Advisory on Social Media & eCommunication Good First Step

The Ontario College of Teachers Professional Advisory on the Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media represents an important first step in the quest for our children to experience a vibrant, engaging and authentic education in a 21st century learning environment.

The college advisory provides a useful context for the responsible use of electronic communication and social media. Regrettably though, when it was first released, rather than portray the document as a way for educators to engage learners with new forms of digital communication, most of the traditional news outlets tended to colour the advisory as a pre-emptive strike in response to a relatively small minority of educators who may decide to misuse popular social media sites in their interactions with students.

Overall, it would be fair to say that the initial media coverage of the advisory release played on the fears of the general public concerning the more sinister aspects of social media and their appeal to our baser instincts. Still, the fear of unbridled new technologies is anything but new.

Long before the invention of paper in China in AD 105 and its eventual widespread production, the worldview of our ancestors hinged primarily on the spoken word. In this oral-centric cultural milieu, many people feared the new revolutionary technology of paper. Used primarily for official records and documentation, this novelty and its storage capacity, would eventually end the common practices of oral discourse and memorization.

In retrospect, we can see that, while the advent of paper did indeed curtail oral communication and the corresponding need for rote memorization, it also eventually led to a significant breakthrough and increase in unprecedented levels of literacy across the ancient world.

In every age, new technologies emerge to disrupt and threaten the status quo. Though Gutenberg’s printing press was demonized as a harbinger of the decline of calligraphy in 15th century Europe, it also invariably spawned mass communication, the Protestant Reformation and an astonishing variety of intellectual and artistic movements over the next four centuries.

Today, disruptive innovation in the form high-speed broadband networks, social media web sites like Facebook and Twitter and an endless array of mobile devices and wireless technologies, bump up against antiquated education systems that thrive on uniformity. These new digital technologies, designed for use in collaborative learning environments, are out of synch with one-size-fits-all instruction, where students are tightly controlled and forced to regurgitate facts while sitting in perfectly straight rows.

In fact, for many adults, the very word ‘classroom’ likely conjures ‘Lucy Maude Montgomery-like images’ of a rustic one room schoolhouse on a Canadian prairie. This quaint, romanticized concept of class-room connotes a static, fixed structure, limited by the realities of matter, time and space.

Imagine for moment if the walls and ceilings of the traditional classroom disappeared, then morph suddenly into 21st century learning environments where students can network and collaborate with teams of other learners around the world. Picture a learning space where powerful processing devices like cell phones are actually encouraged rather than banned, where, instead, it is blackboards and chalk that are relegated to the pedagogical sidelines.

This academic utopia is fully equipped with the latest learning tools: interactive projectors, smart phones, wireless tablets, document projectors, student ‘clicker’ response systems and video conferencing technologies. Teachers are more facilitators and coaches than masters and gatekeepers of knowledge in this educational paradigm. Students are more co-learners and co-explorers than empty vessels waiting to be filled with facts they could just as easily retrieve on their own by mining the vast learning repositories of the World Wide Web.

Across this flattened, borderless educational terrain, teachers and students learn side-by-side, navigating social networking sites and boldly leveraging rich new educational technologies. Students engage in project-based learning and meaningful discourse on a variety of academic subjects. They share their passionate creations with peers across local, national and global communities by exchanging and commenting on blog posts, video podcasts and other engaging media via interactive class blogs and wikis.

By harnessing the collective intelligence, enthusiasm and imagination of learners in the global village, youth can now collaborate to find solutions to entrenched problems of ignorance and misunderstanding, which often lead to and perpetuate the twin scourges of war and poverty. Teachers are also now sharing effective learning resources and best practice at dizzying speeds via professional learning networks like Twitter and Ning.

We are truly on the cusp of brave new learning environments and bold educational paradigms that both challenge the status quo and beckon with the promise of a more dynamic future for our children. Yet those who mistakenly believe that the new digital technologies, alone, will be enough to light the way toward the nirvana of resilient, collaborative, reflective and discerning learners, will be in for a shock.

The late University of Toronto professor and media expert Marshall McLuhan was keenly aware of how, as we shape our tools, our tools shape us. Without a clear vision of professional development strategies based on the targeted application of the new educational technologies and their ethical and responsible use, school districts risk consigning the latest electronic devices to gathering dust at the back of the class or to be used as expensive overhead projectors.

Whatever tools they have at their side, whether a piece of chalk and slate or wireless stylus and digital tablet, tomorrow’s learners will require a clear vision of exactly what shape the learning environment of the future will take.

Failure to provide such clarity of vision is no longer an option, especially if we want to compete globally and prepare our students for their future, not our past.

Photo Credit: Yesterday by Caro’s Lines

Related Sites:

Ontario College of Teachers Professional Advisory: Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media


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