Creating Knowledge-Able Students

A recent post by Nancy Smyth on Life skills for the digital age really got me thinking about technology and education. Although her post was partly on technology and one’s own life, as soon as I read it I couldn’t help but think about some of my students and mine own experiences in social work education. If you haven’t read Nancy’s post, go read it and leave a comment, it’s a great post. Bare with me for the rest of this post as I have thought about it for a week now and finally decide to just let it go. Thanks in advance for reading 🙂

In regards to learning new digital skills I agree it is critically important to remember to Disconnect. I personally have found it refreshing to take walks and enjoy nature as a way of generating inspiration and overcoming bloggers block. Nancy also points to Mindfulness and how it is important to observe and learn about how choices and habits affect individuals. In the digital realm I think that Social Presence Theory offers some insight here. Social Presence Theory was develop long ago, but it is very relevant in today’s computer mediated world. Social presence is the amount of awareness involved in an interaction, where face-to-face interaction has the most social presence. Because of the variety of technology available today, social presence online has dramatically increased. However, I think that Mindfulness still comes into play here because we need to be cognizant of our presence online. To often people take the anonymity that comes along from sitting behind their keyboard as a medium for hurtful comments, see YouTube if you don’t believe me 🙂 I also believe you could look at the effects of Cyber Bullying the impact it has on individuals. The point here is that as technology advances, our interaction online also advances and we need to be aware of what we Tweet, Upload, or post.

The question posted by Nancy was ultimately begins to address what skills we need to teach our Children. This is a very valid question, especially since I think about the implications of watching YouTube videos with my daughter and the effect the Internet is going to have on her life. I never had any discussions about Internet appropriateness from my parents, grant it they didn’t really understand the whole Internet other than telling me not to look at any Adult websites. Programs, policies, and the like are being developed everyday that focus on some of these issues so I am going to move onto something that’s closer to me and where I initially thought this post was going before I got side tracked by the Theory side of things 🙂

Technology in social work education. That is what I wanted to blog about since reading Nancy’s post, and I decided to finally finish this post today since after visiting with some of my Field Students and having a bit of a conversation on this topic it is at the forefront of my mind. The views expressed here are of my own (incase I haven’t included this elsewhere). My experience with technology is social work education is not unlike what my students have been telling me today. Basically that they are not getting some basic and necessary skills that will make them an effective practitioner. Their gripe was that they have not had any courses on using Excel for example, and that many have to learn it on their own. I understand that in some ways other courses will offer this type of learning but I wonder if social work education could offer it in a way that will help students to see the relevance of knowing technology? I know for instance that many nonprofit organizations would greatly benefit from knowledge on how to use Excel, and other technologies, to advance their mission. I also think that social work educators could incorporate more technology into their curriculum in a way that address some of these basic needs. Now what about social technologies: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc? How can we used these tools to advance social work education? For me it begins with what Dr. Wesch from Kansas State University calls creating Knowledge-Able students.

Dr. Wesch uses social media technologies in a way that encourages collaboration and motivates students to learn. His methods are rather attractive and I must say I struggle to do half of what he demonstrates in the video below. If you have some time it’s definitely worth watching. In the video, Dr. Wesch challenges some of the basic assumptions of learning by utilizing social media in the classroom and encouraging participation online. I don’t want to re-hash the entire video as I am sure that if you watch it, you will take away your own insights that are meaningful for you.

The biggest thing that I take away from this is that collaboration is more possible now than it was before, or perhaps I should say it is easier now than it was before. The other thing that is exciting is seeing students become motivated to learn and share in a way that enhances the overall experience. Participation and dialogue is what makes learning fun, at least it does for me, and it seems that more and more students are craving this type of learning. I wont say that this is easy, but I think that it can be worth it. I will blog more about my experience as I am trying to implement more of this style into my summer course. Wish me Luck 🙂

Okay, well this is getting a bit long, but to wrap it up I think that identifying and learning digital life skills will be extremely important and likely to be done earlier in one’s education. However, I also think that in social work education it is ripe for implementation into the curriculum. Instead of simply dismissing the notion by saying it can’t/shouldn’t be done, I think that we should ask our students about it or even how to do it. That’s my plan for the first day of summer school anyways. By utilizing technology in this way I think it creates opportunities for discussion around mindfulness and social presence online as well as offline. I think that through these experiences we can do just as Dr. Wesch states, “Create knowledge-Able students.
Let me know what you think and leave a comment.


About jimmysw
Associate Professor of Social Work with a focus on the Future of Social Media, Social Work Education and all things technology.

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