TeachingEnglish
Teaching and learning through social networks

In 2007, the British Council conducted market research into how the Internet has affected the preferred learning styles of young people wanting to learn English around the world.

The results of this research suggest that if teachers are to remain relevant and effective, then they need to use 'learning technologies' to help students reach the world outside the classroom.

69% of learners around the world said that they learned most effectively when socialising informally
This result suggests that a lot of students learn best from their friends and family. Perhaps that isn’t so surprising. The things we learn from our loved ones are often more immediately relevant to our lives than what we learn from a teacher in a classroom. Also, when we are relaxed (such as when we are at home or in a café), then we are more open to suggestions and new ideas.

Does that mean teachers should start taking their students to cafés more? No, of course not. However, a lot of teachers take their students outside of the classroom once a term to try and create a different experience, atmosphere and dynamic for their teaching and learning.

There are other implications from the result above. For example, teachers might find they are more successful if they:

  • organise group work in their classes
  • make the exercises they give their students fun, since students are motivated when they are having fun
  • give their students work to do outside of the formal setting of the classroom
  • take on the role of 'facilitator' rather than the role of 'giver-of-knowledge'.


The average young person in the world today owns £500 of technology (Prensky)
It feels like everyone has a mobile phone today. In China, more people have mobile phones than land-line phones. In some African countries, people own more than one phone each on average.

What these findings mean is that sometimes young people get more new information from the technology they use outside of school than they do from their teacher in the classroom. Sometimes, young people learn more from using the Internet at home or in a café than they do at school.

When young people are on the Internet, they feel 'connected' to people and the world’s knowledge. In the classroom, they can feel 'disconnected' and 'isolated'. They sometimes feel that school isn’t particularly relevant to their lives.

The implications, therefore, are that teachers might:

  • try to use 'learning technologies' in the classroom whenever they can, to make the learning experience relevant to their students
  • show students how to find and access information and opportunities through technology
  • focus on developing students’ networking skills (both online and face-to-face) so that the students become 'connected' to people who can give them information, help them learn and keep the learning experience relevant to the student’s life
  • take on the role of 'trainer' rather than 'engineer'.


Students with strong social networks perform well academically
The research done by the British Council showed that students who felt they were getting enough opportunities in their lives to socialise informally were also successful in their learning. You might wonder how a student finds time both to study and socialise as much as they want. Well, it’s important to understand that successful students combine studying and socialising, and that combining the two things helps them to be successful at both.

The implications here are that teachers might:

  • find out what social networking sites students like to use
  • show students what free learning opportunities are available through social networking sites like Second Life (http://secondlife.com) and Facebook (www.facebook.com)
  • show students how they can set up their own blog site for free using sites like WordPress.Com (www.wordpress.com)
  • take on the role of 'network administrator' rather than 'materials writer'.


Five top social networks for teachers and learners of English

  1.  TeachingEnglish - have you registered yet?
  2. Facebook - has a growing number of teacher and learner groups. And have you tried Wordshake?
  3. Ning - allows anyone to set up their own private social network, so very popular with teachers.
  4. Orkut - particularly popular in Brazil and India, and full of English language groups.
  5. Second Life - an online world in which you have a character that can walk around and meet people. For more information, read on.


Teaching and learning English with Second Life

Second Life (http://secondlife.com) is an online world in which you have a character that can walk around and meet people. It is a social networking site that has very similar functions to Facebook. You can send friends invitations, talk to individuals, talk to groups of people and use learning applications or games. But sometimes the best way to explain something to someone is to simply show it to them. So here's a clip for you to watch:

Second Life for teachers
There are two parts to the Second Life virtual environment: the Adult Grid and the Teen Grid. The British Council has built an island in the Adult Grid to train teachers in approaches to e-learning. You can read about the experience of Anna Begonia, a language teacher who was given a guided tour of the island, here: http://aberriolo.wordpress.com/2009/02/22/british-council-isle-on-the-main-grid/.

Second Life for teens
The British Council has also built an island for teens to visit for free (http://teen.secondlife.com). Teenagers between 13 and 17 years old can make friends from all over the world, visit the UK (virtually!) and go on learning quests to improve their English and learn more about UK culture. They can talk to the Loch Ness monster, visit Stonehenge and ride on the London Eye!

Getting there
You can register and visit the island for free by going to http://secondlife.com. You will need a broadband connection to use Second Life, however. Alternatively, if you wish to register your whole class for the Teen Grid, you can contact Graham Stanley at the British Council (Graham.Stanley@britishcouncil.es). Graham is a learning technologies expert. You can read one of his blogs on this site: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/blogs/bcgstanley.

