Towards a social constructivist approach in the use of ICT in education
During the last decade, the Internet has changed our life in many ways and especially the way that we communicate. Technologies like e-mail, discussion forums and chats are considered today almost out-of-date, while new and promising technologies like weblogs, wikis and podcasts emerge and contribute not only to the development of the individual expression but also to the creation of Communities of Practice (CoP).
These emerging technologies signal a transition to Web 2.0, i.e. the second generation of the Internet, which is characterized by greater functionality, interoperability and connectivity of resources and information, better organized and categorized content, open communication and active online communities. No doubt that this new milieu will have a great impact on research, education and teaching as it is also a transition from the “Read Only” Web to “Read/Write Web”.
These new technologies that give the possibility to users to meet virtually, to cooperate electronically and to build communities of practice are also known under the term social software. Social software follows a bottom-up approach in the creation of online communities, where participation is voluntary and the individual identity is formulated gradually within a self-regulated and self-governed community.
Antonio Dias de Figuereido, in his presidential address to the European Commission’s PROMETEUS initiative points out the social dimension of the use of the new technologies:
Most current developments in the use of modern technologies in education and training are… little more than relatively naïve transpositions to new environments of the much criticised educational paradigms of the past. Driven by an invisible force that calls us to the past, we seem to keep putting emphasis mainly on the delivery of information, that is, of content, almost completely disregarding interaction and activity – the context, the completely renewed social and cultural contexts that the new technologies are pleading to offer us.
Of course, before that, great pedagogues like Dewey and Freire had stressed and supported the importance of the social interaction and experience in education:
I believe that all education proceeds by the participation of the individual in the social consciousness of the race… I believe that the only true education comes through the stimulation of the child’s powers by the demands of the social situations in which he finds himself. (Dewey 1897, p. 77)
…only through communication can human life hold meaning. The teacher’s thinking is authenticated only by the authenticity of the students’ thinking. The teacher cannot think for her students, nor can she impose her thought on them. Authentic thinking, thinking that is concerned about reality, does not take place in ivory tower isolation, but only in communication. (Freire 1970)
Social software contributes to the construction of knowledge with the others and for the others. The focus is on the community itself and not on the individual user (Holmes, Tangney, FitzGibbon, Savage, & Mehan, 2004). As it happens in many CMC environments, these new technologies foster cooperation and construct human networks that promote sociability through knowledge and mutual participation in new forms of activities (Mark, 2001).
In this context, the various initiatives launched by the European Schoolnet (Spring Day, eTwinning, MyEUROPE, Online Communities, etc.) support the collaboration among schools in Europe and help teachers raise their pupils' awareness of what it means to be a young citizen in Europe.
Mark, G. (2001). Social foundations for collaboration in virtual environments. In F. T. Tschang & T. D. Senta (Eds.) Access to knowledge: New information technologies and the emergence of the virtual university (pp. 241-263). Oxford, UK: Elservier Science.