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The Next Step

Will Richardson

Some technology experts, including Will Richardson, a well-known social media blogger, say that social media has some value right now, but it's just a first step. He believes that schools in America are still way behind the business world, including journalism, in terms of how social media is used for learning. "We're not yet at the point where it's really altering the landscape, and much of that is because the assessments just want to keep measuring information and knowledge, not learning and skills," says Richardson, who is also a columnist for District Administration.

Social media in schools demands a different way of thinking about what we prepare students for and how, Richardson says. "This is about a real change in what we value as important to learn," he adds. "Schools weren't built for this moment. The whole notion of 'schooling' has to be reinvented to reflect a time in which we no longer need schools for information or knowledge. Until assessments change, or until enough people scream 'irrelevant,' schools can pretty much stand pat, or not change what they're doing, layer in some social technologies along the way, but fundamentally not change a thing."

Richardson says that most of the social media being used in schools today is about communicating and sharing information, and very little is about creating information or using the tools so students can drive their own learning and share their knowledge with others. "Social media creates huge opportunities for self-directed learning outside of schools," he adds.

The Futures of School Reform

Elizabeth City, a former middle school and high school teacher and principal who now teaches at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), has developed her own vision of the future, the result of her work in The Futures of School Reform, which is a group organized at HGSE and consists of leading academics, policymakers, practitioners and business leaders. The group is devising ways to restructure education. City says, for example, middle school students would have to meet a learning goal by a specified date, but they could learn algebra through social media groups with people worldwide. And high school students could have more opportunity to learn off campus, freed-up from "seat-based credit" to achieve proficiency. "They might focus on the Civil War together with groups of other people based in the South," City continues, adding that they could also pursue specific interests with online peers, from medical practices to photography during that war.

So how can districts and district leaders use these tools to really change the learning interaction, not just the communication part? "I think that's the challenge right now," Richardson admits. "Few still really get the idea that social media is more than just posting updates of the prom. It's about kids developing lifelong learning portfolios, of problem solving with others outside of their physical spaces, of creating things that are new, unique, and valuable and sharing them with the world.