What Can Educational Technology Learn from Social Media?

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Technology has always rooted itself in culture, and likewise, culture has grounded itself in the technology that moves it forward.  While this is apparent in social media and other communicative technologies that have changed the world as we know it, it’s also incredibly present in education.  There is, however, a stark difference between the ways in which technology plays a role in the broader context of the world and the small environment that is the classroom.

In the context of the world at-large, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and many other social media outlets that have, in fact, helped us to feel more connected as a society, and have done so in a remarkable way.  They are conduits for empathy, personalized ways to network and communicate with friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, giving us insights into our peers’ worlds that we would not have without access to this technology.

Similarly, technology in education has tried to achieve similar things.  Using big data, systematizing instruction through instructional videos, and increasing teacher efficiency through tech tools has, in a way, made the classroom a smaller place, as well.  It’s more manageable, allows us to personalize more than we ever have before, and has given us insights into our students that we probably would not have, if not for this new technology.

But we’ve come up short. Educational technology simply has not yet revolutionized education in the way social media has the world, and these differences can be traced back all the way to the cultural assumptions that underlie both social media and educational technology.  These assumptions, rooted in radically different times and resulting from different needs, have in turn, resulted in major differences in the technological outputs, highlighting the differences between what we’ve been able achieve with social media versus educational technology.

But what are these differences?  What is social media doing that ed tech currently is not?

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My students called me “bossy.” Here’s how I responded.

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Morning meeting had just started.  Mindfulness was over, and my students and I were seated in a circle, knees touching, eyes gazing towards the center.  Just minutes before, the room was chaotic, students walking all about, haphazardly transitioning to morning meeting.  It was a moment that called for a teacher intervention, and by intervention, I mean an energetic and emphatic herding of my little ones over to the carpet.

The class eventually quieted down; the energy in the room reduced to a simmer.  Mouths were releasing their last utterances, and just as most children were silent, I heard one student’s voice bubble up above the rest.

“Teachers are so bossy,” he said, exasperatedly looking down at the floor.

Other students looked at him, then at me, wondering if I’d heard it, and if I did, what I’d say.

“Wow,” I replied, “I am so glad you felt like you could share that this morning.”

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Sex First, Identity Second: Heteronormative Interpetation of Homosexuality in Schools

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“So, how did it go?” my principal asked, excited to hear the results of our recent lessons, intended to be more inclusive of the LGBT community within our curriculum.

“It was fine,” I said, somewhat indignantly.  My team of teachers responded more positively, reflecting on the benefits of the lesson. Alas, I couldn’t help but think about the perpetual disservice we were continuing.  Sure, it was a step in the right direction–including the LGBT community in our curriculum, that is–but this step was almost like a baby’s first step: tentative, clouded with innocent ignorance, absent of intention or true understanding of purpose.  And why did I feel this way?

Because, for the first time for many of these children, we had formally discussed gay people in the context of sex ed.

“I’m not really sure this was the best context to introduce this in,” I replied, the only member of the LGBT community in the room, the only individual in the room who could understand the implications of this, the only individual pushing back on the glaring flaws in my principal’s logic.

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What You May Be Misunderstanding About the Common Core

I recently watched “Somewhere In America,” the beautiful slam poem delivered by three young women, making incredibly powerful statements about the implicit lessons we teach our children every day.

 

“Here in America, in every single state, they have a set of standards for every subject: a collection of lessons that the teacher is required to teach by the end of the term. But the greatest lessons you will ever teach us will not come from your syllabus; the greatest lessons you will ever teach us you will not remember.”

A thoughtful provocation, no doubt–one that I connected to deeply as a gay teacher.  I’ve often felt plagued by the things I’ve felt I could not say, especially when I was working as a public school teacher, oftentimes boxed in by the mainstream’s interpretation of what it meant to be politically correct, which is more often than not, repressive, silencing, and inhospitable, and which the three young women do an excellent job of representing.

For some reason, though, what’s struck me more, and which I seem to have hung on the hooks of my mind, is the way in which they’ve introduced the topic–this incredibly powerful and important idea of silencing independent thinking, of the implications of the things we don’t say–with the idea of a standard.

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Imagine a World Where Every Moment Is Teachable

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“I used to love those teachable moments.  I was so good at those,” he said to me, sitting across the table, sipping his margarita.

It’s true, I had strong-armed my boyfriend into yet another discussion about education.  I’m not sure how I manage it, but I tend to direct the conversation in this direction frequently.  He kindly obliges, though, as he went to college to be an high school teacher.

I looked across at him, thinking how much of a shame it was that someone who was “so good” at those teachable moments was not, in fact, a teacher.  In my opinion, the best teachers are the ones that can “run with it”–the ones that can, without hesitation, capitalize on those teachable moments.

But then I began to think about it some more–not about whether good teachers can capitalize on teachable moments–but about teachable moments themselves.  They are, by all means, revered by educators.  In fat, it’s hard to get through a course in college without a former teacher referring to their teachable moments, ones where the situation was so ripe for a life lesson or tangential study.  What I began to think about was the concept of a “teachable moment” itself, and how it came to be such a commodity in schools, how we let authentic, inquiry-driven learning slip away from us, and how the moments that are actually “teachable,” per se, are so few and far between that we now have a special name for them.

“Imagine a world, though,” I replied, sipping my margarita, “where every moment in school is a teachable moment.”

And suddenly, moments from the past four months–moments from teaching the smallest, most curious children I’ve ever met–flooded into my mind.

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My six-year old student asked me if he could make a QR code. Here’s what I did.

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Feel free to scan it. It, like, actually works.

“What about a QR code?” he said as he sat adjacent to me at our hexagonal tables.  He continued to look at me tentatively, almost as if he had said the “wrong” answer.  I’ve always been a painfully transparent person–the kind who wears his emotions on his sleeve–so he was probably responding to the blank stare on my face, only coming as the result of the many four-word expletives that were running through my mind.

Well, how the hell am I supposed to help him with that? I thought.

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