By Jennifer Casa-Todd
I remember George Couros when he came to our District, asking the question, “If you don’t know what a hashtag is are you considered illiterate today?”
I thought about that as I read a recent article by CEO of Hootsuite, Social media skills millenials lack. Ryan Holmes states that using social media effectively is “the most important digital skill for tomorrow’s CEOs” He refers to a “social media gap” which is further supported by ProfessorWilliam Ward, professor of social media at Syracuse University, who states “Students using digital and social media professionally in an integrated and strategic way have an advantage. [They’re] getting better jobs and better internships …”
The fact is, students are good at connecting with people they already know, but don’t understand how to network professionally. I would add they don’t often know how it works for learning either.
That is a compelling reason to incorporate social media in the context of the classroom and yet there is a real reluctance to do this by many Districts.
What are the barriers to this?
Firstly, there is a gap in curricular guidance and support but also especially since the practices are rapidly evolving. Some teachers feel they can’t keep up. Secondly, and probably most prevalently is the fact that “these dynamic multi-modal and mobile practices are at odds with the tightly framed definitions of literacy that dominate many educational contexts” (Burnett, & Merchant, 2015, 272). I have been expanding my thinking around how we define literacy for some time now.
Rather than engaging in the opportunity to engage with a variety of media to help students understand the forms and techniques, we often focus on traditional reading and writing tasks which in no means is bad, but does not offer students some of the skills they will need in the workplace.
Doug Belshaw, in The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies says, “When it comes to developing digital literacies, therefore, negotiating online social networks becomes important on many levels. At the most basic procedural level there is the understanding that, for example, Twitter allows only 140 characters whereas other social networks do not tend to limit text input. More conceptual is an understanding of hashtags as ‘channels’ of communication and how these can be appropriated and re-appropriated by groups and loose networks of individuals.”
One research study suggests that we not only expand the kinds of texts that students produce, but that we provide “contexts in which students can draw in open-ended ways across this developing repertoire [of literacy strategies] to combine and remix varied textual and linguistic practices within contexts that matter to them. (Burnett, Merchant, 2015, pg 271).
Rheingold, a social media scholar and instructor at the University of California Berkley and Stanford, discusses five “social media literacies”.
(1) attention: the ability to identify when focused attention is required and to recognize when multitasking is beneficial;
(2) participation: more than consumers, participants actively participate-knowing when and how to participate is important;
(3) collaboration: participants can achieve more by working together than they can working alone;
(4) network awareness: an understanding of social and technical networks;
(5) critical consumption: identifying trustworthiness of the author or text (Rheingold, 2010).
Rheingold believes that all of these are interconnected and that they all contribute to a “way of being” and when I consider these, I see so much overlap with traditional information and media literacy. And yet, with all of the curriculum expectations required I can see why teachers might feel like this is an add-on.
Which other factors might be holding us back from doing using social media in the classroom? Doug Belshaw (2014) suggests that we are continuing to evaluate and consider literacy from an analogue perspective, without the recognition that digital technology has created completely different environments for learners.
A few wonderings:
- What are some of the ways Districts can support teachers to explore the use of social media in the classroom with students in meaningful, authentic, and guided ways?
- What support(s) do we need to model and explore social media literacies together in the context of an English, History, or Geography class? Are those at a school level? a District level? a Ministry level?
- How can we show kids that social media can be used beyond just connecting with friends, but for learning and sharing their learning?
- To what extent are we limiting our definitions of literacy based on our own past experiences? How might we expand these?
- What are your own experiences with social media in the classroom?
Belshaw, Doug (2015) The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies.http://dougbelshaw.com/ebooks/digilit/
boyd, d. m., & Ellison, N. B. (2007). Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship.Journal of Computer‐Mediated Communication, 13(1), 210-230. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00393
Burnett, C., & Merchant, G. (2015). The challenge of 21st‐Century literacies. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy,59(3), 271-274. doi:10.1002/jaal.482
Holmes, Ryan. “5 Social Media Skills Millennials Lack.” Fortune. N.p., 27 Mar. 2014. Web. 15 July 2016.
Rheingold, H. (2010). Attention, and other 21st-century social media literacies. Educause Review,45(5), 14-24. Retrieved June 12, 2016, from http://er.educause.edu/articles/2010/10/attention-and-other-21stcentury-social-media-literacies