Blog Post

Reading, Writing, and Non-Thinking "Work" on Social Media

Hello from rainy, starting-to-get-cold Michigan. My name is Benjamin Gleason and I'm a first year PhD student in Educational Psychology and Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

What's been consuming me recently has been thinking about the ways that we can adapt social media for learning. Social media -- Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flikr, and the like-- is projected to reach 1 billion worldwide users within the next year (if not sooner). It is clear that these platforms represent a popular, established way (or many ways) of communicating, of being, of acting, and thinking. Many people have written quite cogently about social media for "relational" or "communicative" purposes, but fewer still have conducted research on how social media can be adapted for learning purposes. 

What's important in my own thinking about social media, and how we "live" online, is the importance of learning through a creative, synthetic, active process. I read a great post yesterday by Mark Sample, who included a recent talk he presented at CUNY titled "Building and Sharing When You're Supposed to be Teaching." Sample presents a conceptual model by Peter Stallybrass which contrasts "thinking" (which can be "painful and boring"  )with "working" (which is "challenging" but also filled with "discovery"). A final kicker is the line: "the cure for thinkng is working." 

This has me thinking about how I make sense of the world, very often it is through reading, and, here's where the more fun happens, through discussion with my colleagues, my family, friends, etc. In an essay titled "Writing Over Reading: New Directions in Mass Literacy" Deborah Brandt describes the tension between reading and writing. Historically, Brandt writes, reading was seen as more valuable, and also filled with more "reverence" than writing. Writing was seen as "self-sponsored" action that might be done in the wake of a dramatic period-- divorce, falling in love, losing someone, or the need to write one's memoir. Yet, now we are at a great moment when people are reading for the purpose of writing: "from the position of the writer, with hands on the screen." 

I think that as we move through the world, very often in the digital realm, reading (for many different purposes, maybe even "from the position of the writer"), will need to be balanced by an immediate emphasis on "working." For me, this would be a blog post such as this, or, more likely, an even shorter, less reflective, post in a social media platform. My contention is that social media is an incredible resource for learning, one that needs to be tempered by multiple opportunities for reflection/action/production through writing, which will then be distributed through social media.

Social media can be incredibly useful, but it requires three things: first, adaptation of social media for learning purposes (ie, unfiltered, unframed communication is not the same as a bounded, distinct learning "experience"); second, production via writing/reflection and third, distribution/publication via socia media platforms. With these in place, social media can be refocused for creative idea generation, writerly production, and idea distribution. 

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