Facebook turned 14 on February 4 – and the controversies continue unabated. But there's one aspect of Facebook that should not be lost in all the noise: the extraordinary change it has brought about in how we connect, communicate, consume and share content – in the classroom as well as in other spaces.
Putting the words "Facebook" and "learning" together may seem like an oxymoron. But my research has delved into the role Facebook has played in shaping how the new generation consumes and shares content. Understanding this is pivotal to understanding how we should be using technology to teach in the digital age. Quite simply, Facebook has changed the way that children learn.
How students learn
That's what I've discovered through my research, which used a cyber ethnography approach to try to determine how students are learning in our modern digital age. This involved essentially "living" with students while they connected, communicated, and learned in a Facebook space.
I spent an entire semester watching and interacting with students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa as they used a Facebook page as their primary learning portal. The students were given admin access to the space. This meant they could determine how the space was used: who had access to it, how it was designed, what was posted on the page, and even the level of anonymity of their posts.
This provided me with an opportunity to watch the students learn, unfettered from traditional learning constraints. However, it would take a while for the students to fully explore their learning within this new space. Initially the students would often attempt to defer to me and my guidance. Only after I repeatedly refused to control their learning experience did they begin to behave in a self-organising way and allow me to observe their "natural" learning patterns.
I can tell people they need to teach better. But if I don't give them things that are easy for them to implement, they won't do it.
The research revealed that Facebook provided students with a series of learning affordances. Affordances are "can do" opportunities, some intentional and others unintentional, that technology spaces provide. In this instance, the research revealed that the affordances at play were accessibility, connection, communication, control and construction. These affordances provide valuable insights into how students learn in digital spaces.
Once I understood this, I could turn my attention to the key need: developing ways of teaching, called pedagogies, that are appropriate for the digital age. Currently the focus on technology – the what, has distracted us from pedagogy: the how. Without understanding how best to apply these new technologies' affordances, educators will not be able to effectively impact teaching in the modern classroom.
However, providing educators with a list of "how tos" isn't much use without a system that makes the list easy to implement. As Dan Schwartz, dean of Stanford's graduate school of education, says:
"I can tell people they need to teach better. But if I don't give them things that are easy for them to implement, they won't do it."
Activating the classroom
That's where the activated classroom teaching (ACT) model comes in. I developed this model in a bid to create a taxonomy of teaching and learning for 21st-century classrooms. A taxonomy is an ordered arrangement of items. One of the most famous of these is Bloom's taxonomy of thinking. The ACT model attempts to provide a taxonomy of digital-age teaching approaches.
The ACT model consists of five digital-age pedagogies that seek to maximise the affordances of technology, modern students' approaches to learning, and the development of key 21st-century skills such as creativity, problem solving, curiosity, critical thinking, etc.
The young teen, Facebook, has changed how we connect and learn.
The focus is a shift from passive ways of teaching (consumption) to active approaches (curation, conversation, correction, creation and chaos). This aligns with research that shows children are spending more than half their online time actively engaging: creating content, getting involved in "interactive consumption" and communicating.
Ignoring the tectonic shifts taking place in our classrooms is not the solution. Simply dropping technology into our classrooms is not the solution. Simply training teachers to use computers is not the solution. As British author and education expert Sir Ken Robinson has said, we need a paradigm shift, but it's more than that - we need a pedagogy shift.
The young teen, Facebook, has changed how we connect and learn. But, as the OECD pointed out in its global study of educational technology: "If we want students to become smarter than a smartphone, we need to think harder about the pedagogies we are using to teach them. Technology can amplify great teaching, but great technology cannot replace poor teaching."
This piece originally featured in The Conversation and can be viewed here.