These days you would find Walden on my bedside table as I reacquaint myself with Henry David Thoreau’s thoughts on the joys of solitude. As I read this, I try to remember the last time I’d spent anytime by myself. In the age of technology and the rich tapestry of social media, I wonder if anyone remembers the last time they were truly alone with only their thoughts to occupy their minds, no iPhone or iPad or computers to distract them.
I’ve always characterised social media – especially popular platforms such as Facebook and Twitter – as frivolous time-wasters and manifestations of first-world banality and ennui. They are platforms on which to post pictures of your beloved fur-kid and selfies, the means of production by which we reassure ourselves of our likeability factor and cult status on Twitter, and broadcast the minutiae of our lives to our whole digital world.
Certainly, they are often seen as counter to productivity and tools of procrastination. There is more than just a grain of truth to this perception. After all, it is quite unhelpful to have the ping of a Facebook notification when you’re just about to set out to start a task and meet the deadline as it most conveniently provides us with an excuse for distraction. And unless you are an academic in the field of communication analysing memes emojis as nuggets of cultural currency, it is probably less than productive to spend countless hours deciphering this brave new world of hieroglyphics 2.0 . (Surely, I’m not the only one who finds emojis disconcerting, or am I?)
However, as with all tools, the utility of social media is determined by the manner in which it is used and the user him/herself. Contrary to my earlier prejudices recounted above, tools such as Facebook and Twitter (to some extent) can be invaluable sources of information provided that one has developed information literacy skills to be able to winnow crap from legitimate and factual information.
(Image Retrieved from http://knowyourmeme.com/photos/427561-on-the-internet-nobody-knows-youre-a-dog)
As I think about all these social media platforms, I can’t help but notice that they have a common thread: commenting, tagging, (re)tweeting, liking, sharing, etc. are the actions that are commonly involved. One word sums it all: participation. (Recently, I’ve even observed that Linkedin has adapted the format of Facebook.).
Admittedly, I’ve been somewhat of a social media misfit. (I think I’ve waxed about my general unease in regard to social media interaction in a previous blog for another class, be it blogging, tweeting, perusing on Pinterest or Instagram – I have neither of those two, by the way; and Twitter is a pass as well since I find it hard to think and write in just 140 characters. You should probably check my Facebook posts as I’ve been told once or twice that FB may not be the avenue for me as my posts usually resemble a novel.)
(Image Retrieved from https://www.pinterest.com/lotissm/social-media-memes/)
Don’t get me wrong. I am not a social media snob. For the most part, I love it. I love that it allows me to interact with friends from across the globe. I love the Facebook conversations I have with my high school friends. I love the fact that Facebook allows us to re-establish that closeness. I love the fact that I get to catch up on their lives from their social media presence.I love the exchange of ideas and information that ensues from any one of us posting a link to an article or commenting on a page (Yes, I admit that once or twice – well, more often than not, I should say – we’ve crashed on other people’s posts and pages and made a conversation of our own oblivious to everyone else around us.) So yes, I love my small social media presence on the web.
Sometimes, though, as much as I like it, social media has a tendency to depress me. I know, because I know my own tweets and blog posts and status updates, that the image presented in these public forums is only a slice of the real. Though I attempt to portray as authentically as possible the real me here on the world wide web the reality is such that you see only a portion of me and my life, a portion I control. It easy to forget this, however, when I’m reading others’ glowing, peppy, happy-happy updates. Sometimes my life, my faith, seems drab in comparison. Sometimes I am drab in comparison. Sometimes I am envious. Sometimes I am depressed. Sometimes I want to indulge my hermit tendencies and delete any and all social accounts.
I am not, by nature, a very social person. In fact, I am much more shy and insecure than most people realize. Because I am in personality reserved, the social part of social media can be overwhelming. I marvel at those who can tweet about any and everything, and tweet with such wit to boot! Amazing!
Despite my unease, I do not anticipate a complete retreat from all things social media related. I imagine I will continue much as I have done, with an intermittent and occasional presence. As wary as I am of social media, I realise that one thing holds true more than ever – learning is now participatory.
As educators, we should be constantly evaluating our teaching methods by asking ourselves what constitutes effective learning in the changing environment of our students and their futures. We can turn our backs on social media and digital technologies, but the fact that ICT is now a very big part in education stays. Our refusal to adapt and integrate technology in our pedagogies would just turn us into dinosaurs. We have the opportunity to think about innovative approaches to learning and teaching especially when our students’ learning can extend beyond the textbook and classroom.
How motivated we are, as educators, to find new and innovative approaches to teaching will depend on a range of factors – one of which is whether we realise and appreciate the potential of digital technologies for relational learning, for example, when we see opportunities in our daily lives for the connective potential of social media. When we understand the value of social networks in our own lives, we will be able to translate this potential into the educational environment.
We should not let our personal preferences dictate our professional practice because we are educating students for their future, and it is a future that is very much anchored on technology and social networks. So we owe it to our students to be open to this new culture where ICT and technological literacy is king so that we can equip them better for the participatory culture of social networks.
Tan, S.C., Divaharan, S., Tan, L., and Mun, C.H. (2011). Self-directed learning with ICT: Theory, practice and assessment. Singapore: Ministry of Education. Available at http://ictconnection.moe.edu.sg/ictconnection/slot/u200/mp3/monographs/self-directed%20learning%20with%20ict.pdf
UNESCO Bangkok (__). Participatory Learning (Module 4). In UNESCO Bangkok, Handbook non-formal adult education facilitators. Bangkok: UNESCO.