Teaching Crowds: Learning and Social Media
Jon Dron, Athabasca University
Terry Anderson, Athabasca University
Copyright Year: 2014
ISBN 13: 9781927356814
Publisher: Athabasca University Press
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Teaching Crowds: Learning and Social media (Dron & Anderson, AU Press, 2014) is one open text resource within a series of nine Issues in Distance Education texts. Teaching Crowds addresses social aspects and critical pedagogy of online... read more
Teaching Crowds: Learning and Social media (Dron & Anderson, AU Press, 2014) is one open text resource within a series of nine Issues in Distance Education texts. Teaching Crowds addresses social aspects and critical pedagogy of online teaching and learning with social media, also referred to as social software. Dron and Anderson (2014) state, “One major purpose of this book, therefore, is to explore these opportunities and provide both understanding and keys to action that can be used by educators and, as importantly, by learners” (7). While their review of literature is vast, their overview of learning theories be enhanced with a more saturated review of current literature of several theorists for each given theory or approach; for example, Wenger’s foundational work in the theory of communities of practice (1991; 1998) is the only perspective referenced for communities of practice when there are other researchers who have expanded upon this approach. The authors’ extensive understanding of social learning through groups, networks, and sets is evident throughout the text and supported through their contextual stories from their academic contributions to local practices.
Is the 1999 citation from Annand still accurate as to whether or not “conversant” forms of online learning are scalable or cost effective? Advancements in technology may change the accuracy of this statement twenty years later. In Chapter 1’s subsection: “Social Software Engages, Motivates, and is Enjoyable” cites early literature between 1987 to 2007 on the importance of enjoyment in learning but does not include research on the enjoyment of social software nor does the review of literature acknowledge the fear that some students still have with social software/social media.
At the time of this review, Teaching Crowds is five years old. Cited research is eight years old with technology data that can quickly become outdated. Some current examples of social software are listed in Table 1.1. Yet many current examples are not provided which leads to the question of relevance within different countries or cultures. Dron and Anderson (2014) mention the opportunity to go beyond the learning management system as the organizational learning system which is a current trend in educational technology. The relevance of their stories from the field are contextual to their academic backgrounds and could be broadened in the future through applied practice in other educational settings. The concepts of learning in groups, networks and sets are still relevant and supported through Dron and Anderson's expertise.
Teaching Crowds provides a clear overview of social learning theories and how social media can be a supportive means to social teaching and learning theories. The tables and figures provide further clarity to complex concepts.
As mentioned above in the clarity section, Teaching Crowds provides a clear overview of the connection between social learning and the use of social media in networked and group learning.
The text is organized with chapters and sub-heading to find relevant topics within each chapter. The tables and figures also aid in the organization of the information. Social software for annotation could be used to support the educational use of this text within an educational technology course.
The structure flows from an overview in learning theories to social modes of learning to future possibilities in social learning from emerging structures and networks.
Images and charts were displayed clearly. Tables and figures support the text structure. Searchability was impacted by the online PDF format and the inability to easily flip to a page from the index.
Grammatical errors are not noticeable and do not inhibit the flow of reading Teaching Crowds: Learning and Social Media (Dron & Anderson, AU Press, 2014).
Accessibility to “all” learners is mentioned in the first chapter without the acknowledgment that access to the devices and access to paid social software can be a barrier. While Chapter 9 skims issues and challenges related to privacy, copyright, access, and cultural considerations, only the Indian culture is referenced in an example and not the multicultural nature of Canada’s population of learners which includes Indigenous peoples. For example, the tradition of oral storytelling by the elders, a respected norm within the social learning experience in the Northwest Territories could be explored as a context for teaching and learning with social media. Also, there are several statistics linked to Canadian learners which leads to the question, would world-wide statistics be similar in support? The usefulness of aggregations is also noted, yet the bias that can be a result of the algorithms used by software publishers was not exposed as a cultural issue that has been researched since publication (e.g. Benjamin, 2019).
Teaching Crowds: Learning and Social Media (Dron & Anderson, AU Press, 2014) provides the opportunity for a discussion on how social media changes with emerging technologies. The concluding chapter ten, “The Shape of Things and of Things to Come,” communicates the authors’ perspective about institutional learning and formal learning structures with the hint of possibilities around situated, just-in-time, and personalized learning, through the use of badging, agnostic competencies, and open research. This reviewer would also ask that the idea of libraries as a “junction in a network and not a repository of knowledge” (309) be further examined as a future possibility in social teaching and learning social media networks.
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... read more
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
The text is free of significant interface issues, and the book is clean and well-presented.
Like any large monograph, there are occasional grammatical errors, but these are neither distracting nor consistent.
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.
This text covers a wide range of related material, including an effective index. However, given some of the technical terms throughout, a glossary might be helpful. Furthermore, there are a few concepts/ideas that are touched on rather briefly,... read more
This text covers a wide range of related material, including an effective index. However, given some of the technical terms throughout, a glossary might be helpful. Furthermore, there are a few concepts/ideas that are touched on rather briefly, that if expanded upon would enhance the text's contribution -- 1) In Chapter 1, other ways of knowing and sharing lessons such as storytelling and music, are kind of glossed over real quick and I think storytelling in particular is particularly useful technique for the focus on learning with others. 2) Touch very briefly on issues of power and trust in groups in Chapter 4, but these are both pretty important concepts in the teaching and learning process to consider. They do come back to trust (and a bit on power) again later in Chapter 4, why not talk about all of this at once? It would make a much stronger case overall. Chapter 8 is very helpful in that it provides clear cases of how this can all come together in practice.
