Uses of Social Media in Schools

All in one handy Infographic

The Use of Social Media in School
Source: The Use of Social Media in School


Let Your Freak Flag Fly

Shelley Carson, in a piece written a while back at Scientific American, explores the link between eccentricity and creativity:

Albert Einstein picked up cigarette butts off the street to get tobacco for his pipe; Howard Hughes spent entire days on a chair in the middle of the supposedly germ-free zone of his Beverly Hills Hotel suite; the composer Robert Schumann believed that his musical compositions were dictated to him by Beethoven and other deceased luminaries from their tombs; and Charles Dickens is said to have fended off imaginary urchins with his umbrella as he walked the streets of London. More recently, we have seen Michael Jackson’s preoccupation with rhinoplasty, Salvador Dalí’s affection for dangerous pets and the Icelandic singer Björk dressed for the Oscars as a swan.

It isn’t just average Joes who perceive highly creative individuals as eccentric. These individuals often see themselves as different and unable to fit in. The latest findings in brain imaging, creativity research and molecular biology suggest that these perceptions are not just based on a few anecdotal accounts of “weird” scientists and artists. In fact, creativity and eccentricity often go hand in hand, and researchers now believe that both traits may be a result of how the brain filters incoming information. Even in the business world, there is a growing appreciation of the link between creative thinking and unconventional behavior, with increased acceptance of the latter.

If eccentricity is so vitally linked with creativity, then it’s likely that efforts to rein in the one will have a dampening effect on the other. Traditionally, schools have not been noted as particularly welcoming environments for eccentrics. Part of the blame there can be assigned to teachers and administrators, who need to create some kind of orderly environment and who end up enforcing a good many social norms without ever giving the matter much thought. But a large share of the blame must also be apportioned to the students themselves, who are tireless enforcers of social norms and who can be tremendously intolerant of departures therefrom.

Obviously there has been a good deal of progress in these areas over the past few years, and there is no question that schools today are more tolerant of differences, even some very odd differences,  than they were a decade or three ago. And partly through efforts such as the various anti-bullying campaigns, but also due in part, I think, to a generational tendency towards a more live-and-let-live approach to to the world, students are a significantly less hostile to the Weird Kid than they were in the past.

This is all to the good if we want our schools to provide an environment where creativity can flourish. And as Carson sees it, that is probably something we should want very much:

The good news is that the plight of square pegs may be improving. The ascendancy of innovative technology as a key factor in economic growth has elevated creativity from merely a positive trait to a highly sought-after commodity in the global market. Many leading corporations—such as Coca Cola, DuPont, Citigroup and Humana—now have chief innovation officers on their leadership teams. Prestigious business schools—such as Harvard, Stanford, Columbia and Yale—have added courses on creativity to their curricula. And Fortune 500 companies, including PepsiCo, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Aetna and Marriott, now routinely put employees through creativity training programs. Trainers in these classes use a variety of tools and techniques to help noneccentrics open their minds to “out of the box” thoughts and stimuli that might otherwise be ignored or suppressed.

It makes sense that the economic value of creativity would drive us towards greater tolerance of eccentricity. But technology may have a greater role to play than just that of an economic driver. Over the past couple of weeks, we have been looking at the role that technology can play in enhancing student creativity. A whole new literacy is evolving, powered by computer technology, which enables students to combine verbal expression with more visual forms in ways that were never before possible; shared social spaces are providing  motivation for students to improve the quality of their work (even the choice of computer hardware is being evaluated from the standpoint of how it will contribute to such spaces). Meanwhile, a focus on learning outcomes rather than adherence to traditional classrooms on the one hand, or the gee-whiz aspects of technology on the other, is allowing for some truly innovative educational options, particularly where creativity is involved.

It has been established that one of the key benefits of effective educational technology is its ability to individualize the learning experience, to make it specific to a particular student’s learning style. These shared social spaces will have to do that one better. Accommodating individual learning needs and preferences is a great start, but what we ultimately need are social spaces that accommodate individuals, period. The social learning space must be one where eccentricity can flourish as it never has before, a place that says, “Come on in. And let your freak flag fly.”

The Sandbox

As we explore the social side of EdTEch, we are quickly learning that “social” interaction is a lot more than links and likes and friend requests. At its best, social educational technology enables not just a connection but a shared experience.

