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Professional Online Social Networks

This year I had the privilege to attend once again to Ulearn and, once again, I witnessed the power of collaboration, interconnectedness and networking, jumping from device to device, Tweetting, Facebook-ing, and Linkedin-ing whilst trying to make sense of this tsunami of  platforms and ways of using them.

According to Melhuish (2013) " System components, such as groups and forum threads, can enable collaboration, connectivity, openness and information sharing, as well as providing platforms to generate new knowledge, co-ordinate resources and participation, and access diverse perspectives". However, "Just because one is sharing information in a social network site does not mean that the comments one provides are theory driven or particularly formative in ways that impact on practice" (McLoughlin & Lee, 2010).

The Open University Innovation Report (2016) also supports the idea that social media "can support creativity, collaboration, communication and sharing of resources", since if "the pedagogy is successful, social media can give learners reliable and interesting content, as well as opportunities to access expert advice, to encounter challenges, to defend their views and to amend their ideas in the face of criticism". 



It is undeniable that social media is a powerful tool, both to connect and engage with our students. Paraphrasing one of the key note speakers at Ulearn: this is their language. However, I agree with Melhuish in that "while the value of engaging and networking seem to be positive, such actions do not, of themselves, bring about enhancements in practice" (2013). The challenge for teachers is to understand the processes behind these social practices in order to develop a relevant pedagogic approach that integrates social networking practices into teaching and learning, driven by a clear learning purpose that would primarily benefit the learner..

My school discourages the use of social media between teachers and students. However, harnessing the power of video teaching and learning leads us necessarily towards YouTube. Most of my students access tutorials in this platform (some created by me, some created by past or advanced students). Also, Senior students use blogs to create and manage their portfolio of interactions. However, although these practices could be categorised as social media use, they are used mainly in isolation, approaching them more from a "consumer" perspective rather than as collaboration or socialisation. 

However, it is a part of my professional development that I can make use of social media in a more creative way (maybe because of it is mainly self-directed). Facebook and Twitter have both offered me a platform to connect with like-minded teachers, collaborate and share ideas around shifting practices in order to start introducing more new technologies and social platforms. 

I also use professional online communities such as TES Online and Quizlet to share resources with teachers from around the world. Some authors see this sharing as less practice-driven, since there is no active collaborative engagement. However, I think that critically analysing resources also forces us to compare our practice to that of others and therefore requires positioning,  which itself can lead to a shift in practice.

We are just starting to scratch the surface of social media integration. We are still dealing with boundaries and its ethical implications (which scare many professionals) as well as the setting of collective versus private identities. We are just starting to understand how (and why) people engage with social media and we are still to devise a way to integrate it professionally and systematically into our T&L. At the end of the day we must learn to use this "learning space that has multiple entrance and exit points [...] that an individual may find accidentally and with no intention of staying for long"  (Sharples et al., 2016).

References:

McLoughlin, C., & Lee, M. J. W. (2010). Developing an online community to promote engagement and professional learning for pre-service teachers using social software tools. Journal of Cases on Information Technology, 12(1), 17–30.

Melhuish, K.(2013). Online social networking and its impact on New Zealand educators’ professional learning. Master Thesis. The University of Waikato.

Sharples, M., de Roock , R., Ferguson, R., Gaved, M., Herodotou, C., Koh, E., Kukulska-Hulme, A., Looi,C-K, McAndrew, P., Rienties, B., Weller, M., Wong, L. H. (2016). Innovating Pedagogy 2016: Open University Innovation Report 5. Milton Keynes: The Open University. Retrieved from http://proxima.iet.open.ac.uk/public/innovating_pedagogy_2016.pdf

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