13 Nov Social Networks in the Social Studies: Promise & Potential
Do standards influence quality of instruction? No doubt.
Do other teachers’ practices have a larger influence? You bet.
Many quotes by dead famous people suggest the potential of surrounding yourself with people who you respect and who inspire you. Doing so as teachers however, can be a challenge. Most teachers find themselves isolated by four walls. Plus, by the end of the day most don’t feel like being extroverted, especially if they are surrounded by disgruntled colleagues.
What’s an ideal, hard working, inspired educator to do?
Surround themselves with similarly motivated peers, of course. No problem, right?
Unfortunately, up until recently, there was no silver bullet for doing so. However, thanks to the advent of digital social networking sites, we now have so many options we might call it silver buck shot. Nings, Facebook, Wikis, Wave, Twitter, Skype and any number of other sites. Equipped with such tools, thousands of educators worldwide are connecting with like minded peers.
The result? Collaborative Curve.
Good for the goose, good for the gander? Good for the teachers, good for the students?
In the “Social Networks in the Social Studies: Promise and Potential” session at NCSS, the presenters (Linda Bennett, Thomas Daccord, Michael Berson, Justin Reich, Joseph O’Brien, and Caroline Sheffield) take the attendees on a whirl wind tour of some of the benefits (both realized and potential) of social networking for teachers and students, setting up a smorgous board of tasty delights, only to fly through them so fast we barely had time to sample, much less savor.
Check Your Peeps at the Door
When we teach didactically, we forget that students are still live within a social fabric that curries more influence over them than the knowledge we wield. We ask (require) that they block those naturally occurring social interactions out and leave them at the door. However, when we consider how powerful social contagions and social norms are, we realize we’ve effectively eliminated a powerful ally.
If we aim to capitalize on student potential, these presenters suggest we find ways to embrace emerging tools in the classroom. By providing students with new access points for engaging each other with the curricular material, we turn learning over to the students. Or at least that is the intention. Being that this is still a burgeoning field for us all, there is more potential than there are practitioners. Which can make a lot of folks nervous, especially those steeped heavily in high stakes tests. Can they risk the possibility of a learning curve that swerves off course?
Two of the most significant barriers to utilizing social networking in the classroom — school culture (standards, norms, and blockheads) and teacher hesitation — were only barely addressed in the presentation whirlwind.
They answer these concerns with what amounts to a smattering of samples. Teachers do not need to master a technology in order to teach with it. (Think sit-n-git vs. constructiveness.) Teachers need to ask the question, “How can I turn the learning potential over to the students?” To do so, these presenters suggest a “blended approach” to technology and social networking, combining multiple methodologies, such as: Hands on, on-site; asynchronous; scaffolding; and sticking with dynamic and differential learning goals.
This almost wasn’t a fair session for attendees at NCSS. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed it. Quality material, well informed speakers, and a presentation platform that introduced the audience to everything from classroom websites to Google Wave. The problem was that each of the presenters demonstrated in their allotted 8 minutes that they could have handled the hour on their own. They left the room, and I still wanted more.
Guess I’ll have to turn to a social network to get my fix.