Teaching Crowds: Learning and Social Media
Jon Dron, Athabasca University
Terry Anderson, Athabasca University
Pub Date: 2014
ISBN 13: 978-1-9273568-1-4
Publisher: Athabasca University Press
Read This Book
Conditions of Use
The authors are expert in this timely and interesting area of instructional practice. Their assertions are built on well-respected learning theories, read more
The authors are expert in this timely and interesting area of instructional practice. Their assertions are built on well-respected learning theories, and draw an interesting line between the advent of social media and ‘social software’ and learning theories and instructional practices. The core concepts that follow are stimulating and timely. I would argue that the book is overly comprehensive. The first three chapters are foundational and could potentially be compressed.
Their introductory points -that the Internet and social media is connecting the world and how inequities in access to social media and social software increasingly impact academic growth and opportunity – are well-explained. The accuracy overall is increasingly impacted by the passage of time, but is sound at the time of publication.
Ironically, the pace of change brought about by the internet is a stumbling block. The preponderance of information and examples cited from the year of its authorship in 2014 places the content clearly in a place in time. Unfortunately, unlike academic research, a textbook that reads as dated will be viewed with decreasing credibility by students. How can the authors provide these very interesting and topical assertions without dating the text? In “The Shallows”, Nicholas Carr navigates this issue by phrasing what was happening at the time of authorship as “Here’s a few examples of what it was like in the development of this stage” rather than “Here’s what’s happening right now.”
This change should be accompanied by some parallel editing in the content. The content of chapters 1, 2, and 3 build an extensive and detailed understanding of learning theories and (as of 2014) the use of social media and ‘social software’ in society and education. While these chapters are well-researched and thorough, the amount of detail and breadth of discussion diffuse our attention from the focus on the authors’ expertise. Why wait until Chapter 4 to get to the good stuff? When the authors articulate their research and assertions in the characteristics of the aggregation of learners (in groups, networks, and sets), the text gets to the heart of the authors’ work. The central chapters (Ch.4 “Learning in Groups”, Ch. 5 “Learning in Networks”, Ch. 6 “Learning in Sets”, Ch. 7 “Learning with Collectives”) are full of well-supported and useful frameworks that will inform instructional practices. They also cite 2014 examples, and are written in dense, academic language. I feel a bit like a gold miner – trying to separate the nuggets from the slough.
The preface is very useful in providing a solid overview of the flow, construction, and connectivity of the chapters. Illustrations in the form of tables and figures support understanding, especially the Summary Tables comparing groups and tools, a handy accessible reference. The Figures in Chapters 4, 5, 6, and 7 are especially helpful to support the concepts and frameworks described. The Index is clear and complete, and references (citations) are lengthy, supporting research appears strong and extensive. Tables, figures, chapters are clearly delineated and help move the reader through the text.
Unfortunately, through open.umn.edu, this text is only available in pdf. This format requires using search functions or scrolling to navigate, rather than live links to various chapters or sections. It is readable, written at an average grade level of 13.5 (based on a ‘readability’ online measure found at readable.io). For use in my undergraduate courses, this text would require support for understanding and assignments.
This text is clearly written for an academic audience. The organization mimics an academic research paper. The points are clear and follow a logic trail.
A word about the font. The text is printed in a style of font that creates an incoherence between the topic and the print. In other words, the appearance of the font [Bell MT?] does not support the content. I found the font difficult to read, and too densely formatted on the page for easy viewing on a device. The sentences are complex and lengthy – which is fine – but the font style impedes readability, even after expanding the text to 175% on my 14-inch laptop screen. Just the wrong choice for this long of a text, especially one designed to be read on a device.
The text is well-constructed, and grammatical errors are scarce and generally not noticeable. A few errors (e.g. “Prezzi” is misspelled) provide further evidence of why the time-based examples should be cleaned out and generalized.
Examples are varied, but dated. The concepts provided are useful to inform culturally responsive instructional practices.
Bottom line: I would like to take a class or attend a seminar from the authors, and spend time translating the text into materials for professional development. As published, the text presents challenges in readability (both visually and in structure), length, and organization that intrude on its potential use for a course text.