In his post on Social EdTech and Making Stuff, Phil wrote that augmented reality technology is is usually also social technology because it allows the learners to re-create the social space they are in. Look at this example of a learning space that students can change with their hands in real time.

The topology is projected from above and is based on the height of the sand. So a student can change a  blistering sand dune into a fertile valley just by running her hand through the sand. Working together or independently, students can quickly redefine the entire landscape — creating lakes, building islands, damming rivers.

This literal sandbox is a great example of how students work together to create and redefine a social space. But, as Phil wrote, the sandbox doesn’t have to be a physical space. Using solutions like Glosgter, students are creating amazing shared learning spaces in poster form. And with solutions like BoomWriter, they are creating whole new fictional worlds together.

This is a great opportunity and challenge for teachers, of course. It’s one thing to manage a classroom, and another to manage a classroom that includes many whole worlds of learning.

Social EdTech and Making Stuff

There is more to social educational technology than Quora and Twitter. Some technologies have a social component that we might not immediately recognize.

Augmented reality (AR) is frequently touted as one of the hot trends in education, and with good reason. Embedding the world around us with relevant information — and making that information easily accessible in real time and in conjunction with our experience of the real world — is perhaps the next big leap forward in computing.  The educational applications of such technology are  profound. Solutions such as Aurasma — which puts accessible “auras” around real-world objects, providing access to information in context —  are already being deployed in a wide variety of educational settings. Participants in classes using such technologies are involved in a new kind of social experience, one wherein the social space overlaps with the actual space in which the participants find themselves.

Another kind of of social experience occurs when students use technology to make something new. The act of creating and sharing something in the real world is one of the most fundamental of social activities. Where a technology such as Aurasma turns the surrounding space into a platform for consuming information, a technology such as MakeyMakey enables users to turn objects in the real world into devices that manipulate the cyber world. When students make a working keyboard out of alphabet soup or a musical instrument out of a bunch of bananas (both real examples of MakeyMakey projects), they are making changes to the shared social space.

And this is true whether the technology in question produces real-world artifacts (such as you get from a 3-D printer) or purely virtual ones. That’s why technologies such as Glogster and Vine  (and Youtube, for that matter) all have a very important social component. To create something new is to introduce something into the shared space, whether that shared space is real, or virtual, or a combination of the two. A technology such as BoomWriter is particularly interesting in this regard because it involves both a creative social experience — a class writes a book by selecting chapters written by class members — and the creation of a shared space, where the book itself becomes a new world that the class members have created together.

Increasingly, technology enables us all to be makers of things — whether they be musical compositions, sculptures, or 140-character masterpieces of wit. Recognizing and leveraging the inherent social nature of all such creative activities is a critical challenge both for educators and for the producers of edtech solutions.



Unintended Consequences

From The Next Web:

7 ways that technology is transforming education, with Pearson’s chief digital officer

Juan Lopez-Valcarcel provides a nifty overview of coming educational technologies that will  forecast a student’s score on an exam or respond in real time to his or her body language. But before he goes there, he lays out some discouraging facts about what is currently happening (and failing to happen) in the world of education:

  • 46% of students don’t graduate
  • 40% of those who graduate don’t have the skills needed to get a job, per employers
  • 70% increase in tuition over the past few years

Lopez-Valcarcel looks at these failings and sees opportunity. He points out that education is a $4 trillion industry, that as a market it is three times the size of mobile and eight times the size of advertising. TNW notes that the “opportunities for investors, technology companies, educators and (most importantly) learners are vast.”

Hmm — business eyeing the education market and seeing dollar signs. That’s great if it truly does lead to innovations that help students learn, but it’s hard not to be reminded of another instance where the private sector has seen an opportunity in education and gone all-out to leverage that opportunity: student loans. As some recent analysis has clearly shown, student loans are the primary culprit behind the jump in tuition cited above, and the exorbitant cost of education is only made worse by the fact that so many fail to graduate and that so many who do graduate fail are unable to find meaningful work.

Even as we celebrate the potential that EdTech has to accelerate learning, we have to be on the lookout for unintended consequences. There is a lot of money to be made in EdTEch, and a lot of potential for showy solutions that increase the cost of education while providing little or no educational benefit — or worse yet, that distract from meaningful learning. Let’s proceed cautiously.