Thursday, June 17, 2010

Use of Social Media in Education More Widespread Than Previously Thought

What is interesting in this recent Education Week article, Social Networking Goes to School by Michelle R Davis, are the varied --and non obvious uses of social media for teaching. Principal Eric C. Sheninger, the princial of New Milford High School New Jersey may represent the change that has occured over the past year or so in educator attitudes to social media. He is quoted as stating to Education Week--"I used to be the administrator that blocked every social-media site, and now I’m the biggest champion,” Now the "school’s official Facebook page keeps its 1,100 fans updated on sports events and academic achievements. Students who traveled to Europe this spring for a tour of Holocaust sites blogged daily about their experiences, and received comments from all over the world. Other students have used the video voice service Skype to talk to their peers in states like Iowa for school projects."

These factoids included in the article help explain the trend:

o A study by the Washington-based Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project released early this year found that 73 percent of Americans ages 12 to 17 now use social-networking websites, up from 55 percent in 2006.

o Individual teachers having the initiative and skills now to host their own projects as for example a Welsh teachers decision in 2008, Charline Evans --a Welsh teacher "to visit and connect 80 schools around the world."Her route took her across the 7 continents and through over 30 countries to visit a further 78 schools before returning to Wales for the 80th school, Maes-yr-Haul Primary in Bridgend, South Wales.Each school produced a film representing their country and culture."

o Advances in cell phone networking technology so that "Project K-Nect, a grant-funded program that uses smartphones as teaching tools in a handful of North Carolina school districts, allows students to instant-message their peers and teachers with questions on math homework at any time of the day or night. Students can also post questions and answers to school math blogs, where a student struggling with algebra could find several classmates willing to walk him or her through a problem or even post video of the best way to solve it."

o Twitter's ease of use has enabled the easy formation of mini international professional development communities For example "One of the most popular types of educator events on Twitter are “EdChats”—one-hour conversations that take place every Tuesday around a particular topic. The chats are the brainchild of several educators, including Thomas Whitby, a co-creator of a 3,700-member Ning site called The Educator’s PLN, for “professional-learning network.”

Principal Eric Sheninger, takes Twitter one step futher than most--he was able to connect with "a company that donated technology equipment and training to the school, and he linked up with CBS News, which brought national exposure to the high school’s programs."

Something interesting is happening in schools these days and it would pay us to look closer.

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