Cultural Implications of Social Software, Teaching, and Learning: Ready or Not

Fast Company writers David Teten and Scott Allen offer a brief treatise titled 10 cultural implications of social software. This article attempts to “look at the broader cultural implications of social software” starting with a definition of social software as follows:

“Web sites and software tools which allow you to discover, extend, manage, enable communication in, and/or leverage your social network. We include blogs, social network sites, virtual communities, relationship capital management software, contact management software, and so on."

They go on to suggest that “[s]ocial software is a subset of the broader set of technologies often called "Web 2.0." Traditionally, the Web (1.0) was comprised of simple HTML pages. Web 2.0 is a read AND a write medium. Because Internet literacy is now so widespread; because so many people have become comfortable with virtual interactions; and because of the penetration of broadband, the Web has become a social medium. Web 2.0 applications take advantage of that evolution. Quoting danah boyd, "The advances of social software are neither cleanly social nor technological, but a product of both."

While I have no argument with their definition, I think they have left out two important facets of social software. First, Mejias (2005) suggests that social software’s

“true potential lies in helping us figure out how to integrate our online and offline social experiences. Thus, social software must live up to its name by relating to the individual's everyday social practices, which include interacting with people online as well as people without access to these technologies.”

In this sense, social software serves as a conduit between virtual and physical realities, a point commonly overlooked.

Secondly, the audience described by the authors, i.e., people “comfortable with virtual interactions” are not the majority of educators practicing around the globe.

Nevertheless, here is a synopsis of Teten and Allen’s findings:

Individual Implications:

1. Basic computer skills really matter. . . and fortunately the next generation is much more technologically skilled than the current generation.

2. Communication skills really matter. . . but they're not improving as fast as we would like.

3. Your professional competence will be more and more visible.

4. Your personal life will also be more and more visible.

5. People will become more effective and more thoughtful in building their personal networks.

Business Implications:

6. Businesses can't control the dialogue, but business will attempt to "own the frame".

7. The Pro-Am Revolution: more amateurs are pursuing their part-time activities to a very high, even professional standard.

8. Companies will ship more often and fix more often.

9. The prosumer is always right. [?]

10. More and more value will rest in the long tail.

I believe Teten and Allen are on to something that needs a bit more fleshing out as it relates to learning and teaching.

In terms of the individual implications as they relate to educational professionals, I regularly see a disconnect between practitioners and basic computer skills. When introducing a piece of software like Blogger or, I have seen teachers absolutely panic over having to learn how an application works (unlike their students who willingly push buttons to see what happens) rather than looking ahead to see how such a medium might be useful. This simple barrier (i.e., lack of confidence in playing with software) seems to be a large stumbling block to adopting technologies like social networking tools.

The second barrier I’ve witnessed time and time again is related to communication skills. Here again, I work with many skilled practitioners who fear sharing their thoughts and feelings through writing and digital media (i.e., pictures, video or audio recordings). The fear of sending the wrong message, uninvited criticism, or lack of confidence in their communication skills will prevent many practitioners from adopting social software.

The double-edged sword of social software is what makes it so attractive to many of us; namely, what it often affords most (the ability to communicate, aggregate, create, and connect with others) may be precisely what many practitioners are afraid of. Social software serves as a medium that exposes one’s thoughts, feelings, ideas or the lack thereof. It can allow others access to your professional competence and your personal or individual points of view which in turn potentially exposes you to comments and criticism. For those of us who enjoy receiving feedback from others, this is why we love social software. For people who prefer not to receive advice or have their work critiqued, then social software poses a threat to their esteem and possibly their livelihood.

Perhaps I’m being a bit overdramatic. Yet, within my own experience of working with educators in an open community of practice, I’ve watched more than half a participant group shy away from engaging in dialogue because they were afraid of exposing themselves and their practice to others.

So what can be done to address these barriers?

Is it possible or realistic to expect teachers who do not want to enhance their basic computer skills to be compelled to do so without any incentives? What’s in it for them? What will social software, blogs and wikis, provide them? Will a blog or wiki lead to higher student achievement? More free time? Better job satisfaction? Possibly.

Research suggests that one-off training sessions are not as effective as sustained, integrated approaches to professional development (RAND Report 1995). As such, here are some thoughts to consider:
Social software should be used to advance a new kind of school culture supporting a new kind of professional/personal development.

Social software needs to be integrated into every part of school life so that the curriculum and the learner’s needs drive technology, not the reverse.
Educators need to be shown how, if designed appropriately, social software could end “teacher isolation” by building networks within (as well as outside) the school infrastructure between teachers, students, parents, principals, school boards, and district personnel.

Advancing the adoption and use of social software in schools requires the three C’s—comfort, confidence, and creativity. For example, year one, teachers get comfortable using the technology, year two they develop confidence using it, and year three teachers become creative users of technology, embedding social software usage into their curriculum.

Perhaps most importantly, social software stands the highest chance of being adopted if it is demanded by the educators, not demanded by their administration. Teachers want ownership of their professional development. They want assistance that will allow them to advance personally, professionally and intellectually, yet it must be offered in such a way that takes their time demands into consideration.

Finally, I thought I would end with a quote from Joan Vinall-Cox, an experienced educator, who notes:

“[E]ven when many of the new teachers are digital natives, that is no guarantee that they will change [technophobic] pattern[s]. A lot of teaching is people replicating what was done to/with them. And many students have kind of silos of computer knowledge. They know how to use some programs well, and how to socialize or play, but they don't seem to make some of the connections. Plus, in education and in our society, we have to move from seeing computer work as technical to seeing it as communicative. That's the value I see in Web 2.0.

“I believe the fast development of Web 2.0 has created a situation where many of the powers-that-be have no idea that such possibilities exist. They also look for people with technical skills rather than those with communications and pedagogical backgrounds to teach in these areas. As someone with a communications background rather than a technical background, I find that shortsighted. And personally inconvenient ;->”

While getting social software adopted in meaningful ways within schools will be our challenge for the next thirty years, the change will not happen if we don’t begin making the effort.

So what is your plan for making meaningful social software adoption part of your school culture? Your thoughts and ideas are encouraged.

Here are some edubloggers who are hard at it, if you need some examples to fuel your imagination:

A Difference

Polar Science

Flat Classroom Project

Teaching Mr. Belshaw

Remote Access

Digital Chalkie

Infinite Thinking

Teachers Teaching Teachers

The Fischbowl

Absolutely Intercultural

Classroom Displays

iHistory Podcast Project

Talking VTE


Teaching Generation Z

MITE 6323

Support Blogging

CoLearners Wiki

Cool Cat Teacher


Mejias, U. A. (2005).  A nomad’s guide to learning and social software. The Knowledge Tree: An e-journal of learning innovation. Retrieved 16 July 2006 from

Harvey, J. & Purnell, S. (Eds.) (1995). Technology and teacher development. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation.

Teten, D. & Allen, S. (2006). 10 cultural implications of social software. rediff news. Retrieved 16 December 2006 from


Source: Christopher D. Sessums

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