Saturday, 25 April 2009

The magic of social media

Back from my two days in the Finnish national conference of 'Interactive Technology in Education'. First time ever for me, and being there all alone, it took me some time to get the hang of things. A few keynote speeches and then a wide variety of parallel 40-minute forums. Naturally, a lot of exhibitors marketing their products. It seemed to me as though, now that many Finnish schools have switched from overhead projectors to a combination of teacher laptop and dataprojector in the classroom, it's then the smartboard that is being flogged as the next prerequisite for good education.

I always want to question the merit of any new expensive device being pushed into schools, as to me it often serves the purpose of appearing modern and up-to-date, possibly to attract new and better students. If I think of my school, what difference has it really made in student learning whether a teacher demonstrates ideas through text and pictures on an OHP, screen or smartboard? Basically, these are still all part and parcel of the same old teacher-centred lecture-style class, aren't they? What I would like to see in learning environments, is the shift into classes that truly activate students into critical thinking, finding some structure in the overflow of information and formulating their own understanding of the world around them - briefly, transforming the passive student audience into active and curious learners, at least some of the time. I am by no means undermining the useful role of lecturing in certain circumstances.

My main interest in the conference was the forum of SOMETU - an open network for anyone interested in social media and how it supports learning. With its close to 1200 members it is quite a significant group on a Finnish scale (NB. our population is only 5 million). Active Sometu members gave several talks on different aspects of social media all through Thursday afternoon. The atmosphere in the room was very enthusiastic and positively charged. The organisers seemed to have underestimated the popularity of this topic, since, for every forum, so many attendants turned up that some ended up standing along the walls, sitting on the floor (!) or staying outside in the hallway.

True to the spirit of social media, the Sometu team had set up an arsenal of equipment and tools to dazzle the audience - ConnectPro video conferencing for those who couldn't come to the conference, two screens, one displaying the actual presentation, the other one what was going on in Sometu Second Life, video, pictures, net applications, mini laptops going round for audience feedback for those who didn't have their own to participate in the backchannels, and the list goes on...

Of course, it's to do with technology, but at the end of the day, it's not only that. I'm glad to see that at long last we are moving away from the closed land of tech geeks into many ordinary teachers of different subjects asking themselves how technology could help them motivate and activate their students.

On a personal note, I have to admit that my brain is probably too old for this type of multitasking, since I found it almost impossible to follow several channels at the same time, eg. listening to the presentation and simultaneously typing something sensible on Twitter. I'm forever hopeful, though - maybe even my brain could still evolve with more practice!

Photos: 'Sometu ITK-foorumilla' by rongasanne on Flickr


tuomo.turja said...

Nice to read news about this conference in English, too. Thanks, Sinikka!

sinikka said...

Hi Tuomo,
My pleasure. Nice to know that somebody popped in here!

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