Teachers & Social Networking

British Journal of Educational Technology Vol 43 No 5 2012 754-769

As part of my assignment on learning technologies, I have done some literature searches. My intent is to critically evaluate a series of articles which look at the impact of Social Media on education. I am not starting in any particular order, just in the order in which I found them. I am trying to evaluate the evidence which looks specifically at Social Media and any effect it has on enhancing knowledge & skills. It would be helpful if you could read what I have written and post any comments. These may be questions about the article, experiences you have had or just some good old fashioned advice.

The first article I looked at was unfortunately quite long but very relevant. It had a particularly good section on the theoretical background. The article is divided into two. A very comprehensive and well referenced technical background followed by the research itself. For this blog entry (and in attempt to keep things brief), I will summarise the background. The research itself may take me a bit more time to digest & appraise but will be published in due course.

Firstly, some facts & figures (as of 2011). Facebook (FB) has 900 million users. Two thirds of adults use Social Networking Sites. Facebook is the commonest site visited on higher educational college campuses. Professional Facebooking is a relatively new phenomenon (FB for professional reasons) and has not been explored as much. This study attempted to research the professional uses of FB amongst Italian teachers and evaluate its impact.

Lifelong learning is a fundamental part of life, not just of compulsory education. It can be described as career related continuous learning as a pattern of formal and informal activities that people sustain over time for the benefit of their career development’ (London & Smither 1999). Ultimately it is about continually updating skills & knowledge. Information & Communication technology (ICT) has driven changes in the workforce to adapt to new technologies. However ICT has also been a driver for change: the concept of learning anytime & anywhere. The authors believe it is not the technology but the way it is implemented and used which it is used which can enhance learning & knowledge. I would agree with this.

Social networks & social capital have introduced the concept of latent ties (the section of the FB interface which has ‘users you may know’). These latent ties can be converted to weak ties, so called bridging. This is important when we consider Networks of Practice (NOPs). The Concept of ‘communities of practice’ (COPs) was first described by Wenger in 1998. He described 3 parts to them: Domain – identity defined by a shared domain of interest. Community – members engage in joint practices to share information. Practice – Shared repertoire of resources. COPs apply to interdependent practitioners who share & co-ordinate practice. NOPs apply to a collective of all practitioners of a particular practice. COPs are therefore a subset of NOPs (Brown & Duguid 2000). NOPs by their nature are wider groups of like minded individuals. An analogy I recently encountered was at a course where I met other GPs with an interest in education. Before, there was possibly an exchange of phone numbers or an e-mail address. However I would argue how many times have you looked at your contacts some time later & deleted those contact details because nothing has come of it. A NOP is an entity which exists but is enhanced by SNS. This study looked at groups which started as Facebook groups and were actively exchanging ideas, sharing knowledge and engaging in online discussion.

To finish, I think of one of my GP Trainer work colleagues who is soon to be moving to Scotland. He has got a Twitter account & is engaging in both this & my blog. However as a GP, he has joined the PBSGL we have established in Salisbury Plain. I hope he will continue to make contributions and we will all share best practice via the blog. This, to me, is what a NOP should represent.

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