The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the South Australian Department for Education and Child Development
The Learning place
I learned something. I know that I learned, because I was definitely in that squirmy, uncomfortable place between understanding and not quite grasping – on the edge, the precipice if you will, between knowing and not knowing. It was a bit precarious for a while there, hanging on by a fingernail waiting for my credibility to tumble into the abyss. Because not knowing can be a very vulnerable place, yet it is somewhere we place students every day. Discomfort is the seated emotion, I think, of real, deeper learning.
So how did I arrive at this uncomfortable place? At a recent professional development, my team presented a session on contemporary, connected learning and I was asked to talk about social media as a tool for learning. So I trolled through research looking for evidence that it was actually a good tool for learning, just to support my case and credential the message. But two or three days before the session I experienced the power of social media first hand.
Like most people I use Facebook and twitter – I dream of posting a tweet and seeing it on QandA, because like lots of others I am greedy for tiny titbits of fame! When someone retweets me I am awash with pride. Ridiculous though this may be it is what keeps me going back and checking my twitter feed. That, and I follow a lot of interesting people who have the ability to send you on a labyrinthine like journey through hyperlinks to all four corners of the Internet universe, consuming a staggering amount of time but also, I think, creating a path for pursuing dialogue and interest.
A girlfriend who had asked me how to use twitter had no sooner started but was recommending that I follow a group called “Destroy the Joint”. How did she find it before me? I was feeling a little out of the loop so I did follow them and found ,myself in that labyrinth, following links to all sorts of online news generators of which I had scarcely any knowledge. The story goes thus, Alan Jones, a radio shock jock in my conceptual framework but described by his station as…Australia’s most popular talkback presenter, Alan Jones is a phenomenon. He’s described by many as the nation’s greatest orator and motivational speaker. Alan has the mind and capacity to make complex issues understandable to the largest Breakfast audience in Australia. (Let’s hope lunch and dinner listeners can decipher complex issues for themselves and avoid oversimplification that often descends into vitriolic rhetoric). On Friday August 31, 2012 he is quoted as saying
“She [Prime Minister Julia Gillard] said that we know societies only reach their full potential if women are politically participating,” he told his listeners. ”Women are destroying the joint – Christine Nixon in Melbourne, Clover Moore here. Honestly.”
So in response, Jane Caro a freelance author and frequent commentator on The Gruen Transfer, tweeted
“Got time on my hands tonight so thought I’d spend it coming up with new ways of ”destroying the joint” being a woman & all. Ideas welcome.”
Over the following four days the hash tag “destroythejoint” trended on Twitter with well over 20,000 tweets, using it as a call to action for women to describe the ways in which they contribute positively to society and hence transforming the oppressive intention of “Destroying the joint “ into a term that meant the opposite. Indeed the folks at Destroy The Joint on Facebook state the term “destroy the joint” or… “destroying the joint” has entered the Australian lexicon. It rejects the suggestion that women are destroying the joint and represents a call to action for Australians who reject sexism and seek a civil and decent society. We’re not out to destroy the joint – that was someone else’s description. We’re rebuilding it with good humour and optimism…
Men and women took up the call to action. Tom Cummings who Tweets as @cyene40 wrote “Whatever my daughters choose to do with their lives I just hope they find time to #destroy the joint #prouddad
And “Destroy the Joint” have playfully been appropriating twentieth century images, from post war women workers to popular cultural references, to engage social media activists in their mischievous, roguish, yet powerful exposes on sexism everywhere.
They have garnered broad sweeping support and have grown into a movement for social action. Very powerful indeed, their social media presence is extremely active, with 25,000 likes now on their Facebook page alone. For some time now I have enjoyed reading and tweeting with #JointDestroyer – I was even retweeted once which sent that warm flush of belonging right through me to produce about fifty other tweets which were, rightfully, ignored. I joined campaigns on the Facebook page and was feeling my self-esteem balloon as I added “clickivist” to my resume and felt like I was changing the world through my angry, yet witty, commentary. On February 14th, 2013 I joined a campaign to shame advertisers on Alan Jones’ show into withdrawing support for his misogynistic rants.
So I responded, and went to the FB page and registered my dislike for their apparent support of Alan Jones. To which some people had responded with venom
While I was enjoying the to-ing and fro-ing, the banter and debate I was commentating to my husband. He had heard a little about this on the radio (sadly he listens to AM radio and talk-back in particular, I have warned him that this is a slippery slope towards premature old aging) He asked me if the DTJ were taking social action or if they were swamping a website, and was it social action or was it Internet Vandalism?
