Sunday, May 3, 2009

Social Networking and Teaching

Social Networking is big business. Social Networking holds a significant skills set which is increasingly becoming an important part of contemporary life. Students need to learn how to effectively and efficiently employ the tools for their working life. How do students gain the required skills set whilst advancing the required subject knowledge? Social Networking has added a complexity to the teaching environment. It is not a question of open exploration, suck and see, or for the teacher to step aside and assume the role as a friend. The interconnecting role of a teacher and student should not be compromised. Teachers are the experts who set standards, who hold the knowledge required, who provide an instructional environment that enabled clarity of purpose. This is not the era for teachers to provide a fuzzy environment where students have to guess what they need to know or are graded without a knowledge of standards. Today and tomorrow demands logical and analytical communication within a fast changing scientific, mathematical and technological environment.

Social Networking is the buzz agenda for innovative teachers, however innovative teachers will always be a minority within the teaching profession. A minority of teachers have an understanding of social network technologies and are enabling an integration of the technology within the present day classrooms. Are the innovative teachers successful? Do they provide more certainty as they bend, adapt, integrate social networking technologies within the industrial built classroom? Overall there is a dis-function between schools and 21st Century social and working environments.
Schools were designed and constructed for processing. They were constructed as filters for what was required in the later industrial age: Blue collar to the left and White collar to the right. There was certainty. Students could leave in year 9 and 10 with the required skills to work on the farm, in a factory, labouring in the open air or get an apprenticeship. 25% could go onto University. There was certainty and schools supported this process with a degree of success. Teachers, administrators, curriculum and the physical classroom supported the functional environment. The requirements have changed and the functions have not. The circumstances have made schools dysfunctional.
Can industrial style classroom physical environment benefit from social network technologies or do they need to be revolutionised from what is generally accepted as a classroom (door entry, teacher at front of room, whiteboard at front of room, timetabled to subjects, many students and few computers)? If classrooms gain one PC, laptop or hand-held per student how do teachers modify the walled and timetabled classroom environment to enable an on-line social network environment? How do education leaders support teachers to move from traditional teaching methods to a social networking model. Should new schools be constructed to enable an on-line social network environment? The complexities of change is not fully addressed or understood.

There are few teachers skilled to a level to successfully operate in an on-line social network environment. Teachers cannot afford to replace one tried and tested method of delivery for another one of which they have little knowledge of. Good teachers are critical for student success. Bad teachers are detrimental for student success. Good teachers have a comprehensive knowledge of the subject matter they are teaching. Good teachers have a command of methodologies. Good technique enables a good results. Bad teachers do not know their subject matter or have a good teaching methodology. Curriculum statements have changed little and they best suite traditional teaching methods. Learn the text book, follow the formula and a good result is possible. Students do not learn required knowledge in spite of having a bad teacher. The question is; how can a teacher who has a strong understanding of their subject matter and a strong teaching methodology (in a tradition manner) move into a collaborative Social Networking methodology without lowering the quality of instruction.

Teachers need to understand and employ Social Networking to a sophisticated level that will enable professional interaction. If social networking is seen as a toy or a play thing there will be no benefits gained. Teachers need to employ the tool on an authoritative level with clear aims and objectives. The tools need to be employed as were the traditional tools; that is to enable the students to gain the standards of exception.

Teachers need to address their on-line presence as a professional identity.
> Understand the affordances and limitations of the chosen technology.
> Social networks need to be critically integrated within assessment tasks.
> Student groups need to be organised with analytical care for social and cultural sensitivities.
> Provide direction with clarity of objectives.
> Enable directed investigation.
> Enable skill development within the employed technology.
> Teachers need to partake within the activity as a facilitator, trainer, network administrator and instructor when and where required.

It is important that teachers do not entwine their effort is constructing a complex, sophisticated on line experience that covers all. It is important that it is the students who value add the Social Network. The teacher needs to construct the instructional direction.