Thursday, 5 July 2012

Social Networking Reaches Deeper Than You Think

We don't need to look at the statistics to tell us that social media is being used extensively around the world, but have you ever thought about how it is being used and through what levels it permeates?

I use Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn etc, for varying reasons e.g. part  of my own personal learning environment, for leisure and on the more formal side, for teaching and business. So I'm very familiar with them, but even so, I didn't think I'd be bumping into them Inworld.

I was exploring Second Life (a multi-user virtual environment) a few evenings ago in search of new ground for educational purposes and for some inspiration for language lessons and writing, when I was blinded by Twitter & Co. Social networking within a social medium. To describe how I relate to this in metaphorical terms, I'd say that I felt like a player on a 3D chess board, just like the board that Captain Kirk and Spock played on, except more high-tech and more democratic i. e. players mainly taking control over their own moves. I see the levels as representing connected communities, in the physical world, within virtual worlds and through Twitter & Co. All independent but at the same time interdependent, where the relationships do not move in a linear fashion but connect and communicate through a complex myriad of pathways. A blurring of boundaries that I hadn't really considered before. 

Whatever your opinions might be concerning social media, as far as language teaching goes they can be put to very effective purposes. Nik Peachey's blog discusses some of the ways social media can be used for your professional development as well. From my perspective as a Skype language teacher (18+ age groups), Twitter, Facebook, blogging etc, can be used to enhance literacy skills; used as a means of communication for collaborative work; alleviate the feeling of isolation that some students experience; enable and motivate autonomous learning and bring my students into contact with authentic language. I attended a Webinar yesterday ( 04. 07. 2012 ) presented by Nick Robinson and I was pleased to see that he also highlighted how social networking tools can be used to enhance digital literacies. I'm not talking about formal essays but about students using authentic language written in a style that is appropriate to the medium being used. Social networking tools also enable communication with non-language learners, providing your students feel confident enough to move outside their private groups.

Second life on the other hand, is a completely different learning experience which goes beyond practicing reading and writing skills. It's fully immersive. Therefore, an activity such as giving directions takes on a whole new dimension. It's not just reading from a map, or working with Google street view. You and your students are walking the streets of London or Berlin; talking about the architecture and surroundings; engaging in discussion; building vocabulary and practicing social etiquette. Within Second life, there are a number of teaching communities such as Virtlantis which offer free informal language learning activities. As a teacher you can help out yourself or introduce your students to some other language learners, if it's a method of learning that interests them. 

Do some experimenting yourself, as there's more to social media than its obvious uses. 

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