Wired Pursuits

Archive for August 2009

I’ve been mulling this around in my mind for a while and the more I think about it, the more I come to believe that all the anxiety and excitement centered around social media is about control – gaining it, and losing it.

Social media, user-generated content, and an expanding set of social tools have shifted control to consumers.

Today, consumers have a voice. And because of that voice, they have gained control. They are no longer satisfied with the information organizations push at them. Instead, they are talking with each other, becoming better-educated consumers, and often banning together to demand better service or products. We’ve heard stories where they promote brands and where they bring brands to their knees.

Consumers have more control. Businesses have less.

Businesses along with PR and marketing companies have less control.

Because consumers have more of a voice, hence more control, it is forever changing the way marketing and PR companies generate awareness, drive sales, and position companies. I’ve seen the reluctance and resistance to give up control first hand. PR companies want to control the message, releasing only what they want when and where they want. A model that, in the past, has been very successful. Marketing companies are reluctant to bring customers into the conversation – “what if they say something negative?” “How do we control the conversation?”

But social media allows consumers to impact and shift the PR message and customers are already talking about companies and their brands.

Control is shifting at schools and at home.

But this shift in control doesn’t seem to be limited to business. It’s happening within school and at home.

I’ve come across much debate about the negative effects the Internet, social networks, IM and other such online social channels are having on this younger generation. I’ve also run across much debate about the role of social media in the classroom.

Is this debate fueled by issues of control? Do parents feel they are losing control in terms of monitoring whom their children interact with? Do they feel a loss of control because they don’t understand how to navigate the new wired landscape (something their kids know more about than they do)?

Some educators feel they are losing control of their classrooms because of all the distractions social media brings. Are they losing the battle for their students’ attention?

As with consumers, students and children now have more of a voice. They can post their thoughts on professors, journal about their parents, and broadcast their opinions to more people than ever before on Facebook and MySpace. They are experiencing more control and having more of a voice than ever before. It that threatening to the older generation?

Is it about control or something else?

So what do you think? Is it all about control? Is social media shifting more traditional relationships and turning things on their heads? Are consumers and the Net Generation more vocal because of this newfound control?

Holy academic turmoil, Batman. What’s all this I’m hearing about the state of education today?

Some say students don’t care.

Professors, researchers, parents, and even the kids themselves say students today just don’t care. They’re not interested in education. They would rather be Facebooking, IMing, or otherwise engaged even during class.

Check out this video made by students at Kansas State University. It’s not a pretty picture.

Some say higher ed refuses to change.

There’s another vocal group that say it’s not the students but the teachers who are the problem. Don Tapscott talks about this in his book Grown up Digital. Academic Commons also explores the issue in a series they published earlier this year.

They suggest that today’s teachers are stuck in the old “I know more than you, so I’ll talk at you for an hour, and you listen” approach to teaching. They refuse to cater to their students’ latest whims (i.e., social media). Teaching isn’t about entertaining but learning.

It’s starting to freak me out a bit.

I’m going back to get my PhD for many reasons, but one of the biggest is because I love teaching and I want to get back into the classroom. I imagined myself teaching at a university, engaging students in great discussions, opening them up to new ways of thinking, and having them do the same for me. (Insert heart warming, inspirational music here.)

But there appears to be a lot of negative energy out there especially in regards to today’s youth, their commitment to education, and the future of education as we know it.

Is this really the right time to go back to school and start a new teaching career?

Not knowing the answer is what makes it fun.

To me that’s what is so amazing and interesting about where we are today – we don’t know the answer. We get to experiment and play with new ideas. Some will work, others will fail. That’s the fun part. So, for me, this is exactly the time to get back into the educational system.

I want to be one of the ones that get to experiment. That get to try new things both as a student and as a teacher.

Come to think of it, that’s what excited me 11 years ago when I started designing web sites for businesses.  We had no idea what we were doing. There weren’t any accepted right and wrong ways of doing it. That’s what made it so exciting. We were breaking new ground.

Pockets of hope.

What’s interesting is if you read deeper and avoid the “sky is falling because social media has ruined the world” types, you see many examples of teachers and students who are revolutionizing learning.

There are many professors out there actively experimenting with new media in a sincere effort to connect with their students. There are universities that embrace new media and actively look for the best ways to leverage it.

I choose to listen and follow those forging a new path. Those excited about the potential of new technologies, and who fundamentally believe students do want to learn.

It’s an amazing time where students can learn form teachers, teachers from students, and teachers from teachers. I believe that social media is revolutionizing our world – business, personal, and education – and those who embrace the change and share their stories will help the rest of us get smarter about what makes sense and what doesn’t.

As an educator, I’ve always looked for new and interesting ways to engage my students (that desire also followed me into the corporate world when I started speaking and presenting to clients).

As a future college professor, and hopefully a soon to be teaching assistant, I’m collecting examples of how professors are using technology to connect with students where they live (i.e., online) and to create more dynamic learning environments.

Here are some resources I’ve come across related to using technology in the classroom.

