As part of my degree-qualifying research, I have decided to implement instruction in my ESL class this summer that uses Facebook as a means of facilitating discussion outside of the classroom as well as promoting English as in International Language and hopefully allowing my learners to gain a sense of autonomy and agency when it comes to their English learning.
I’m interested in exploring what my learners perceive as the value and challenges to using Facebook in their English education. I’m also interested in learning whether using Facebook in an ESL class can promote learner-to-learner communication outside of class as well as values associated with the English as an International Language paradigm (EIL) that seem to be associated with learner goals in an Intensive English Program.
So far, we have discussed how people use Facebook (and other social networking sites) in various contexts. We have also examined language samples from various Facebook posts and discussed the nature of language on Facebook. In addition, we have had a couple class discussions revolving around the issues of privacy, appropriate social language, and using social networking sites in education. While it’s been interesting to hear the perspectives of my learners, I have come to realize that conducting research is much more difficult than I had originally expected it to be. At the very least, it doesn’t seem to come naturally to me.
That being said, I feel optimistic that I will be able to glean some useful information from this endeavor, and my work will serve as a learning experience for myself and perhaps, someday, others.
I came across this post by Tom Whitby today, and it sort of made me smile. The post amounts to a well-written rant about the online culture of information exchange and sharing. While just about every social media tool allows users to participate at varying levels of actual participation, there is something to be said for taking that step into contributing to the discussion by sharing pre-existing information of interest or information straight from your own brain.
When I look back at my own relationship with my personal learning network, I realize that I spent the first year or so only participating passively, receptively via my RSS feed. I didn’t use my Twitter account yet, and I didn’t blog about my experiences in academia. However, I was reading posts of interest and building my subscription list. I was also tagging and saving posts of interest via Diigo (which I found to be a valuable archiving tool). About a year into what I now realize was my unguided attempt at self-directed professional learning, I began sharing articles I found on my RSS feed with the Twitter #esl community. I slowly began following fellow educators after I sat in on a #ellchat Tweetchat session. It was my first experience with the synchronous use of Twitter, and I was hooked. After some fumbling around with netiquette conventions, I found myself interacting with Twitter followers and freely sharing information I came across via RSS feeds and other sources.
While lurking is an acceptable form of social media use, Whitby is onto something:
If we are to benefit from the Internet as a profession or a society we need to feel an obligation to be more than takers. We need to be makers and exchangers as well. We need to keep the exchange alive by not counting on the few, but by involving the many. We need to believe in the premise of Share and Share alike.
One of the best things about collaborating and learning online via social media is the fact that both novice and experienced teachers have a voice. It can be kind of daunting or scary to think that people will read and judge you based on what you share online, but when it comes down to it, your voice is only as loud as you make it. Everyone has something to say, and even novice teachers should not stifle their voices in fear of reproach.
When exploring the vast pool of online tools and resources, it becomes clear that there are various types of tools available for any purpose. With the purpose of self-directed professional development and language education in mind, there are a few categories of tools that I have come to appreciate. I write this with a novice language teacher in mind, but much of the following information may be applicable to learners and social media as well.
Social media and online tools could be organized by how engaged the user must be with the platform and how the content is experienced by both the user and the support network (learning community). Every social media platform seems to fall along a plane that ranges from totally receptive to totally productive on one axis and collaborative to individual on the other axis. It might look something like this:
In reality, the classifications of social media tools may not be so simplistic. Each tool has the potential to be used in a variety of ways depending on the context and purpose. Where Twitter seems to be a fairly collaborative and productive tool (users create content and often share from and interact with other users), it could be a more individual, receptive tool if a user simply collected information others shared via Twitter. Information can be transferred, moved around, edited, and conveyed again using Twitter, but each user will engage with the tool in the way that works best for their purposes.
In the coming months, I hope to explore a few different social media tools in relation to my own continuing education and professional development. I hope to share my findings here and ultimately in my MA degree qualifying paper.
I have become somewhat enamored with the use of digital media in relation to professional development. The idea that I can create a personal learning network that will allow me to connect and collaborate with teachers around the world from all walks of life and levels of experience using social media and other digital tools amazes me!
During my practicum experience last year where I was paired with a mentor teacher, I really began to appreciate the value of connecting with more experienced teachers within my field. I sometimes feel like teaching can be a pretty isolating profession, unless teachers reach out to others within the field and share their ideas. While this may seem obvious, I think it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day operations of being in the classroom. Having the opportunity to teach alongside my mentor teacher and get valuable feedback from him was an awesome experience. However, engaging in a mentor/apprentice sort of relationship seems like the analog version of an experience that can be so much more fulfilling and enlightening within a digital medium. Having said that, I don’t think that one experience should replace the other, but that having a wider vision of what it means to develop professionally and collaborate with fellow teachers might be more beneficial than engaging in the traditional practicum experience alone.
If collaborating and expanding my ever-changing personal learning network is good for my own education, couldn’t it be said that such a network might benefit my learners as well? This is a line of thought I have yet to dive into, but with the hopes of cultivating learning and creating a space in which my learners can use English freely, I have created a class wiki. I’m sure there will be more meditation on this matter to come.
My mind has been buzzing with these ideas recently, and in an attempt to self-educate I have begun collecting some resources that address the topic of collective learning and self-directed professional development in the digital age. Here are a few of the books I’m exploring now:
Professional Learning in the Digital Age: The Educator’s Guide to User Generated Learning by Kristen Swanson
A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown
The Digital Divide: Arguments for and Against Facebook, Google, Texting, and the Age of Social Networking
From Fear to Facebook: One School’s Journey by Matt Levinson