Open Dialogues: How to use social pedagogies and the web as an educator

By Heather McCabe posted on April 4th, 2017

“Scholarly practice is a word that’s usually tied to research and publications, but that doesn’t have to be all that it is. You can also do scholarly practice in more informal ways. You can do it through blogs. You can do it through conversations that you have on social media,” said Christina Hendricks, professor of teaching in the Department of Philosophy, at UBC.

When Hendricks was on sabbatical, she decided to do a literature review of an area of research she hadn’t yet studied. As she did this, the philosophy professor took notes on a personal blog of the article she was reading. “One of the people that I was writing about found my blog, started commenting on it. We started a discussion,” she said. “If I weren’t writing the blog I would never have connected with him. But I was able to do that because I was publishing things openly.”

At UBC, Hendricks decided to incorporate the use of social pedagogies in her classes. In Arts One, an interdisciplinary, team-taught course, students have their own blogs where they reflect on and have discussions about the books they are reading. Individual blogs then get syndicated into a class site, and later a large site for all Arts One classes. This allows students to have discussions beyond their individual classrooms, with other students who have read the same books they have.

The blog format also allows students to write more freely, says Hendricks. “Depending on what you’re asking students to do, what kind of platform you’re asking them to do it on, one thing that blogs or other social media can do is change their mindset. It can free their thoughts in a different way than you might have if it were a more formal assignment,” she added.

Navigating the web

On the other hand, doing things in the open can pose some challenges. “A lot of what students and the rest of us are doing online in social media is interacting with people we don’t know,” said Hendricks. “How do we figure out the best ways to have those respectful conversations and learn from each other without turning each other off?”

According to the philosophy professor, the solution starts with practice. Recognizing how people might approach the same thing differently is a crucial life skill. By opening up, students and instructors can have conversations that lead them outside their own bubbles.

When these interactions are not constructive Hendricks sees an opportunity to engage other in constructive discussions. For example, when she receives negative comments on YouTube videos for the Arts One program, instead of retaliating or even ignoring, she tries to act as an educator.

“I try to move the conversation into more of a direction of we are trying to have a constructive discussion about a particular book or a particular topic. It can be an opportunity for acting as an educator in a wider sphere than just your class.”

Making connections

According to Hendricks, social media platforms can be great places to establish long-lasting professional networks, if you know where to look. “The problem with any social media is that if you don’t already have a network, you don’t get much use out of it. So the most important thing is to figure out ways to develop your network,” she said.

You can start by connecting with people who you know are in social media and whose work interests you. Then, you see who they are following, and repeat the process indefinitely, explains Hendricks.

By introducing blogs and other social pedagogies to her classes, the philosophy professor is hoping to get students accustomed to creating and maintaining these networks.

“The value of peer to peer connecting is partly that students will learn a lot not just from what they hear from other people but from what they tell to other people. Conversations with other students bring such different perspectives and interpretations. They help can see something from a new view and open up your eyes.”