[iDC] How does social media educate? :: wrapping up

Ulises arsalaan1-idc at yahoo.com
Thu Feb 22 11:40:35 EST 2007

It's time to wrap up this discussion on the question of 'How does social media
educate?' I would like to thank everyone who contributed to it, even by lurking!
As the moderator, the one responsible for reading everything and trying to
engage all opinions, I am thankful because I probably benefited the most from
these exchanges. At the same time, I want to apologize if I somehow failed to
fulfill my duties responsibly.

Below I offer a summary of some of the main themes I took away from the

:: What is social about social media?

The conversation started by questioning the term 'social media' itself, and
wondering what the word 'social' is supposed to be telling us if all media is,
by definition, already a social construct. Perhaps the redundancy is a good
reminder that the assumptions behind the word 'social' are precisely what we
should be dissecting. As Latour says in his book _Reassembling the social_,
those who treat the social as a black box "have simply confused what they should
explain with the explanation. They begin with society or other social
aggregates, whereas one should end with them" (p. 8). In other words, one should
not take the word 'social' as something no longer in need of explanation. When
looking at various instances of the application of sociable web media in
education, we need to take these social aggregates as points of departure, as
what needs to be explained in the first place.

The goal, then, is to trace the interactions of humans and technologies as they
go about redefining the social, inventing new forms of sociality. Just as the
concept of 'virtual reality' (with its own set of assumptions, contradictions
and delusions) helped us to question what was real, 'social media' should help
us question what is social, how the social is being put together in the world of

:: The politics of networked participation

Interpreting the meaning of new social assemblages is not a neutral exercise
that can be accomplished by means of scientific inquiry exclusively. We rely on
ideologies and metanarratives to explain the impact of new media on society.
Throughout this discussion, there was much debate about which framework is best
suited to explain new social assemblages. There was even some arguments over
which assemblages (corporate, independent, etc.) are more worthy of analysis!

One side seems to espouse a Lyotard-influenced framework that sees the
increasing role that digital media play in our societies as solidifying the
spread of a capitalist culture that commodifies *knowledge* by transforming it
into *information* that can be easily exchanged and consumed. To us, the
educational applications of sociable web media should not be analyzed without
considering the ethical implications of capitalism and a market economy. This is
not to say that the architectures of participation that social media engenders
cannot present an authentic challenge to the dynamics of the market, even right
in the middle of corporate-controlled platforms. But to fail to acknowledge the
context from which these technologies emerge can only result in incomplete

:: Learning 2.0 - Opportunities and challenges

Depending on how it is applied, social media can be a site for a liberatory or
an oppressive education. As educators and learners, we need to be aware of our
own practices, simultaneously teaching and learning 'with' and 'against' social
media. Simply embracing new technologies or taking for granted the pedagogical
assumptions behind the new 'Youniversity' is not enough. The fact is that we
live in a world where education is not a 'good' distributed equitably or always
for the benefit of the learner, and some applications of social media will
continue this trend. Increasingly, the 'public' education system is being used
to separate the unproductive members of society (the ones that need to be
'managed' by the growing private incarceration business) from the productive
ones (the ones who demonstrate compliance and aptitude for jobs in the service
industry). The kinds of social media applications the latter are more likely to
see will probably be in alignment with the needs of a control society:

<blockquote>"In disciplinary societies you were always starting all over again
(as you went from school to barracks, from barracks to factory), while in
control societies you never finish anything... school is replaced by continuing
education and exams by continuous assessment. It's the surest way of turning
education into a business." (Deleuze (1995), Negotiations, p. 179) </blockquote>

This definitely puts a sinister spin on 'life-long' learning. The 'constant
student' is not one who engages in an ongoing perfection of the self, but one
who is constantly assessed according to the performance standards of a service
economy. Social media can be used to ensure that education for the constant
student becomes something that can be delivered anytime and anywhere, and which
--more importantly-- can be used to monitor performance throughout the
'learning' life of the individual.

Daily Kos: They Hate us for Our Freedom (the Assessment Movement in Higher Ed)

:: Social media literacy

For a long time, educational technologists have put their faith in technology as
a way to change education, and even the world. Access to the technology is seen
as the magical solution that will end disparity:

Web 2.0 can benefit the world's poor - SciDev.Net

Unfortunately, for the reasons discussed above and during this whole month,
access is not enough, and narratives of bridging the 'digital divide' do not
help us better understand how digital technologies such as sociable web media
contribute to the commodification of education.

The work of a new generation of educators and learners shows us that social
media *can* be used to promote positive change in the world. This work
demonstrates that the issue is not universal access, but rather the strategies
through which those who benefit from access to social media are able to
transform those benefits into benefits for the greater society, extending the
value of social media beyond the privileged minorities that have access to it.

And so I end by recapitulating some of the skills I mentioned earlier in the
discussion that I think we need to develop as part of a critical literacy of
social media:

- The ability to articulate the difference between open (FLOSS) and proprietary
social media platforms (including how to tell when the former mutates into the
latter, and what to do about it).

- The ability to determine when it's appropriate to use open (FLOSS) or
proprietary social media platforms to promote social change with maximum effect.

- The ability to understand the social agency of code of a particular
technology, i.e., how the program promotes, constricts or redefines social
functions through its affordances.

- The ability to identify the benefits of contributing to a social media
environment that operates as a gift economy versus a market economy (including
the ability to identify social media environments that operate as both

- The ability to articulate in personal terms how networked participation is
changing the relationship with one's local environment, and be able to calculate
trade offs and assume responsibility for one's choices.

I hope you can help us continue to refine these, within or outside of the iDC


ps. In a couple of weeks I will be retiring the email I created to moderate this discussion, due
to the amount of spam it has attracted during its short life. To get in touch
with me, please see the contact info on my blog

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