June 02, 2006

Student engagement in social software outside school context

Student engagement in social software outside the school context is / will be different to the interactions within school. Take, for example, the average MySpace or Beboer. Look at the people they are friends with through their profile. Don't they look alike, like the same things? In school, though, in a classroom there is far less choice as to whom you connect to, so groups perhaps reflect more diverse types of person. But is it education's job to wade in here and try to help students better decide how they use their social space, what information to share, how to use it to learn?

It would seem logical to involve students' MySpace or Bebo - their 'real life' online space. If we don't, and therefore devalue their private online space by insisting on sole use of the institutional online space (school-run blog or wikis for example) for 'serious' school work, will kids not do what kids do, and use their own space to do what they want anyway? And will what they produce on the 'serious' learning space not be false, of a lesser quality, because it's not at all integrated into their own private life?

So how could we get students' online spaces to be more integrated, whether they are official (in school) or personal (on MySpace or Bebo)? One solution, suggested by Ian Usher, IT coordinator from Buckinghamshire, is just to get people to know how to tag things. If a student wants something to appear in their personal e-learning portfolio they just have to tag it in a particular way. That way, the students can work on their own personal space almost exclusively (such as MySpace) but contribute simultaneously to their 'serious' area.

My head's throbbing,  but I'm going to add to this as the session goes on...


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"will kids not do what kids do, and use their own space to do what they want anyway? And will what they produce on the 'serious' learning space not be false, of a lesser quality, because it's not at all integrated into their own private life?"

Hmm! I'm not convinced by this. I think I see what your concerned about, but it is probably healthy for children to have a life beyond school and school work. (Probably... more like definately!) I don't think everything has to be all rolled up together to make it authentic. If the school work is percieved as authentic by the pupils, they will engage with it whether or not it is integrated with MySpace .

I can't remember where I saw it now (on this blog?) but a teacher described how he was in a band and had a MySpace page to publicise it. A pupil asked him to add him as a friend... he dithered for a while, but decided against. He decided (wisely I think) that he shouldn't mix up his private and professional life too much (I may be paraphrasing here).

If as teachers we see the value of keeping some distance between our personal and professional lives, why shouldn't there be a similar value in pupils keeping things separate too?

I like the concept of teaching "tagging" -- especially in the context of ePortfolios.

We've been working on developing guidelines for student portfolios (hard to promote this concept with the "testing culture" that is so dominate here in Texas) -- and the idea of tagging all portfolio pieces makes perfect sense to me as it would allow the portfolio to "self organize" based on queries of the tags.

We are planning portfolios that are structured around a "Graduate Profile" and not structured around content areas. Our Graduate Profile consists of the following characteristics: Effective Communicator, Proficient Problem-Solver, Collaborative Team Memerb, Knowledgeable of Worldwide Issues, Culturally Aware, Efficient Technology User, and Productive Citizen.

However, my first hurdle would be getting my teachers on board with electronic lesson plans and electronic curriculum calendars that are all tagged so that as students are completing assignments or projects they are aware of what tags are appropriate. I'm thinking in terms of going beyond an obvious tag like "math" or "science" -- some assignments/projects may show a student's "communication skills" or "knowledge of world issues".

In my situation, I believe I would first have to teach the teachers about "tagging".

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is a teacher, speaker and investor, regarded as one of Europe’s foremost experts in digital media for public services.

His company, NoTosh Limited, invests in tech startups and film on behalf of public and private investors, works with those companies to build their creative businesses, and takes the lessons learnt from the way these people work back into schools and universities across the world.

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