- Teaching Crowds: Learning and Social Media by Jon Dron and Terry Anderson
Teaching Crowds: Learning and Social Media, written by Jon Dron and Terry Anderson, offers ten chapters that contribute timely information on the evolving aspects of learning in a digital age. The book explores the educational opportunities afforded by the Internet at a time when many experts continue to raise and offer only protectionist-based discussions surrounding social media and their negative impacts. Dron and Anderson offer a refreshing perspective on social media, while providing current examples that are positive, enriching, impactful, and educational.
The first chapter begins with an important discussion about the terms social media and social software. The authors articulate these terms as interchangeable given the current condition of living and learning in a digital age, while situating social media within a rich historical timeline of connected sets of learning tools. Here the authors establish the importance of group learning vis-à-vis a long history of connected tools such as print, radio, cellular networks, digital television, and gaming networks in both formal and informal educational sites. Grounded their ideas in media [End Page 334] theory as articulated by Marshall McLuhan, the authors make a case for the rich interplay between the medium and the message and its importance within education. The choice of certain media in educational contexts shapes the effects of the content taught and the ways that information is received and understood by the learners. Dron and Anderson raise an important point in regards to how educators typically focus on the content; however, the delivery of information via a specific medium plays an important role in the processing of information, reminding us of the social implications of the medium itself. The chapter concludes with a concise table charting the different forms of social software and the many purposes of educational social software.
Chapter two offers a theoretical grounding for social media within educational contexts, something often overlooked in books on this topic. The authors situate social media within the evolution of pedagogies in distance education, creating three generations of learning theories: behaviourist/cognitivist (pedagogies of instruction), social constructivist (pedagogies of construction), and connectivist (pedagogies of connection). Chapter three offers a typology of social forms for learning. This is where the book distinguishes itself from others on this topic. Dron and Anderson bring to the forefront clear definitions of social forms of learning: groups, sets, and nets. The following four chapters examine each social form in great detail, exploring their definitions, constraints, and contexts.
One weakness that is evident in the first seven chapters concerns the lack of information on limitations and issues with each social learning form. However, chapters eight and nine highlight examples that put forward the limitations and challenges of, and concerns about, social forms of learning. These include issues related to software interaction design, mismatched social forms, diversity, ownership, feedback loops, privacy, identity, safety, reliability, access, and usability. The final chapter offers a vision of ideas to come. Dron and Anderson begin by critiquing the traditional systems of knowledge transfer and competency-based assessment in institutions. They suggest schools should align themselves more with online methods of social learning by sharing and discovering knowledge. They champion the badge system as an alternative to traditional assessment; however, one major critique of this system is that its reward-based incentive still reflects behaviourist methods of classical conditioning.
Teaching Crowds: Learning and Social Media offers valuable insight on social forms of learning. The authors provide excellent definitions and aids to situate their ideas. What is particularly impressive about their contribution to the discussion of social forms of learning is their emphasis on the educational value of social media and/or social software. The authors paint a very positive image of social media, which are critiqued only in the final two chapters. At a time when privacy, identity, and [End Page 335] safety are at the forefront of discussions concerning digital media, this book might offer a more balanced view on social media, specifically in its introductory chapter. Establishing some limitations and critiques...