EC&I 831 Computers in the Classroom has already been an incredible journey for me; I have seen corners of the internet that I didn't know existed and I have plunged myself into an "electronic social world" that is becoming something of an obsession. I'm checking Twitter and my Google Reader Account regularly to see if the people I am following are live on Twitter or if they have posted a new blog. People that I've never met are sharing things with me (and others) on a personal level, while at the same time they are sharing things on a professional level. Current events are discussed and quirky news items are circulated. I can't remember where I read it but someone referred to Twitter as being like an electronic staffroom; I didn't understand it then but now I see the parallel. You really never know what you will talk about once you enter.
So the question then is how do these social networks affect learning? I know my experience has seen my horizons broadened and I am constantly finding myself reflecting on my beliefs and attitudes. If it has such power on individuals, surely it should be an easy sell as a new tool for teachers to use with students.
Well consider the words of Ulises Mejias who wrote in A Nomads Guide to Learning, "It is relatively easy to incorporate new technologies into the learning process if the goal is to merely replicate the traditional ways of doing things without significantly disturbing institutional values." The thing is social networks by there very nature are more self-directed and in a school environment it would mean a teacher would have to sacrifice the director's role leaving students more and more responsible for their own learning. Mejias went on, "But what is more difficult, and for this very reason perhaps a more worthy exercise, is to introduce new technologies while we step back and question the pedagogical principles that inform our educational models." Social networks are changing the way people learn and who they get there information from; the notion that the teacher and the prescribed curriculum as they are written today controls the content would be gone forever. Social networking when used responsibly is already a challenge to current pedagogical principles; the building of personal learning networks may become a normal activity at schools and learning how to build a personl learning network will likely become a part of the curriculum.
Mejias also looks at social networking as a way of personalizing e-learning, "What social software can do is to reintroduce the social back into the learning equation, while preserving some of the advantages in personalization that e-learning and flexible learning have introduced." If it has this kind of impact on e-learning, it would seem that more and more learning may be done through the world wide web. Even as I write this I am learning and yet it my choice about how much I write or even what I write about; the assignment expects me to choose my own learning path. This class essentially requires the students to define their content; it is the processes that matter. If this is the future of education, we are heading for some radical innovations in education in the years ahead; we are questioning our 'pedagogical principles'!
Mario Couros Memorial Bursary
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