Posts Tagged Social network

An Education – for the 21st Century

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I went on a bit of a “rant” today in response to some worryingly narrow responses to an excellent piece the wonderful Euan Semple had posted on his blog The Obvious, criticising a school (which the son of his friend attends) for withdrawing/banning the use of Facebook in school time.

I’ve copied the relevant exchanges/pieces below. I hope I didn’t upset Helen or Christian but sometimes you have to say what needs to be said. There is little more important than progressive education….we should continue to encourage a progressive discussion.

This seemed somehow apt today as I went along to the local Primary School to hear about the possibilities for becoming a Governor. I’ll be checking they harness social media in the classroom before I sign up to anything!

I’m glad to say that most of the posts that preceded and followed mine agreed with Euan’s original sentiment. So all hope is not lost….I was really touched by his kind words following my post. That, for those of you who don’t know the influence of the man, is praise indeed.

Anyway, here it is (was?) albeit a spell checked version (old habits..) starting with Euan’s original post. You can find the full exchange with all comments at his excellent blog which I’ve linked above.

Some thoughts on schools banning Facebook


Banning Facebook is like banning the telephone. What people in authority don’t realise is that it is just a tool. Any tool can be used or misused. What they should be focused on is harnessing its potential not being paranoid about what people do with it.

Facebook, like so many social tools, is actually primarily about learning. Yes learning what people had for breakfast – but also learning news, learning what works, learning what books are best to read, learning where to find the right bit of information.

It is particularly ironic when schools ban Facebook as they are the very ones who should be teaching effective use of this technology – not keeping their pupils stuck in some industrial, factory model of learning.

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Reader Comments (25)

When you’re at school, you are there for learning. Learning the important stuff – and the even more important stuff about being social in the first place, by talking to friends, face to face.

Social sites don’t help with this, which is why this ban (to which I can relate very well) is so interesting:

September 22, 2010 | Christian Guthier

Guns are just things.

Porn is just pictures.
Crack is just a substance.

“Facebook, like so many social tools, is actually primarily about learning. ”
This statment strikes me as absurd and untrue.
Absorbing random bits of information piecemeal is actually the opposite of learning and is, as we are finding out, having a very negative impact on young minds ability to function in reality.

Is information synthesised on facebook or twitter? Are worthwhile discussions ever had?

September 22, 2010 | helen clattenberg

Huge assumptions being made there Helen and Christian. I wonder how much experience you have actually had of these tools or of the way people and kids use them?

Yes those things are just things and can be used for good or ill. Demonising the things without dealing with our issues ducks the issues.

Social tools enable millions of us to meet, build relationships, and have better informed and enriching conversations about all sorts of things.

Otherwise what are we doing now and why did you leave a comment?

September 22, 2010 | Euan

Am not assuming anything, just reporting my direct experience (I work part-time with teenagers – outside the US) and I see that constant distraction and inundation with trivia from electronic impairs cognition (not just while the devices are being used).

Depth of consciousness and patience are learned attributes. Most of us older folk grew up in environments where that was instilled and valued.

The social environment has changed vastly and our teenagers now, will reap the whirlwind.

Of course Social Networks “enable” many positive things, but just because something is “enabled” it does not follow that it actually happens.

Like schools, nightclubs also “enable millions of us to meet, build relationships, and have better informed and enriching conversations about all sorts of things”.

Should schools be converted to nightclubs so that the kids may enrich their minds. communicate, network, bond and “learn” dance moves, chat up routines etc etc?

You first assertion that social tools are about learning, gives a very skewed idea of what learning is.
(Assuming he is adolescent) its natural, that your son is more interested in learning social / romantic skills etc etc, rather than other skills that might be of value later on, but we as parents, I think would serve his generation better, by demonstrating that not all learning has the same value no matter how cool and groovy.

September 22, 2010 | helen clattenberg

Great debate Euan. I do want to also pick up on some points raised by Helen and Christian (thanks for stoking this conversation both).

“The social environment has changed rapidly”. Agreed and if we don’t help to equip our children to learn and thrive in that environment then both we and our schools are abdicating all responsibility as educators for their future well-being. If we don’t teach our children how to use all available resources safely and efficiently – for their own good and the good of wider society – then we set them and society up to fail in what is becoming a true knowledge intensive “attention economy”.

“Depth of consciousness and patience are learned attributes. Most of us older folk grew up in environments where that was instilled and valued”. These are still learned and valued attributes. If ever we needed to help our children learn the power of mindful attention and patience then this is the age. But we must teach them within, not without, the social environment in which they will live otherwise it just won’t stick.  It is interesting to me that some of the most powerful and joyous advocates of “social technology” are those who are already deeply conscious and mindful.  Simply because it provides opportunity for a growing awareness of our infinite and inherent “interdependence” as Ethan Nichtern calls it. Check out Bhuddist Geeks or 21Awake or The Here and Now Project for what is a much more mature and evolved consideration on this:  it is a necessary invitation and opportunity to explore what it means to be conscious and patient within (not outside of) the 21st Century. The aspiration is still the same but our children are growing up in a different time so it must a slightly different question.

