Week 8-Social Media in Education

Since the rubber meets the road with instruction, I continued with a focus on teachers and social media.  A number of the readings were interesting and provocative, such as Vicki Davis’s blog post which concludes with

"If you're going to ignore social media in the classroom, then throw out the ISTE Standards for Students and stop pretending that you're 21st century. Stop pretending that you're helping low-income children overcome the digital divide if you aren't going to teach them how to communicate online.  Social media is here. It's just another resource and doesn't have to be a distraction from learning objectives. Social media is another tool that you can use to make your classroom more engaging, relevant and culturally diverse."

As an educator whose career has been spent exclusively in the service of poor, black and brown, urban youth, the “If you’re going to ignore…then stop pretending…” formulation is quite satisfying and I want to give it a shoutout.  However, the main text for this week I’ll discuss…

 Howard Rheingold’s  “Attention, and Other 21st Century Social Media Literacies”

Rheingold’s thesis is that skills alone are insufficient for successfully navigating social media.  Social media literacy is needed beyond skill knowledge.  He then identifies five interwoven literacies: Attention, participation, collaboration, network awareness & critical consumption.

  • Attention is “the fundamental building block for how individuals think…create tools…teach each other how to use them…how groups socialize, and…transform civilization.”  Rheingold then delineates different kinds of attention human beings deploy in particular circumstances and their applicability to digital and social media.
  • Participation online “gives one a different sense of being in the world….[Y]ou become an active citizen rather than simply a passive consumer of what is sold to you…taught to you…what you’re government wants you to believe.”  The powerful devices we all now carry in our pockets give us the ability to affect societal change in easier and faster ways than ever before.
  • Collaboration takes place “[u]sing the technologies and techniques of attention and participation…allow[ing] people to work together collaboratively in ways that were too difficult or expensive to attempt before the advent of social media.”  This is a particularly good articulation of how these literacies comprise an interwoven continuum as opposed to 5 discrete elements.  Rheingold continues, illustrating social media collaboration through various examples of crowdsourcing ranging from searching for missing persons at sea to citizen responses to natural disasters to charity fundraising.
  • Network Awareness is a bit more esoteric.  Noting that the 19th century saw the industrialized society and the 20th century, the information society, Rheingold suggests the 21st century is seeing the rise of the networked society.  “In the past there were physical limitations on which people and how many people we could include in our network…. Now, technological networks…have vastly expanded the number and the variety of people we can contact.”  Here he also suggests that deep network awareness also requires participants to understand how networks can influence “how much freedom, wealth, and participation you will have in the rest of this century”, drawing attention to the current debates on net neutrality.
  • Critical Consumption is, as Rheingold reminds us, what Hemingway called “crap detection”.  In essence, it is now up to the reader to vet whether or not a media source is trustworthy.  As he notes, “[t]he authority of the text that goes back at least a thousand years has been overturned.”  Prior to the digital era we could rely on a whole series of steps and checkpoints traditional publishing provided for fact-checking and accuracy of information.  But now, the democratic nature of digital media means any yahoo with a device can publish.  Thus, all responsible citizens also have to possess the skills of a critic if they wish to be informed.  Critical consumption, then, brings us full circle, back to attention as we need to use our crap detection to determine exactly what is and isn’t worthy of our time, energy, and focus.
Illustration of Reed’s Law;   Source: Michael K. Bergman, AI^3


Rheingold slides the following point into critical consumption but is worth highlighting separately.  He notes that social media is a flow, not a queue.  Email is a queue.  With email, messages arrive one at a time into our mailbox in chronological order where we deal with each message in some way — answer, ignore, delete, schedule, file.  Whereas, social media is a constant and overwhelming flow of information that we can never ever entirely apprehend.  Therefore, we have to choose what we will pay attention to, when, and how.  This is a helpful way to conceptualize the cacophony of social media and suggests a way to engage it.  It gives permission to let go of all the messages that get by us no matter how we struggle to keep up.  (For those of us who feel compelled to respond to everything that comes through our feed(s), this is no small reprieve!)  In addition, this distinction between managing items in a queue versus an endless flow of information accentuates the idea that social media participation requires conceptual, literacy-based understanding and not just skill knowledge.

Defining as “Literacy” Raises the Stakes

Shifting the conversation from one of skills acquisition to literacy raises the stakes for educators.  Prior to starting this master’s program,  my thinking about the role of digital media in education could be described as more subconscious, intuitive.  However, in the last 20 weeks, my thoughts have become more clearly conscious.  One articulation of that emergent thinking, as I noted in last week’s post, is that the internet and mobile technology are no longer curiosities or places where we dally in cyberspace.  They are as crucial to our daily functioning as the telephone, radio, television, and the automobile became in the last century.   The digital realm is, arguably, even more profound than those previous technologies in that it constitutes spaces for the conduct of nearly all kinds of human transactions — commercial, professional, artistic, personal — while at the same time breaking the limits of time and space.  Clearly, social media are now extensions of our actual social lives as well.  So in this sense, my thinking has evolved in that I believe parents and schools have a obligation to teach children what constitutes safe and responsible behaviors online just as much as they do what’s appropriate in the “real” world.

