January 08, 2006

Socialising, Identity 2.0 and education

After some weeks (months?) I have now found the time on a TGV (Train Grande Vitesse) to Brittany, France to put some thoughts together on a few ideas that might be linkable, or might not be linkable. While this train is hurtling along at 380km per hour, my previously fizzing thought train on this one, in typical British fashion, has now lost momentum in the crumbling infrastructure that is my post-Christmas head. I am only really taking some more time to reflect.


Why are social technologies such a Big Deal?

I challenge anyone to reckon that they’re not and it’s only those who don’t know (and who, with some ignorant pride, refuse to ever learn) that would even bother with that argument. It’s not that I, along with many of the readers of this blog, have some kind of cause to fight, a cause from which we stand to gain.

It's just that these social technologies work for something.

And lots of people are using them.

Yes, there are only 23.6 million public blogs, the same again in private ones and a tiny proportion of internet users have a Flickr account. But many more are reading them and looking at the pictures. These are the early days at the beginning of the renaissance. In fifty years I hope that our kids wonder what all the fuss was about – these tools will be just another part of the daily toolkit, and might even be obsolete.

Suw Charman started off the Socialising in the year 2055 panel (not Social Work panel) of Les Blogs 2.0 with what appears a simple statement: the reason these social technologies work is because they are social. But they are also changing the way that we socialise.


A changing-changed social world

So not only do these technologies cater for a need until now unfulfilled by the on-off yes-no I-O binary of technology. They are also allowing us to socialise in a different way. Where technology has thus far helped us in a changing world, social software tools are being proactive in helping us work, rest and play the way we want to and not, for the first time, the way that the rest of society wants/expects us to behave. Suw reveals some truisms: people have less time to socialise than before; taking breaks is frowned upon; where are we getting our social input? Her answer: we’re getting our social input on short text messaging, MSN chat, on multiplayer games (World of Warcraft), on blogs (and on leaving comments on Flickr: I’ve added this last bit since discovering the friends you can make through a mutual passion for taking pics of Paris).


Independent Digital Lifestyles

This digital lifestyle is just what I am living this year as a home and mobile worker. I use MSN (virtual) to ‘chat’ with colleagues over a coffee (not virtual), Skype to phone for free to friends and colleagues around the world I wouldn’t have made / wouldn’t have kept in touch with / wouldn’t have known about, blogs to expand my thinking on hi-tech stuff and not-so-hi-tech stuff, to keep informed of my mother’s life and to keep her informed of mine (there’s nothing worse than having not phoned your mother in a month; blogging removes some of the shame). I use Flickr to store and share my photos with families and friends, as well as to search for like-minded souls who might be of professional benefit for me and my projects, and who I might be able to help out. Flickr and LinkedIn have together helped me branch out my professional reach in no time at all. I even started an ICT Policy Strategy wiki in a totally spontaneous and natural way. This slightly awkward glove actually fits!

Hugh McLeod shares my views on the lone-ranger front. He runs a small tailoring business in the middle of Yorkshire, England, a.k.a. end of the valley. For him, blogging has meant that people don’t need to live in cities to make a living. They don’t need to please people they’re not interested in, either, because they can reduce their costs and do more of what they want to do. If he wants to tell someone to f*&@ off, he can. His overheads are so low/non-existent that he is able to pursue what he feels is important. Marc Canter also agrees with this sentiment: we can ignore things we find boring without losing face. Try ignoring someone in meatspace: not easy, unless you’re Hugh, of course ;-) But in a virtual world we can choose to ignore people, not give them our attention. Our attention is worth something. And so is our inattention.

Another thing that blogging has allowed individuals to do is become self-employed to a large extent. Anina, a model who blogs: “Your people speak to my people” is not required any more. Things can be done for free, where agents would normally not allow that (they want the commission). You can solicit people for a job by leaving a comment on their blog – subversing the middleman via interconnectivity. Hierarchy is subversed. The mobile phone takes it a stage further, making the digital subversion quicker, a quick response unit of the blogging world, if you will.

Often, in this deluge of information, the Non-Believer (not that blogging is ever some kind of personality cult) will proclaim: “I want to filter information”. In a beautifully simple exemplification Anina points out that information filtering is not useful in fashion. There’s a need to see things that take you out of your comfort zone, teach you something new or point out something that needs resolved. Like white socks and sandals, man.


