Social Media and Classroom Dynamics

Clay Shirky’s recent TED talk on social media has some interesting implications for future classroom dynamics.  As you watch Shirky’s 17-minute talk (embedded below), think about translating his ideas to educational settings.

Here’s the slide that stood out to me:


This is Shirky’s visualization of the 20th century model of getting one’s message out.  One producer, one message (regardless of recipient), high cost of distribution.  Doesn’t this model look like the one-to-many model used in a lot of college teaching?

Here’s the new model from Shirky:


This is the 21st century model powered by social media.  Everyone becomes a potential producer, multiple messages are produced that are more relevant to their receipients, and distribution is cheap and (relatively) easy.

Shirky gives the example of the community on during the US election last year.  Millions of Obama’s supporters contributed to the discussions on this site, sometimes collaborating to express disapproval of Obama’s decisions.  Shirky says, “[The Obama campaign] had understood that their role with was to convene their supporters, not to control their supporters.”

Might our classrooms look more like this, with every student contributing to the shared learning experience?  What if the teacher’s role was not to control the students’ learning, but to convene a learning opportunity for the students, one that leverages the many possible connections between and among students?

Shirky ends his talk with this: “Media is less and less often about crafting a single message to be consumed by individuals and more and more often a way of creating an environment for convening and supporting groups…  The question we all face now is, How can we make best use of these media even thought it means changing the way we’ve always done it?”

Given the ways that social media are changing how we communicate outside of the classroom, I think it makes sense to explore the ways that social media–and classroom response systems, broadly defined–might change the dynamics of learning inside the classroom, too.

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