One of the first things you’ll discover about teaching and learning in digital spaces, is that this is an environment where very little is linear. Even if you offer a step-by-step guide, your audience has the power to move freely about the space, disregarding your intentions entirely. So, we will start in the middle!
Observation #1: Most people do not like reading a bunch of text. I will try to break this up with white space, images, audio and video, so it doesn’t get too obnoxious.
The onramp will primarily address two functions of educators participating in social networking; professional development, and teaching and learning. The more you become immersed in the environment, the more these two functions begin to overlap. By immersion, I mean actively exploring Web-based technology and participating in social networking.
Professional Development – I’ve got my crystal ball out and I’m looking around your office. I see binders full of presentation handouts. You have a stack or folder of certificates of completion for all those workshops you’ve attended. There’s a lot of dust. Do you ever pull these things out when you get back to the office? When you do remember an inkling of something you learned in a workshop, do you take the time to go back to the materials? What if, instead of sitting through workshops and seminars on topics you may never find relevant, you could ask a question at the time of need and receive many opinions from professionals in your field who care about your success? What if you could describe a challenge and receive several solutions within minutes? What if you could turn on a computer when you have a moment of freedom, and instantly participate in a free, live conference with an internationally recognized guest presenter? What if you could keep all your resources and links in a place you could access from any internet connection, including your phone? You can have all of this when you discover and build a network of professional contacts online.
Teaching and Learning – This area is where the real discourse happens. There are a lot of educational leaders and researchers with strong opinions about learning and technology. I will introduce you to some of the debate, and you can choose to follow the topics that interest you. There are a few points you will discover repeated throughout the literature and writings of supporters of instructional technology, particularly social media. The first point is that people learn socially. We can work together to construct knowledge. The second point is that learner-centered instruction, where students are encouraged to question and inquire, leads to greater success in education.
Observation #2: I use terms interchangeably, even when the technical definitions are slightly different. When I talk about social media, Web-based tools, new media, digital spaces, social networking or Web 2.0, I’m probably talking about the same thing. If you can’t get the meaning from the context, please let me know. In most of these instances, I’m talking about web sites or online applications with a social component. This usually involves creating a personal profile, and linking to other people through the site or application. I use the term “media,” because these sites can include text, audio, video, file sharing and other media.
Gotta Start Somewhere
There may be no beginning and no end, but we have to start somewhere. Videos have become a popular way to teach and inspire online. The Common Craft Show Plain English videos provide simple introductions to several topics related to social media. Social Networking in Plain English is a great place to start.
Social networking is about making connections with people and sharing. You can share information, files, links, images, and just about anything you can put online. You can even share other people! With most services, it only takes a few steps to get started.
- Create an account using an existing email address.
- Set up your profile, which typically includes a photo, contact information, a link to your site (if you have one), and whatever personal/professional information you wish to share.
- Search for contacts. You can find people you already know or search by topic or category and then connect.
- Share. Post comments, participate in discussions, share files or whatever you wish to do.
- Maintain your connections by adding new people and approving or declining those who wish to add you.
Here’s an example of social networking in action. This conversation occurred on a microblogging service called Twitter while I was writing this post. (Read it from the bottom up.)
Observation #3 – Screencasting may not be familiar to everyone. It is a way to capture what is on your computer screen while simultaneously adding audio. There are many software applications that can do this, at varying levels of complexity. I used Jing for this screencast and uploaded the finished file to screencast.com. Jing is free and easy and records screencasts up to 5 minutes in length. It can be resource intensive, meaning it can slow down your computer if you keep it running while you are doing other things.
If you’re wondering why you would want to participate in social networking for professional development, here are some testimonials from educators currently using social networking tools to connect with each other. This Voice Thread was started by Dr. Alec Couros to use in a presentation. Click to play, or click on the individuals to skip ahead to their comments.
For the next installment, we will start actively digging into the tools and communities. I’ll leave you with a few resources for reading. You can also access all the links on my delicious account.