Cyber-Cultures

Dan Bradley

EDU 624

Prof. Stoloff

Develop and model cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with colleagues and students of other cultures using digital age communication and collaboration tools.

~Describes the implications of these ideas on learning and teaching in your educational setting~

 

It is no secret that the world as a whole is becoming more and more technologically based and becoming ever more woven into the fabric of everyday society. Even among the older generations, it is becoming much rarer for someone to not have a computer, cell phone, and more specifically a “smartphone,”, and to a relative extent, an email. Technology has had a significant impact on how people structure their daily lives, and the interactions they have throughout the day. Face-to-face conversations, and in younger generations even phone calls, have largely given way to emails, texts, snapchats, as the primary means of speaking with friends, family, and colleagues. It must then be no surprise that our students today are showing these cultural reflections as early as Elementary school, and especially in Middle School and beyond. Educational leaders and teachers are, and have been, noticing this trend for several years, but it is imperative that school systems, and educational pedagogy as whole, begin to embrace this new cultural interaction and learning style to best fit the needs of our current students.

Connected Minds, Emerging Cultures: Cybercultures in Online Learning, by Steve Wheeler, begins to unpack this contemporary issue within education by reviewing numerous different aspects of web-based education, and the specific roles it can play in the modern-day teaching of our students. In the early stages of his book, one of the first things that Wheeler mentions is the difference from what he calls, “Web 1.0” and “Web 2.0.” On the whole, the most use anyone, students or the general population, got from the web was to look up information and take it down, with some varying degree of being able to comment at the bottom of the page (Wheeler 4). There was no real ability to interact with the material, have constantly updated pages, take part it in discussions with people from around the world, all aspects that are prevalent in the web today.

Our students today, especially in the K-12 population, have grown up with the ability to interact with web pages, and often times, the other people accessing the site as well. New online educational methods must do their best to mirror the abilities of discussion-based sites like Reddit or Twitter, that our kids so familiar with. Formal writing is an important skill that in no way be replaced or marginalized, but it is also important to acknowledge the fact that in today’s marketplace, global connectedness is the standard, and part of that is being able to communicate with others in an online forum in a manner that is acceptable and responsible. Students are exposed to the style on their time browsing various (typically) non-educational websites. Teachers should do their best to formally teach and use products that can mimic online discussions and conversations. Google Classroom has the ability to have discussions based off posed questions, within Blackboard you can create threaded discussions where students can create their own posts, and respond to others in a structured and educational manner. By employing app’s such as these, teachers can explicitly teach appropriate writing in an online forum, but in an environment that is aesthetically similar to what students are accustomed to.

In building with this idea, Wheeler brings up ‘wikis’ as a way for students and teachers to embrace the theory of employing ‘user-generated content’ within their curricula (Wheeler 5). Groups of students in a local setting, and all the way up to the global setting, can create pages, or even entire sites dedicated to specific content information, and allow their work to be constantly updated and user-generated. At this point, the negatives of wiki’s, namely the most famous one, Wikipedia, are extremely well known; the site is accessible by numerous people that can edit the page without having to show proof prior to editing. It is certainly a drawback to a positive aspect of the technology. Now this is something that can be fixed, and sometimes prevented, but wikis are susceptible to misuse and that is a drawback that many teachers cannot look past. With all of that said though, user-generated content is very much the way of the future and the way that education is trending. Students must be put in the drivers seats as much as possible. Being able to synthesize data together and place importance of information and explain what the facts mean in their own learner community is what will reach students the best. On a daily occurrence they are interacting with friends, bringing in select information to their interactions online, and updating what needs to be updated, but all of that in a generally non-academic setting. Allowing students to take part in that practice of gathering relevant information on a topic, analyze importance, and then create a learning center around it through the creation of their own site or page, the teacher is bringing in real-world interactions into the classroom.

Though these are only two very brief examples Wheeler talks about in his book, they speak to a larger issue of bringing the real-world into our students’ education. As teachers we must make sure that what we teach and how we teach in our classrooms is relevant to what our students experience outside of the school walls. Interactive online communities are a massive part of the American and worldwide community. Instant feedback, whether it be positive or negative, on images or text-posts is something that is sought out and expected by many of our students. It is ingrained in their culture to explore topics of interest and actually do something with the information and not just memorize and regurgitate. We must make sure that our classes are offering this level of engagement with the material. Within social studies, there is a very significant push towards the increase of inquiry, where students are really the ones leading the class once a basic level of content knowledge is reached. Teaching a uniform foundation is very important, so then with that release of ownership by the teacher, students then go and put their foundational knowledge to use by learning more about a specific topic of interest. By having students work within creating their own wikis or taking part in online forums to discuss their learning, the teacher can help model positive academic functions and show how real world technologies are also used in the academic setting. Being able to work and create together with other students, both in class and even up to worldwide collaboration is something that greatly enhances teaching opportunities for our teachers and students as long as it is embraced by the teachers and implemented in a positive manner.

 

Reference

Wheeler, S. (2009). Connected Minds, Emerging Cultures: Cybercultures in Online Learning. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

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