Thursday, November 24, 2016

Digital Third Places; Our Favorite Online Hangouts

Typically described as physical spaces, but recently include web locations, Third Places are spaces between the privacy of home and the structure of work or school where informal interaction occurs. With geographic third places shifting, and in many cases, disappearing, it's an opportunity to take a look at where people interact while online. The Pew Research Center has reported on the ways Americans use social media to find information and engage with others. An increasing number of online Americans get their news via social media, take their work and school breaks with social media, and seek employment via social media. Most analysts agree this year's presidential election result was impacted by communication through social media.




Pew's recent publication reveals other interesting trends. The number of American adults using social media has increased steadily since 2005 with the percentage of older users driving recent gains. Facebook users double the number of other popular social media users such as; Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter. College educated users with higher incomes interact through social media at a higher rate than other socio-economic groups. Women engage through social media more readily than men with the greatest disparity occurring with their use of Pinterest.

Roughly fifty percent of social media users interact with more than one site. Even though this figure is holding steady, Pew's research indicates the frequency of social media use continues to increase modestly from year to year. Three-quarters of Facebook users login at least once per day and more than half visit several times each day. More Americans use Pinterest and LinkedIn, but at a lower frequency than Twitter and Facebook. Facebook continues to be the traditional starting point for social media users. Of single-site users, eighty-eight percent are visiting Facebook.

According to Pew researchers, seventy-two percent of adult Americans possess a smartphone. Messaging apps, like WhatsApp and Kik, are very popular with younger adults. Social interaction via mobile apps is an upward trend that's likely to persist. Are social media users also interacting with messaging apps? Additional research is needed to answer this question. (Demographics of Social Media Platforms - Pew Research Center)

I use all of the social media sites identified in Pew's recent research. My Facebook usage would be characterized as that of a "visitor" while my Twitter usage represents "resident" behavior. (Visitors and Residents - White and LeCornu, 2011) Pew data has me reconsidering my internet map. Would my primary digital "third place" be better located where others congregate more readily? Conversely, I have found my tribe and my PLN stalwarts through interactions on Twitter. Reflection, deeper thinking, and documented knowledge get posted on this blog. 

Where are your digital third places, or where do you hangout online? More importantly, and the unanswered question here, why have you chosen these digital spaces for social interaction?





photo credit: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center Cloudscape Over the Philippine Sea via photopin (license)

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Third Places and School Community

“Life without community has produced, for many, a life style consisting mainly of a home-to-work-and-back-again shuttle. Social well-being and psychological health depend upon community. Third places are informal gathering places. They are the heart of a community’s social vitality, the grassroots of democracy, but sadly, they constitute a diminishing aspect of the social landscape." - Ray Oldenburg


Who remembers "Cheers"? The television third place of libated conversation and humor, where everyone knows your name.



Are we creating school-based places where climate and community become positively established? 

Left to their own devices, students and staff will build segregated hangout bubbles in hallways, offices, and nooks beneath stairwells. Third places are comfortable confines between the private life of home and the prearranged areas of school and work. Informal and inviting, Oldenburg says third places offer tremendous opportunities for learning, "Managers have learned if they let people work where they want and when they want, productivity goes up. Additionally, if you get people sitting together, talking together, innovation comes quicker."


You would be hard-pressed to find an education conference without at least one session called, "Innovative Learning Spaces." Thankfully, rows and cubicles are becoming viewed as roadblocks to modern, collaborative learning. Libraries, churches, and community centers are examples of community-based third places. Bosu balls, carpet squares, and tinker centers accessorize classroom-based third places. Are there places at school that exist between the private and the formal where students and staff gather to tell jokes, discuss politics, and share their stories?


Oldenburg says there are ten essential functions of third places. Among these are; promote democracy, establish unity, create friendships, personal development, and intellectual forum. It was not uncommon for my father to hang out with the guys after work. Often, their third place would be my grandma's kitchen or patio. EZ-pops, my grandfather, kept the garage refrigerator fully stocked with Old Style. Today, I enjoy fitness classes at the local gym. Not only do I get to break a healthy sweat, but kickboxing and cycling have become opportunities to chat casually with neighborhood friends.



Our school library is nearing completion of a major remodeling effort. Eighteen hundred square feet of this project is a dedicated learning cafe. A few critics have expressed their displeasure calling the coffee shop a frivolous waste of money and space. However, school leaders and project designers see "Pete's Cafe" becoming a social hub for students and staff, a purpose-built third place. Much like Cheers, Starbucks, or Barnes and Noble, comfortable seating, casual decor, food, and beverages, will provide an inviting place to gather, connect, and grow. 


Oldenburg's research from 1989 focused on face-to-face interaction, but the internet has become a principle place for social interaction. Can third places be established in social media? Whether it's in-person or virtual, I believe in the power and longevity of informal learning. I am looking forward to raising a coffee mug in the name of our school community.


References and Related Reading


The Great Good Place... - Ray Oldenburg


Ray Oldenburg - Project for Public Places



photo credit: byronv2 cafe al fresco via photopin (license)

Monday, November 7, 2016

Learner Autonomy and the LMS

Recently, I shared my internal conflict, "domain of one's own" versus "LMS as a personal learning environment." Creating and cultivating one's digital garden is the self-actualization of digital fluency. The LMS can positively support skill development and digital ascension. These two concepts do not have to be mutually exclusive. Credit Aaron Davis for extending this conversation with this question shared in the blog comments.


"To what degree can an LMS, such as Schoology, support student autonomy and personal learning?"

Stephen Downes is considered one of the prominent thought-change leaders in the area of personal, socially networked learning. He identifies the following essential activities for developing and sustaining an effective personal learning environment (PLE):
  • Curating
  • Content creating
  • Connecting and interacting
  • Sharing and reflecting
Coincidentally, "Schoology as Personal Learning Environment" was my presentation topic at Schoology NEXT-2016. My driving question was, if Schoology is utilized as a personal learning place, then students will be more engaged in learning. Participants analyzed their internet usage based on David White's "visitors and residents" research and mapping exercise. We discussed resident web behaviors and the benefits of interacting in a digital, social learning place. We then mapped student usage of Schoology and compared this map with the original. The group concluded if the LMS is perceived and utilized more as a place than a tool, students would experience greater relevancy and increased engagement.

Our next step identified the Schoology features that best support autonomous, personal learning based on Downes's recommendations.



In addition to the learning places created by these features, each can be enhanced with embedded media; graphics, audio, and video. The open API (application program interface), permits the integration of third-party apps like G-suite and Office 365. These integrations increase interaction, creativity, and personalization while keeping learners close to the designated online meeting place, the digital hub.

Whether it's a blog, website, or wiki, building a PLE from scratch supports the 4 C's of 21st-century learning (communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking) in exemplary fashion. Planning, creation, reflection and revision require time and perseverance. Many of the traditional school practices, such as schedule, calendar, and evaluation don't seem conducive to this longitudinal type of personal learning. Schoology, while not being a completely blank slate, provides places for creativity and connection. It fits the parameters of our existing school structures. An LMS can provide learning places for digital literacy, digital fluency, and networked contribution, adding transparency and autonomy with emerging competencies. 

Are you using an LMS at your school? If so, how are you using it to support autonomy and personal learning?