Changes in My Thinking

Rheingold’s article has helped crystalize my thinking.  Given the power and place of digital media in our lives, we need to teach their navigation as conceptual literacies and not merely skills.  This makes sense, too, given the vast and ever-changing complexities that make up the digital realm.  People will only be able to navigate as digital residents when they are fluent in the hows and whys of digital world and can transfer skills to new digital contexts as they are likely to emerge.

Further reading:
Washington's new digital citizenship legislation sets nationwide precedent

How Memes Harken Back to Pre-Internet Times -- It's a bit tangential, though it highlights the complexity and literacy required to understand something as "simple" as a meme.
Wrapping Up

In his conclusion, Rheingold notes that social media and their accompanying literacies will “shape the cognitive, social, and cultural environments of the 21st century” just as the printing press, books and their literacies shaped the Enlightenment.  If  this turns out to be the case, and it looks very likely that it will be, then we as educators have responsibilities here.  We can’t bury our heads in the sand ignoring and pretending, as Vicki Davis passionately called out.

We like to say the world is changing.  But more often than not, by the time we make such a statement the world has already changed.  And so it goes with social media.  As a profession, education is behind the curve.  There is quite a bit of catch-up we have to do when it comes to ICT instruction in general and social media in particular.  Rheingold’s formulation of the 5 social media literacies implies the stakes are higher than we thought.  It is incumbent upon us to learn these literacies at least well enough to teach them to our students.  After all, we are the ones charged with projecting them into the future — a future none of us can see — armed with the tools and understandings they (and our democracy) will need to survive through this century.



5 thoughts on “Week 8-Social Media in Education

  1. Carol Gutekanst May 28, 2017 / 11:47 am

    Sorry Doug, I’m slow. I still don’t get how Howard Rheingold thinks attention, participation, collaboration, network awareness and critical consumption are conceptual literacies. Or maybe I’m thinking too literally…I read most of his article and I consider these skills, not literacies. At the end of the article he states, “This is not just another set of skills to be added to the curriculum.” I don’t mean to get hung up on words, but does he mean we need to teach kids a different kind of conceptual thinking? I’m just trying to process all this; fascinating article!
    Carol G.


    • Doug van Dyke May 30, 2017 / 8:26 am

      Ok, I’ve been struggling for two days to clearly capture my thinking here. I don’t know that I’ve succeeded with the “clearly” part, but it’s a start. Here’s how I’m making sense of Rheingold. One’s use — successful or otherwise — of social media requires sophisticated interactions based on one’s conceptual understanding across a number of domains, such as general conventions of electronic media, conventions of a particular digital platform, how to express and interpret thoughts in the absence of non-verbal cues, how the use of emoji modulates tone, etc. These are whole complexes of concepts and abstractions. As such, they require more than simply mastering a defined set of skills (i.e: The skill is: “Include a subject for your message.” This is etiquette for email, yet not for text messages, tweets, and often Facebook posts. The skill is: “Add hashtags to make your posts searchable.” Hashtags work only in particular contexts such as social media, but not in others like SMS or email. There are benefits and drawbacks to their use that need to be weighed when deciding whether or not to use them: Hashtags expose your posts to a much wider audience than just your followers. To be most effective, hashtags should already exist/be popular. Over-using hashtags makes your post obnoxious to read. Using hashtags opens your account up to spam. Etc.) And these are just the nuts and bolts of use. This isn’t even getting into concepts such as appropriate/inappropriate sharing, online privacy, online safety, online bullying/bystanding, the permanency of one’s posts, use differences by demographic, etc. Suggesting social media requires wider literacy or literacies rather than just narrow skill sets complicates social media use such that we take it with a seriousness that until now either hasn’t been considered by the wider using public, or has been ignored. And given its power and influence, complicating it and treating it with more gravitas a good thing.

      Thanks for the pushback on this. Even though I struggled to articulate my thinking (I’ll blame it on the holiday weekend!), this has helped me crystalize it further!


  2. Anonymous May 28, 2017 / 9:15 pm


    I like the quote by Vicki Davis that you include early on in your blog post this week that describes how social media is here and that, “it’s just another resource and doesn’t have to be a distraction from learning objectives.” I also agree with your points on the importance of media literacy. I did research one of the previous weeks on media literacy and I agree that this is definitely something that educators as well as parents should be teaching our youth beginning at a young age. Our youth that we teach will have or already do have some form of social media account. With social media being such a huge part of society and how we communicate with one another, I completely agree that schools should have an obligation to utilize social media and media literacy in order to teach our youth the skills that they need in order to successfully communicate on social media and utilize the many other functions social media offers efficiently within their academic and professional lives. You bring up many excellent and thought-provoking ideas, Doug! Thanks for sharing!



    • Doug van Dyke May 30, 2017 / 8:31 am

      Thanks, Daniel. I’m wondering if our studies this week and our various blog posts has helped you crystalize your thoughts around how to incorporate social media instruction in your class. (<– That's based on one of your comments on the Snapshot doc.)


  3. Nicole May 30, 2017 / 9:25 am

    I do enjoy Rheingold…and also the conversation between classmates on such an important topic. Your line, “Clearly, social media are now extensions of our actual social lives as well.” reminded me of a quote I read (although unfortunately I can’t recall exactly who said it): “There is no longer “my online” or “offline life”- to teens it is simply “life”.

    I also loved your comment “We like to say the world is changing. But more often than not, by the time we make such a statement the world has already changed.” Wow. #Truth

    In my opinion, your best post yet.


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