Social media for Everyman? Not so sure...
The Economist debates have stirred a great amount of intelligent debate, both on the Economist site and on others' blogs. While the groundswell continues to show over two thirds of the general public (or Economist readers, at least) believe that social networking can have a positive effect on educational methods, it's the comments from within the blogosphere that pour both healthy and unhealthy water on the embers.
Social media emancipates everyone - nearly
Stephen thinks it's all ridiculous and pointless (quelle surprise - it really should have been him writing it, shouldn't it?). It makes me wonder if, really, the learner's voice whether in Twitter's 140 characters or in lengthy blog posts of reflection, has any place on a planet where academia is still perceived by the real elites as the place we should all aspire. My mind's harking back to Ken Robinson's reference to Professors' bodies merely serving as a walking pedestal for their brains - is that what we are still aspiring to, Stephen? I am a learner, and would hope that any adult in teaching these days would consider themselves the same.
And, although I'm deemed an 'expert', this is in the eyes of others, not me, so I can hardly respond to the criticism Downes is leveling at me. I'm the biggest amateur I know, getting to understand things as they happen, understanding a wider and wider range of new practices and habits as they emerge. That certainly sounds like the opposite of an expert, one who has 'expertise' in a narrower and narrower range. However, it seems that the ability to publish one's thoughts and be taken by others at your own merits is not as realistic as I had previously thought, especially where haughty academics are involved. Mea culpa.
At least Everyman is getting a chance to have a think about these issues in a pretty intelligent forum, and pushing the thinking of 'established' education social media folk into something we've not really tackled properly with the larger public. Far from elitist Oxford-style debate, I've never seen these issues being discussed by as many from outside the elitist club of edubloggers (where you clearly speak at your peril).
And, as my opponent and Jack in the Guardian pick up, the argument in favour of the proposition is likely to win, given the net nature of the debate. What does this say about governance in the 21st century? Merely that huge numbers remain too illiterate to take part in democratic debate. Tragic.
Semantics limit our opportunities
danah boyd is half-right in her disappointment with my opening argument in the Economist's current education debate. Given that it's just a third of the whole position I'm putting forward, this is normal, and some of what she's putting forward is, in fact, in the rebuttal, due any time soon. There are a few areas, though, where I think either I'm missing the mark or, more likely, I'm choosing to ignore some fine grains for the sake of the argument. Here's one...
I have to disagree with Will that the distinction between social tools and social networks is 'much needed': social tools without any networks to use them with is like turning up to a party where no-one else was invited: you need to have one without the other. The tools need a network which needs the user to know how to network in the first place.
The terminology around social networks and social media, the tools both employ and how people use them is beginning to atrophy: your average Joe is just concerned about having his friends on tap and being able to share his stuff. Whether he chooses to do this on Facebook (social network, very specific) or through a combination of blog and numerous watchlists (social media at large), doesn't matter - the same end result is achieved. I love danah's distinction between teens, who collect real friends rather than 'network' for new ones, and adults, who surf friends lists to gain new contacts (think LinkedIn).
The semantics are certainly useful for research into the subtle differences between how one uses the integrated connectedness of the social network versus the less integrated but nonetheless valuable and connected nature of blogs, rss feeds, watchlists, Twitter. But the same jargon merely serves to distract us from what she says later on in her post: that we need to stop thinking about technology and concentrate on pedagogy
Technology [is]... a tool. Just like a pencil. Figure out what it's good for and leverage that to your advantage. Realize that there are interface problems and figure out how to work around them to meet your goals. Tools do not define pedagogy, but pedagogy can leverage tools. The first step is understanding what the technology is about, when and where it is useful, and how it can and will be manipulated by users for their own desires.
This is something your average Joe, your average teacher and your average student, even, can get. And, as David says, to limit ourselves to what the semantics and the experts who bandy them about say, we limit our opportunities in the future as to how we exploit the components that make them up. If social networking is MySpace and Facebook, then you and I are destined to a future of following what we're given, rather than challenging for some innovation.
Also, anyone who knows me well knows that danah's desire to concentrate on teaching and learning rather than technology is also my mantra in everything I do. If it's not about teaching and learning, I'm not interested. If it's not having an impact, I'm not interested. If we don't know if it's having an impact on learning, then let's investigate pronto.
Please do take a look at the second part, the rebuttal, in the Economist this week. It tackles some of the points leveraged in danah's impressive post, and those of others.
Disclosure: I'm not getting paid to write in the Economist. I was offered the opportunity because their Editors enjoy reading my blog, and thought, I imagine, that I would connect to their readership. Theirs, for sure. Some of my colleagues, less so ;-)
Pic: Ay, Semantics!
Related posts: Rebuttal now published