WHY I ADVOCATE FOR SOCIAL SOFTWARE IN THE CLASSROOM…

“There was something very comforting in having plenty of stationary� (Charles Dickens, Great Expectations).

To say I advocate for the use of technology in the classroom would be a misnomer, as paper and pencil are technology. Lately, however, I have been advocating strongly for the use of social software in the classroom, that is, in the classroom that has access to computer and internet technologies. Although some would say that there are negative aspects to using technology in such a way, I would posit that the benefits of tapping into students’ cultural context, using blogging as a tool for reflection, and bringing depth to written work far outweigh any possible shortcomings.

Students have been riding a wave of emerging technology in previous years. We can not merely close our classroom doors to this onslaught of new technology. As James Duderstadt observes, the influence of technology on students has created a new demand for teachers:

Members of today’s digital generation of students have spent their early lives immersed in robust, visual, electronic media– home computers, video games, cyberspace networks, and virtual reality. They expect–indeed, demand–interaction, approaching learning as a ‘plug-and-play’ experience.
(Duderstadt, 2003, 42-43. qtd. in Ganley, “BLOGTALK Paper,�2004. http://mt.middlebury.edu/middblogs/ganley/bgblogging/002796.html)

To merely close the classroom door and expect students to leave the influence of the ‘digital generation’ outside of it is to ask them to reject their cultural construction. On the contrary, as Barbara Ganley suggests, introduction of social software such as blogging presents a unique opportunity for enrichment in the ‘wired classroom’: “It is in the balance between the virtual blogging community and the face-to-face interactions of the classroom that we can push the boundaries of education to include, formally, collective cognition� (“BLOGTALK Paper�) . Ganley’s idea of collective cognition hits on the benefit of scaffolding on the collective knowledge that is available in a classroom of learners. This acknowledges the talents and skills that are present in the body of the class, which places value in students’ prior experience and specialised interests. This paradigm shift echoes W.B. Yeats’ claim that ‘education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.’ The use of social software allows students to access their own knowledge; it implies that we recognise students have knowledge that is vital to the enrichment of the classroom community.

At the recent CTABC/ACSI conference in Surrey, BC, Trinity Western University professor Kimberly Franklin hosted a workshop entitled “Breathing Life and Depth into Journaling,â€? in which she noted that using (paper) journals in school classrooms poses several problems, specifically, “lack of student responsibility, achieving the minimal, […] lack of community and navel-gazingâ€? (Fall 2005). All of these problems can be conceivably solved by using blog technology as a reflective tool as students begin to realise that they are writing for a potentially global audience and spend time visiting and posting to their peers’ blog. The blog in this sense becomes a virtual community in which students interact with the reflections and musings of each other. Blogs allow for interactive journalling.

Blogs also enable students to add depth to their writing. By linking to outside sources, students can create ‘information webs’ as opposed to static essays that are handed into a teacher. As Steven Krauts notes in “The Chronicle for Higher Education,� blogs allow students to make citations active and accessible to their readers: “students can include direct links to materials they find relevant to their entries; on paper a mere citation is the best a student can do� (“Blogs as a Tool for Teaching,� np). Ganley echoes the importance of this by suggesting that active citations add depth to writing:

Embedding hyper links within a posting not only weaves each student’s writing to other writing and writers, it releases that part of the mind that does not function linearly, but rather associatively “in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain {Bush, 1949, 5}.
(Ganley, “BLOGTALK Paper�)

This ‘live-linking’ allows students to think in ways that are more natural to them.

Perhaps the most convincing argument that I have come across is Barbara Siemens’ assertion that blogging enables and inspires learning to continue outside of the mediated classroom:

[S]ustained blogging over the years, not just in the classroom, but after and outside the classroom experience, as a way to reflect on and discuss the connections between the lessons learned inside the class and the world outside our walls, is perhaps the most promising way to use blogging and other social software in a liberal arts institution.
(qtd in Richardson, ‘Connecting for Life,’
http://www.weblogg-ed.com/2005/09/27).

I recall that one of the three principles I had drilled into me during my training as a teacher is the idea that we are to inspire students to become ‘lifelong learners.’ As educators, our goals should be propelled beyond the time and space of our classroom. If we do not set our trajectories as such, then we fail to consider our potential to propel learning into life outside of the classroom. As Siemens’ suggests, blogging presents teachers with a tool to help inspire such learning.

Although blogging and social software is not the ‘be all’ of the classroom, its’ use in the classroom offers a tremendous tool to educators and students. The use of blogs and social software help provide relevance to students’ realities, provide a rich and community based tool for reflection, and breathe life and add a ‘multilayered’ approach to student writing.

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2 thoughts on “WHY I ADVOCATE FOR SOCIAL SOFTWARE IN THE CLASSROOM…

  1. Pingback: Palimpsest redux » BLOGTALK NOTES: A Practical Introduction Into the World of Ed-Blogging (DRAFT).

  2. Pingback: Palimpsest redux » Blogtalk: A Practical Introduction to Educational Blogging. Island Pro-D Day, Feb. 17, 06. Working Notes

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