I’m sure this will just be the first blog of many, following Friday’s ‘Teacher Training and Technologies’ conference at the University of Huddersfield. My head has been spinning for days now with all that I more-or-less absorbed there; I was certainly inspired and I’m still figuring out what I learned.
What’s most present with me, though, is how much working with younger adults is given as a reason for limiting the use of social media in education. I’ll be upfront here – I have no experience of teaching under-19s or parenting over-15s, so I’ve a four year experience gap which could account for the fact that I’ve never found any reason not to treat young people as equal thinkers, of one another and of me. It seems to me that there could be something dangerously infantilising about the assumption that young adults need to be actively protected by their teachers, to the extent that activities that could potentially enhance their learning are denied to them without consultation.
Harsh? Naive? Maybe and I will prepare to stand corrected by anyone who can come right back at me with a rationale based on experience. What I’d love is an open-minded discussion (I mean, rather than fixed-position debate).
My hope is that, given a chance to use social media safely in an education context, anyone who takes that chance will learn a lot about how to make their personal social media use safer too. One of the many comments that has stayed with me since Friday is that Facebook, for example, isn’t the reason for bullying but the vehicle. As are mobile phones, chat rooms, emails – and voices. “Do we really want to start asking people to stop talking to one another?” asked one workshop participant. Well…no.
The argument that young people need to be protected from social media at college or university is surely grounded in the assumption that they are not mature or wise enough to be able to keep themselves safe. Of course this will sometimes be true – and twelve years’ teaching experience has shown me that it’s just as true of adults. Bringing explicit discussions around safety and boundaries into the classroom, negotiating and providing good practice guidelines, facilitating students to think for themselves about their experiences – surely these are effective constructivist tools which can empower students to make themselves safer in life, as well as in their studies.
I’ve survived an attempt to bully me (by an adult) on Facebook so I do know how painful and undermining it can be. My confidence took a wobble when this happened, early into my experimentation with Facebook for back-channel discussions. Luckily, I had the resilience and support to take a step back, see how what had occurred – and reconfigure my boundaries. I learned a lot from that experience and it strengthened, rather than damaged me. As a metaphor for life, it’s a powerful one.
I don’t teach under-19s but I train teachers who do. I’d love to know how you think social networking could support young people’s engagement with their studies and whether or not you think you could help them keep it safe.