Social networking is an important and invaluable concept in our modern society and especially for the language classroom. It encourages the development of social and communication skills and all you need is a computer and an Internet connection. Through the creation of networks and online communities the ESL student can share all kinds of knowledge while practicing the language.
AVEALMEC and ARCALL are two Latin-American associations whose purpose is promoting the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in the language classroom. As they state in their website,
“They have joined forces to organize this first regional event to help spread the word on the role of ICT in the language classroom. This first conference will focus on social networks and their potential to create Communities of Practice to share, communicate without barriers and enhance the teaching-learning process in the language classroom.” http://www.avealmec.org.ve/
This conference had guest speakers from Canada, the US, Cyprus, the UK, Brazil, Israel, Argentina and Venezuela. Their presentations proposed an alternative understanding of how information available on the net sparks connections, thus creating new information and a different ways of learning. In their own words, this first online conference also served as a bonding experience to keep close communication among language teachers in different parts of the world.
I attended three of the twelve workshops and I have to say that I learned so much I went and watch the recordings of the others. There are incredible ways to motivate students and yourself, the teacher. Sometimes, teaching the same book, the same lesson, the same way over and over again gets so boring... It was nice to know I did not have to go into that sickening routine. There are so many choices you will never get bored again. I chose the three workshops I liked the most and this is what they were about:
Ed Tech and Social Networking by Ronaldo Junior Lima and Erika Cruvinel
Ronaldo Junior Lima and Erika Cruvinel work as Ed Tech Monitors in Brazil. Ed Tech stands for educational Technology, which is the study and practice of facilitating and improving performance by using and managing technological processes and resources. They basically create and manage materials and activities through the use of technology for educational purposes. They also help students and teachers make good use of technology in the language classroom, online courses and computer labs.
Networking means working together as a group with one common goal. As Ronaldo Lima points out, if you think of a net, you see that nets are formed by nodes and all nodes are connected forming a whole. So that is what networking implies: connecting for individual and group interests.
Lima and Cruvinel presented many different platforms through which networks can be formed and how they were able to achieve this. First, they affirm that getting peolpe to participate and contribute was hard to do. They had created a blog on 2006 and it wasn’t until 2008 that they started to be joined by more and more contributors. They now have a wiki with 108 members/contributors uploading and sharing materials. They also joined twitter with several teachers who tweet about teaching, materials, videos, etc.
Erika Cruvinel suggests different Communities of Practice where teachers can learn from other teachers, form networks and keep up with the new technologies. These are the links:
They then presented examples of networking with students, of how being online with your work can trigger positive connections and how students can interact with other students and even teachers from all over the world. This promotes student participation since they see that their work is not only read by their teacher but by people from around the world, and that they are not just doing homework but they are having fun doing it. And we teachers know how important motivation is, right?
Flickr: Design that Connnects by Carla Arena
“Flickr is my substitute for the old flash cards” Carla Arena
Carla Arena is an Ed Tech supervisor also from Brazil. She sees Flickr as more that an image sharing platform. According to Carla, Flickr is about telling your own story, about your own narrative, and about telling others who you are. It was one of the first Web 2.0 platforms and it´s power lies in the fact that it relies on its users and their interactions. It is created and fed by their relationships and their connections.
However, it is no so used by teachers which is a waste of it huge potential for education, since it is a perfect place for learning about cultures, diversity, creating conversations and sharing more than images with other people in the world.
These are Carla Arena´s ideas for using Flickr for language practice:
- Commenting on other people´s images which can result in an interesting conversation.
- Posting your own pictures, describing them and interacting with those who comment.
- Using Flickr instead of flash cards (for teachers).
- Using Flickr to learn about culture and diversity.
- Adding notes on an image and commenting as a classroom on specific details of an image.
- Using Flickr’s slideshows in your blog.
- Creating a gallery on a specific topic.
- Practicing basic vocabulary though tagging details in your images.
Connectivism and Social Networking by George Siemens
George Siemens is a Canadian writer and researcher on learning networks, technology and organizational effectiveness in digital environments. His presentation marks a sort of introduction to the use of new technologies in education. According to him, our education system is built on assumptions and paradigms that are being challenged and questioned by the new technologies and forms of communication. For instance, what is the role of the classroom today? Is it really necessary to have a physical space when we can make use of the digital world? Or, what is the role of the teacher? Traditionally, the teacher is treated as an expert or specialist on a certain topic. However, now more than ever information and knowledge is being shared and created at a very fast pace. Then how does a single person process so much? Then, Siemens proposes the question of whether teachers and experts could be substituted by communities of knowledge or networks in today´s connected world.
Siemens dwells on the concept of “conectedness”, what it does for us and how it is a part of being human. Today, more than ever before, we have opportunities to being connected and therefore to having access to knowledge. Siemens affirms that it is through such connections that learning takes or should take place, because as a community with a shared interest, humans make sense and manage ideas that otherwise exist separately.
The problems that education is facing will find solutions in individuals interacting with each other in meaningful ways to tackle meaningful problems. Siemens goes on to say that we cannot rely only on experts anymore; we should rely on social interactions instead. This could affect the whole education system.
This could have a great impact on the whole system of education. It is true that a problem cannot be solved by one single person but by the intervention of several people. These people, however, need guidance and orientation to become a whole. Therefore, Siemens closes by stating that social networks will not replace teachers. Instead, the learning process needs to be an interactive one in which all the individuals involved learn from one another and in which the teacher nothing but a part of the network.