Living (and learning) with social media

Posted on September 29, 2016


When I applied to join the faculty at GWU this year, I spent a lot of time working on my statement of teaching philosophy. I hadn’t written anything like this before, and wanted to make sure that my approach to teaching was informed, and appropriate to the types of subjects I’d be teaching. One of the pedagogic approaches I was most interested in was connected learning, which utilises digital media and online networks to enable personalised and integrated teaching.

According to Mimi Ito et al., connected learning is:

socially embedded, interest-driven, and oriented toward educational, economic, or political opportunity. [It] is realized when a young person pursues a personal interest or passion with the support of friends and caring adults, and is in turn able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career possibilities, or civic engagement.

Connected learning is founded on three core values: equity, full participation, and social connection. Its learning principles propose that learning should be interest-powered (enabling personalised learning pathways), peer-supported, and academically oriented, while its design principles focus on learning that is production-centered (it should involve making or doing), openly networked, and have a shared purpose (we should be working towards common goals). These ideas largely align with the values of musetech, so it made sense to bring them to the classroom when teaching on subjects related to museum digital tech and social media.

The semester is five weeks in, and already this pedagogic approach is surfacing some interesting issues. As I mentioned in my last post, I assigned weekly blogging and Twitter participation to both classes. One student recently mentioned that she found it unnerving to have interaction with a professor outside the normal bounds of in-class interactions. She was uncertain how to react when I replied to her Tweets. Other students, too, expressed some doubt about what kind of online response would be appropriate (e.g. are gifs ok?). This kind of context collapse is frequent on social media, but this feedback reminded me that there are critical social boundaries–particularly related to authority relationships–to be negotiated in connected learning contexts. Even though I was undoubtably in my student’s imagined audience for class-related Tweets, she still felt uncertain about how to interact in the semi-public online environment.

What are the implications–seen and unseen–of breaking down those boundaries? How is the performance of identity between the student and professor (especially the identities we affect in class) impacted by interaction outside the classroom? Is there a renegotiation of the power or authority relationship between the students and me, and the expectations we each have of the other? If so, how might that impact learning?

Prompting the students to work in public can be unnerving for me. As with any new course, I’m still working out what does and doesn’t work with my teaching material, and I’ve felt vulnerable having it reflected out to the world. That said, it’s fascinating to discover which ideas and examples student are connecting to in almost live-time. There is an immediacy to the feedback that I’d otherwise find hard to get, and while it can be confronting to see discussions in the classroom reflected out in the world, it’s useful, too. (It’s also lovely to have a whole new pool of thinkers to draw upon.)

I’m sure my thinking on this approach to teaching will develop. In the meantime, I’d love to hear more about your experiences with connected learning approaches to education, whether in your museum, university, or other areas. Mike Murawski has written about his experiences with connected learning, and the Peabody Essex Museum recently advertised for a connected learning developer, so I know these ideas are surfacing around the sector. Let me know what you’ve been learning.

How have you seen connected learning practices manifest? What kind of experiences and reflections have they prompted for you?