There are places throughout where their argument could be strengthened such as in Chapter 1, "why learn online with other people?" - there is literature on collaborative learning such as drawing from Barkley, Major, and Cross' work in Collaborative Learning Techniques (though maybe that was not available at the time of publication); even pulling up the stuff from page 17 where they talk about Panitz's (1997) work with collective learning would further establish the significance here. Other examples of places where claims are made that need some substantiation, rather than taking for granted that it is common knowledge include when they are talking about groups in Chapter 4, particularly the section on "distinctive educational group features" such as Levi's work in Group Dynamics for Teams.
In general, I think given that they are talking about technologies which are often changing, the authors do a great job of this. In particular, the last chapter is forward thinking and written in a way that carefully recognizes that when looking ahead, one’s words will eventually become the present and then the past. There were a few places where the tense usage was a little off, such as on page 87 when talking about Donath's (2007) work. Tense can be particularly important when assisting folks years from now in contextualizing the resources we are referencing. Another way to enhance the timelessness of the work would be to utilize gender-inclusive language such as their rather than his/her.
There are great connections made across the content presented in individual chapters, but helping the reader make the connection quicker is not always done such as making sure to clearly state that you will be applying Paulsen’s framework of freedoms that you introduced in Chapter 2 in later chapters (i.e., Chapters 4-7). Particularly as this application is a very helpful part of this text.
(see comment under Clarity)
Given the technical focus and how the framework introduced in Chapter 2 is then utilized in Chapters 4-7, and then the cases in Chapter 8 are based on all of those chapters, I think the interconnectedness of the work could make it difficult to divide some of this up.
Overall the chapters are organized in a logical fashion. There are just a few times in-text when the information could be re-grouped to enhance flow (see previous comment under Comprehensiveness).
There were no apparent interface issues. Given that it is a PDF, it would be nice if it had an interactive Table of Contents and/or hyperlinks throughout to the relevant resources rather than the web links written in-text.
There are some minor issues with writing and APA style throughout including: 1) paragraph structure - one-sentence not equaling a paragraph (see pages 17, 72, or 299 for examples); and avoiding run-on paragraphs such as those on pages 295 and 304 2) using ampersands within parentheses (see pages 109, 113, 213) 3) on page 48, first full paragraph – should just be “(a theory created by George Siemens, 2005)” without the extra parentheses around the year. 4) p. 283 at very top, extra space before a period and no space after a period mid-way through page 285 5) (e.g.,…) - missing comma towards middle of page 43 6) some minor stuff in the reference list APA-wise, like spacing between author’s initials. 7) generally do a good job of citing sources that they refer to directly, but not always like when they refer to statements made by Newton or Donne without using direct quotes or providing a source for readers to verify/learn more. There are also places like at the top of page 41 and page 54 where the in-text citations are a bit off (year should go right after the authors’ names and just the page number at the end of the quote. Also, in APA, quotes of 40 words or more utilize block formatting). Or on page 59 where you just need the page number at the end of the quote and not the (Siemens, 2006…) part in the first full paragraph as it is clear who you are referring to in the sentence itself.
(see previous comment about gender-inclusive language)
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... 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.
This text is highly comprehensive especially in the area of perspective of learning from communities and crowds. This is an underrepresented area of research and learning, so it is a refreshing read. There is much room for future research in... read more
<p> This text is highly comprehensive especially in the area of perspective of learning from communities and crowds. This is an underrepresented area of research and learning, so it is a refreshing read. There is much room for future research in this particular area of social participation and media as well as deeper study into The Three-Generational Model. The authors had a thorough index and the glossary was integrated into the text.</p>
<p> The text is supported by a variety of figures and examples of current theories that provides a foundation for accuracy. Issues of bias were addressed within the text.</p>
<p> This book is a foundational book, providing a plethora of new information for the technologist. Looking ahead to the future is addressed in this textbook, allowing space for updated versions. In particular the case study model allows for classroom application.</p>
<p> Although this book has clear headings, descriptive figures and illustrations, there is still a depth of technical language that makes it a book to read slowly and in small bits. This is not a negative comment as there is much to contemplate while reading this text.</p>
<p> The text builds upon the framework as one reads sequentially through the text. The building blocks are developed to keep the reader engaged and anxious for more.</p>
<p> There was an ease to reading this text built upon the organization structures and sections. The reviewer was particularly engaged with the figures, especially Table 1:2 where the functions of educational software are compared. This is presented like an infographic. The only criticism is that the examples need to be updated as software is changing so fast.</p>
<p> There is a linear and organized progression of the topics presented in this text. While the topics are relevant, there is a lot of technical reading as one moves through the text. The reviewer found it was easiest to read one or two chapters at a time and go back and reflect before moving ahead. Because the text was written in a logical manner, it was easier to move ahead, yet is took a while to make it through the whole text because of the abundance of information presented.</p>
<p> The interface is quite clear, charts were easily read on different computers, tablets and phones. There was no confusion in the navigation of the text.</p>
<p> There were no grammatical errors in this textbook.</p>
<p> The global relevancy of a book like this cannot be understated. While the authors are inclusive and sensitive in their writing style, the linking to formal and informal learning throughout the book allows the individual and group to be present in the conversation. In additions, the authors speak to the accessibility aspect of the social software and that is an area of future research.</p>
<p> This book is an example of a "meaty" read. There is a lot of information shared that requires deep thinking beyond the actual reading. This will be a textbook used for many years as the theories of social media transform and change over time.</p>
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... 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.