Schools promote drivers ed – learning by driving with guidance. Schools should do same with social media.

When students reach a certain age and responsibility level, I believe that school should permit – promote even – the use of various social media tools. I think we should “Be safe and teach them to drive.” If we truly  are preparing students to lead and serve in a changing world, then we should teach students to utilize respectfully and responsibly the methods and processes that can be used in an engaged and purposeful citizenry. Literacy in today’s terms essentially demands that schools take an active role in educating our learners about how to connect with others from whom we can learn and with whom we can contribute to causes of import and worth.

I regularly think and engage with others about the reasons why students should or should not be allowed to use social media as part of school. These sessions, of course, include the opportunities, as well as the potential consequences. Perhaps soon, I will try to write a post that summarizes more of these ledger items, arranged as assets and liabilities. For now, though, I am focusing on two aspects of social media that I crave for my students: 1) encouragement and interaction from a wider, more authentic audience, and 2) opportunities to engage in civil discourse to develop one’s thinking and understanding.

1. Encouragement and Interaction from a Wider, More Authentic Audience

On Friday, December 23, 2011, I published a blog post entitled “Homework – Conforming to School Norms, Opps for Exploration, Unnecessary, Essential?” Moments after pressing the publish button, the following response came via Twitter (see image).

I know @occam98 personally; we work together at the same school. As a colleague and as an educator, I admire and respect @occam98, and I value his feedback and encouragement. To my knowledge, though, I have never met @bauerphysics. Because @occam98 tweeted about my blog, I now have encouragement and support from another educational thinker and teacher. Such feedback is wonderful. And, thanks to these two immediate responses, I may garner more comments on the actual blog post that will help me further to develop my thinking and understanding about homework as a school practice.

What if my exploration about the practice of homework were more confined, as if I could only talk to my immediate classmates and my teacher about my developing thinking and research about homework? I would have fewer potential network nodes on which to connect my thinking and learning. For students, I wish that they could engage in such connected communication through appropriate use of social media in schools. Some schools permit such use. Some schools promote it. Other schools forbid such use. Yet many students use social media independent of school. Duh! I prefer that students have the opportunity to benefit from the co-pilots, navigators, and coaches who are their school teachers (in addition to their parents). With such over-the-shoulder Yoda-dom for the emerging Luke Skywalkers, I believe students can safely interact and receive encouragement from the “teachers” whom they’ve never met in person…without turning to the Dark Side.

2. Opportunities to engage in civil discourse to develop one’s thinking and understanding

On the same day that Twitter brought the responses detailed above, I also engaged in another Twitter discussion with an acquaintance and a never-before-met-face-to-face person. If I am remembering correctly, I believe I met @SarahebKaiser at a Solution Tree event. But I have never met @Paul_Mugan. As in the above example, Sarah tweeted a blog post that I had written (“Pracademics”). I deeply appreciated the tweet and the encouragement, like I appreciated the support from @occam98 and @bauerphysics. In this second example, though, my learning advanced as a result of a different kind of online interaction than I had had in the first case. During this second case, I enjoyed participating in a fairly vigorous civil discourse, from which I grew immensely.

@Paul_Mugan, a follower of @SarahebKaiser, disagreed with an idea that Sarah tweeted – an idea specifically drawn from my “Pracademics” blog post. What then transpired was a fabulous learning opportunity for me…with a “stranger.” In the Scribd document below, I provide a taste of the dialogue and discussion. I did not capture the entire conversation on Scribd, but one could find the full exchange on Twitter. In total, I think over 30 exchanges occurred. We discussed and debated the nature of learning – acquiring versus applying knowledge. My views and opinions on the topic were both reinforced and altered. I grew tremendously in my understanding of learning – a topic that I think about quite actively. And thanks to an acquaintance and a “stranger,” I was able to think even more actively through the course of a civil disagreement and interchange. The back-and-forth provided a great opportunity for me to develop even more perspective consciousness about the complex domain of learning.

I would love for students to experience more opportunities for such civil discourse. Potential debates and discussions and teachers and learning opportunities are everywhere. With open minds and open media, we can immerse ourselves in invaluable conversations.

Also, as students engage in more project-based learning, I believe that their school activities increasingly  will tend to address various issues that confront our communities. Through such connected-communication tools as WordPress and Twitter, our students could write about their growing understanding of the issues (like our Writing Workshop: Environmental Studies eighth graders do on WordPress). Blog posts could be tweeted and readers from around the globe could engage in great discussion and civil discourse about the issues. With coaching from trusted teachers, our students could both solidify and expand their understanding. Students could connect with other thinkers and advocates on such issues as obesity, the importance of sleep, computer-assisted language translation, mass-scale window gardening, and developing better prosthetic limbs for amputees (all topics that have recently benefited from open-source problem solving). I would love for more students to contribute to such problem finding and problem solving.


Because of the connected learning in which I am involved, I believe my knowledge and understanding has accelerated exponentially in the last two years – yesterday alone provided a hyper-speed movement of my thinking on homework and learning. “School” is anytime and anywhere for me now. What’s more, on a sociological level, I tend to believe that people are good and want to help – I experience such examples from “strangers” on a daily basis now. And as a teacher, I want these lessons and perspectives for my students, too.

Tilling some soil and playing with links – some rough draft blogging to think out loud

Third graders at The Kincaid School in Texas are cultivating their learning in a community garden of global connectedness:

At my school the 3rd grade teachers have established a terrific blogging program for our 3rd graders. Not only do our students blog openly but they also visit and comment on other blogs. This year, a comment that a 3rd grader made on the blog of an author of a book his class was reading started a process that ended up with the author having a Skype call with the student’s 3rd grade class. [empasis added]

– Larry Kahn,

Bravo to these third grade teachers and their students for growing positive digital footprints among an authentic audience of beyond-school readers and thinkers. Such connectedness and the powerful learning that can come from such harvest are under-surface themes of @jgough’s latest post, “Integrated Studies: Gardening, Obesity, Open Source Learning.” Moreover, @whatedsaid placed the exclamation mark on the themes with her post, “What does it mean to be educated?

Most students want to grow something meaningful by planting seeds, watering and fertilizing the sprouts, and sharing the harvest of their labors. As the students in Edna’s video proclaim – to be educated means to seize opportunities to make a positive difference in this world. We teachers should make sure that we are facilitating that “playing in the soil” at least as much as we are asking students to read from a recipe book. In my opinion, students should be doing the gardening and recipe creating much more than just following others’ recipes. Students deserve to be creators, not just consumers. In so doing, they just might learn better to feed themselves as lifelong gardeners and inventors…I mean learners – lifelong learners.

Knowing versus doing. Knowledge versus wisdom.

It is no longer enough to know. Learning is about so much more than radio-receiver information gathering. Education must help us learn what we can (and should) do with our growing knowledge. I believe such is called wisdom.

One of the most important things we can do is teach our students how to use social media wisely, and how social media can be used for social good.

– Shelly Wright

Life in an Inquiry Driven, Technology Embedded, Connected Classroom: English