Teaching Crowds: Learning and Social Media

Reviewed by Christopher Haynes, Associate Director for Learning Experience Design, CU Boulder on 9/5/19

Comprehensiveness rating: 4

This book addresses head on some of the challenges of teaching and learning at scale, an increasingly common need for institutions of higher education, while also providing tools and strategies for individuals to manage their formal and informal learning experience toward greater impact. It provides an extensive list of references and a useful, functional glossary.

Content Accuracy rating: 5

The content of Teaching Crowds is accurate, error-free, and unbiased. The authors are aware of their own histories and institutional contexts, and make those structural constraints visible and part of the learning experience of the book. Anderson's ethos is strong, as he is one of co-authors of the articles that laid out the "Community of Inquiry" model, one of the most commonly cited design schemas for online and technologically mediated teaching and learning, and is a leader in the field. The initial wordplay of “teaching crowds” encapsulates the purpose of the book, both a theoretical explication of what makes social teaching and learning work, and a practical guide for doing that work more effectively.

Relevance/Longevity rating: 4

Anderson and Dron capture a critical reality of the current educational space, a tension between framing education “as a means of reproducing cultural norms for stability and as an instrument of change” (301). One of the drawbacks of any book looking to engage pedagogical reflection by holistically addressing theory and practical application is the rapid outdating of the technological platforms and tools referenced. This book is no exception, and some of the example tools and platforms are not commonly known today or have evolved in functionality, UI, or educational application. But, Teaching Crowds does an excellent job of framing tool references within context and category, which facilitates users now (at the time of writing, 5 years after publication) mapping the context onto whatever new toolsets are available.

Clarity rating: 5

Teaching Crowds is written in clear and accessible prose. The early chapters of the book set out the educational and cultural theory upon which the applications of social learning and pedagogy rely. These chapters are denser than the rest and contain more technical terminology, but the book is well structured with headings, subheadings, and sections so the reader is not ever lost.

Consistency rating: 5

Teaching Crowds is consistent in its topical frameworks. The most common of these are the approaches to learning covered (instructivist/behaviorist; constructivist; connectivist) and the social modes of learning explored (individual, group, network, set, collective).

Modularity rating: 4

Teaching Crowds is very modular in presentation, with a useful framework of headers, subheaders, and subsections that make any chapter or any section within a chapter extractable. There is self-referentiality throughout the book, so any extraction would require some context to sufficiently frame. But this need would be minimal.

Organization/Structure/Flow rating: 5

The topics in Teaching Crowds are presented in clear and logical fashion, and the book naturally progresses from underlying theory to new exploration to practical application.

Interface rating: 5

The text is free of significant interface issues, and the book is clean and well-presented.

Grammatical Errors rating: 5

Like any large monograph, there are occasional grammatical errors, but these are neither distracting nor consistent.

Cultural Relevance rating: 3

Teaching Crowds acknowledges the realities of cultural difference as a matter of vital necessity, which makes sense for a book trained on the present and future of the online educational space. However, it could go into more depth about how cultural difference plays out in its social learning modes (groups, networks, sets, collectives) as each develop in digitally-mediated educational spaces.