In today’s digital era, online social networking has become an everyday tool by which people form relationships and communicate with one another. There are more than 21 million Facebook users in the Arab world. More than 45 per cent of the UAE’s population has a Facebook account, ranking it as the top Arab country in terms of Facebook penetration and putting it among the top ten countries for Facebook usage, as per the Arab Social Media Report. So it comes as no surprise that an online social network can bring together education professionals of the region.
As a social and professional networking site, the Ras Al Khaimah Teachers’ Network (RAKTN) connects teachers and educators throughout the emirate, across the UAE and around the world. Log on and you’ll find a Facebook-style flurry of the latest activity. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find a wealth of high-quality education resources
at your disposal.
RAKTN was launched in 2010 by the Shaikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research with the vision to establish a professional community of educators who collaborate, share knowledge and ask questions. An online community is the ideal medium in an emirate where schools are geographically spread out, even isolated. Two years on, the network has more than 400 members and receives an average of 75 hits a day from around the world.
Members have access to digital learning tools and ideas, including classroom blogs, podcasts and webquests. Tutorials on creating blogs have proved particularly popular with members. Their classroom blogs have opened up alternative lines of communication with their students and generated digital Arabic content. This, in turn, has been picked up by teachers in other Arab countries, who struggle to find digital Arabic learning materials.
Network forum discussions have been instrumental in breaking down the cultural and communication barriers between teachers. With the aid of translation tools, English and Arabic speakers both reply to discussion threads, with posts in the two languages weaving in and out. Teachers from government schools are brought together with private school teachers leading both groups to discover that there is much to be learnt from the respective school systems.
When asked about RAKTN, and its impact on their professional practice, members frequently express their need to be upto date with technology as they seek to relate to their students. One teacher puts it like this: “Students in today’s world are digital natives. Everything they’re doing, thinking and breathing is digital… And if you can’t talk to them through this medium, it’s tricky to teach them.”
Looking to the future, The Al Qasimi Foundation is keen to channel the enthusiasm of RAKTN’s most active members. An Online Community Manager is at work, welcoming new members and re-engaging those who have become inactive and encouraging independent resource sharing. Group leaders will also be appointed to strengthen subject-specific discussions.
The implications of social networking are vast. The demand for online educational platforms that offer support, resources and ways to connect beyond the classroom is becoming ever more apparent. Social networking is driving and shaping interactions with or without us. It would be to our advantage to harness this social force and let it help take learning forward.
— The writer is Project Manager, Teaching and Learning, Al Qasimi Foundation. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org