Social media in education
In 2004 Robin Sloan, Matt Thompson and Aaron McLeran released the video EPIC2014 with the following stand out lines:
It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. In the year 2014 people have access to a breadth and depth of information unimaginable in an earlier age... At its best, EPIC [Evolving Personalised Information Construct] is a summary of the world — deeper, broader and more nuanced than anything ever available before. But at its worst, and for too many, EPIC is merely a collection of trivia, much of it untrue, all of it narrow, shallow and sensational... Perhaps there was another way."There is a role that education can play in the EPIC forecast to help ensure that for as many people as possible it is the best of times, but of course we know it will never be. Commenting in 2005 on the accuracy of the predictions in their video Matt Thompson said, "Robin and I know 2014 won't resemble the future EPIC describes. Because 2005 already does." And in 2009 most people still have no idea how they might use this new media scape to their educational benefit. Most aren't even aware that it exists!
In 2009, 5 years after Youtube became popular in the world, the NSW Department of Education and Training (Australia's largest state education body) unblocked Youtube - for teachers only. Twitter remains blocked for everyone in school, as do numerous other social media platforms that make up the mediascape described in the EPIC video. A situation of censorship, blockage or just poor performance that is common in most educational institutions that have made computing a central force in their practice.
More recently and more famously, anthropologist Michael Wesch released his video The Machine is Using Us that endeavors to explain how and why this new media is significant (his longer videos go into more depth). But over the past 5 years I am yet to met a teacher in Australia or New Zealand who can talk at any length about Wikipedia's role in education. I know only 2 or 3 who use Youtube beyond simple viewing, and only a handful who have 'opened' their practice up for wider participation and involvement. The vast majority of the teachers I work with still have no idea how to make a hyper link, how to use tabbed browsing, what it means to subscribe to RSS feeds, or even begin to imagine what use these things would be in their profession, let alone their students and the wider community. I've given up on the possibility that the education sector might help ensure the best of times for people in the epic future of now. That assurance will have to come from somewhere else.
And what of open education - currently hijacked by another concept known as open educational resources (OER)? It is the peak of digital and network awareness in the education sector, but what relevance does it have to teachers and students really? According to the two videos, we already have all the access we need, so if we were to answer that question from the perspective of resources alone, we could only conclude nothing! OER has nothing to offer teachers and students at all. A teacher doesn't need OER to make it ok doing the things they do anyway. A normal person doesn't care if the resource they are using is an illegitimate copy in a format that doesn't meet standards of obscure freedom - they just want access, and so far they have it.
OER promises more efficient production of content - based on collaboration; reusability of content - based on copyright; and sustainability of content - based on formats. These are the concerns of the publishing industry, libraries and educational policy makers. Copyright and format standards are nothing more than geeky nuisances to the average teacher I work with, who hours before class is printing off the staple bound A4 photo copy they have been piecing together for 4 years now, or burning illegitimate copies of CDROMs that the library bought for a packet 10 years ago, or slapping together a restricted access Moodle for the first and only time, relying heavily on over time, Google (anything-will-do) search, and technical assistance.
As it turns out, no-one is reusing OER anyway, and this is just evidence that the publishing industry is well and truly asleep at their wheel. Even if teachers had the prerequisite skills, awareness and political disposition for appreciating OER (assuming that person still works in education), we all know that educational content is inherently non-reusable anyway, making collaboration even more difficult and the rest redundant. Let's face it, the concept of open educational resources needs to be very broad in scope if it is to survive the hell ride of implementation, which is why open education is less about content than it is about practice - probably most of all in the process of assessment.
Certainly narrowing open education down to a MediaWiki, the Internet or even digital formats will ultimately cripple progress toward a free and egalitarian education system. Open education is about much more than content...
At the beginning of 2008 almost 70% of NZ was not connected to a useful Internet, and apparently 80% of the world had no dial tone - online learning is the practice of a minority, and yet has been the primary focus of most educational development funding over the past 15 years. Why is this? How is it that policy makers and funding agents had the apparent foresight 15 years ago to start investing huge amounts of money into computer mediated online learning? This was long before there was any evidence to say it would benefit people learning? And long long before we had any evidence to say it would be useful to teaching and education - we're still waiting for that evidence.
In 2004, when the Internet was only starting to have signs of persistent impact on our way of life - it would seem that this investment money had all but dried up when it came to ideas about open education and engaging with social media. 15 years later, and billions of dollars down, how can we know it was money well spent? Well it wasn't. We have countless CDROMs sitting under dust on library shelves, we have learning object repositories complete with SCORM compliance and DRM, painfully stupid learning management systems that struggle to work with our even more painful student management systems! And most of all we have a deeply entrenched IT infrastructure that is totally geared towards restricting access rather than granting access to learning and opportunities for education. Today, if you spoke to most people living in the worst times of epic, you'd have to wonder about the wisdom and motivations of the of the education sector.
Age old questions
So my question is this: What is it REALLY that is causing the teacher disengagement from something so apparently important to the meaning of literacy, teaching and access to learning? Why does it seem that the world's greatest encyclopedia, the most phenomenal video library and the most in depth access to first hand experience is made up by everyone except those wrapped up in the education system? Perhaps there is wisdom in the crowd, and that disengagement is the only appropriate response to something that's worth to the education system remains to be seen? Is it really a simple question of policy, incentives and rewards? Or is it something deeper in the psyche of a teacher, a student, human sensibilities of power and the system of education? Could it really be true, that education has never been about the empowerment of people really, rather the survival of an institution? That would mean that me, you and all those good people we've met are all part of that inevitable goal. How undignified it is to know the set up is wrong headed, but there isn't anything you can do about it but help it stay that way.
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