Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I Wonder If This Social Media Thing Will Ever Catch On?

Last weekend I finished up a week of speaking and leading professional development by attending NTCamp in Philadelphia.The purpose was to try and give new teachers a jump start on their year by talking about issues that they might face in their first years and to give them ideas on how to make it and stay in the profession. There were sessions about assessment, technology, professional development and others. There was a great group of new teachers there and they all have bright futures ahead. What I really enjoyed was there were so many people there that I knew because of social media. Members of my PLN (Personal Learning Network), PLC (Professional Learning Community), colleagues, whatever you want to call them, (I call them all friends) were there sharing their learning with not only the new teachers, but with me as well.

Some of these friends of mine I have met before. Some I never had. But at a Tweetup on Friday night I had a "moment."  I was sitting at the head of a very long table. Along both sides of this table were people I mainly know from Twitter. There were teachers, technology integrators, administrators, professors, and others but all were truly amazing educators. I looked down the table and thought to myself, how did I get here? How did I get to surround myself with this group of educators from all over the country? How is it that I get to talk to (either virtually or face-to-face) with some of the most forward-thinking and progressive educators in this one room on a random day in July?

Social Media.

2 years ago I was just a district instructional technologist in a very small district in rural NC. I had heard about Twitter, Ning, and Web 2.0 but was just beginning to think about how I could use them with teachers. Fast forward 24 months and I have been fortunate enough to be on the stage in Los Angeles, New York City, Denver and tons of other places talking about how social media is what we need to make positive change in education. Everyday I get to interact with and learn from the best and the brightest around the world. All possible because of social media.

On #edchat last night we discussed the myths surrounding social media and how to debunk them so more districts and educators will see it has place in the classroom for both student learning and professional development. Many of us know the myths. Social Media is dangerous, it is a time suck, you can't learn while being social. Blah, blah, blah. It seems the same arguments against social media are the same ones for lots of other tools we have tried to use in education. The fact is the less we educate students and parents about the proper use of social media the more dangerous it becomes.

Schools and districts have to realize that students are going home and using Facebook and Twitter and getting on all types of social networks to talk about music, cars, poetry, and sports. So if we realize students, for the most part are using social networks for their own personal learning (and play) why not begin to realize their potential for learning in the classroom? Instead, we block their use, say they are evil and don't teach kids how to use them appropriately. And then we are surprise to read stories about companies that are not hiring kids because of what they have on their Facebook page.

The fact is social media breaks down barriers. I can remember in my 6th grade English class we had pen pals. I wrote to a kid my same age in Germany twice a month for the school year. We talked about all kinds of things. It was a valuable experience to lean how to write a proper letter but also to learn about another kid and another culture. And those are still valuable lessons. It is just that the pencil and paper, in the case of the pen pal have been replaced by Skype and Ning and other platforms. Classrooms are no long bound by the four walls. There is this huge digital classroom (called The World!) out there that we can easily connect to. Learning potential expands exponentially when we plug in and give kids the opportunities to use social media and digital tools in class.

The same happens with teachers. When teachers plug in to this global learning collaborative the learning possibilities are endless. Look at just this coming weekend. I have the honor of giving the Conference Closing Keynote for the 2010 Reform Symposium. This is an amazing, completely online conference organized through social media with presentations from my friends from all over the world on a huge range of topics. I seriously doubt this type of event would have be possible or have the same impact had it not been for social media. A free, 3 day, worldwide conference that you can attend in your pjs from the comfort of home. And there are still people out there that want to tell me social media has no place in education.

Look, social media is just a tool, just like all the other things I talk about and blog about. And because it is a tool it should be used as such. It has time and a place for use. But, to exclude it on the basis of irrational fears is beyond me. If we involve our parents and our community to teach the appropriate use of it and show our educators its power, we really can change education into a mighty force for the benefit of our students.

What do you think? How has social media changed the way you approach education? What about in your school. Is social media embraced or shunned? What are you thinking? Leave me some comments below.
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