The Socially Networked Classroom: Teaching in the New Media Age
reviewed by Sarah C. Lohnes Watulak - May 05, 2010
Title: The Socially Networked Classroom: Teaching in the New Media Age
Author(s): William R. Kist
Publisher: Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks
ISBN: 1412967015, Pages: 152, Year: 2009
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In 2008, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) released a position statement defining 21st century literacies as a core set of skills and dispositions necessary to prepare students to be active participants in a digital society. Prompted by changes in the technological landscape, these competencies included technology skills development, as well as the ability to analyze, critique, produce, collaborate, and communicate effectively across multimodal texts and environments (NCTE, 2008). In The Socially Networked Classroom: Teaching in the New Media Age, William Kist provides teachers with challenging questions and useful activities that engage teachers and students in exploring learning in the new literacies classroom (p. 8).
The premise of the book is that, through the incorporation of social networking via Web 2.0 technologies into teaching and learning, we open our classrooms to the world and expose our students to new ways of thinking and communicating. Kists definition of social networking is quite broad (vis-à-vis traditional definitions of social networking), encompassing many forms of online communication that takes place online using some kind of platform (Web site) in which people can place messages and connect with others who are on the Web site (p. 2). While classroom technology integration often adheres to old models for instruction what Lankshear and Knobel (2003) called old wine in new bottles (p. 29) Kist argues that schools have a responsibility to take advantage of the possibilities that Web 2.0 technologies offer for transforming pedagogy, with the goal of helping students become fully prepared to be successful in a digital world gone flat (p. vii).
The organizing structure of the book uses Starbucks coffee sizes (short, tall, grande, venti) as a metaphor for the different levels of technology that may be available to teachers at their school, as well as teachers ability to access and utilize Web 2.0 technologies in ways that fully use the potential of Web 2.0 (p. 5). The book is organized in this way to allow readers to head straight to the chapter they feel best represents their current school environment. The first chapter, Short: Social Networking in a Low-Tech Environment, focuses on teaching activities for schools in which there isnt a lot of technology available, or in which technology is available but underutilized by the teachers. These activities require little to no technology, although the author introduces Ning, blogs, wikis, and Google Documents, all technologies that can be useful for supporting collaborative learning and writing.
The chapters that follow increasingly integrate Web 2.0 technologies into the instructional activities. Tall: Social networking in a medium-tech environment provides activities for teachers who work in schools that face challenges with implementing Web-based activities because of the presence of Internet filters, which block websites such as wikis, blogs, and social network sites. The activities in Grande: Social networking in a high-tech environment are targeted toward teachers in schools that are less restricted in terms of their access to Web 2.0 technologies, while Venti: Social networking in an unlimited tech environment shares activities that can be implemented in schools with unrestricted access to the Web, as well as in informal and home-based learning environments.
Within each chapter, activities are organized around what Kist describes as central questions to understanding and using new literacies (a highly contested term among literacy researchers; here, used as a synonym for new media technologies). Each central question includes classroom activities meant to engage students in the exploration of the question; follow-up questions for the student to reflect on the activity; and definitions of key terms and technologies where necessary. Each chapter ends with a blog post from the field, comprised of a teachers description of how he/she implements activities in his/her own classroom (p. 45). I found this organization to be effective, although I would have appreciated a table of contents at the beginning of each chapter that listed all of the central questions addressed therein.
Many of the activities presented by Kist throughout the chapters support students active participation in their learning, and, particularly in the later chapters, meet the goal of using Web 2.0 technologies to their fullest potential. For example, in the Tall chapter, Kist shares an activity and rubric designed by high school teacher Heidi Whitus in which students are asked to use their blogs to publish summaries and critiques of media coverage from several different media outlets. When working in a school with a strict Internet filter, Kist suggests using password-protected blogs for this activity, or blogs hosted on a school Intranet (a closed network accessible only to the school) that can be controlled and monitored.
In the Grande chapter, the activities are designed to move student work onto the wider Web. For example, Kist asks the question, How do we discuss issues with people face-to-face and across the world? and outlines an activity in which high school students use Google Groups (or blogs) to connect high school students with university students in an online literature circle. The Venti chapter (unlimited access to technology) asks us to consider how we can use Facebook in our teaching, what it might be like to teach in a hybrid school environment (in which students complete activities online some days, and meet face to face in class on other days), and how social media are being used in informal learning environments.
The organization of the book, a unique and user-friendly approach, is one of its strengths, although the use of the Starbucks terms assumes that readers are familiar with Starbucks coffee (not necessarily a safe assumption, despite the corporations wide exposure). I also appreciated the way in which Kists central questions and activities engage teachers in using Web 2.0 technologies to reflect on teaching, learning, and communicating in a digital, Web 2.0 age.
In conclusion, the central questions and activities were engaging and valuable, and the organization of the book makes it useful for practitioners in a variety of environments and with varying levels of comfort with integrating technology into their instruction. Although the activities are billed as appropriate for students in grades 5-12, teachers should be aware that some of the activities were written for use in Kists undergraduate classrooms, and will require some tweaking in order to be used with younger children.
Lankshear, C., & Knobel, K. (2003). New literacies: Changing knowledge and classroom learning. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.
National Council of Teachers of English. (2008). The NCTE definition of 21st century literacies.
Retrieved from http://www.ncte.org/positions/statements/21stcentdefinition