Social Networking in Education?


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image by Hugh MacLeod @ Gaping Void

A social network is an online environment in which people connect around relationships, content, shared interests and ideas. During this course, we have already encountered a number of sites and tools that incorporate social features such as tagging, commenting, user profiles and online groups, to add value. Human beings have always been social learners, and, increasingly, we learn in digital networks as well as "real-life" networks.

Networked learning is based on the belief that when one of us gets smarter, we all do. When used effectively, online social networking can play a powerful role in both classroom and lifelong learning. As __Steve Hargadon__ describes, "'Social Networks' are really just collections of Web 2.0 technologies combined in a way that help to build online communities."

You have probably heard of mainstream, massive, youth-oriented sites such as __MySpace__ and __Facebook__. You may even use these sites (or similar ones) personally or professionally, or, like many "skeptics," you may view them as, at best, a waste of time and, at worst, a sign of the decline of civilization. Whatever your view, your students (especially in grades 5-up) are definitely connecting via social networking sites and, increasingly, so are professionals, parents, hobbyists, educators, social activists, and all manner of people and groups looking to share, build and organize around content, conversation and ideas.

A recent study by the __National School Board Association__, entitled "Creating & Connecting: Research and Guidelines on Online Social -- and Educational -- Networking" found that that 96% of kids ages 9-17 with Internet access have used social networking technologies, and that 50% have used those technologies to talk specifically about schoolwork. __The final report__ (only nine pages with lots of graphics -- not required, but definitely worth a read), in addition to presenting some really interesting findings, offers guidelines and recommendations for school boards regarding the uses of social networking in schools. It's worth considering -- if we don't model productive, responsible uses of social networking tools for our students, how will they learn to be productive, responsible users of these tools?

As usual, a word from our friends at CommonCraft - "Social Networking in Plain English" (1:47)

DISCLAIMER: This may be my least favorite of the "Plain English" movies, but it does provide a friendly overview of the concept. It may be helpful as you watch to think of a social networking site as a community where we can LEARN, GROW and CREATE together. Try substituting "find jobs, meet new friends and find partners" with "explore ideas, build understandings, and share resources."


Want another intro? Here's a brief article: __What is Social Networking?__

Discovery Exercise

Explore uses of Social Networking in Education.

NOTE: You are NOT required to join the Classroom 2.0 network to explore its resources, but I hope most of you will. It's an amazing resource.

Increasingly, educators are beginning to leverage the positive aspects of social networking to improve both professional and student learning. __Ning__ is a service that allows anyone to easily create and manage a social network for any purpose. Ning sites may be private (viewable only to members) or public, and the site creator/administrator has lots of control over how users join and how they can participate/contribute. Recently, Ning announced that it will no longer offer free (ad-supported) social networks, but the company has __promised to keep affordable options for Education__.

In early 2007, __Steve Hargadon__ created __Classroom 2.0__, a Ning social networking site for educators "interested Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies in the classroom." The site currently has over 45,000 members sharing ideas and resources, asking questions and discussing ideas and concerns about using these new technologies to support teaching and learning. Exploring this site is a good way to learn more about Web 2.0, and to get a feel for how a social networking site can be used in education.

If you begin to feel overwhelmed by the amount of content, remember that you are not supposed to keep up with everything on a site like this, but rather to skim, explore and focus on those areas which are of real interest to you. In networked learning, the important ideas always come back around.

As you complete the exploration exercises, consider how you might incorporate social networking to benefit:

  • Your own professional development / lifelong learning
  • Classroom teaching and learning
  • Personal interests, hobbies, community, family, social causes, etc...

  • Welcome - read the welcome note on the left sidebar.
  • Forum - (click Forum tab at the top of the page). Here you will find discussion categories with threaded discussions under each. Find a couple of discussions that interest you and read some of the posts and replies.
  • Groups - (click Groups tab at the top of the page). Here you will find special-interest discussions and resource sharing. Members interested in the topic can join the group and participate in the discussion. Find a group that interests you and explore the discussions and other content for the group.
  • Tags - (right sidebar on lower half of Main page) Click a link to find all discussions tagged by tool, subject or area. Or click a tag anywhere within the site (e.g. at the bottom of a discussion post) to view all resources tagged as such.
  • Latest Activity - (left sidebar of Main page) See the most recent activity by all members of the site.
  • Videos - (click Media tab, then Videos at the top of the page). View videos uploaded and shared by site members.

PART 2: (~45 min) Check out possibilities for using Twitter in education. This very simple "micro-blogging tool" has become a key component of many educators' online learning networks, __including my own__. Because I "follow" educators who share my interests in teaching and learning with digital technologies, and who share their thinking and discoveries on Twitter, I learn many things from Twitter every day. It's like a steady stream of useful, thought-provoking information and resources from great minds. If you are brand-new to Twitter, start with this this brief video overview: __How to Harness Twitter for an Extraordinary PLN__, then explore these blog posts: __Twitter - What is it and Why Would I Use It?__, and __Advice for Teachers New to Twitter__. You can also use Twitter in your classroom. Check out __The Twitter Experiment__, __Thirty Interesting Ways to Use Twitter in the Classsroom__ and __Teachers Take to Twitter__.(I am not requiring you to join Twitter, just to THINK about it).


Write a blog post reflecting on your exploration of Classroom 2.0 and Twitter in Education. What were your overall impressions? Did you find any discussions or resources of value? Do you have any ideas for using social networking (including Twitter) in your own professional or personal learning, or in classroom learning? Please include "Thing 22" in your post title.