Reflective Essay #2: Learning with Social Media and Our Final Project

At the beginning of the semester, I had a lot of reservations about leaving the “walled garden” and using social media for teaching and learning.  Part of this was fear-based: actively using Twitter, blogging and creating videos using Flipgrid were not strategies or tools I have ever used to participate in a formal learning setting–although like many Americans, I use social media in my daily life to connect with friends and family.  Like 14% of social media users (Pew, 2011), connecting around a major hobby or interest has also been a huge motivator for me: I manage the social networking profiles at the book store where I work (one of my favorite parts of the job), and once upon a time, I even had a Facebook profile I used to connect with dog rescue people and shelter advocates all over the world.  My dog, Daisy Mae, came out of an animal control facility in Georgia—and was transported here to me in Massachusetts—through the coordinated efforts of my network of friends on Facebook.
So in a sense, I am exhibit A—a prime example—of prevailing attitudes toward social media, and the inability to connect the dots between formal education and the opportunities and potential of social media use to break down the walls between formal and informal learning.  Interestingly, I suspect this disconnect says as much about my attitude toward formal education as it does about social media. I think our experience in LSC 531—our open platform for learning and our use of Twitter, blogging, and creating videos on Flipgrid—has allowed me to see myself as an active participant in a much wider conversation that extends beyond the traditional learning environment; and in turn, this makes learning seem more relevant and meaningful.  That is not to say I wasn’t aware of the relationship between my LIS education and my future life as a practicing librarian before. But I think participating in a wider context makes me feel more engaged? significant? powerful?  Some of my favorite moments this semester—like interacting with Penny Kittle on Twitter or having perfect strangers retweet my blog post– would not have happened in a traditional learning environment.
After first-hand experience with these new learning tools in our class, and inspired by Trusting the Internet: New Approaches to Credibility Tools by R. David Lankes (2008), I decided to do some research on social media in education for my final project.  This all seemed so simple in the beginning.  I wish I had a reminder for every time I undertake any sort of research to remember Carol Kulthau’s model of the Information Search Process.  Note to self: uncertainty, angst, doubt, and confusion during the research process are all perfectly normal and part of the bargain. Although this is small consolation at 4 a.m when I am staring at the ceiling while trying to get  all of the many moving parts to fit into a more unified whole, it does actually make me feel better. As it turns out, the topic of social media in education is a very complex one, suggesting a whole lot of questions, but very few concrete answers.  The issue is complicated even further by my primary interest in social media in a high school or K-12 setting.  Apparently, the research on this topic is almost non-existent.  This despite the fact that social media is increasingly central to the daily lives of teens ages 12-17, as you can see in this infographic from Pew research:

Teen Social Media (523x475) (2)

My interest in social media is also more holistic and conceptual: I am interested in the impact of digital technology and tools as a social revolution not a technical one. This further complicates my research. The idea that “knowledge is decentralized, accessible and co-constructed among a broad base of users” (Greenhow et al., 2009), has far-ranging implications for information literacy instruction and education because it shifts the processes, skills, and competencies that users need to successfully navigate more open, participatory, multimodal, and collaborative environments.  The greater emphasis on the social construction of knowledge creation and production places emphasis on the community of learners, not the tools used to mediate communication. This means new media environments can influence pedagogy in ways that are not explicitly technological.  And often, it may be difficult to ascertain where good pedagogy begins and the impact of technology ends.
After spending a lot of time with the issue of social media in education over the past few weeks, it seems obvious that there is a tension between the more prescriptive impulses of traditional K-12 institutions, and the more open and participatory opportunities for knowledge creation and production that new media facilitates.  Early in my research, I ran across this very funny Ted talk (2010) from Michael Wesch that demonstrates this point in memorable fashion:
If I could wish for one thing to help me clarify this issue, and pull together my research, it would be a complement to the Digital Youth Project (2008) in which researchers present data and reflect not on the role and relationship of new media in youth’s lives, but the role and relationship of new media among educators in more formal learning environments.  Despite the gaps in research, I am beginning to think successful integration of social media in a high school setting might look a lot like the differentiated instruction described in Penny Kittle’s Book Love.  In this scenario, participation on fan sites, in virtual worlds, affinity groups organized on Twitter or Facebook, blogging, podcasts, and video production and sharing on Youtube might present channels for experiencing and exploring topics of personal interest to students, while practicing the social, ethical, creative, and collaborative skills necessary to participate in these environments: the power of choice.

Works Cited

Greenhow, C., Robelia, B., & Hughes, J. E. (2009). Learning, teaching, and scholarship in a digital age. Web 2.0 and classroom research: what path should we take now? Educational Researcher, 38(4), 246-259. doi:10.3102/0013189X09336671
Ito, M., Horst, H., Bittanti, M., Boyd, D., Herr-Stephenson, B., Lange, P. J., . . . Robinson, L. (2008). Living and learning with new media: Summary of findings from the Digital Youth Project. Retrieved from http://digitalyouth.ischool.berkeley.edu/files/report/digitalyouth-WhitePaper.pdf
Lankes, R. D. (2008). Trusting the internet: New approaches to credibility tools. in M. J. Metzger & A. J. Flanagin (Eds.) Digital media, youth, and credibility (pp. 101-122). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Pew Internet and American Life Project. (2011). Why Americans use social media. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/files/old-media//Files/Reports/2011/Why%20Americans%20Use%20Social%20Media.pdf
Talks. (2010, Oct. 12). TEDxKC – Michael Wesch – From knowledgeable to knowledge-able.
Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeaAHv4UTI8
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