With the second semester of my doctoral studies nearly halfway through, I thought that it might be worthwhile to take a pause and reflect one of the required courses of my Ph.D program: a special topics seminar focusing on Advanced Media – the impetus behind this blog. In particular, I’d like to use this post as an opportunity to respond to a portion of Chapter 6 : “L’apprentissage collaboratif” (“Collaborative learning”) of the draft of the book that we have been reading (albeit I’ll respond somewhat vaguely because the book is the manuscript of a forthcoming publication by the course professor, Pierre Levy (Canadian Research Chair in Collective Intelligence)).
The focus of this chapter, as mentioned above, is collaborative learning. Professor Levy begins by describing how social media can be used to contribute to (and enhance) the learning environment. He describes in detail how he uses social media as a pedagogical tool in his undergraduate and graduate seminars to emphasize skills not platforms. As an example, in his doctoral seminar, we have been asked to do the following:
- Engage with the course material on Twitter (you can follow me at @jdeemill as well as our collective conversation using the hashtag #uoam17) by notetaking on Twitter during class and while doing readings, and by sharing related content in between classes using the hashtag;
- Creating an academic blog (although, mine seems to be more ‘quasi-academic’);
- Using a private Facebook group to share course material, related articles, etc (only Professor Levy and the students in the course have access to this); and
- Using a data curation platform like ScoopIt.
Before engaging in my reflection upon this experience to date, I would like to highlight that Professor Levy has an expertise in and understanding of social media platforms that (in my opinion) is not only rare among academics but inspirational and something to aspire to. I have come across very few professors who have harnessed technology in such a nuanced way (Michael Geist, is another one of my favourites, if you were curious).
Returning to the topic of Chapter 6 of the manuscript, Professor Levy argues that the use of Twitter and Facebook in the classroom teaches students a “cultivated” (or perhaps “cultured” is a more accurate translation) way to use the technology. This statement – in combination with the sentence that follows which lists other ‘legitimate’ uses of social media such as posting pictures of one’s breakfast, sharing memes, and advertising – actually functions to delegitimize those ‘other’ uses of social media. It creates a hierarchy of users and uses, segmenting them into classes – academic and non-academic; cultured and non-cultured; and by extension important and unimportant.
In addition, I disagree with Professor Levy’s view that using Twitter in the classroom allows students to communicate directly with other students about the course material thereby facilitating the free exchange of information and discussion without disrupting the course. I think that the use of social media platforms while physically in the classroom actually detracts from class discussion and engagement. From a user’s perspective, I find it difficult to follow and engage with class discussion (that is ask questions verbally in class) while I am trying to keep up with a parallel discussion in the Twitterverse. I’m (unintentionally) forced to choose between engaging fully in one medium or another, or engaging partially in both. In support of this position, studies on the use of technology in other public spaces suggest that what happens when such technology is introduced into a public space is the creation of a private sphere or “cocoon” of activity. Hampton & Gupta (2008) have found that such spheres of “public privatism” have a detrimental impact on interaction in a public space because they “[contradict] common expectations of public behaviour, and [divert] attention away from co-present others” (p. 835).
While digital literacy issues have the potential to impact everyone (see the ongoing discussions on the Internet and in the press surrounding the ‘fake news’ issue) and critical digital skills should be taught and updated throughout all stages of our lives, I think that the utility of social media for academics and for students in the classroom depends on their area of research. In technology law (as in the case of Michael Geist’s blog), it would certainly be important to stay apprised of developments on a day-to-day basis. Twitter, blogs, newsletter, data curation sites would therefore be of the utmost importance. A similar logic applies to the research being undertaken by Professor Levy. For someone like me, however, whose research will examine the representation of people living with HIV/AIDS in popular culture (and in particular in literature and graphic novels), I’m uncertain how useful such platforms will be.
Follow the debate as it unfolds on Twitter!
Hampton, K.N., & Gupta, N. (2008). Community and social interaction in the wireless city: Wi-fi use in public and semi-public spaces. New Media & Society, 10(6), 831-850.