Learning and Teaching in the 21st Century: The Potential for Social Media Such as Facebook

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

In ancient times young people were trained in apprenticeships. A few were lucky enough to sit at the feet of great scholars. For the most part young people learned by imitating skilled seniors. Only a few scholars and scribes were literate. Great events were often recorded in paintings by master artist and carried forth by storytellers and ballad singers.

The invention of the printing press slowly changed society. Books and libraries became storehouses of history, science and mathematics. Eventually textbooks gave rise to schools, as we know them today. Historical events were recorded in print, and it became essential that people become literate. In the 1850s there was an argument as to whether textbooks for learners should include pictures and illustrations. Books allowed the master scholars, scientists and historians to store and distribute their wisdom and knowledge.

Until about five thousand years ago society used a strictly oral-aural system of communications. Once writing became available, mankind could store information and knowledge over time and space. Ideas that were printed could travel over land from one place to the next. Printed materials could be handed down one generation to the next. The users had to be literate in the language used. Literacy became the doorway to self-learning.

Mankind took a major step forward when we learned to transcribe speech and language into a stable code called writing. When the printing press was invented new ideas of schooling were possible. A mediator, that is, teachers, could transfer the writings of scholars to the masses. No longer did the learner need to be in the presence of the master scholar.

Today, technology allows us to go far beyond the printed word. Digitization of information is as significant a change as the printing press. We are at a major shift because we have the ability to bring live living color and enhanced graphics to any learning event. If our students are learning about John Glenn’s first space flight (20 Feb. 1962), they can see the actual footage of his orbits. Moreover they can see and hear him talk about the event and what he thinks it meant to the world. In fact, with social media we have the potential to create a Facebook page where he answers learners’ questions. Technology through social media allows us to practice team learning. Through social media, team members can be in the same classroom or even in different countries around the world.

Through a concept such as LearnFlix*, learners could call up master teachers who will provide them tested lessons in the classroom or home. In this system, learners can be challenged to solve real problems through specific challenges. Learning games can be created that require team participation in the classroom, across schools and at home. Simulated worlds can be created that engage, inspire, empower and enable learners to seek excellence.

Today’s technology expands learning beyond the classroom to the world. Learning can take on real meaning and involve learners in real world problems.

Should very young children be using social media such as Facebook? Probably not, but they are. Thus, we need to design programs that are most beneficial to them. These basic programs can enhance language and basic science knowledge development. The technology is uniquely capable of explaining complex concepts and answering questions such as “Why is the sky blue?”

If Facebook develops a series of children’s pages, they must:

  • be advertisement free.
  • meet objectives of the national education standards. And be so labeled.
  • include procedures for placing a learning module on Facebook.
  • insist that product producers state their objectives and cite any data to justify their claims.

If actual virtual courses are offered for older students, the producer must certify their credentials for the content.

Congressmen Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas), co-chairs of the Bi-partisan Congressional Privacy Caucus, are concerned about how Facebook would use information gathered on children who use the proposed service. So far Facebook has indicated they want no restriction on their users. This must be answered.

Facebook’s children’s programs could offer actual virtual high school courses. If so how will the lessons be validated and certified?

Mankind took a major step forward when we learned to transcribe speech and language into a stable code called writing. When the printing press was invented new ideas of schooling became possible. A mediator, that is, teachers, could transfer the writings of scholars to the masses. No longer did the learner need to be in the presences of the master scholar.

Today’s technology expands learning beyond the classroom to the world. Learning can take on real meaning and involve learners in real world problems.

Facebook has a high potential for public education; however, those that would be pioneers in this field must demonstrate their credibility and certification for educational standards. As long as the content supplements the school curriculum there are no problems, but when the product is intended as actual education and not supplements, certification is a requirement.

At a minimum, Facebook must not use its children’s programming as a marketing tool.

__________
* Author’s note: I have been talking about a LearnFlix or LearnerFlix, but there is not one set up as yet. I have talked to some people about establishing such a service. The Caption Film Library under Bill Stark has been referred to as LearnFlix but there is no established system as yet.

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  5. Thank you for a very thoughtful essay . I have shared it widely. I am working on a digital citizenship grant that will create modules for preservice educator. The power of social media will help change education.

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