Attention district administrators: why should you consider a social media / networking strategy to supplement your standard virtual learning program?
First, let’s talk about the goals of a virtual learning program. Ultimately the primary goal is student achievement. Quite often other supplementary goals come into play, such as being able to provide access to educational resources that students could not otherwise receive, because of geography, disability, or lack of local instructional expertise.
There are four ways the implementation of a social media strategy can help a virtual learning program. The first is that you can more easily establish and maintain connections between and among students and teachers via a social media program. By supporting multiple modes of access, outreach, information dissemination, and community-building, you’re more likely to keep students involved, engaged, and aware.
The second helpful effect is that students can more effectively collaborate with teachers, mentors, and other students. Interactive tools and techniques like virtual whiteboards, real-time document sharing, instant messaging, and project repositories can all help teamwork, participation, and ultimately course effectiveness.
Improved communication is the next benefit. Virtual learning programs have relied heavily in the past on e-mail distribution lists – aka “listservs”. We can now add blogs, wikis, threaded discussion boards, Twitter, SMS notifications, and voice-enabled applications to the mix of techniques that we can use to keep communication clear and continuous.
Finally, a good social media strategy will leverage supplemental resources out on the web that are relevant to the coursework. Government, news, and non-profit websites, YouTube, university programs, online library resources – everything may have a place in a well-designed curriculum. Students are already comfortable traversing the breadth and depth of Web 2.0 information overload, and a good virtual learning program should work with students in new ways.
Andy Carvin, the Social Media Strategist for NPR, has a presentation up on SlideShare titled Social Networking and Education. He lists a couple challenges, including (a) that students don’t necessarily expect social networking to be educational, and (b) the focus/filtering problem – keeping things on topic and effective.
Now let’s take a look at some of the representative ways that schools are using Web 2.0 social media and social networking resources to supplement their educational efforts.
Anchorage School District uses Facebook to post memos, photos, event information, and more to their “fans”, and they try to encourage discussion. Their social media philosophy appears to tend toward the marketing side, as evidenced in the following link share:
Troy School District in Michigan uses LinkedIn groups’ bulletin-board or “News” functionality, but not very effectively:
Few pageviews and zero discussions, even with school starting up in just over a week. It should come as no surprise that the primary education-related use of LinkedIn is by alumni groups.
Samantha Morra has a presentation titled Introduction to Twitter for Educators up on SlideShare. She positions Twitter as a push mechanism; a way to distribute information. See the following slide:
For my money, this emphasis misses one of the best features of twitter – the two-way public conversation.
A current search for “school district” on Twitter doesn’t bring up many results. My empirical observation is that districts aren’t leveraging Twitter in a big way for virtual learning purposes.
Non-Twitter Microblogging Alternatives:
One big concern that districts may have with Twitter is the public nature of the conversation, and the attendant privacy issues. To resolve these issues, districts may consider so-called “private microblogging platforms”, such as Yammer, which is a SaaS offering, or Laconi.ca, which is the technical platform underneath the so-called “Twitter clone” Identi.ca.
Privately-Developed Portals / Wikis
Examples are Ning.com, hosted SharePoint, WetPaint, etc. All give you the ability to restrict membership to invitation-only, but the feature sets vary widely, as do the technical/administrative requirements. Some offerings are free; others charge a flat or per-user fee.
Pros: private, invitation only. Cons: requires administrative time to set up.
Listservs / E-mail discussion lists:
Pros: Proven, reliable, private, invitation-only. Cons: asynchronous. Old media.
Pros: Immediate connection. Video available with newer systems. Whiteboard. Invitation only. Can do group chats.
Cons: Fragmented universe of IM protocols – AIM, Yahoo, GChat/Jabber, Windows Live, etc. Information overload? There are sometimes limits to how many participants there can be in a single group chat.
Teachers can post course video. Cons: public. The more likely use of YouTube in a primary education setting is as a video encyclopedia, with teachers linking to appropriate and relevent material. PBS, for example, has their own YouTube channel.
Gives teachers the ability to post slide presentations for consumption by their students. Cons: public.
Given all these resources, it’s wise for educators and administrators to start to evaluate how to include the Social Web in their virtual learning programs.