And it was when my online presence and my real life presence collided that the squirmy discomfort took place. Because now I wasn’t justifying myself to some crazy faceless right wing misogynist, who I noticed I had dehumanised and demonised so that mockery became sport rather than reasoned debate, but to someone I loved and respected. And I did justify myself with persuasive, rational explanation and interrogation into what I was doing. Still, it was an uncomfortable moment. And that is where the learning occurred, in that space. Because while social media is a powerful tool for learning and organising for social action, it must be remembered that online or virtual spaces do not exist in a vacuum from real life spaces.
They coexist and interconnect and this is potentially a powerful place for us as adults and teachers to take kids, to interrogate ideas, debate and apply critical thinking. This is the power of social media.
There is abundant research to support this. Metzger and Flanagin (2008) refer to studies into digital media and youth where they report that Digital Media have escaped the boundaries of professional and formal practice, and the academic, governmental, and industry homes that initially fostered their development. Now they have been taken up by diverse populations and non institutionalised practices, including the peer activities of youth. Although specific forms of technology uptake are highly diverse, a generation is growing up in an era where digital media are part of the taken for granted social and cultural fabric of learning, play and social communication.
Yet it is not taken up in schools with the same vigour that social media is saturating people’s personal lives. The moral panic and fear around privacy issues and cyber bullying prevents a critical mass of take up in schools. Fear of predators is not unwarranted, however, when interviewing my own class I discovered that 90% of them were already on Facebook for example, while being under thirteen. So kids are already out there, the school has a responsibility to bring this popular medium into the regulated school environment where students can be taught about cyber safety in real contexts.
In a study looking at Twitter use, Rinaldo et al 2011 report that in three studies, both quantitative and qualitative data suggest that when students engage in Twitter use with the professor, students feel better prepared for future careers. In addition, students indicate that Twitter facilitates achieving traditional educational goals. Why would we avoid using such a powerful medium within the discursive practes of the classroom?
And there are ways of doing this with under thirteens. Edmodo for example, is a social media site that teachers can use and keep groups private, closed to people outside the immediate school community, which helps minimise fear of predators and brings the medium into the surveying gaze of the teacher. A real-time, virtual space for contextualised teaching about online participation.
Baird and Fischer (2005-2006) report that This net-centric generation values their ability to use the Web to create a self-paced, customized, on-demand learning path that includes multiple forms of interactive, social, and self-publishing media tools.
A colleague of mine has just started using Edmodo and has invited me to be a part of the group. She is however, on her own, experimenting in this space. But I can see that already her students have, to varying degrees, gone in and taught each other how to participate and comment on each other’s learning. And the learning conversation takes place outside of classroom hours as well as within, and homework which always seemed an add on to both of us has come into the classroom sanctioned learning space where children can discuss their work and get help from each other. This is a place where homework is far more likely to be completed and engaged with as part of learning. Social media has enabled this classroom to catch up with the anywhere, anytime experience of learning with which our students are already engaged. Yet why is she the only one brave enough to dip a toe in? In my opinion, the fear and panic around perceived risks of this medium has slowed classroom uptake to the point where engagement with the medium is spasmodic and scattered across the system, rather than strategic.
With mobile devices becoming cheaper and more prevalent, students will be able to connect anywhere any time. The time has come for classrooms then to stop insisting students switch off and power down as they walk in the door, but rather to establish protocols so that students can connect in real and online spaces to deepen and accelerate their learning.
Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner (2010) state that the most enduring impact of social media might be on learning rather than marketing and “our inherent drive to learn together can be facilitated through emerging technologies that extend, widen and deepen our reach (to) enable a new kind of knowledge building ecosystem.
And Education Departments are actually finally catching up. DECD in SA for example has Social Media Guidelines for schools. We need to join the conversations, take up the debates and prepare students to participate fully. Henry Jenkins a researcher into participatory cultures suggests that Changes in the media environment are altering our understanding of literacy and requiring new habits of mind, new ways of processing culture and interacting with the world around us. The safety nets are being put in place, the kids are primed and ready with expertise, and equipment, where there isn’t any in schools, so there is no excuse for classrooms not to experiment, play and ultimately revolutionise learning within dynamic, interactive learning places and spaces.
Baird, D and Fischer M, (2005-06) Neomillenial user experience design strategies: Utilising social networking media to support “always on “ learning styles. Journal of Educational Technology, Volume 34, Number 1 / 2005-2006
Bingham, T and Conner, M (2010), The New Social Learning Berrett Koehler Publishers Inc
Jenkins, H (2007) Confronting the challenges of participatory culture – media education for the 21st century part 2. 2007, Nordic Journal of Literacy Number 2
Metzger, M and Flanagin A (ed) (2008) Digital Media and Youth MIT press 2008
Rinadlo, S, Tapp, S and Laverie, D (2011) Learning by Tweeting: Using Twitter as a pedagogical tool Published online before print May 31, 2011, Journal of Marketing Education, August 2011, vol. 33, no. 2, 193-203