Social Networking as a Tool in Teacher Education Courses

For the past year, I have been ex­perimenting with the use of social networking tools in my graduate curriculum and instructional technology classes. My journey in determining the best use of these tools for my courses has been both interesting and challenging. I know that many of my teacher educator colleagues are having similar experi­ences, so I decided to use this column as a way to open the conversation on this important topic.

As I teach about Web 2.0 tools in my classes, it certainly makes sense that I would model the use of these tools in the teaching and learning process. I began this process by including a class blog in my Digital Learning in the Classroom graduate class. My first inclination was to have all the students keep blogs as reflections on their learning in the class, but it quickly became apparent that asking students to read and comment on 15–20 of their colleagues’ blogs was going to take a large amount of time and had the potential to become tedious. As I was looking for an experience that would connect the entire class, I decided that I would initiate a class blog and ask students to comment on my reflections about the class. At this point, I saw the blog as an effective method for me to re­flect on both the positives and negatives of our class meetings and allow students to see what I was thinking about the teaching and learning process.

I began to routinely blog about each class meeting within 24 hours of the class. In each post, I would briefly review what had happened in the class and then reflect on what went right and what went wrong. Almost immediately, I found student interest in the blog was high and that I had no shortage of reflections upon my reflections. I found the oppor­tunity for all of us to use metacognition about what happened in class a valuable method for encouraging high-quality and reflective teaching and learning.

One of the unanticipated outcomes of the class blog has been that it has provided a running record of the major events of our weekly class. I also take a few pictures each week, so we have both a written and visual record that I, and many of the students, use as a class his­tory as well as a class reflection.

After the blog became a routine fea­ture of my graduate classes, I decided to branch out and experiment with another type of social networking. About a year ago, I began experimenting with creating Facebook groups for my classes. At first, I was a bit unclear about the purpose of the Facebook groups beyond providing a collegial environment for students to share experiences and resources. As we had the class blog, our Moodle course en­vironment, and the Facebook group, the students (and I!) were a bit overwhelmed with all our social networking choices. Students reported having to sometimes visit all three sites to get the information or interaction they were seeking.

I began using student reactions from my first experiment to clarify the use of the blog (reflection on the course experi­ence), Moodle (the formal home for course materials and assigned discus­sions), and Facebook (our opportunity to chat about additional resources and experiences and to socialize). Students reacted positively to the three experi­ences, and we had much more activity on the Facebook site when the purpose for that site was more clearly defined.

I find these social networking tools useful in both my face-to-face classes and my distance classes, and I know that the tools are especially important in establishing both teacher and student presence in the online environment. I will continue to experiment with these tools (and new ones), and I look forward to interactions on this important topic.

In the first article (page 4), Leanna Archambult and her colleagues discuss the use of Web 2.0 technologies and their potential to transform professional devel­opment in teacher education. Andrea Kent examines interactive video conferencing as a tool to improve preservice teachers’ ability to integrate theory to practice in reading instruction, beginning on page 12. Vince Ham presents a conceptual model to better evaluate professional develop­ment programs for technology integration in his article (page 22). The final article (page 30) and SIGTE Award paper by Su­san Gronseth and colleagues describes the technology skills and experiences of the “Net Generation” to help teacher educators better prepare future teachers.

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