Social Media becomes Participatory Media

At the beginning of the school year, I mentioned to my colleagues that I would like to examine the ways that social media may be leveraged for professional development. 

Then, a few weeks ago, I shared some of my personal experiences with Twitter. In March 2006, I didn’t understand Twitter, but I did know that cell phones had irrevocably changed the classroom.

Initially, I observed the cell phone bringing the extended social lives of my students into the classroom, and I wanted  to find a way to bring the classroom-learning into their social lives. I set about creating a set of short podcasts about some of the key media concepts on this edublog.

I thought the Twitter application could send these audio files to their cell phones and I imagined my students walking home, phones ringing in their pockets, and listening to me “tweeting” a media studies concept in their ears.

I was wrong about the way the technology worked, but not about the potential.

I kept trying to understand and use Twitter in a functional way to promote connected learning. I’d read an article about an acting troupe in the UK using Twitter to perform Romeo and Juliet. My grade 10 class formed groups, signed up as a character in the play, followed other group members, and started to Tweet in character as we read and talked about the play. 

Very quickly, I realized that the online discussion and interaction among students gave voice to those more introverted students, to those less inclined to speak out in class. They could demonstrate learning and understanding of the characters in a different way participating and engaging with digital interaction using a digital voice. Four years later, a student now in university, told me this was one of her most memorable lessons.

Henry Jenkins refers to “social media” as “participatory media” pointing out that these sharing platforms distribute power, encourage collaboration, and foster an open culture of sharing.

“Social media” as a term can hold negative connotations which, for some, conjure up ideas of bullying and mindlessness. 

On the other hand, “participatory media” as a term speaks to concepts of justice and civic engagement.

It is easy to blame the technology for social ills. Dana Boyd talks about this so eloquently in her conversation with Krista Tippet about the social lives of networked teens.

After six years of exploring the landscape of social media, I am changing my language from “social media” to “participatory media”. “Participatory” allows me to include a range of platforms where sharing and collaboration takes place, such as Google docs, Google communities, websites, blogs and more. Participatory media allows me to create sound files of lessons for sharing, to create a space where students can demonstrate knowledge, and to share these thoughts in this blog.


On Being and Listening

My moments of personal reflection and contemplation happen most often when my body is moving, when I’m running or walking, and listening to either a podcast or my inner voice….or both.

Today, I was listening to this podcast from the website On Being with Krista Tippet

She interviews a research psychologist and 
Arthur Zajonc (who) is a physicist and contemplative, who believes that the farthest frontiers of science are bringing us back to a radical reorientation towards life and the foundations for our moral life.”

I was walking and listening to the podcast thinking this topic had no connection to my professional life as a teacher and Instructional coach. My mind was freely venturing with the movement of my body when Zajonc said there are problems with the way scientists use the models of physics. He said that scholars can “fall in love with the model” forgetting about the lived experience.

I physically altered my gait feeling that moment of cognitive connection. His words reminded me about the models in my profession, the models of best practices, the models of Instructional Strategies which I’ve immersed myself in over these past few weeks. I must guard against “falling in love with the model” of evidence based instructional strategies by honouring the lived experiences of teachers. 

I won’t discard the models, but they only yield learning through experience.

He also said that “knowledge cannot be something you just move across a table“, and I listened to his description of the “epiphanic moments” in teaching a class, when his enthusiasm for the content, or the way of thinking, or the interconnectedness of life overwhelms him and he sees this echoed back, reflected in the “ah ha” moment so visibly evident on the face of his students. 

I’ve been fortunately enough to have lived that experience in the classroom and felt the humility in that moment of insight which was not mine and yet I was there. 

My Journey of Learning: Faith and Failure in Knowing

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by how much I need to know about learning and teaching. Actually, that’s not quite accurate; often, I feel overwhelmed by how much I want to know.

When I first started teaching Media Studies using the film, The Matrix, I noted some of the philosophical underpinnings and wanted to learn more. The clip below comes back to me often; it opens with symbols of faith followed by a leader who acknowledges his limitations in knowing. 

“There is so much in this world that I do not understand.” My sentiments exactly.

The councillor goes on to say that he knows there must be a reason that Neo can do what he does, and I think the councillor is commenting on faith as a necessary part of the human experience. We need to believe that sometimes we don’t know.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m frequently curious and it’s been suggested that I have the characteristics of someone with Attention Deficit Disorder. I purposefully have had to work on developing strategies to stay on task, and to avoid doing too much. 

So this morning, while sitting down with my morning coffee, I set about the task of writing my first blog post to chronicle my journey of learning. I’d been reading this site about Metacognition when I came across this TED talk about learning styles:

TEDx: Learning styles and the importance of critical self-reflection: Tesia Marshik

This video showed me that there is evidence to suggest that preferences in learning styles don’t enhance the learning, that changing our beliefs is really hard, but we must be willing to face different perspectives.

We can learn in different ways and we are not as limited as we think we are

I need to have faith in the fact that I will fail, and faith in the fact that I am not as limited as I think I am.

I need to learn that feeling overwhelmed depends on me, and how I choose to carry the load that I lift.