Friday, May 6, 2011

What can we do with social media?

The whole concept of social media has been on my mind recently. I watched a really interesting TED talk recently, about effective use of social media. I've been reading many blog posts pointing to use of twitter, skype, and Google forms to facilitate communication, find and connect with people anywhere on the globe, and collect data. I've even come across some interesting perspectives about social media while researching for a paper about standardized testing, which was a connection I didn't see coming.

Being immersed as I am in this topic, it's not surprising that many conversations I have with people end up focused on social media tools. Not so much the "how" of it, but really the "why." As education professionals, why should we be using social media tools? What need does it fill? What can it do that is not currently being done (or what could it do more efficiently than current methods)?

I have a confession: I am not on facebook. I have never posted my photos on facebook. I am not a fan of the typical uses of facebook. I am especially against things like FarmVille. But that doesn't mean that I don't use social media. If you're reading this, then you can tell that I use social media.

Blogs. Web forums. Social networking. Twitter. Professional networks. Even text messaging. Wikipedia describes social media as "media for social interaction, using highly accessible and scalable communication techniques." All of these tools can facilitate communication from inside the classroom to people, knowledge, and resources that exits outside those four small walls.

So what do we do with social media? The really simple answers is that we do what we want to do - even if it's FarmVille. But what do we want to achieve with social media?

Here's a list of goals I think are worthwhile, and may be achieved through implementing social media techniques into education:
  • Communicate with parents and students outside of class. Parents often don't have a clear picture of what topics are being covered, upcoming events, and assigned homework. Students can sometimes be forgetful. Tools like blogs (which can be set up to email each new post) can really help keep everyone in the loop.
  • Share resources. This one should be an obvious point, coming from me. Sharing links, files, videos, and even other social media are all good ways of providing information to students, parents, and other teachers.
  • Collect information. Statistics without faces can be dull. Having students perform a survey of peers or even just the web in general can be a good way to get live data to work with.
  • Communicate with experts. I use web forums and email often to communicate with experts, find out opinions, and gather information. I'm always surprised by how quickly most people respond with any help they can offer. Everything from allowing use of their copyrighted material to providing research reports free-of-charge. Most people on the web are happy to help a non-commercial, educational cause (especially when it costs them nothing but a few minutes).
  • Collaboration. Teachers seem to be a very insular lot. We like to stay in our classrooms, doing our own thing. If we can communicate and collaborate more, it is likely that the quality of ideas will improve. "Two heads are better than one," right? What about two million?
I'm sure there are quite a few other needs that can be filled (or helped) through social media. If you've got one, post a comment!