Reflection on the Power of Social Media

Posted on September 30, 2012


Journal: How Social Media can Make History
Vanessa Crawford

At the core of Clay Shirky’s talk on social media’s power to change history is the proposal that the Internet is the first technological revolution to allow for groups and conversation to exist at the same time. Previously, with innovations such as the radio, a single idea or message was broadcasted to the masses; this was an example of groups but no conversation. With Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone, it enabled conversation between two people, but not groups.

Shirky discusses the evolution of information delivery, and more importantly, the shift in control that has subsequently occurred. He stated, “…that the idea that professionals broadcast messages to amateurs is increasingly slipping away.” The general public, or the consumers as he refers to them, have become the producers; the higher-ups no longer control the content or means of our communication.  Conversely, those in power are now forced to acknowledge the voices of those consumers and then react to them. The lines of power have been blurred through the transformation and emergence of social media interactions.

REFLECTIVE:   After watching Shirky’s talk, I feel a sense of empowerment. His first point about how information is now being delivered “many-to-many” really coincides with the Connectivism Learning Theory I just read about. The modern classroom no longer exhibits a broadcast of a single message from one person to a group, but instead relies on the academic exchange from peer-to-peer. As an adult learner, I’m liberated by the notion that through technology, my previous experiences and contributions to a topic can alter the path of a given assignment.

I was shocked to learn that the earthquake in China was reported on Twitter three minutes before the US Geological Survey had even announced it. The BBC, considered by many as the leader in news reporting, had actually received word of the quake via Twitter. This is astonishing! It exemplifies how reliant those ‘in power’ are on the world’s social network to acquire information. It is within this network that we have the ability to shape and expel ideas to others, not only through diverse avenues, but also at an extremely rapid speed. This, at least to me, is pretty exciting stuff.

INTERPRETIVE:  This is my third PIDP course, and one of the things I most value is the diversity within each group. In my Foundations 3100 class, the demographics ranged from workplace trainers, PHD level doctors, to native culture preservers. Our vastly different backgrounds made discussions far more motivating than would a conversation between groups of individuals from a similar sector, yet at our roots we were all there for the same reason. We enrolled in the course with the intent on becoming better educators and to gain the theory and tools to do so. Extrapolating this sense of community to a global scale, I can’t help but feel a connectedness among those in the same ‘network’. Despite our geographic location or socioeconomic background, we can’t argue that as human beings we take solace in building relationships and making connections.  Social media, it seems, has removed the exclusivity of broadcasting communication from few to many.

DECISIONAL: After listening to Shirky discuss the latest technological movement, known as social media, it’s got me thinking of ways to incorporate its use in my classroom. How can I generate the same sense of empowerment I’m feeling right now in my students, and release some of the control unto them?

No longer is the typical adult learner accepting of the teacher at the front of the lecture hall delivering a wall of content through PowerPoint slides. There is a much higher expectation that their existing knowledge and experiences be not only heard, but also validated by their peers and teachers. I’m an instructor at BCIT for the Medical Radiography (X-Ray) program. About half of the two-year program is spent out in clinical; some students remain in the Lower Mainland, and some must relocate to the Interior, Kootneys and Northern regions of our province.

One way I could help to maintain communication between the dispersed students is to create a forum for them to use as a sounding board. One of my courses is delivered through an online platform; I could use the built-in discussion forum to encourage dialogue about their clinical and didactic experiences and request feedback on what they’re learning. Some good questions might be, ‘Do they think it’s relevant; why or why not? How can they apply what they’re learning in my Patient Care course to the other courses this semester? Is what they’re taught practiced by the technologists working in their hospital site?’

Constructing a podium for them to share their feelings and ideas will hopefully invoke the same sentiment of connectedness (but perhaps on a smaller scale) that the people of China did the day their world literally was shaken. Power to the people!