Friday, August 13, 2010

Learning about Social Media

Last week I had the privilege of taking a course on social media in education, which was taught by our district's technology coordinator, Dani Herro (@Daniherro). As a little aside, we could not be more lucky to have Dani on our team. Recently receiving her doctorate from Madison, Dani travels the country to speak to educators about the opportunities that technology offers us and our students. Much of her work focuses on gaming in schools, which consequently became a large component of the course.

Enrollment in the course was quite diverse. Of the twelve people enrolled, half were administrators and half were teachers. Experience with social media was split as equally, with one group being comfortable with Facebook, Twitter, etc. and the other being native to these technologies. The course itself focused more on the trends in social media and the implications for K-12 education and less on the actual tools themselves. By doing this, the learning we experienced will outlast the shelf life of a particular fad or tool.

Having explored numerous social media tools and participating in Twitter over the past summer, much of what was discussed in class was review for me. That said, however, I did take away quite a bit, both in terms of stated and unstated objectives for the course. The following list summarizes some major concepts I learned:

  • Students of today's high schools are wired differently than I am. Technology has altered the way that modern students' brains are wired. Students can switch between tasks and make connections between ideas at staggering speeds. The problem, however, is that our style of education has not changed to meet the needs of these kids. If we fail to do so, we will make ourselves irrelevant in a very short period of time.

  • Technology must be a means to an end, not the end in and of itself. I love Twitter. I love my PLN. I think everyone should use Twitter and use it regularly. That said, however, if I approach my staff this fall and try to push Twitter on them because its "cool" will lead to a miserable failure. Instead, I need to seek out commonly agreed upon problems in our school and then match the appropriate tool to solve that problem. We all know we struggle with communicating with our kids; therefore, we can use Twitter to solve that problem.

  • Gamers are actually quite brilliant. We spent a lot of time looking at massively multi-player games in this class. I had always thumbed my nose at people who spent hours playing games like WoW (World of Warcraft for the laymen). After a more careful inspection of these games, however, I now realize just how complex they can be. Players, who are often our students, solve incredibly complex problems and do so by collaborating with peers and older adults from around the world. These games provide rapid, timely and specific feedback on learning in ways that we can only dream about in the classroom. As educators, we have much to learn from these games in terms of assessment and pedagogy.

  • Use of technology in your personal life does not always translate to your professional life. Many of the teachers and administrators had experience using social media tools for personal reasons, but when it came to using them in education, there was far less application than I would have thought. The idea that Facebook might have a place in the classroom was novel for even some of our younger folks. This brings me to a corollary of this concept: younger teachers are not necessarily better at using technology in the classroom than older teachers. While novice teachers may be more comfortable with social media, it does not stand to reason that they actually use it to improve learning. This is an important point to remember for future professional development.
The learning that occurred in this class will launch new initiatives throughout our district this year. I for one feel more confident with the projects I plan on undertaking this year. I cannot thank Dani enough for sharing her knowledge and wisdom with us!