Sunday, November 9, 2008

I went to school board with 27 Jennifers

Jennifer at the injenuity blog has been reassessing the way she is presenting social media tools to teachers in her post About Face. The core of her message is that social media tools aren't necessarily right for all instructors. Forcing a set of tools upon an instructor does not mean better education. Unless teaching changes, the introduction of new tools does nothing to further the goal of better education.

Initially I wasn't really buying Jennifer's thought process (also see comments by Geoff Cain and a post from another author titled "Which Technologies Shall We Evangelize"). As I continued to read and re-read her post, I started to get her point about changing teaching. She says that:
Teaching has to change before these tools can be effective for learning. When we promote the tools to instructors who are using inappropriate instructional and assessment strategies, we are doing nothing to further the cause of learner-centered pedagogy and collaborative learning.
Still, if educators have not used social media tools, save a two-hour seminar in the summer, how will they ever participate in changing teaching. It may not be about the tools, but the transformation isn't going to happen without them either (or without teachers understanding of them).

It's no different in the business world. When I try to convince my co-workers on the business side of the house to use a wiki I get blank stares. "What does it do?" they ask me. Their mental model is of a software application designed for a specific task. Responding with "It's a tool to quickly develop and maintain knowledge repositories in a highly collaborative environment" doesn't resonate with them. I won't describe the look of disappointment when I say there isn't a manual. Until someone from the business side embraces the wiki, I'm stuck.

I hope that the instructors who are deterred from using social media tools by Jennifer's frank and honest discussion are only deterred from using them as a cornerstone of their current courses. My experience is that you need to embrace the tools before you can assess their value (or lack thereof). Teachers can adopt the tools as part of their personal life or professional development activities. And so what if you just use these tools to "pave cow paths". We used computers to cut paychecks for decades before we learned to send email alerts notifying you that you're about to reach your credit limit.

Instead of creating a flat classroom right out of the gate, perhaps they could start using a social bookmarking tool like Diigo or with a group of fellow instructors. Everyone needs to save bookmarks in such a way that they are available from any computer. Along the way the instructors will be introduced to tagging and the power of the network to deliver a high-value information resources (see Week 2 of Work Literacy's Web 2.0 for Learning Professionals for a better introduction to social bookmarking).

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