I came across an article this weekend by Ruth Raynard titled Beyond Social Networking: Building Toward Learning Communities the gist of which is that social media and social networks provide a unique ability to change and enhance online learning for students that targets their famililarity and skills in the online arena. Raynard says:
My discussion here… introduces the idea that social networking is only the beginning of a longer and more complex process of socially constructed learning and ultimately collaboration and knowledge building. That is, if educators only integrate the ability of students to connect and socialize, deeper points of learning will be missed. (emphasis mine)
I have been interested in this line of thinking for a while: how can we utilize and exploit the advantages of online collaboration to improve learning spaces? My own experience has shown that mimicking the traditional classroom structure online (think WebCT: modules as lectures; discussion forums with limited options for sharing resources; an email listserv, perhaps?) ignores and perhaps even actively denies many of the salient benefits of learning in an online space. Raynard recognizes and supports this resources sharing between students as well:
While in more traditional learning environments much of this must be orchestrated and planned by the instructor and organized through the grouping and pairing of students, when using a social networking tool this level of connection can happen immediately.
Using social media to enhance the collaboration and learning in the space can be tricky, however, and it does indeed, as Raynard goes on to caution, take a hands-on effort by an instructor to guide the learning and knowledge creation that takes place. I am sure that all too quickly can course facebook and wiki pages become clotted with webjunk, even (or perhaps especially?) among post-secondary students. Another challenge is increasing student comfort level with sharing their ideas publicly with the class. Raynard suggests that this is not a new instructional challenge, but rather that creating and fostering “learner autonomy” is simply present in all learning spaces and must also be tackled online.
In one conception of social media and online presence that I liked, The 4Cs Social Media Framework, breaks down the levels of collaboration and community building that are noticeable in many social media tools. The third C is community, or “the idea that social media facilitates sustained collaboration around a shared idea, over time and often across space.” That happens to double as a nice definition of a successful online classroom, doesn’t it?
What is lacking in my own knowledge and perhaps the collective writing about this topic now is a recontextualization of learning theory and education psychology that either supports or denies the types of collaboration and content creation that can take place via social media as actively beneficial to the students (or as preferable to more traditional online “classrooms”). I am working on collecting resources that explore or outline these concepts for an upcoming project, and any comments or resources would come greatly appreciated.