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Students Getting Social at School
by Art Titzel

Model of Learning U.S. Department of Education, 2010The challenge for our education system is to leverage technology to create relevant learning experiences that mirror students’ daily lives and the reality of their futures.  We live in a highly mobile, globally connected society in which young Americans will have more jobs and more careers in their lifetimes than their parents.  Learning can no longer be confined to the years we spend in school or the hours we spend in the classroom: It must be lifelong, lifewide, and available on demand.

--2010 U.S. Department of Education’s report, Transforming American Education, Learning Powered by Technology.

For the first time in history ordinary people around the world are publishing, sharing, collaborating, and talking with one another about anything, and everything.  Sadly, too much of this free flow of knowledge takes place outside the confines of school.  Even if a teacher wanted to connect her students to this global dialogue her school filtering system most likely would prevent it from happening.  In this environment students learn that learning is passive and that they are merely cogs in an impersonal education-industrial testing complex.  To be relevant in the age we presently live in schools need to give students and teachers the tools to be social learners.

If we value the ability of our students to think critically and to connect with a personal learning network made up of teachers, peers, mentors and parents then we need to open our school filtering systems to allow access to social media tools.  Only then can we begin to effectively teach students the skills of lifelong learning in the 21st century.

  • How to access valid and reliable information online
  • How to be a safe and responsible citizen while online
  • How to locate and engage with a personal learning network
If schools don’t get serious about allowing students to get connected and social while at school then schools will fail to teach students how to learn and be good citizens in a digital age. Abdicating the teaching of 21st century skills will only be effective if time begins to reverse itself and students begin to graduate in the antiquated 20th century where schools were factories that molded students for work on the assembly line.  However, If time continues its linear path (as I believe it will)  then students will need to be adept at tapping into the global information superhighway in order to be productive citizens.  

Thankfully, I teach in a school system that allows students to access the global information superhighway.  For the last several years every student in my class has had a 1:1 access to a laptop.  The following are the tools that allow my students to be social in my 1:1 classroom:
  • Google Docs--Students collaborate, peer edit, and much more.
  • Wikis (like Wikispaces)--Students post daily assignments, take notes, and collaborate.
  • Edmodo--Students submit assignments, discuss, and ask questions.
  • VoiceThread--Students share, comment, and learn from one another.
  • Skype--Students talk and learn from other students outside their school and community.
These tools, and many others, have allowed my students to learn from one another.  For example, my students video chatted with a school in Tennessee that was devastated by tornadoes.  By doing so students learned that current events have a face and is personal, which effectively shrinks the world they live in.  Additionally, my students do more writing, creating and sharing as a result of their technology rich classroom.  While learning about the Civil War my students used Google Docs, their class wiki, and Edmodo to organize and collaborate their research on the effect of the War on people’s lives.  The result was a student produced documentary style video with musical contributions from professional musicians Jay Ungar and Molly Mason. Another project that involved students being social in class was their Constitution Simplified video where students worked together to summarize and illustrate key concepts within the Constitution. See samples of my students social learning:

This year I am looking forward to enriching the social learning experience of my students and parents.  I will be experimenting with a Facebook Group to push information out to parents and pull them to our Team Wiki and Edmodo.  I will also be teaching students how to use Twitter as a way to find information and begin to develop a personal learning network.  Finally, I would like to experiment with Google+, since the ability to create and manage groups in Google Circles seems to me to be very useful in a school setting.  

Opening up a schools’ filtering system to allow for social learning will help to prepare students for their future and not our past.  Isn’t that what education should be about?

In my last blog post I detailed 3 ways technology has allowed teachers to “break down the classroom walls” by having students Get Social, Get Personal, and Get Flipped.  My next two posts will detail the need to Get Personal and Get Flipped.

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About Art

Art Titzel teaches 8th grade American Cultures at Hershey Middle School in Pennsylvania. He is interested in how access to social and digital media can transform teaching and learning by allowing students to create their own personal learning environment. Also, of interest, is how digital learning can best be used to make the study of history relevant and engaging for all learners. Mr. Titzel earned his B.S. in Secondary Education from Penn State University in 1992, an M.A. in American Studies from Penn State-Harrisburg in 2001, and is currently in the process of earning an M.S. in Learning Technologies from Harrisburg University of Science and Technology. Follow him on Twitter at @titzel.