The book addresses online learning from a social perspective - learning together, learning from each other, social software for learning, social read more
The book addresses online learning from a social perspective - learning together, learning from each other, social software for learning, social learning theories, modes of social engagement, pedagogical challenges for teaching online, potential dangers to security and privacy, and what the future may hold. This is a comprehensive treatment of theory, practice and pedagogy. I particularly like the perspective of learning not only from individuals but also from their collective behavior and interactions. This provides an interesting premise for future research on social networks and learning. Another highlight is the Three-Generational Model that divides the three pedagogical eras of developments in distance learning.The authors provide an excellent index and list of references. While a glossary is not provided, an explanation and definition of terms is included within the text.
The content is accurate and any bias is clearly stated and supported. There are many examples of theories and explanations of applicability to a social learning context.
The text is current and includes a valuable case study that allows the reader to apply the models and methods presented. The book also considers the future, based on the observed state of transition within the social technology arena in relation to educational systems. Updating this text will be relatively easy as future events unfold.
The text is written clearly, useful subheadings are included, and figures, models and tables help illustrate and clarify concepts and theories.
The authors have achieved excellent consistency in terms of terminology and their approach to presenting an understanding of social software use and equipping educators with the knowledge and skill to use educational software.
The text is very well organized and can easily be used to support various sections within a course. The chapter on social learning theories can be used in a theory building course, a social network course, or a course on educational software. Similarly chapters 4 to 7 can be bundled for use with instructional design. Chapter 8 is useful as a case study for systems design.
The arrangement of the chapters facilitates a deep understanding of the use, theoretical background and approaches to social online learning. While the chapters can be read singly or as groups, a linear progression does enhance a deeper appreciation of the connected approach by the authors.
The interface is very clear and all models and tables are easy to read.
The text contains no grammatical errors.
The objective approach of the book ensures that it is not culturally insensitive or offensive in any way. The focus is on social learning through common learning goals. Chapter 6 on Learning in Sets has an excellent discussion of tribal underpinnings that extends beyond race and ethnicity to backgrounds and interests. And Cultural Considerations in Chapter 9 highlights potential challenges across cultural norms. All are dealt with objectively and with examples that enhance understanding.
The text provides a wealth of background information, research and a strong scope of social software coverage so a reader will feel very well informed about networked learning environments and inspired to reconsider how that are used in distance education.
Table of Contents
- Chapter 1: On the Nature and Value of Social Software for Learning
- Chapter 2: Social Learning Theories
- Chapter 3: A Typology of Social Forms for Learning
- Chapter 4: Learning in Groups
- Chapter 5: Learning in Networks
- Chapter 6: Learning in Sets
- Chapter 7: Learning with Collectives
- Chapter 8: Stories From the Field
- Chapter 9: Issues and Challenges in Educational Uses of Social Software
- Chapter 10: The Shape of Things and of Things to Come
About the Book
Within the rapidly expanding field of educational technology, learners and educators must confront a seemingly overwhelming selection of tools designed to deliver and facilitate both online and blended learning. Many of these tools assume that learning is configured and delivered in closed contexts, through learning management systems (LMS). However, while traditional "classroom" learning is by no means obsolete, networked learning is in the ascendant. A foundational method in online and blended education, as well as the most common means of informal and self-directed learning, networked learning is rapidly becoming the dominant mode of teaching as well as learning.
In Teaching Crowds, Dron and Anderson introduce a new model for understanding and exploiting the pedagogical potential of Web-based technologies, one that rests on connections — on networks and collectives — rather than on separations. Recognizing that online learning both demands and affords new models of teaching and learning, the authors show how learners can engage with social media platforms to create an unbounded field of emergent connections. These connections empower learners, allowing them to draw from one another’s expertise to formulate and fulfill their own educational goals. In an increasingly networked world, developing such skills will, they argue, better prepare students to become self-directed, lifelong learners.
About the Contributors
Jon Dron is associate professor in the School of Computing and Information Systems and a member of the Technology-Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute at Athabasca University. His current research concerns the social aspects of learning technologies, with an emphasis on methods and technologies that enable learners to help each other.
Terry Anderson is professor and researcher in the Technology-Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute at Athabasca University. His interests focus on interaction and on the use of social media in educational contexts.