David McGillivray

Professor, interested in events, culture, digital participation & sport.


Reflections on Rheingold and Social Media Classroom

Yesterday, I attended a conference at Ravensbourne’s breathtaking new campus next to the O2 arena in London.

The conference was advertised as being about social media for learning and teaching – a subject you will know is flavour of the month for me at the moment if you’ve been reading my recent posts.  Anyway, the event was largely informative and with Howard Rheingold presenting via Skype at the conclusion of the day, there was an incentive to stay until the bitter end.  However, it soon became clear to me that there were two main narratives of ‘social media’ which emerged from the day. The first was the utility of social media as a part of the curriculum of web design and media-related courses.  Many of the presentations were about how to teach people about the intracacies of social media, how to monetise it and design projects out of it.  For example, Dr James Morris (@cyberwest) provided an interesting presentation on the uses of social media in his course and Dr Paul Coulton discussed the use of gaming mechanics in developing learning techniques. All interesting, but not necessarily what the digital immigrant here was looking for. 

I was more interested in finding out about the second main narrative – the pedagogical theory and practice of using social media as a learning and teaching resource (i.e. how we might embed social media resources like blogs, wikis, Twitter, Facebook into the curriculum of any subject).  This was where the considered ideas of Euan Semple (@euan) and Howard Rheingold saved the day. Our first speaker, former BBC senior exec Euan set the tone for what I expected from the event by emphasising the importance of facilitating more frequent conversations is at the heart of the new agenda (he was very much against the over-used terms ‘social’, ‘media’ and ‘digital’ as they often shut out dialogue – instead indicatign that these ideas ‘belong’ to certain people). Interestingly for academic institutions, Euan emphasised the need to accept that there are risks in facilitating more conversations (e.g. surveillance, negative commentaries, reputational damage) because ultimately the rewards of participation are much higher.  That struck a chord with me because academic institutions can be bureaucratic, conservative and risk averse when it comes to social media precisely because they believe that engaging in ‘open’ and ‘collaborative’ learning will dilute their ‘product’. I would argue the opposite – that academics (and their key stakeholders, students) need to be more open, proactively seeking out spaces for new conversations as this will generate greater value, trust and respect in the social sphere we now occupy.  Euan completed his presentation by comparing approaches to the ‘management’ of social media to either the Cotswalds village or Milton Keynes.  Whereas there is a tendency to want to over-plan (as in MK or many corporate Twitter sites), instead we need to beciome more comfortable with the Cotswalds village analogy whereby it is a much more organic approach, where we see the potential in new conversations taking us in a direction we hadn’t envisaged.  This applies as much to a students’ learning experience as it does to business success, in my view.  That leads me on to the main point of this blog entry – the way that we can use the openness of social media tools and techniques to engage students in a completely different way to the didactic approaches of the past.  In presenting a tutorial on his Social Media Classroom, Howard talked elequently about his vision for a truly new form of learning (and demonstrated live).  HE proselytised about the value of co-teaching (involving students as partners in learning, not the recipients of it), of the need for social media literacies, of the opening up of debates on the padagogies that we currently use and whether these are fit for purpose in an age of wikis, Facebook, Twitter and social bookmarking.  Take a look at his social media classroom and come back to this blog with a comment, a critique, or a constructive solution to enhance its effectiveness.  Is is more useful than an insitutional VLE or too amorphous for our structured mindset?  As the day drew to a close I was just starting to be engaged by the possibilities – now let’s continue it…

David McGillivray • January 20, 2011

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