  • Academic Commons attempted to “understand better the changing nature of learning in new media environments and the potential of new media environments to make learning–and faculty insights into teaching–visible and usable.”
  • Visible Knowledge Project, “a five-year project looking at the impact of technology on learning, primarily in the humanities, through the lens of the scholarship of teaching and learning.”  The studies were conducted from 2000 to 2005, and a lot has changed since then, so it will be interesting to see if findings still ring true.
  • Classroom experiment conducted by Dr. Wesch at Kansas State University. “Instead of the standard syllabus that requires everybody to read a few articles to discuss, we decided instead to organize ourselves into a Smart Mob that would try to read a good hunk of the literature on a single topic in one go.”

I hope that all educators continually mix up what they do in the classroom, looking to find the right mix of technology and face-to-face with the hopes of creating a more dynamic, and yes, fun, way to learn.

If you know of others experimenting with technology in the classroom, let me know.

In the that’s just plain cool department Bobby McFerrin demonstrates the power of the pentatonic scale. Try to sing along.

Title: Grown up Digital

Author: Don Tapscott

Pub Date: 2009

grownupdigitalThis is Tapscott’s update to Growing up Digital and it attempts to address how the Internet, social networking, and this new world of hyper-connected world is shaping and reshaping today’s “net generation” (i.e., those between 11-31 years old).

The book addresses 9 different “concerns and criticisms” that Tapscott says are often voiced by parents, journalists, employers, and academics.  Specifically:

  • They’re not as smart as previous generations were at their age (agree with Tapscott, this is not my experience).
  • They’re loosing their social skills (maybe, but isn’t that our job to teach them?).
  • They have no shame (did you when you were that age?).
  • They’re being “coddled” by their parents are unable to make commitments (not sure what that has to do with the Internet).
  • They steal (maybe – it is more anonymous online).
  • They bully their friends online (are there really more bullies or is this just a new approach?).
  • They’re violent (could be, suspect that’s directly related to playing violent games?).
  • They have no work ethic (have heard this from other business owners).
  • They are narcissistic (ahh, their mostly teenagers).
  • They don’t give a damn (not my experience).

He spends much of the book debunking each of these issues and uses many examples from research he and others have conducted to bolster his arguments.

There are 2 main themes that stood out for me:

1. Net Gener’s brains are wired different.

Tapscott claims we are seeing “the first case of a generation that is growing up with brains that are wired differently from those of the previous generation.”

While there’s been debate about whether this is true, I do see a difference in how the Net Geners process information.  They just think about information differently.  I believe that older generations tend to think of things in a more linear, hierarchical way, while today’s youth create more dynamic, multi-nodal maps of information. (If there are studies that look into this, let me know.)

I do agree with Tapscott that Net Geners appear to be able to more easily jump from one topic to another.  I also think they are better able to see interconnections between what we old folks might think of as disparate topics.

2. Education must change to accommodate this new way of thinking.

Tapscott spends a good deal of time bashing the current education system (especially higher ed) for their antiquated approach to teaching.

He spends quite a few pages talking about how teaching should be more interactive, a two-way dialog that takes into account individual’s learning styles. He urges educators to “step off the state and start listening and conversing instead of just lecturing.”

Tapscott suggests that this new interactive style is driven from Net Gener’s experiences with the Internet and how they learn.

I would humbly disagree.  What Tapscott describes is just good teaching techniques. It was good teaching 20 years ago when I taught school and I don’t believe it’s changed dramatically. What has changed is the tools that educators can use to make classrooms more dynamic and interactive, and I would add, maybe an expectation on the part of learners that it would be more fun.

I’ve always ascribed to the philosophy that learning must be fun and entertaining.  I would hope that all educators seek to create a more individualized, interactive approach to teaching such as Tapscott suggests.

A deeper look into the data would be helpful.

For me, some of Tapscott’s conclusions were too broad based.  I wanted to dive deeper into the data and take a more critical view of the conclusions that were drawn. Occasionally Tapscott focused only on the data that supported his conclusions, and overlooked data that might raise more questions.

For example, when discussing whether social media is creating a less social generation, he suggests kids today are more social because they are spending more time interacting with friends than their parents did.  He quotes a teenager as saying he prefers to use instant messaging rather than in person communications because “it allows you to think about your responses, motives, and overall reduces the awkwardness of conversations.”

The conclusion I drew from this statement was that while kids may be communicating with more people than ever before, they may be using social media to avoid more personal forms of communication. I don’t see how the amount of time online directly relates to an individual’s ability to “socialize.”  It could, in fact, impede it depending on what your definition of “being social” is.

Some kids may be using social media to avoid face-to-face interactions.  And if that is the case, the “awkwardness” will never go away resulting in an individual who is never able to practice and improve these skills.

Bottom line: Interesting read taken with a grain of salt.

In general I agreed with Tapscott’s positive assessment of Net Geners.  As with all technology, there are positive and negative effects.  Technology is shaping Net Geners, but Net Geners are also shaping technology, and often in positive ways.

The book is filled with many examples of new and innovative uses for social media/networks, however, I found that many of the points made in earlier chapters are often repeated unnecessarily.

It raised many more questions for me, so I’m thankful for that.  However, a more critical look at the research might have been more revealing and conclusive.

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