Blogging, wikis, collaborative documents, all of these tools are allowing teachers and learners who ‘get them’ to work together to construct their knowledge and understanding. Those who do not are sometimes depicted as being behind the times or anti technology, but is the technological element masking a wider attitude towards social learning?
In the last few weeks I have been involved in a pilot group for developing the use of social media in Birmingham schools. Our first meeting saw us sharing examples of things we are currently doing, and discussing what directions we might take to pilot the next steps in our own schools, and to encourage development of the use of these tools across the city.
We covered some really interesting issues, from the problem of branding an initiative in terms of ‘social media’ with the connotations of potentially inappropriate Facebook contact, to the transformative potential of blogging for children with ASD and communication difficulties.
One thing that came across to me was the keenness for sharing. Despite, or perhaps because of, coming from a variety of different settings, we felt that sharing what we were doing with social media and debating the pros and cons was worthwhile. We were learning from each other, and were excited for the potential opportunities for the learners in our schools doing the same- contrasting, comparing, and learning from the shared experiences of others.
To me, the social media tools we were looking at seem an ideal way of extending this kind of learning in our classrooms, but an important question was raised: how many teachers are valuing this type of learning in their practice already? It was suggested that far from these tools extending a social view of collaborative learning, they may actually be introducing it as something of an outside concept.
How many primary teachers see conversing, debating, sharing a contrasting points of view as the mainstay of the cognitive development of their pupils? How many instead see what these pupils have written on their own, in their individual books, with an ethos of ‘no copying’, as the real focus of their learning?
Perhaps there is a different issue to be discussed here which has little to do with technology. I wonder if, before investigating the technical tools, we should be exploring how much or how little teachers actually use social constructivist notions of learning to underpin their work. My gut feeling leads me to suspect that those of us evalgelising social uses of technology might be quite surprised that the resistance to them lies not just in arguments around the actual technology, but also in a difference of opinion of how integral social connections are to learning.
Perhaps we should sort out our collective understandings of this first, or could we come at it from a different tack? Could these social technologies serve to make explicit the links between social interactions and learning? Could pushing their use drive a more fundamental shift in thinking towards the influence of other learners in building a collective understanding as more important than the authoritative wisdom of a teacher?
Lots of questions, few answers. However, this has made me wary of taking for granted the notion that social directions for learning are universally seen to be valuable. As ever, it’s not about the tools, it’s about the thinking. I am left wondering whether this thinking should be addressed before evangelising tools, or if the tools themselves could be a good vehicle for starting conversations about a more fundamental shift in practice.