One of the most exciting and potentially disruptive developments in the realm of teaching with technology is the growth of social media. Loosely defined, social media are inexpensive and accessible tools that enable users to create and publish content on the web. Use of social media represent a shift in how people discover, read and share information and content. Scholars such as Clay Shirkey have pointed to the democratizing effect of social media tools such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, videos, etc.
We're all for democracy, but what effect are social media tools having upon teaching and learning? One of the most profound changes facilitated by social media is a shift in how and where information originates. By enabling anyone to publish content, social media tools supplant traditional channels and gatekeepers of knowledge, including instructors. Knowledge is no longer created and controlled by a select few and distributed through disconnected channels; rather it is open, connected and participatory. De Jaegher and Di Paulo (2007) have termed this trend "participatory sense making."
A related change brought about by social media tools is the ability to connect many people simultaneously, transforming one-to-many monologues such as lecture into many-to-many dialogues more typically found in group work and project collaboration. As Brown and Duguid have noted, (2000) information becomes knowledge through situating it within the context of our social connections. Knowledge, it may therefore be argued lives in the connections we forge with and among content creators.
A third change brought about by social media is a potential shift in the role of students. No longer relegated to being merely consumers of content in the classroom, students are becoming actively engaged in creating their own content and sharing it with others, beyond the traditional confines of the classroom. Such a shift holds the potential to do many things, the most intriguing of which to me is to move students up Bloom's Taxonomy of learning, ensuring potential engagement with theories and content at more advanced levels.
So, what should we make of emerging social media technologies and their potentially disruptive impact upon traditional classrooms? Given the assumption that understanding is determined by variables such as: the depth and diversity of connections, the frequency of exposure, the ability to integrate with existing concepts/ideas, and a combination of both strong and weak ties, we can simply ignore these technologies, or we can harness their potential to bring about new and deeper types of learning through the primacy and immediacy of networked connections.