Social Networking in Education? You Bet!


image by Hugh MacLeod @ Gaping Void

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)

Discovery Exercise

Explore uses of Social Networking in 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 21,000 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.

You may want to join the Classroom 2.0 network to explore its resources.

Tips for finding your way around Classroom 2.0
  • 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 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.
  • Members - (click Members tab at the top of the page). Click any member's profile picture to view his or her personal page, including their groups, discussion postings, personal blog, comment wall, friends and other self-selected content.
  • Latest Activity - (left sidebar of Main page) See the most recent activity by all members of the site.
  • Videos - (click Videos tab at the top of the page). View videos uploaded and shared by site members.