DAILY INSIGHT: We are social beings, so let's start learning that way!

By Steve Young, CIO Advisor

Last week, after checking into an early showing of Skyfall at the local theatre on Facebook, I wanted to know how my drive up to Austin would be, so I opened my favorite driving app, Waze. Most readers are undoubtedly familiar with using Google Maps or other tools for navigation. Waze takes driving social and leverages the power of connected drivers to predict traffic and travel times, but what makes it even more powerful are the reports that appear on your map from others: There's an accident ahead, an object in the road, a traffic jam, or a hidden police car. Waze let me know that there was no major traffic but to be careful about all of the police en route to Austin.

This is a fantastic use of social media. The reports of others are making my drives more pleasant, safer, and more on time. I never would have thought social media would be used to make driving better—but it has. Social media (which by most definitions involves a broad range of websites, technologies, and apps) is a powerful set of communications technologies. Like any communications technology, it can be incredibly powerful, and of course like all others it can be used for destructive purposes.

The ways that social media has helped are too numerous for a short blog post, but needless to say my travel, eating, professional networking, and learning will never be the same.

To some extent, education seems very late to the social media game. Many schools are still just discussing if it should be used and if any social media tools are instructionally relevant. I am not advocating that all schools open up and start using every social media tool. There are many culture, policy, and instructional decisions that must be made at the local level before implementing many social media tools. But I am advocating that we should be leveraging some power of social networks, even if they are just walled garden social networks that we can use with our students to leverage peer learning. If I took one great piece of knowledge away from a great lecture last week by Dr. Abigail Baird, a psychologist at Vassar College, it is that teens are social beings and that their peers are hugely important to them.

Dr. Baird did not advocate for using social learning with teens, but it really seems to be a great fit with what she talked about. She also pointed out that teens are most definitely not adults, which I think may be where much of our caution with social media in learning starts.

Ultimately, social media has transformed many things we do and how we interact with our world and our environment, but it has yet to make major inroads into most classrooms, when maybe it should, since social media technologies have improved our lives in many ways. Now it's back to improving my travel with social media. I am going to see what people on Yelp and Urbanspoon have to say about Austin's eateries.

Steve Young is CTO of Judson ISD in Texas and founder of the San Antonio Area Technology Directors group. He blogs at CTO Technotes, where this is cross posted. Follow him on Twitter as @atemyshorts.