time, many attendees at a workshop will Twitter the backchannel. By following the hash-tag #hksummit, this is how I kept up with the recent Apple Leadership Conference in Hong Kong. Though not as much as those physically in attendance, I still learned a lot from the backchannel of this conference. Following the backchannel is so easy to do and doesn’t require much time and/or effort. We just need to teach people how to do it.

All of these are important ways to build understanding of best practice in technology integration and relevant learning in today’s ever changing world. All of these situations need to be promoted and encouraged in a school. Moreover, administrators need to be attending these situations along with strongly encouraging common faculty members to attend, not just the ed tech leaders in the school. When this happens, and everyone has opportunities to learn that fit their schedule and style of learning, I think isolation will lessen and a sharing and collaborative culture will be achieved.

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