Journal #1

6292167103_6cdc1f7bbc_oSocial Proximity and the Virtual Classroom

In his formative text on technology use and teaching, Jose Bowen argues that instructors and administrators must rethink and redesign learning environments to meet new demands and to use new technologies to their greatest potential (Bowen, 2012). He maintains that these new learning environments can both save students money and increase the quality of their learning. Indeed, he states that, “Technology, largely used outside the classroom to deliver content, can be an important tool to prepare students for classroom discussions and to increase the class time available for those discussions and other active learning” (Bowen, 2012, p. 21).

Bowen moves from discussing technology in a general sense to arguing in favour of integrating social networking (e-communication) into educational design. The instant connectivity offered by such online sites as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are redefining community and communication (Bowen, 2012). Although he does acknowledge some potential detriments to e-communication he expounds upon numerous benefits, from both personal and professional perspectives. One benefit of embracing and integrating social networking into educational environments is that of making connections with students. As Bowen remarks, “being unable to understand a fundamental premise of your students’ lives will make it harder for you to teach and relate to them” (Bowen, 2012, p. 30). Furthermore, he suggests that: e-communication is an essential skill for professional development, that if instructors want to discuss and/or critique e-communication they must first understand it, and that e-communication can “help to bridge the power differential inherent in education” (Bowen, 2012, p. 31).

As technology changes, teaching techniques within nursing education are changing as well. Indeed, the Canadian Association of Schools of Nursing is developing clear technology competencies to ensure graduating nurses are prepared to practice in modern clinical environments (Schmitt, Sims-Giddens, Booth, 2012). Moreover, many nurse researchers and educators are publishing findings about social media within nursing education. Schmitt, Simms-Giddens, and Booth (2012), provide a concise review of the literature, exploring: commentaries about the potential of social media, best practice recommendations within nursing education, and explorations of the value of social media modalities in education. The value and necessity of embracing these technologies is reflected in the Canadian Nurses’ Association’s recently published paper on the ethical challenges and opportunities of social media (Feb., 2012). Many provincial nursing associations further address the issue. For example, the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO)  has developed a valuable guide for educators on the subject of integrating e-health, “the use of information and communication technologies to support the delivery and integration of clinical care within and across health-care settings” into educational curricula (RNAO, 2012, p. 5). Clearly social networking is a subject that all educators must consider within the context of the learning environments they develop.

When I read the evidence in favour of integrating social networking into the learning environment I believe it, I understand it, and yet I still resist it.  However, I also have some embarrassment that I know so little and have integrated so little of these valuable technologies into my personal and professional life. When I read Jose Bowen’s discussion about being relevant and credible in order to teach and relate effectively with students I fear that my resistance to technology has negatively impacted my teaching. When I disclose to students that I do not have a cell phone, that I do not have cable TV, and that I have no clue what a “Tweet” is, it may initially seem quaint and humorous but I think it may actually diminish my credibility with my students. Even though I utilize YouTube, TED talks, audio clips, frequent email updates, and an online learning management system (Desire to Learn) with my classes, my failure to fully understand a “fundamental premise of [my] students’ lives” (Bowen, 2012, p. 30), that of online community and communication, has negatively impacted my connection with students.

When I reflect upon my reluctance to adopt social networking, Marilyn Brady’s article speaks to me in a profound way. The reasons she states for her failure to utilize social networking parallel my own. She discusses a personal history of investing time in each communication (through letters and phone calls to land lines with no answering machines) which, in turn, “gave the communication importance and value” (Brady, 2011, para 1). Like Brady, I have no need to share information daily with anyone other than those closest to me, nor do I want to be immediately available to the ongoing demands of others wanting to share with me. I find it difficult enough already to keep up with work emails, meetings, and family demands. I wonder how I can effectively integrate social networking into my life while addressing my very real fear of dependency on the constant connectivity that I see in so many around me. Although I acknowledge many benefits I think that sometimes social networking is not true engagement, but at its worst can be “narcissism masquerading as connection” (Barton, as cited in Brady, 2011, para 6).

Although I may continue to resist fully integrating social networking into my personal life, beyond sharing knitting patterns on Ravelry and looking at photos of family and friends on Facebook, I recognise that I have a responsibility to learn and to integrate new forms of technology into my teaching. I hope that through the Social Media track of this Media Enhanced Learning course I will learn about and become comfortable utilizing a variety of social networking tools.

As Bowen remarked, “we need to understand the language, habits, and assumptions of our students”. While I may maintain my personal resistance to constant connectivity I must recognize and accept that it is a reality for many of my students and will be for my children. I must learn how to navigate this new communication and utilize those techniques that both resonate for me and which seem to hold the most benefit within the nursing curriculum. I have many ideas about what this might look like within the courses I teach. I might continue my blog as a forum for student discussion and sharing of resources. I might create an online module for students to complete during their orientation week. In the past we had guest speakers from campus security, the library, and the writing centre speak with students in their first week. With budget cuts this is no longer an option. However, I see now that an online module including videos of speakers presenting critical information as well as an online tutorial about academic honesty and academic writing could be very beneficial.

Nursing has long resisted the attitude of following practices simply because ‘it is how we’ve always done it’. Since Florence Nightingale began changing practice based on research evidence, nurses have striven to follow best practice. Evidence has shown that the integration of social networking in nursing education promotes interprofessional collaboration, facilitates peer support, and assists in project management (Schmitt, Sims-Giddens, Booth, 2012). However, as Bowen states, it is not “… that online learning is better but just that it is here” (2012, p 9). Educators must learn about all of the tools available to them and utilize those that prove to be of benefit.

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