[Edinburgh Skyline--Photo by Shel Israel]
I will spotlight Scotland in Global Neighborhoods because Edublog's Ewan McIntosh introduced me to so many people passionately involved in education in that small UK country. It was in Scotland, where the idea for Global Neighborhoods shifted to a look at a future made more promising when the online generation comes of age.
Among the remarkable people I met were a married couple--both extremely knowledgeable about social media in education --Sean and Kate Farrell. While the bulk of what we discussed was how they used SecondLife with international clusters of teenagers, They also had much to say not just about how they've injected social media into educational curricula, but how they think it is improving both the meat and promise of public school education.
Kate Farrell teaches children and teens in one of the most deprived areas of Scotland. Her central interest is in media education and she only became adept the computer sciences because in Scotland these days--as in california-- it is virtually impossible to get a job in media studies.
Sean is a physics instructor who works as an e-Learning technologist with the Scottish Universities Physics Alliance (SUPA). His job puts him on a virtual team, located at two universities, using the internet to collaborate using open source tools, IM and video conferencing. Before all that he was a test engineer for Sun Microsystems.
This is the first of a two-part interview with the Farrel, covering social media in education. The second part will focus on their remarkable experiences with Second Life and the implications of all this on the future in Scotland and the rest of the connected World.
Q1. There is a great deal going on regarding social media and education in Scotland. Can you share with me some of the highlights? Why do you think so much is happening specifically in Scotland?
Scotland is small, with a population of 5 million and approximately 50 thousand teachers, spread across a fairly wide area that includes difficult-to-access islands. There is a common curriculum for the entire country. Possibly, that makes it easier for teachers to work together, sharing resources. Sharing has evolved. It used to happen through copied disks and photocopies, then mailing lists, email groups and servers you logged into. Now it's happening through wikis, blogs and barcamp-style gatherings. Soon we will hopefully be sharing over an extranet, the Scottish Schools Digital Network or
Ewan McIntosh created an interesting example of teachers working together to share ideas and experiences at a national educational conference. He created TeachMeet, where blogging teachers presented in authentic voices on their practical experiences of using technology and social websites in teaching. The speakers energy really excited the audience. They came away with a can-do attitude. This was seen as providing a very authentic voice in the conference. Real teachers, real students, with interesting stories. It was so successful that a second TeachMeet is planned. Ewan also created a wiki, where teachers are collaborating in between the TeachMeet events.
Q2. What trends do you see for social media in education worldwide? How do you think it will change the world over the next 5-10 years?
If we knew the answers we'd set up our own company and become very rich ;-)
Social media is making it easy tocollaborate between schools and in different countries. Geography is going to become personal as students see people reading their blog and writing on their Bebo pages from Africa or China. I love looking at my blog cluster and geovisitor maps and zooming in on different places in the world where people have viewed my site. I showed it to my pupils recently and they were amazed. One saw the potential immediately, saying "no offence Miss, but you're nothing special." It's true, though. I think its very important for kids to be able to connect to their audience. They are able to publish for the world. They can create videos and share them on YouTube, write stories and be reviewed on fanfiction.net, release music on garageband's website, report news on their blog. They are no longer comparing their work with others in the same room but with people from around the world, which is far more stimulating and motivating.
I see technology forcing changes in education systems that have remained the same for decades. I would love for schools to become totally student led, with groups of students organising themselves and planning what to learn according to the desires of each individual student, with teachers being able to offer projects across the curriculum wherever the schools are physically located. Not only is there social resistance to this, but school buildings themselves become obstructions. Maybe, one solution is to give each child his or her own workspace and then the variuous teachers serving that child move around.
Social Media websites have helped make internet text, audio and video publishing practical and without much fuss. Teachers and young people can pick up and use that user generated content quickly. The technical process should take less focus putting more attention on the nature and quality of the pupil's work.
One unexpected problem in Scottish schools is coping with recent changes in social media website and service policies, following a change in US law. Many of the sites which are popular and have useful educational applications are based in the States, or have a significant presence in the US. The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPA) restricts the use of social networking sites to ages 13 or over, preventing access to young peoplewho might benefit from, say SecondLife. The US policies affect our ability to use social networking sites here and elsewhere in the world-wide. I think a wiser course is for parents, teachers and the community to demonstrate and teach young people about responsible use and without setting an arbitrary age.
The COPA law is crucial. Using Second Life and other software in class will be most effective with pupils aged 11-13 a time when they can be creative without worrying about pressures of the curriculum and exams. I really don't want to give the wrong message to pupils by saying it's OK to falsify a birth date, but I would love to be using Second Life and blogs with younger pupils. Thirteen is such an arbitrary age. It would be better to test and certify teenagers to show they understand how to keep themselves safe online. If you pass the test and get parental permission, you could be 9 and the government doesn't need to set rules for families and providers.
Q3. Kate, you just started using blogs in your classroom. Can you tell me some more about what you are up to and what you think the kids will accomplish?
I have a small class of 16 and 17 year-olds in a course called Information Systems. I don't think the curriculum has been well thought out and it relies heavily on memorisation.
I've struggled to liven it up. After discussing it with my students, they decided they wanted to create a web portal / channel for the whole student body. It would be the default homepage for the entire school. The main idea is to provide a daily bulletin for school news. Pupils could have access to information everyday and the cost of a paper newsletter would be avoided.
My students also have started a school news wiki where sections for sports and activities and blogs for different groups and individuals who want them.
Last term my pupils set up accounts for a fourth year French class, and then the fifth and sixth year pupils taught the fourth years how to blog. The fourth years took to it really well and were particularly focussed--especially since it was the last Friday of the term. These blogs were available outside the school and people engaged in it.
My pupils feel these blogs will help them gain confidence and skills that they can put on a resume to make them stand out.
Q4 How will social media impact kids exposed to social media when they become adults?
I hope social media will offer young people the experience of being creative and crafting a product, whether a piece of writing, or a video, and through feedback to improve and encourage them to continue to write and create.
We are in a world today where highly refined media products can set an almost impossible bar for young people. How can the creativity of today's young people compete with large budget TV programmes like 'Lost?'
The participatory nature of the web today gives young people a voice. Social media gives them the ability to get noticed in a worldwide market of over 6 billion people. The high quality work that they are learning to produce through social media will give them employment opportunities anywhere in the world.
Social media changes the human validation system. Young people's efforts are being validated ways they may value more highly than the praise of parents and teachers.