Why give learners a social life?

What’s wrong with classrooms, text books and paper-driven homework diaries and learning logs? Nothing much. But our kids think differently to the way that most of our (aging) teaching population think. And if I, a teacher aged 27 who has had a computer since the age of six, has blogged since 2001 and has won two national awards for the connections my websites have made for kids is already using these tools to socialise, goodness knows what our children are going to be doing in 27 years' time. There are some reassuring words from a research report mentioned in Anne Davis’ Edublog Insights:

Brown (1997) suggests that for effective instruction of people who think differently than we do we must be able to step outside of our personal experiences and into the world of the learner. We must be able to engage the learner to make a commitment to learn. To do this with digital minds we do not necessarily have to involve devices (though it helps). What we do have to do is to accept some of their life experiences. [Edublogger comment: this is the social element] The following list draws on ideas from Brown (1997) and Driscoll (2002) as we offer the following suggestions:

1 Focus on Outcomes Rather Than Techniques

Provide students with opportunities to put information to work. Allow them to do something and not just to know something. Reality based learning, learning in context, situated cognition, and problem√based learning are strategies that should resonate with digital minds. [Edublogger: this is the kind of thing that got my colleagues and me very excited on our study trip to the schools of New Brunswick, Canada. Learning for purpose, in context, problem-based with kids actually doing tasks to achieve the production of a final product. Revolutionary stuff is what it felt like at the time, but this is just good teaching in the 3rd Millennium]


2 Provide Options for Learning

Universal Designs for Learning (O'Neill, 2001) suggests that students will excel with options in learning. Multiple options to express learning, multiple representations of content, and multiple ways to engage learners will help digital minds in the classroom. [Edublogger: multiple ways to engage learners and let them represent their learning might happen all at once (Flickr photos embedded in the audio from a poem) or might be used in turn (blogging a thought, following up with a separate blog post via a Flickred photo)]


3 Respect Parallel Thinking and Multitasking

People who grew up with the WWW, mobile phones, MTV and video games are used to dealing with many streams of information coming in at one time. And while we, as teachers and digital immigrants, may see it as disruptive, they really can do more than one thing at a time in class. [Edublogger: need I say more than the word ‘Backchannel’. Hugely disruptive for some, highly engaging for me, leading to productive thought after the main conference panel event (read ‘classroom lesson’)]


4 Highlight Key Points

New learners are surfers and scanners. While we had limited sources for writing papers they essentially have every library in the world available to them. They make decisions quickly based on side heads and highlighting. We must provide them with cues they recognize and help them to slow down and process when needed. [Edublogger's note: Great last point that I am going to keep for the next time someone criticizes blogging, internet reading or has a bash at technology for the apparent lack of reading in their students. I’ve never read as much since I blogged (nor written as much) and I’ve learned to spot the signs of a piece that I wish to ignore or go into in great depth – like this one]


5 Involve Learners in Setting Learning Goals

Provide them a role in establishing learning goals, building the learning community, setting up the rules for the class and in writing the rubrics that will be used to judge their performance. [Edublogger: In Assessment is for Learning Scottish teachers have managed to get most of this. What’s missing is the most important ingredient: building the learning community. Social software helps build this community. Paper, pens and the rushed atmosphere in the 40 minute lesson just don’t cut it.]

6 Provide Active Learning Environments

Allow learners to use what ever tools they may need in an assignment. Allow them to play to their strengths, be it media production or artistic expression in assignments and activities in appropriate ways.[Edublogger: this is where the devices come in. It’s not bad, though, to have got to number 6 without having to talk about tools and devices]


7 Allow Learning to be Social

We have long recognized the importance of working in groups. It builds social skills and provides students with the ability to work in the type of environment they will be working in as adults. Working in groups means that people will need to talk, discuss and interact, activities that are typically discouraged in most classrooms.


8 Provide Opportunities for Reflection

Lest we think we must only allow people to do things that are fast moving and lack depth of processing, we must provide digital minds not only with the time to reflect, but the requirement to reflect. A digital mind does not mean a better mind necessarily. We should provide opportunities for both experiential and reflective cognition.

