Monday, November 15, 2010

Using Social Networks in Teacher Education: Session Reflection

Post by : Jackie Kirk & Mike Nantais ( originally posted on ICTology, imported in September/15)

Last Friday at the Manitoba Educational Research Network (MERN) Fall Forum, we hosted a session called “Engaging learners using social networks in teacher education”. Our purpose was to share our initial findings from the pilot project of a social network within the Faculty of Education at Brandon University that we have been working on since the spring of 2010. Although we accomplished our task, the discussion that ensued during the session sparked our thinking far beyond our local community. Our presentation is included here for your reference;

One of the first discussions (one that we left and didn’t get an opportunity to come back to) was the question of why some people are reluctant to join the current trend toward online social networking. This is a question that has been tossed around in many of our social circles. Why does it seem like such a struggle to put your ideas and thoughts out into the public forum for critique and feedback? In an interesting post called Making Connections, Harold Jarche, wrote about how various social media connect people in different ways. Most interesting, in light of the reluctance described earlier, was the video he included (which I have embedded below). Harold writes;

Dr. Brené Brown says that, “Connection is why we’re here; it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. This is what it’s all about.” What keeps many people out of connection is that they feel they are not worthy of connection. Brown explains that people with a stronger sense of belonging believe they are worthy of love and belonging. These people also fully embrace vulnerability. Her conclusion, from many observations and interviews, is that the best way to live is with vulnerability and to stop controlling and predicting. To me, this sounds like adopting a perspective of life in perpetual Beta. I think that the vulnerability we show when embracing social media is actually a path to a better life. 

In our own use of social media, we have experienced this first hand. Mike, who is active in using twitter, blogging and other social media, struggled when he began, and still does to an extent. Is what we have to say worthwhile? Does it offer anything new? Will it be met with criticism or indifference? Yet, once that threshold is breached, the learning opportunities grow. The entire video clip (a TedxHouston Talk by Dr. B. Brown) is below;

The most controversial part of the discussion centered around the power, the privilege, and the future of social media within society. Many people within the digital community have talked about the opportunity that social media provides for anyone who has internet access (about 75% of Canadians according to to be involved in the general flow of information about everything from politics to health and wellness to consumer products. That participation by average citizens is literally changing the dynamic of knowledge as capital. It seems possible that the traditional power hierarchy is going to tumble as a result of ‘Average Joe’ having the opportunity to share his opinions in a forum where literally millions of people can read them.
One of the things that we found most intriguing about the discussion in our session, regarding social media and its relationship to power in society, was the suggestion that some people shared a fear that the current open discussion forum offered by social networks would be infiltrated and overtaken by government and big business. Is it possible that the free spirit of online social networking will devolve into a medium for rhetoric and advertising in the clutches of former power brokers who would betray public trust by manipulating a faux-public-opinion to support and maintain historical power structures??
A preview of our Ning illustrates the positive side of social networking. Almost 300 students, faculty, and alumni who have joined our Ning sign in and contribute to discussions on a regular basis. We have started discussion groups for each of our classes but we encourage students to stray outside of their own groups to comment on any interesting discussions. Some discussions that have been started by students have received 30-40 responses from other undergraduates, graduate students, teachers and administrators working in the field, faculty members, and people working within the provincial ministry of education! It has proven to be an authentic on-going discussion about education that extends beyond the walls of our classrooms and engages our pre-service teachers at a completely different level. Check it out at: If you’re a member of the BU Faculty of Education community (student, faculty, or alumni), we would welcome you to sign up for a membership while you are on our site and get involved in the discussions! So, although there’s a chance that social networking could take a turn for the dark side in the future, right now we are enjoying the benefits of the free flowing discussion!

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