The Duck of Minerva

Teaching and Social Software

20 July 2005

My wife points me to a very interesting post at Geeky Mom on higher education and social software.

Books like Everything Bad is Good for You and What Video Games have to teach us about learning and literacy point to a different kind of learning, learning that is more active and hyperlinked and most importantly, controlled by the learner. Which brings me to blogging (or pretty much any technology where one must relinquish control to the students). Blogging allows students to have more control over their own learning. They get to decide (within parameters) what to read, what to write about, what to comment on. They get to grapple with material in a way they can’t in a controlled classroom or even in a paper.

Teachers are also often afraid of the public nature of blogs. What if their writing or thinking looks unformed and I’ve sent this link to lots of people? Won’t that reflect badly on me? And what if students decide to start personal blogs and they write stuff that isn’t very flattering to the school?

I started experimenting with blogs and teaching this spring, but I mostly used blogging as a way to maintain contact with a large class and to respond to questions in a public venue. When I return from my fellowship year, I hope to be able to really experiment with interactive learning tools.

Patrick’s had more experience integrating social software – blogs, instant messaging, etc. – into his classes; by all accounts, he is extremely good at it, so I’m looking forward to his reaction to the aforelinked post.

There has definitely been a trend away from student receptivity to abstract-analytic styles of teaching and learning, one probably driven by the very technologies Geeky Mom suggests we exploit. It seems to me the best route is to find some way of combining older methods – whether lecture, Socratic, or seminar – with new technologies. There are good reasons to train students to process ideas in the forms associated with these methods, and part of a college education should be, in my view, to teach abstract-analytic styles of thinking.


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