“All learning is not equal” but why do we persist in suggesting that we – any of us – know what learning is most relevant and to whom? Even the way we study is being challenged as we learn for example that (as musicians already know) repetition of a single discipline/area of study in discrete chunks does not work well for sustaining retention and cognitive development. Rather, regular short bursts of a range of subjects/tasks/disciplines in one sitting yields much more. Even the recognition that so much of our best learning is social is underpinned by science.  But back to my original point – not all learning is equal/as important as other learning. Agreed, but who is best placed to decide that? We continue to prepare so many of our students for a world we appear not to have noticed is changing in front of our very eyes. The capability to source, discern, synthesise and connect to both information and people (in a mindful and patient manner) are among the key skills we will need for the future. As Steven Berlin Johnson says: “chance favours the connected world”. But it also favours the connected (and skilled) person therein.

If that’s not among the “important stuff” then I worry for our young minds. The Battle of Hastings and long division will only get us so far.

I’m fully behind Euan on this. How we learn/teach should reflect how we understand our young people to live. Without that much learning can (and will) feel redundant and stifling. Like everything else, Facebook isn’t bad, but there are bad users of Facebook. Apparently some of our schools are among them.

September 22, 2010 | Shane Carmichael

I love it when comments are way better than my post! :-)

September 22, 2010 | Euan

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Virtual Revolution or Virtual Evolution?

Partial map of the Internet based on the Janua...
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Very much enjoyed last night’s first installment of the BBC’s “Virtual Revolution” series

As well as providing some interesting (and often personal) insights on the history of the “web” and some of its current uses for individual and greater good, what was most interesting to me was the recognition that the Internet, far from redefining human nature, is ultimately a very pure reflection of it.

As one commentator remarked in the course of the programme:

“The Internet, like all technologies, is not a cure for human nature, it is simply an amplification of human nature”

 I think that’s a beautiful phrase – “an amplification of  human nature”. For on and in our uses of the Internet we do see the very best and very worst of ourselves as individuals and collectives.  Some amplifications are more surprising than others of course – I mean who would have though that sleepy sophisticated Harrogate would be the leading lights in accessing “adult material” on the Internet!

This notion of “amplification” rather than “redefinition” of human nature echoes what the brilliant Clay Shirky suggested in his book “Here Comes Everybody” – that the Internet does not necessarily create new motivations, it simply allows existing or latent motivation to be realised more efficiently (and immediately). As do the words of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg when asked by an audience of Global leaders recently: “How do we create a community (Facebook) like yours?”. Zuckerberg’s answer: “You can’t”. And he is right. Communities are not a creation of the web or anything else. They are a simple reflection of latent/existing human motivations/needs.

We use these tools to enable us to do the things we aready desire or feel to be important. Hence the success of community tools like Facebook, LinkedIn or MeetUp – man has, for millenia, sought out connection and community, both out of personal need for connection with others and an evolutionary instinct that ‘the collective’ offer us advantages as individuals and a society in the provision of services and allocation of resources.

I mention this only because of my interest in evolutionary psychology, the non technical aspects of change management and a growing interest – and some cases misunderstanding – of the web’s transformative power among business, particularly in relation to the creation of “communities of practice”.

There is a lesson here for both society and business in considering our relationship with the web and the social technologies it has spawned. These technologies and how they are used will reflect the culture of our society, communities and business operations. They won’t transform it’s core tenets, only how we share, collaborate and co-operate….and if we currently don’t share, collaborate and co-operate then a simple implementation of Twitter, Ning, Sharepoint or any other social media technology won’t change that. In a business context the lesson is this: social technologies will work best in an environment when people are aready motivated and able (skilled, have the opportunity etc)  to harness them to meet their existing motivations (to share, to learn, to drive business results).  Where communities of purpose, not practice, already exist and just need a more efficient means to practice as a collective.

This applies just as much – if not more so for Government aspirations for Gov 2.0. There is a danger that if we don’t find ways to engage and enable those in society with whom Government conducts most of its interactions (and whom are least likely to be connected to the Internet) then Gov 2.0 will fail as it will simply amplify the dislocation between of Government and the people who need it most (as I mentoned before, almost 80% of Government transactions are conducted with 20% of the UK population base and based on socio-economic esearch that 20% represent those sections of society least likely to be ‘web-enabled’).

So – hear ye. Without a better understanding of how our current business and social communities work and an investment in fostering a culture conducive to sharing and collaborating, the web and its manifold technologies will simply amplify the corporate or community status quo. Think more of the same only a little sexier, faster and more acute. And that would be a real shame.

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