Admirers of the work in education of Megan Poore (Assistant Professor in Education at the University of Canberra) are celebrating the publication of her new book and companion website: Using social media in the classroom – a best practice guide, SAGE, 2013. I am one such admirer; her teacher preparation course was the most demanding and useful one I have observed (see my previous blog: Professional aspirations, expectations and goodwill: enter new graduate teachers stage left). I have just completed reading her new book and examined its companion website and I am mightily impressed. All teachers need this book if they are to engage their students in contemporaneous higher order learning as contributing citizens.
So what makes this book essential reading for all teachers and education managers?
Firstly, it’s the topic.
All current classroom teachers are aware of the role that social media play in the daily lives of our students. Some teachers find the engagement of their students in social media sites alienating; distancing themselves from their students through technologies they don’t understand. This creates fear, manifesting itself in dismissive scepticism which creates further alienation. Dr Poore has some words for such teachers: ’It is good to be sceptical of the digital environment, but don’t base your scepticism on ignorance.’ And more than words, she provides the clearest explanation and considerations that will dispel such ignorance, and she also provides pathways, resources and scaffolded steps for such teachers to take in using social media in their learning programs.
Other teachers have embraced social media, often as motivation for learning and as a means of building relationships with their students. But adoption of social media into learning programs requires purpose, planning and an awareness of potential learning difficulties. Dr Poore offers the following: ‘There is growing evidence that, because of their hyperlinked architecture, social media can prove more distracting than focusing’. Throughout the book she provides approaches and techniques to maintain focus and means by which teachers can assist the students to achieve the desired learning.
Secondly, it’s the information provided in the book and on the website, and the ease of navigation Dr Poore has created in using social media in learning, that make it an essential resource for teachers. The extensive and useful contents pages clearly identify the ‘topics’: the nuts and bolts of social media, as well as the ways of accessing them, using them and thinking about them. Each section explains in clear and concise, but not patronising, ways each of the aspects of current social media – focusing on what Dr Poore calls ‘the big four’: blogs, wikis, social networks and podcasts. Additional sections examine other aspects of social media that will enrich teachers’ practices and students’ learning, and consider the social contexts which affect the use of social media in the classroom. The book provides teachers with the ways and means of usefully including social media in safe and risk averse ways to achieve deep learning. The cyberbullying section is both realistic, reassuring and helpful. Throughout, there are links to other resources, exemplars and practical suggestions.
The website is interactive and encourages the posting of materials and issues as well as providing extensive additional information and examples for each of the sections of the book. It will clearly grow in time to be the primary resource for teachers as a means for testing and sharing of experience, and learning collectively.
Primarily, however, what makes this book so important, are the links Dr Poore creates between theory and practice. For her, social media provides a contemporaneous manifestation of social constructivist learning… of the John Dewey kind. Social media platforms, Dr Poore argues, put education, not the teacher, at the centre, thus allowing ‘students to take part more actively and creatively in their own learning’.
She argues that ‘John Dewey recognised the importance of such approaches almost a century ago when he stated that there should be more opportunity for cojoint activities in which those instructed take part, so that they may acquire a social sense of their own powers and of the materials and appliances used.’ For Dr Poore, the use of social media in learning should occur in a social constructivist framework, and she identifies three main considerations for ensuring sound and deep learning: allowing sufficient time for planning, implementation and evaluation; the provision of scaffolding for students to make meaning of the tasks set; and, close monitoring of student comprehension, and early intervention where understanding is not evident.
In her Afterword, Dr Poore argues that social media is a dynamic in the cultural landscape that constitutes contemporary education, ‘inasmuch as education is itself a communicative act, then so must we find ways of harnessing these forms to the service of our profession. With care and imagination – those hallmarks of good teaching – we can find ways of making them work’.
Her book is a landmark way of making social media ‘work’ in providing higher order and socially developmental learning in our classrooms.