In this paper, I will try to introduce a perspective of integrating a Social Network website ‘Facebook’ into educational setting using Connectivism theory as a major pedagogical direction.
Students can be part of learning process in different places at different times; at work, in classroom, in community etc. Yet, in a conventional classroom setting, students sit passively, while instructors deliver a lecture. However, during the last two decades, this traditional approach to the pedagogical process has changed and students have followed both formal and informal methods to broaden their cognitive map.
In modern period, the changing ways of production and exchange of knowledge are key elements affecting the creation of the educational settings as well. In parallel, the current situation pushed educational scientists to explore up-to-date learning theories and models which could reveal the dynamics of educational processes (McWilliam & Haukka, 2008).
As an alternative theory, Connectivism attempts to portray learning as a construct in a highly networked era. Connectivism is a relatively new theory explaining the essential characteristics and specificity of the learning process in the digital age. Fundamentals of the theory were developed by George Siemens. According to Siemens and Tittenberger (2009, p.11), Connectivism refers to the view that “knowledge and cognition are distributed across networks of people and technology, and learning is the process of connecting, growing, and navigating those networks”.
Siemens (2004) assumes that the exponential growth of knowledge requires nonlinear models for study (process) and knowledge (state). Expanding access to knowledge in the age of network technology requires a revision of the way we teach and learn. In contrast to traditional notions, Connectivism is characterized by several fundamental views on the process of teaching and learning:
- Teaching is a process occurring in an uncertain, vague and changing setting in which constant movement of fundamental elements happen. Therefore, the teaching process itself is unstable and dynamic and cannot be fully under the control of an individual (instructor).
- Knowledge is not stored in the head of an individual and cannot be transferred to it through transmission channels. Knowledge is in the network, and the key skill required for cognitive activity in the modern world appears to be the ability to see connections, to recognize patterns and see the meanings between the areas of knowledge, concepts and ideas.
- Cognition is the process of connecting ‘specialized sources of information’, the process of establishing a network that can be supported from the outside. This kind of integration of information nodes allows us to rise to a higher level of understanding.
Baggaley (2012) rehashes the Connectivism literature and comes to conclusion that Connectivism is a relevant theory for illustrating the recent need for re-evaluating the asynchronous instructional methods. Essentially, Connectivism advocates that teachers and students who share an online platform should interact and collaborate more directly and more frequently.
It is a known fact that in the 21st century, the means of generation and dissemination of knowledge vary significantly. We can even argue that a new source of collective intelligence appears to be cyberspace. Yet, the internet has evolved into which is often referred to as Web 2.0 technologies. It is a series of technological improvements allowing a person to follow the changes in knowledge and learn the most updated version of knowledge. Without going into an analysis of the term, I will emphasize the main feature of Web 2.0: With the help of a wide variety of web-related communication technologies such as blogs, wikis, online social networking, virtual worlds and other social media forms, the users are no longer passive consumers, instead they have become active generators of information.
Among these Web 2.0 technologies, Facebook is the most common known social network website aiming people to communicate with their friends and exchange multimedia-based information conveniently. As of March 2013, Facebook has more than 1.2 billion of users around the world. Fifty percent of total users actively login the site every day. The percentage of millennials (15-34 years old) that use Facebook is 66%. Size of user data that Facebook stores is more than 300 petabytes. There are about a billion of locations (pages, groups, activities etc.) in Facebook where users interact with each other. The average number of friends per Facebook user is 130 (Statistic Brain 2014).
The beneficial aspect of Facebook for education is that it can easily and inexpensively be used without substantial support from universities. Although the resources presented by Facebook to students are free, they possess significant functions for educational purposes. Learning through Facebook helps students form 21st century skills related to not only locating information but also processing it and creating new information based on it.
Moreover, it develops communication skills, reinforces participation as well as social commitment, bolsters peer support, and ensures realization of education based on collaborative strategies. All the listed features make Facebook as an excellent platform for understanding and implementing the Connectivist learning theory.
A notable illustration in this field was introduced by Heather Haverback of the Towson University. She created The Facebook Group titled ‘Female of 324 Reading Methods Group’ for having social interaction with teacher candidates in a reading class. This group functioned as a platform for delivering relevant information, discussing relevant issues, critically analyzing opinions, asking questions and supporting viewpoints. Besides, the researcher proposed the establishment of book clubs for encouraging students read, engaging in book debates and utilizing social networks for sharing readings (Haverback 2009, p. 34). Haverback also stressed that the social networks might be beneficial for the modules like History and Literature, arranging cultural guides, and programming applications.
Convincing proof of the necessity of social interaction in the learning process is presented in the study by Richard Light from Harvard. Light discovered that one of the strongest factors for student success in education is the ability to create or participate in small study groups. According to him, students, who studied in groups at least once a week, were better trained in the subject than students who were doing so individually (Light 2001). Therefore, in social learning process, the teachers’ focus should be shifted from subject content to the interaction of students around which this content is based.
Social networks facilitate the development of e-learning and the whole education process offering new technical and methodological solutions. For example, in October 2010, the London School of Business and Finance has initiated the transformation of traditional classroom teaching to on-line education with the help of world-wide famous social network website ‘Facebook’. Students from all over the world can sign up for online lessons absolutely for free and take classes at their own pace. Study programs are recorded in a high-quality video format. In addition to viewing the lectures, students can maintain connection with the teaching staff; participate in discussion panels to which leaders of various business and finance industries are also invited. Technical realization of this idea was simple. School specialists designed a special application for «Facebook» – LSBF Global MBA ™ http://apps.facebook.com/lsbfglobalmba/. Thus on the basis of existing application product (Facebook), a very accessible and understandable system is created.
To summarize, Facebook can be used to improve communication by allowing students to easily message teachers and other students with questions and by getting involved in group discussions, hence improving the quality of collaborative learning process; it can become news source by posting status updates or following other media and prominent leaders. Therefore, in order to draw on the benefits of Connectivist principles, it is important to inform both learners and instructors about the usage of social media websites.
Baggaley, J. (2012). ‘Thesis and antithesis’. Distance Education, 33(1), 117-123.
Haverback, H. R. ‘Facebook: Uncharted territory in a reading education classroom’. Reading Today, 2009.
McWilliam, E. & Haukka, S. (2008). ‘Educating the creative workforce: New directions for twenty-first century schooling’. British Educational Research Journal, 34(5), 651–666.
Richard J. Light. Making the most of college: students speak their minds. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001
Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Retrieved on 14 June 2010 from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm
Siemens, G. & Tittenberger, P. (2009). Handbook for emerging technologies for learning. Retrieved on 25 July 2011 from http://umanitoba.ca/learning_technologies/cetl/HETL.pdf
Statistic Brain (January 1, 2014). ‘Facebook Statistics’ viewed 22 March, 2014 http://www.statisticbrain.com/facebook-statistics/.