In my next post I will take a look at Point 8: Time. Is there a case for the luddites who complain that all blogging and podcasting do is contribute to a flux of irrelevant information, best left ignored than skimmed? Or is there some kind of socialising that can take place to make better sense of this information and lead to a more connected, social world than the one we live in now?



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Nice article, Ewan. Read it with great interest. I think that the blogging people should not think of themselves as beeing an elite. There's so much responsibility which comes with knowledge. So I esspecially liked point 7 and 8. Yes, learning truly has to be social. And the one thing that bothers me when I think of a digital world is the missing time to reflect on the technology we develop and their impact on society. I see the power in social technologies, but there's the danger of forgetting about reality, too.

Best, Raju

I really enjoyed your part about independent digital lifestyles. Hit home for me after my experiences in the past few months. The attention/inattention thing is equally as important.

Thanks for laying this down in pixels.

This is a great article. I'm finding your points to be very true and have blogged about how they relate to the SAT review projects I'm doing in class right now. You are right on the money.

I just read a pretty amazing post that has my brain whirring… Ewan McIntosh has been gracing my blog with a few comments as of late, so I felt compelled to check out his blog. Yikes.
Sorry, not a very formal review, but his post entitled “Socialising, Identity 2.0 and education” is pretty mind blowing....

"Respect Parallel Thinking and Multitasking ... they really can do more than one thing at a time in class"

That's easy. Just never commit to anything, don't copmprehend anything, never focus on anything, never try to understand anything and never experience a flow state of mind. Just eat, never digest.

Well, not knowing who you are, where you come from, what you do - anything, in fact, about why we should listen to you in particular - it's difficult to reply, really. Kids do multitask - you can't take that away from them. So had we not better take advantage of the skill they have that you obviously don't feel you do?

Hi Ewan,
It seems only a few months ago ( and was ) that I was trying to find like minded souls in the web 2.0 world - wow what a great community they are. I must thank you for your encouragement and support early in my blogging and podcasting. I still try to catch up with your blog as often as possible. I have a question re SETT last year - in particular your blogger/podcaster get together in the pub with the free alcohol. How difficult was it to organise ??( or was it just blog posting??). I ask because with quite a few educational bloggers in the UK at present I thought that it would be an intereting idea to try to organise a social get together ( are you doing another one this year??) somewhere in the UK this year. Do you think that this would be a good idea??

Both meetups were just organised through blog posts initially, to gauge interest. Then just let people organise it themselves through a wiki. Following the BarCamp format will keep you straight and make sure that you're not indebted to one sponsor. It does need a host or two to take on the task of organising the bits no-one else has got round to but it's not that tricky. Make sure you get a good collection of connected people to publicise it and get some good presenters along. Otherwise, just let it organise itself.

Social technologies, by their very nature, endorse social interaction. Friendships are reforged and romances created through social networking and they will continue to enhance communities throughout the world, with and without the boundaries of physical space.

Saying that, my attention span is very low as it's past midnight so I would say I only scanned your article, sorry! But you gave a brilliant speech with DK the other day and I was very impressed and motivated by everything discussed.

I think you probaby agree with that statement anyway!

Can we have a moratorium on adults calling young people and children "kids"?

Why, George? Isn't that what most of them are, kids, I mean?

I had a Depute Head Teacher in one school I worked ask us to refrain from calling kids 'students' because it implied they studied. Pupil comes from the Latin term for 'orphan', which is hardly the way I see my kids, dependent on me for all their knowledge because no-one else is there to do it.

Feel free to comment, George, but please give some reasons so as not to lower the debate beyond some of the great stuff that's been contributed so far.

On with the discussion...

Personally, I say "kiddos" with both respect and love when I think of young people I have the pleasure of working with in school (and life). In fact, I say, "my kiddos", because they have permanently become part of my life.

The eye contact -- direct and intentional -- is based on absolute respect for their minds and potential, so even when I call them "my kiddo(s)", I am saying it as I look them deep in the eye, challenging them to do great things, to take their voice on a global scale very seriously, and that no matter how firm I am with them in regards to evaluations and expectations, I do so with love...and a commitment to celebrating their accomplishments in the future.

Can't ever imagine saying "pupil". Not even able to say "student" without it getting caught in my throat. "Learner" wins every time for me; sometimes "co-creator".

But as people in my class? They are "my kiddos" and I say that without apology.

Cheers to you Ewan!

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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