@MCDPEL Innovations Lab

Strangers in a strange land: making the familiar strange and expanding edu-scapes through social media

Posted by Martha Richmond

7/1/14 1:46 PM

martiWhen I returned from Finland I was invited to lead a faculty workshop on insights I gained through our trip. Using technology such as social media offered an authentic voice to the ideas I wanted to share with colleagues and fellow administrators. Technology offered the group the chance to “hear” ideas and novel stances that in other formats would have been regarded with suspicion of hidden agendas. Instead, using social media and hearing the voices of Finnish teachers as well as some of my fellow travelers, my colleagues found themselves hearing, thinking and then examining ideas about our practice in a novel way. Topics of inclusion, action research and team teaching tainted in the past as politically loaded, were reframed and now on the table with new understandings, non-stereotypical thinking and new voices. As a result of the presentation, our faculty discussion seemed unbounded by previous institutional prejudices and commitments. The familiar had become strange.

Thus, I found myself pondering some essential questions:

  • How can looking at technology through the lens of the

    sociology of the “stranger” change percepti

    ons of the role of technology in the classroom?

  • How can technology as an experience help educators widen and deepen their understanding of their own instructional and disciplinary culture?

  • Looking at technology through the lens of stranger status, can educators see their practice as well as their discipline through new eyes?

  • In terms of instructional practice as well as disciplinary understandings  how can using technology make the familiar strange?

  • How can we leverage this "strangeness" (of instruction and as well as disciplinary understandings ) into being the greatest strengths in the classroom?

According to George Simmel, the stranger (and I am thinking of introducing technology and social media as a pedagogical tools as a stranger in the classroom as well as framing the new content/discipline voices technology and social media introduce to educators as a stranger) has the benefits of “mobility, objectivity, non-stereotypical thinking, and nonconformism” (Lepadatu, 2010). Thus broadly, strangers are outsiders who can help members of a group examine their cultural assumptions. More specifically in terms of the classroom, a stranger can offer novel perspective on educational practice and on our academic/disciplinary understandings. The stranger, be it a Finnish educator or a new technological means offers a level of objectivity to colleagues’ views of education and to classroom practice that our day to day coworkers cannot introduce as effectively since a stranger is not bound by previous practices and prejudices.

Image credit: edweek.org


Image credit: edweek.org

This pedagogical type of stranger highlights the impact that different teaching methods as well as ideas can have on campuses. Technology as stranger as well as the novel (strange) perspectives brought through technology such as social media to the classroom by colleague and student participation from foreign institutions become sources of power that stimulate and stir the classroom experience. Diversity is represented by new teaching tools as well as new lenses on our academic disciplines. As such, looking at the use of social media/technology in this way promotes Simmel’s privilege of the stranger because it opens us to new perspectives, as well as a suppleness in thought and a freedom of movement intellectually as well as geographically. As such, technology as stranger has the power and the privilege of promoting new edu- scapes in the classroom and in the minds of both faculty and students.

Lepadatu, D.(2010)  The Stranger in Academe, The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved July1. 2014.

~ Dr. Martha Richmond is a graduate of @PennGSE's Mid-Career Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership (Cohort 4).  Connect with Martha at on Twitter at@mrichm11 or by email at [email protected]

Topics: Innovation, technology integration, social media,