Economist debate rumbles on... Part 2: The Rebuttal
Over the weekend The Economist.com published the rebuttals of myself and my opponent. Just as it goes live, I've had to write and submit my closing statement, so never has having one's own blog been more important to engage with the debate beyond the compliance to the mainstream's deadlines.
This debate has been swirling around the 70/30 in favour of the motion, that social networks will change educational methods for the better. The votes mean very little, though, when you see the debate that has spread across the blogosphere, both educational and otherwise. I've not seen one like this in a long time, covering quite so many continents and unearthing the voices of those who normally don't get heard.
It's also raised the question of what 'expertise' actually is in this ever-changing domain of technology, yet barely evolving notion of pedagogy. Another of the main points of argument has been in the very definition of what social networking is, with three of those who I respect for their expertise in this domain being largely contradicted by what the vast majority of teacher professionals believe. Far from being the simplistic friends list social networks of Facebook that spring to mind, these educators see their own blog, Twitter accounts or even Flickr pages as the basis of their social networking. Furthermore, I'm not convinced we can simply write this off as the dumbness of crowds, given that nearly all those doing the contradicting are professionals who work with this stuff day in day out, many with their own students.
If you're interested in the Twitter conversations that started all this debate off, then just click the Extended Post link below and see what yet more teaching professionals around the world made, back on that Sunday afternoon a week ago when life seemed simpler :-)
I want to expand my thoughts (or really the thoughts of others) in a post-script to the continuing debate of what constitutes "social networking", an argument which has helped many reflect but which I think is still unnecessarily shadowing over the main beef of the Economist debate (i.e. pedagogy).
The only views that I can seem to pay attention to, in fact, are those who believe that, from the start, I have a skewed understanding of what "social networks" are. What I love about real social networks and social networking, is that they tend to reveal the real and actual truth under all the academic semantics and hubbub that we create to explain why things work.
What follows are just some of the 'tweets' from around the globe, that helped shape my initial arguments in The Economist. I pay them due attention, as primary research of sorts, current and relevant views for sure. What they reveal is that the majority of educators who are, themselves, seeing large impacts on their teaching and learning, and the learning of their students, do not see social networking as the cosseted, pigeon-holed, clearly defined vision that the academics and 'experts' do. They see social networks as messy exciting long-term relationships form which they and their students learn. They do not talk about tools, they talk about the social relationships offered by them. They do not talk about the ease of having everything in one place (social network) or running through various social tools. They don't care. They're thinking about the learning taking place and how it operates through the nuances of the different tools on offer.
From Judy in Australia: But to make this change, leaders need an understanding of social networking's values and philosophy. Old-style social networking relied on books of contacts, on individuals who were connected. Now, anyone can connect to a global community of practitioners and experts in a click. It doesn't get discussed enough in the press, not beyond the odd YouTube story, and stories about how it's improving education in some corners of the planet are not discussed at all. It reminds of how biros had a pad press at first; you weren't allowed to use them until a certain grade at school.
From John in Glasgow, Scotland: Small scale, yes, large scale we need to see.
From Mark, the creator of Coffee Break Spanish podcast: hundreds of thousands of people across the world learning Spanish, where social networking is an integral part. You've got Spanish native speakers learning French with Coffee Break French, helping out those from around the world learning Spanish on the Coffee Break Spanish blog.
From Lucy in Chicago: the biggest potential impact of social networking is on our own personal customised professional development. I say potential because most teachers I talk to haven't even heard of some of the tools. It's getting hard to talk to them about social networking: there are misconceptions from personal anecdotes and a bias towards the dark side of social networking. There are also plenty who don't share the passion of lifelong learning.
From Adam in Huntly, Scotland: I think social media can encourage learning outside the classroom but I think students need shown where to go. Teachers also need to be given access to get to know the tools. Where they're blocked, the effect on morale can be negative.
From Nick in Fife, Scotland: Social networking makes education more inclusive. I can reach kids that I can't otherwise through my own site and latterly Bebo.
From Lisa in England: The opportunity to share and bounce ideas of others, to find solutions to problems, is immense and very exciting.
From Neil in Perth: The problem is measuring the benefits of social networking. Are they just too intangible at the moment? When they are so important and 'embeddable' it makes them hard to separate. As teachers, we're meant to model behaviour. Is blogging how we demonstrate this? Perhaps: I wouldn't have got my PT job without my blog!
From Amanda in New Zealand: My teaching has changed due to the social networking I participate in. I used to find it hard after educational conferences, for example, into a system that didn't really support the things I wanted to do. Having Twitter, for example, helps me keep in touch with those people with similar ideas, and who have pushed me to continue learning how to teach better. Also, having experts on tap consistently means I have people in my classroom, virtually, to help me and my students when needed.
Lesley in France: my neice was telling my how great her new lycee is and how brilliant her teachers are because she can contact them all on MSN.