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.

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