Social Engagement in Higher Education.

My posts have been somewhat delayed due to a whirlwind of lab benchwork, travel and postdoc hunting. I have been participating in the live discussions but sometimes find it difficult to sit down and consolidate/communicate my thoughts. That’s one of the great things about Twitter (@0dwyVT): active discussion without necessarily the time commitment! As a first-time user of Twitter, I find it to be a perfect supplement to the video streaming and blogging going on in this course.

Speaking of social media, the first discussion in Unit 2 emphasized this social aspect: namely the utility of investment in social capital and the principal of reciprocity. There are two classes of network architecture representative of typical communities, whether we are talking about online relationships or face-to-face. Dense networks build trust and cultivate shared norms, while open networks are better characterized by diversity and information flow. Personal networks build meaningful communities (for learning or otherwise). It was interesting to me to consider the necessary balance of open/closed networks in the classroom or in mentorship relationships. How can we make sure there is both trust and new information in these networks?

These leads me to an interesting point noted in the second discussion of Unit 1. Social interaction is a critical driver of learning/engagement in high-level learning environments, and is not necessarily in opposition to education. This may be correlated with what students ultimately leave with, or Ito’s “life changing-metric”. As the societal motivations for higher education evolve, it’s important to be open-minded to new ideas that might challenge your opinions. I never thought I’d be required to use Twitter in graduate school, nor did I think I would find it so rewarding when a panel of excellent speakers address my Tweets in their live streams!

I think project-oriented or socially-driven courses can take a variety of forms, and one of my aims as I develop my career in higher education is to merge the necessity of acquiring core knowledge/theory with the learning that otherwise only happens “around the edges”. There are still core competencies that need to be developed in order to progress in any field, but how we introduce these concepts and how we assess them needs to change. Furthermore, every student must find her/his own purpose and motivators. We can’t do all the work as educators/mentors, but we can catalyze the process.

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