A Visit From Socrates: Social Media & Education…Reasons 2B Fearful #CCK11 #ELTchat #edchat

Statue of Socrates (Source: Google images)

Today we were treated to the Socratic Method by Neil Selwyn. Here’s how Wikipedia describes it:

“The Socratic method (or Method of Elenchus or Socratic Debate), named after the Classical Greek philosopher Socrates, is a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with opposing viewpoints based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas.

It is a dialectical method, often involving an oppositional discussion in which the defence of one point of view is pitted against the defence of another; one participant may lead another to contradict him in some way, strengthening the inquirer’s own point. (Think about the question before you speak.)

The Socratic method is a negative method of hypothesis elimination, in that better hypotheses are found by steadily identifying and eliminating those that lead to contradictions. The Socratic method searches for general, commonly held truths that shape opinion, and scrutinizes them to determine their consistency with other beliefs.

The basic form is a series of questions formulated as tests of logic and fact intended to help a person or group discover their beliefs about some topic, exploring the definitions or logoi (singular logos), seeking to characterize the general characteristics shared by various particular instances.

To the extent to which this method is designed to bring out definitions implicit in the interlocutors’ beliefs, or to help them further their understanding, it was called the method of maieutics. Aristotle attributed to Socrates the discovery of the method of definition and induction, which he regarded as the essence of the scientific method. Perhaps oddly, however, Aristotle also claimed that this method is not suitable for ethics.”

“Tongue-in-cheek-title”, explains Neil. “I’m not going to argue that we need to fear media.”

Here we were given our first taste of what we could expect from Neil today.

He continued, “My title says “A”, but I’m not going to argue for “A”.

I thought, “OK, this guy is tricky. I can’t go to sleep and wake up at the end for the summary.”

He continued, “By the way, this is my first time using this technology.”

I thought to myself, “This is either going to be brilliant or not brilliant”.

I leaned back in my armchair to enjoy the talk as only a teacher can do who finds himself in the presence of another teacher who is employing a technique with which one is familiar, but not expert, in this case, the Dialogic Method of Socrates.

I was being offered something very rare for a Teacher of English, a practitioner of the Socratic Method, and he obviously intended to dialogue with us, judging by the minimalism in his use of PPT slides. They were effective, as my friend Tracy commented over in the sidechannel: “I like his slides”.

I thought to myself, “What slides? Those are discussion starters.”

Four main areas of contention were presented:

Issue 1. Acknowledging the ideological nature of social media and education.

Technology isn’t everything. (Quote: Michael Apple 1986) “the debate about the role of the new technology in education is not and must not be just about the technical correctness of what computers can and cannot do. These may be the least important kinds of questions, in fact. Instead, at the very core of the debate are the ideologigical and ethical issues concerning what education should be about and whose interests they should serve.” (end of quote)

Discussion Point: The use of social media in education is not neutral – nor inevitable.

Issue 2. The over-valorization of the informal and the institutionalised.

– Hanging out
– Geeking out
– Messing around

Stephen Downes: (Paraphrase) Quantify it for me. How much time do we need to stay in formal education VS informal education?

Neil: (Paraphrase) It’s not the extremes, it’s somewhere in between – seek a balance between the dichotomy.

Discussion point: We are in danger of losing a great deal in the rush to reject the “formal” and the “institutionalised.”

Issue 3. Social media are not necessarily fair media.

Social Media not necessarily Fair Media (Slide: Neil Selwyn)

Issue 4. Social media and the commodification of learning

Discussion Point: Social media are linked with the increased commodification of education and learning.

Conclusion: (Paraphrase) Neil: Education and social media are not value free. The only thing I can be certain about is that I’m not certain about anything.

Tom: Now where have I heard something like that before?


One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing.

Socrates. … “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing. …


Conclusion: What did I take away from today’s session? This: When one is certain about something, extremely certain, then you are at the greatest danger of being wrong in your beliefs, because you have become blind to the truths of the other. As Neil said: It’s somewhere in between. Seek a balance.

Let me illustrate: Statement: “You are either with us or against us”.

Now this appears to be black and white. You have to make a choice, right?

No, you don’t have to. It is perfectly possible to agree with some of what someone has said, but not all of it. There is room for this middle ground, if you will allow me to take it.

In so doing, we recognise the false dichotomy, the false dilemma in which “either-or”, extreme thinking, can place someone, namely, in a state of confusion, undecided, torn between two choices, accepting the one, and rejecting the other, in the end. However, it’s a fallacy, the false dichotomy.

To conclude, Neil knew his stuff. By playing Socrates, he allowed us the possibility to question the validity of our beliefs, assumptions, and critically examine them from another angle, the Socratic one. Well done Neil… Where were you Neil, when Mr. Hart needed you?

Who’s Mr. Hart, you ask? Ah, first day in class, and Mr. Hart experiences the Socratic Method. Enjoy the video…

About profesorbaker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family.
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2 Responses to A Visit From Socrates: Social Media & Education…Reasons 2B Fearful #CCK11 #ELTchat #edchat

  1. leahgrrl says:

    I certainly hope it’s possible to navigate what you rightly point out is a false dichotomy. Luckily, per Walt Whitman, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself , I am large, I contain multitudes.” I can work to eliminate the unhelpful parts of the educational institution (e.g., No Child Left Untested) while also seeking to eliminate the barriers (e.g., economic) to educational access.


    • Hi Leah,

      Thanks for stopping by for a visit. Even more so, Leah, thanks for the great quote from Whitman:

      “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself , I am large, I contain multitudes.”

      Judging by your response, you have realised the existence of the false dichotomy: that you could only have the one option, or the other. They are not mutually exclusive, formal education and informal education.

      You and I are products of both, I would think. Like you said, we can improve the formal part, and find ways to improve access as well. It would appear that such an approach is not a contradiction.

      If it is, and I’m wrong (very possible) then I would invoke none other than Whitman himself to deliver the two apologies. Yes two, because one wouldn’t do. The first one would be formal, in the academic arena, on a lecture stage.

      The other, informal, as a CCK11 guest speaker on some distant Wednesday in the imagined future…

      Again, thanks for stopping by Leah. Your visit has been a pleasure.

      Best regards,


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