Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Professional Online Social Networks

Social Media platforms are part of the wider Web 2.0 landscape, designed to promote collaboration and promote user-generated content as we move away from the mostly read-only Web 1.0 of the past. These applications support asynchronous collaboration; the wildly read-write web that encourages interaction between people through sites such from Facebook to Picassa, and Pintrest to Youtube.  These sites and applications encourage users to move beyond mere posting of content by allowing them to become part of the process through collaboration.  In The Conversation Prism, Solis shares the evolution of popular Social Media applications alongside the transformation they have undertaken within the digital landscape.  This infographic clearly shows how far beyond the commonly known, used and favoured applications Social Media now extends, and alludes to the many different purposes for this development.

The user is central to this model, and like Hoadley's CoP model, Solis asserts that you should only create and manage a presence where it is warranted, finding networks where you can gain or introduce value. This becomes particularly relevant when accessing Social Media for Professional Learning and Development (PLD).  Interestingly this model reflects the principles of the three elements Wagner-Trayner (2011) identified as a requirement for a CoP, with Solis suggesting users consider the 5 pillars for meaningful engagement: Vision, Purpose, Value, Commitment and Transparency.


Although created for business, the desire to 'Always be Improving' through listening, learning and adapting is easily transferable to education, and I believe it is at the core of our role as inquiring educators.  

When I first looked at this topic, my use of Social Media for PLD was very easily identifiable.  I regularly use social networks, blogs, forums, discussion boards, social streams, videos, content/documents, events, podcasts and live-casting as tools to support my passion to improve my practice.  These tools enable me to access personalised PLD that fulfills my needs, at the right time.  This is so much a part of my development as an educator that I have created a dedicated professional identity that is now linked to all of these accounts, is observable in this established blog, links to my own professional site, and is also accessible through my online portfolio. This has created a marketable identity that continues to grow among educators working in the digital space, however, being so connected does come with a warning:  You are never truly away from work.  In her Masters Thesis, Melhuish (2013) suggests that one way to overcome this at a school level might be to integrate self-directed PLD of this nature into legitimate professional learning design rather than adding it on, in an already time-poor context.

Although I teach Computer Science and am surrounded in digital tools everyday, I needed to carefully step back to really examine how I am including Social Media in my classroom.  Merriam-Webster defines Social Media as "forms of electronic communication through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content" which is much more broad than I had originally thought.  When I combined this definition with The Conversation Prism, I came to realise that my students are actually engaging in Social Media on a daily basis - despite not having access at school to social networks such as Facebook, Google+ and Yammer due to their age, and our school policies.


My students regularly post to our class blog, labeling their work so it can be easily identified as an individual student portfolio, use Q&A sites (Wikianswers, Answers.com), location sharing software (Google Maps), Enterprise applications (Microsoft O365), social curation tools (Pintrest, Google Keep), videos (Youtube, Edpuzzle), social bookmarking tools (Symbaloo), brainstorming content (Popplet, Padlet, Coggle), collaborative documents (O365, Google Docs, Prezi), music, podcasts and images (PiktoChart, Canva, Tagul) to share information, ideas, personal messages and other content.  These tools enable me to engage students in active and constructive learning opportunities where they are required to comment, critique and construct knowledge, while working collaboratively to share emerging understandings.  They can support creativity, collaboration, communication and sharing of resources.  They enable our students to share their learning effortlessly with whanau, and help to extend learning opportunities outside of school hours.  

Social Media sites can offer a range of learning opportunities, involve and draw on the experience of people around the world, and provide students with challenges and opportunities to defend opinions and amend their ideas.  Unfortunately, the same sites can also provide inaccurate information, biased comments and hostile responses (Sharples, de Roock, Ferguson, Gaved, Herodotou, Koh, Kukulska-Hulme, Looi, McAndrew, Rienties, Weller and Wong, 2016).  For many students, learning in groups is not a natural process, and working collaboratively online is even further removed.  We need to support our students to cooperate and develop positive interdependence, by arguing constructively and resolving conflicts while maintaining respect and integrity.

Educators need to be very aware of these challenges, and deliberately teach students the skills they require to navigate these complexities.  I firmly believe that our core responsibility as educators is to prepare students for the world they are entering into.  Our students, as emerging adolescents, are not only moving into a world where Social Networking is rampant; they are already in it.  The vast majority of our students already have Facebook, G+, Instagram and Snapchat accounts - yet by blocking access to these at school, rather than establishing safeguards, the work I do to encourage Digital Citizenship does seem somewhat superficial, lacking genuine context and the ability to provide meaningful feedback.

In such a flooded marketplace, I think it is important to take a step back and remind ourselves that while doing all of this, we need to ensure that we are choosing the right tool for the job - and sometimes the best tool for us is time to interact with the person sitting beside us, unobstructed.  

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