How does social media meld with our imaginings of what future learning looks like? Let’s begin by looking at the present. It’s safe to say social networking has taken a hold of the bulk of the Internet world and is not letting go so easily. As of July 2016, the top social networking sites are:
- Google Plus
People of all ages using social networking can confirm it has both benefited and complicated their lives. Downsides are to be expected, as with anything used in excess.
Many of us fall prey to addictive Facebook conversations rife with political animosity. We can’t keep ourselves from commenting, descending deeper into meaningless insults. Likewise, It’s quite difficult to not spend more than a minute on sites like Quora, reading and answering questions on everything under the sun.
At the same time, social media connects us with loved ones around the world. You share what’s important to you, and spark meaningful conversations. These are all healthy components of collaborative communication, which is nothing new to our society. Social media just gave us a platform for it that was unlike anything we’d ever seen before.
So, what does all this have to do with future learning?
Future Learning With Today’s Social Media
One way to phrase the question is, “How do we, as adults learn through social networking? How can we see the best of social networking being used in the future of our children’s way of learning?”
Facebook is already the giant in the room. It could be argued that much of our political and world news comes to us through its feeds. We sometimes see it in the form of ‘thoughts and prayers’ for a particular tragedy or event on the world stage. Twitter, on the other hand gets everyone involved in the conversation directly.
Falsehoods do not stand up to public scrutiny when over a billion people are watching.
Twitter’s interface forces tweeters to succinctly post news in bitly links and messages of 140 characters or less. News spreads like wildfire across the Twittersphere as the events unfold in real time. YouTube displays news—often important, funny, absurd, or even graphic in nature—so that watchers in their desks feel as if they are right there.
One who is skeptical about the hold that social networking has on them and their children might balk at the idea of utilizing such a medium in any classroom. Detractors continue to cry, “Enough already!” True enough, social networking and the unwise use thereof can be devastating for some.
Like we strive to teach our children, critical analysis and further scrutiny is needed here. The truth is social media is only a bad thing if we choose to make it so. And make no mistake—the choice is most definitely ours.
Back to the Future (Learning)
In the future, if not now, we will get the bulk of our outside information from social media. It will (and has begun to) take the place of the news networks, doing their job for them. Witness news programs that highlight the latest viral YouTube video as a segment in itself.
How can social networking be redeemed for in-classroom use? Does it even need to be?
Certainly, strict supervision and filtering tools are in order, but are not fail-proof. Still, we don’t always give the idea of collaboration through the digital medium enough credit.
The fact that we as a generation are grappling with the pitfalls of social networking creates even more of an urgency for us to teach our kids “how to do it right.” That’s where digital citizenship comes in.
Enter Global Digital Citizenship
We define digital citizenship as the act of appropriate and exemplary behaviour in any online environment. Look at it as giving the mindset of accountability to our students, fostering independence and teaching responsibility. Why is this such a critical part of using social media in future learning? Observe the following key points:
- Digital Citizenship requires that all users practice discretion when sharing their private information, or voicing their raw opinions.
- Digital Citizenship fosters respect between all users.
- Digital Citizenship believes in using the Web to create a better world.
- Digital Citizenship encourages the global community to tackle the difficulties of taming social media head on.
So let’s talk about the learning environment as it pertains to its use of social media. There is hope; there are alternatives for the mainstream social networking sites. You’ve got choices like:
These allow students to get their feet wet before leaping in to the real stuff. You can even go “unplugged” and use post-it notes for a fun tweeting session in real time.
Using Social Media in the Classroom
Here are only a few ways social media can be used in the classroom:
- Class updates posted on Twitter or Facebook
- Student Blogging
- Connecting with other classrooms, local and around the world
- Real-time feedback for projects
- Student podcasting
- Using Twitter for research
- Getting world stats instantly
- Student reviews and comments on articles
- Project-based learning with use of social media
Embracing the Unknown
Social networking stands to take on new and unpredictable forms in the future. We know that ISTE standards require proficiency in digital communication. We know that if gone unchecked, students stand a chance of ruining their future because of an inappropriate tweet or Facebook post.