A few years ago I was approached to get involved in an immersive education project using Facebook to do what was essentially educational role-play within an existing online community. Characters in the story ‘friended’ members of the community and played out and developed their identities by interacting with each other and encouraging people to interact and share. The end product was a rich and engaging online experience and a great offline event within the community (if you want to know more about it, you can click here). This piqued my interest in using social networks in education, something which grew as I saw projects like tweet the exodus playing with social networking tools in informal education.
When talking about approaches to the use of Social Networks in education settings, Guy Marchant offers three kinds of activity- learning about, learning from and learning with.
I buy into the value of social media in education, particularly because in the world that I work it often functions as a kind of third place which sustains community in-between times groups are together, enables play and levels hierarchy. Despite this, colleagues and I often get frustrated when a lay-leader or member of a committee suggests using social media in a project because social networking sites are often characterised as neutral tools to be employed without an appreciation of character or context.
When I think about why this might be I think its because of a fixation on the learning with aspect, perhaps because in its zeitgeisty construction it represents something that is an appealing concept but much harder to execute (for many of the reasons that Henry Jenkins identifies here). Reading Marchant and Jenkins this week has suggested to me that learning about and learning from social networks are probably integral to developing the faculties to create strong educational experiences with (and within) social networking sites.
On a separate but related note, I went to Facebook HQ this evening for a reception that reminded me of how much online interactions sustain community in an increasingly busy world. I’m struck by how long it had been since I saw many of the people there, but how because I ‘see’ so many of them on Facebook and Twitter especially it didn’t feel like that at all. This isn’t a consciously curated network, but rather one which has grown organically through the overlapping spaces many of us find ourselves in, but it serves to create a sense of communal dialogue and momentum which I think is quite cool. Also, they had coding problems to solve on the back of their toilet doors. Nuff said.