My name is Danika Barker and I'm an English teacher at central Elgin collegiate institute in St Thomas and today I want to talk about the surprises that come with using social networking in education.
One of my favourite quotes that&#x2019;s become a bit of a mantra for me is
&#x201C;If you&#x2019;re afraid to be wrong, you&#x2019;ll never come up with anything original.&#x201D; I really hope Sir Ken Robinson is right about that because I&#x2019;m pretty sure I&#x2019;m wrong on a regular basis.
And sometimes being wrong really isn&#x2019;t such a bad thing. Teenagers, for example, have surprised me over the past year and a half
Teachers are among the few and the proud who can walk trough a mob of teens hanging out in the mall with total confidence, so this may not exactly be a tough sell to you, but teenagers have gotten a lot of bad press lately.
They bully each other. They don&#x2019;t understand the concept of due dates. They text. They text in class.
They text and drive. They sext. They use LMFAO and smiley faces in essays about Shakespeare. They have they attention spans of fruit flies and post highly inappropriate content on Facebook.
Well they do. But that's not all they do.
I haven&#x2019;t always been a geek--at least not a techy geek. I became one innocently enough when I worked as a learning coordinator for my board and I was interested in the connections between literacy and technology. So it was perfect timing when a colleague of mine showed me how his students were using Facebook to study Of Mice and Men.
The students were interacting on Facebook as characters from the book, and they were totally engaged. This really intrigued me, but I was concerned that I couldn&#x2019;t really promote this with other teachers because Facebook, aside from getting a pretty chilly reception at most schools is often blocked by school internet filters.
So that&#x2019;s what led me to Ning. Ning is an online platform that allows individuals to create social networks for any kind of group they want. These networks can either be public or private. So I didn&#x2019;t have to worry about students &#x201C;misrepresenting&#x201D; themselves on a public site. The purposes for the different networks changed as both the students and I became more comfortable with the technology and discovered new potential for the site.
We began first by using the network to create facebook like profile pages for characters in The Great Gatsby. I essentially asked students to imagine that Facebook was around during the time of The Great Gatsby, and then I had students imagine how the characters would interact on that site. Students created status updates
uploaded profile pictures and chose templates that suited their character. They also wrote on each other's walls in character and created and joined groups that their character would join, such as &#x201C;Soldiers of WWI&#x201D; or &#x201C;I Have Been to A Gatsby Party.&#x201D; Finally, I had them write a series of short blog posts to demonstrate their understanding of their character&#x2019;s point of view.
We then moved on to using the network to expand our literature circles beyond the bricks and mortar of our school. At first, the site functioned more like a study guide where students shared links and uploaded content that would help them understand their novels. Then after each literature circle meeting, we would go to the computer lab and students would log in to our network and blog about their books. Then they would read and comment on what their classmates had written.
Finally, in my media class last year, my students teamed up with Jamie Weir's media class in Listowel. This is where I really saw the potential for social networking open up. Students were able to participate in online conversations even though they lived in different cities. They read each other&#x2019;s blog posts and wrote on each other&#x2019;s walls. They shared different perspectives and found common ground.
Here's what surprised me about the process. When students created their facebook style profile pages, not every student embraced the idea. I had assumed that since this was the type of communication that my students did outside the classroom, the transition to using this tool inside the classroom would be a seamless one.
What I realized however, was that my students were suspicious of using tools that they were not used to having academic success with, no matter how interesting or engaging the tool was. In that way, students are not all that different from teachers. You have to make new experiences low risk, and allow time to play and experiment, and problem solve. They needed to feel free to make mistakes without being penalized.
When my students blogged, they were initially shy about sharing their writing with the rest of the class for fear of judgement. Everything I&#x2019;d read taught me that students needed authentic writing opportunities in order to be engaged and writing for a teacher was not an authentic writing task. But I didn&#x2019;t consider the fact that while inauthentic, writing for the teacher was &#x201C;safe.&#x201D;
As time passed, they gained confidence and couldn&#x2019;t wait to check their blogs for comments and feedback from their peers. One of my favourite blog posts came from a student who had been painfully shy about her writing, but by the end of the semester she was able to reflect on how she&#x2019;d grown and how she now viewed herself as a good writer thanks in part to the feedback from her peers.
Our social networking sites allowed students to comment, question, and make connections extending their understanding of in such a way that I was no longer the keeper of all knowledge. And that can be a disconcerting place for a teacher to be. Sometimes I felt like I wasn&#x2019;t working hard enough because the students were taking responsibility for their learning.
The thing that I started to realize was that I had to get away from the idea that it was my job to teach them The Great Gatsby. Because let&#x2019;s face it after grade 11, their knowledge of the plot of the Great Gatsby might help them out one night during Jeopardy but that&#x2019;s about it. Instead, they developed problem solving and critical thinking skills that they'd be able to use even if they never studied English again.
But the biggest surprise was also the most positive one. My biggest concern when I stared using social networking sites was that I'd have issues of bullying. Conventional wisdom taught me that the perceived anonymity of the Internet led students to say things to each other online that they would never say face to face. Our site was not open to the public, so students weren&#x2019;t completely anonymous.
But they did say things online that they wouldn't have said face to face. They were kind. And they were supportive. They moved beyond the cliques and social groups and supported each other in ways that really took me by surprise. I hope that by modelling positive and constructive use of technology, students will practice better digital citizenship.
I know that as teachers, we&#x2019;re hesitant to try new things without completely understanding how that new thing works. But we expect our students to try new things that they don&#x2019;t fully understand every day. If we encourage our students and our colleagues to take positive risks in a supportive environment we just might surprise ourselves.
Pecha kucha danika
THE SURPRISES THAT COME
WITH USING SOCIAL
NETWORKS IN EDUCATION
IF YOU’RE AFRAID TO BE
you’ll never come up with anything original