We all know someone who is good at math, someone who is great at writing and editing, or that someone who always seems to have great ideas. Thanks to social media, I have an open line of communication to other academics whether it’s other students or professors whom I work with. Because of this, I am able to post questions or concerns about an assignment that I am working. One or a few of them may respond with information that could shed light on whatever I’m working on. Sherry Turkle, a Professor at the Massechusetts Institute of Technology, refers to this as a “Personal Learning Network (PLN)” (DigitalPedagogyLab.com). For example, when I couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong on a math problem, I posted a picture of the problem along with how I tried to solve it and maybe a specific question on Facebook. My math friends would reply with something like ‘you factored it wrong’ or ‘you should reduce it first.’ In another example, when I was not sure about something I was writing, I posted a request for help to my friends and someone may ask me to inbox them what I’d written so far. One would think that a friend would want to show off what she/he knows, but that is not the case. I’m lucky to have friends who genuinely want me to understand. So I get the help that I need, and they get to say they saved a brain cell.
It seems reasonable to assume that teaching students how to build their own PLN would relieve some of the stress of studying because they would not be working in a bubble. This is what Clive Thompson refers to as “public thinking” in his book Smarter Than You Think. I would imagine that educators’ hearts would be warmed by Facebook statuses written by their students that read I finally understand how a topic sentence relates to a thesis statement. Or, on the other hand, a student would find it convenient to post questions to his/her professor on an open access site rather than a limited access platform such as BlackBoard Learn. By tightening the access gap, educators can reach more students and students would find it easier to communicate with his/her professor. It would be interesting to juxtapose limited access technology such as Blackboard Learn with extended access technology such as social media sites in order to learn which is most conducive to learning.