Monday, 3 November 2008


I got a few blog posts behind last week, so saved them up for this week, as I'm having a few days leave in the Lake District and won't have anything work related to blog about!

Sarah Robbins, (aka Intellagirl - have a look at her site) gave a very good talk on Social Media and Education: The conflict between technology and institutional education and the future

Sarah started by postulating that many of the benefits of institutional learning can now be accomplished via social media. If we (as University staff) don’t realise this we will get left behind and possibly replaced. She compared what HE offered with what role social media can play:

What does HE offer?
  • Membership of intellectual and social affinity groups
  • Engaging in intellectual discussions
  • Access to resources and experts
  • Official endorsement of completion ie graduation
  • Accumulate and develop skills for employment
  • Association with professional communities
  • Guidance through experiences and thought processes
What role does social media play in the lives of those engaged in it?
  • Self expression – can upload anything you’ve created and share it with the world
  • Sharing enthusiasms for common interests – web sites, blogs, wikis ,
  • Access to experts and personalities –people you might never meet face to face _ (see TED talks)
  • Enhanced personal and professional reputation – you can create on-line portfolios
  • The ability to build and share skills. The example here was the “You Suck at Photoshop” videos.. which were put together by an out of work graphic designer.
Social media changes who we can reach and how many we can reach. Web 2.0 facilitates two way communication – the difference between giving a lecture and having a discussion. Social media creates new ways to learn without the communities and structures created by institutions. You don’t have to sign up for a class to learn Photoshop for example, although students do have to have some critical literacy skills to recognise what’s good and what isn’t.

What is the educator’s role in a world where production and consumption of information has become:
  • Democratic – Wikpedia vs Encyclopedia Britannica
  • Amateur –eg you tube – a student can film a video in their free time and millions of people can watch it
  • Distributed – information is spread out – being aggregated by sites like delicious – imagine going into a library and finding every book had been reviewed by students.
Educators are not the gatekeepers of knowledge, but need to teach students how to learn in an information economy. Access to information is their right and their responsibility. They need to be taught the importance of contributing to a community - they are global citizens now. Academic staff need to be relating to students as more experienced co-creators, serving as guides as students shape their own paths. The world is out there – they are not limited by the resources we can provide.

In a world of social media, the role of the educator is more important then ever.

Enjoyable talk, but my thoughts were perhaps summed up by someone who asked a question about the appropriateness of using this type of learning for all disciplines - would you really want to drive over a bridge where the bridge builder had learned his skills from Wikipedia? No, not necessarily - you'd want some formal imparting of facts, theories etc which have been peer reviewed. But social media does still have a part to play in discussions, inquiry based learning etc

A video of the session is here

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