From using Twitter to encourage short story writing to utilizing Delicious to organize professional development tips and favorite articles, the number of social networking tools and websites is increasing exponentially. We know educators use these 21st-century tools with students in all grade levels. The question remains, however, whether and how these tools might be used to positively affect student understanding and achievement.
The short answer is yes, most definitely, though there are essential innovations in pedagogy that must accompany them. The long answer is that these tools, when chosen thoughtfully, implemented appropriately, and combined with innovative pedagogy through internet-connected communities, can teach students the skills necessary to thrive in the 21st century and expand their ability to communicate and collaborate in a global marketplace.
Consider the following questions:
* How are you preparing your students for working in a global marketplace (i.e., innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, global awareness, and self-direction)?
* How are you using technology to build collaborative skills and creativity among your students?
* How are you creating global digital citizens?
* How are you building learning experiences that connect learning to "real life" and encourage independent exploration?
* How can you teach 21st-century skills in economically disadvantaged communities?
These questions help begin a discussion about which tools to examine and why, what tools best fulfill the needs of each school and district's environment, and what kind of curriculum-based activities can be enhanced through use of social networking tools. There are many tools available. The key is to incorporate a holistic approach--weaving a combination of tools throughout the curriculum and across the pedagogy.
A2007 study showed that teens in the U.S. spent more than 40% of their media time on cell phones, the internet, and playing games, yet the majority of students are "disconnected" while at school. In addition to texting on their cell phones and using instant messaging while online, students are leveraging personal social networking sites, such as Club Penguin, MySpace, and Facebook, to connect and communicate with their peers before and after school. It is clear that today's generation of media-savvy students know how to use these tools for communicating, but are they really using the technology to its fullest potential?
SOCIAL LEARNING NETWORKS
As educators, it is our responsibility to take students from what they already know to the next level of critical thinking. In other words, today's students are using these tools to connect, but are they creating enough, collaborating on projects, or inventing new ideas? Students need guidance, and here is where we can best use practiced methodologies of teaching to our advantage. What needs to be incorporated across the curriculum is a social learning network--if we focus only on the "social" and "network," we are missing the mark. A true social learning network incorporates innovative pedagogy through internet-connected communities, digital resources, and a series of Web 2.0 tools that empower students to master the curriculum and to learn issues beyond the classroom.
On an individual level, social networking tools can be used in specific assignments, such as using email to correspond with classmates about a history project or blogging about a science experiment. Here, students are learning to utilize the technology to accomplish a particular task. What should be encouraged is the next level of communication--collaboration. Within a social learning network, students can collaborate using tools such as email, blogs, and wikis to create, invent, and showcase their work in a way that unlocks intrinsic motivation and advances learning outcomes. …