 

Bibliography

  • Prensky, M (2001) Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants – in On the Horizon (MCB University Press, Vol. 9, No. 5)


By Adam Dalton

 

Average: 4.1 (33 votes)

Comments

Marlet's picture
Marlet

I'm really unsure about the Facebook and second life inclusion. Facebook for one really depends on your 'circle of friends' to the English you do. Many people still talk in text language even though they dont have to pay for the message to go online! It's really is absurd.

I find it hard to believe that social media can cause there to be an increase in the English being used.

jimhaines's picture
jimhaines

One of the most reassuring things about social networks is that they prove that people want to communicate with one another and want to be involved in 'community' - no matter how artificial that community may appear.

Translating that into a learning environment is not always that simple, though, despite what this article implies.

Students need to learn 'critical thinking' before using the internet to discern worthwhile opinion and knowledge from myth and rumour.

Where social networks can help - particularly things like FaceBook groups - is by bringing together students to get a - for want of a better phrase - group mind view on some of the information they come across.

NikPeachey's picture
NikPeachey

Hi JimIn your post you say;[quote=jimhaines] Students need to learn 'critical thinking' before using the internet to discern worthwhile opinion and knowledge from myth and rumour.[/quote]I don't really agree with this. Students do need to learn critical thinking, but they need this regardless of when and whether they use the internet. You wouldn't say that sts need critical thinking before they can pick up a book or a newspaper, and yet all these sources of information are questionable and should be questioned.Critical thinking is something that needs to be constantly developed and can be developed alongside the use of the internet, just as it can with any other information source.I also think though that the internet is now much more than an information source, it is a vast social network of people communicating and collaborating, so what better place could there be to learn, practice and use language.There are even some dedicated networks set up so that language students can share and exchange both their culture and their language and enjoy communicating with each other. Some examples are:http://www.livemocha.com/http://www.babbel.com/http://www.palabea.net/If as the article says, people learn best with friends and within social environments, then I think the internet really is providing places where sts can learn for themselves and perhaps we can just help them to consolidate those skills.BestNik Peachey | Learning Technology Consultant, Writer, TrainerTeacher Development: http://nikpeachey.blogspot.com/News and Tips: http://quickshout.blogspot.com/Student Activities: http://daily-english-activities.blogspot.com/On Twitter: http://twitter.com/NikPeachey

malakaib's picture
malakaib

Imagine the generation of learning has changed since the emerging of Internet. Without computers, there is no meaning in life of learning.. that's why they have created second life.

I believe learning from playing games is one of the best method to learn. Especially those word games, sudoku and so on.  But the cons is, its still a games. Without putting a limit to play games will just end up addicted to it. 

MarkCamano's picture
MarkCamano

I also believe computers are one of the best methods to learn because they are interactive. People can be involved in the learning process. And there is a broader range of learning capabilities. nice post

migmig's picture
migmig

I think teaching using the internet or computers is a great thing. As many people have pointed out in their comments above, it's about engaging with people using a medium or platform in which they relate with.

I remember reading a while ago about a company that was creating a game modeled around historical events. Students would learn by playing a character in the story. They could be Napoleon, a British soldier or the Queen. This level of interaction is fantastic! I wish I had this type of learning when I was at school.

The quote about using Facebook is an interesting one because Face book offers such a large opportunity. Whether the uptake is there is still to be seen.

laurenperram's picture
laurenperram

My thought is that people will get sidetracked on the social networks. By talking to their friends.

jasonoutthere's picture
jasonoutthere

This is a very useful article and I wish I had found it before and will now go and look at this BC research quoted at the top...67% learners saying they learn language best when socialising correlates to the latest research into language acquisition. So why aren't there more teaching and learning materials that focus learners social learning efforts...makes sense, no?In 2001 my company started teaching some English to groups and then taking them out to use it with people they had not met before i.e. complete strangers.  We kept going because we started to see some very impressive results.This resulted in us publishing our materials in 2009. They are called English Out There and if you Google 'social media English course' you'll find that we are the only one around at the moment.Our website is at www.LanguagesOutThere.com if you or any of your friends are interested. Our materials can be used online and offline and work with all online social media, including the newly voice enabled Facebook. If you would like to get in touch and ask some questions do please contact us. 

Khuraman Safarova's picture
Khuraman Safarova

I think the computer is not a part of our life, it is a fully part of our living
The people whose work is related with Internet they can't live without computers. And I am one of them. The students are interested in different social networks much more than their teachers.
Let"s direct them correctly