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Social Networking: Building ethical, global communities

What are Social Networks?

What is a social network? It used to range from family to neighbours to the parents who get together for coffee at my school every Friday. At every one of my family gatherings, we talk about our lives, seeking advice, asking questions, telling our stories and looking for validation. My neighbours and I discuss the weather, our children, our neighborhood, our gardens, and occasionally, politics. The parents that meet at school discuss the same. We make meaning of our lives through social situations and conversations. According to constructivist theory, we learn best through social interaction and collaboration with others (Wikipedia, n.d.).  Social networks today have grown far beyond the borders of our day to day interactions with those in our community.  Harangdon (2008) states that they are “collections of Web 2.0 technologies combined in a way that help to build online communities.”  Berger and Trexler (2010) define social network sites as having: A profile page to allow users to describe who they are, a list of friends who are on the same network, a public commenting system so friends can write public notes to each other, and a private messaging system for private messages. Now, through social networking, our social horizons are expanded, and we can meet and communicate with others globally rather than locally. We can connect with others who share the same interests, vocation or ideas.

Process of Learning about the tool


Facebook and Myspace are the two names that first come to mind when we talk about social networks. I have been a member of Facebook for about 3 years, but did not know too much about it as I used it rarely. I have since learned how to delete people (I feel so bad when I do that), how to manage my privacy settings (although I don’t put anything up on Facebook that causes me any worry J ). When I do go on, my daughters are used to me calling them upstairs with a “How do you….?” Through them (hey, can I cite them as a source? They’d love that!:) ) I have learned how to follow people on Facebook, create events and groups, upload links,  photos and video, change my privacy settings (essential for an educator!), and get applications and games. Will I use all of them? Not sure…

What are my other online social networks? I belong to Classroom 2.0, Diigo, Shelfari, Goodreads, Ravelry, Teacher Librarian Ning and the CASL Teacher-librarian Ning. Of these networks, only one is related to my social life, the rest are related to my career and to my interests. These are sites that I have found through recommendations from friends with the same interests, or through searching the web for information. Each site except for Diigo meets the characteristics Berger and Trexler (2010)  suggest for a social network. As well, these sites add information relating to the interests of its members, i.e. knitting patterns on Ravelry, books on Shelfari and Goodreads, and Web 2.0 tools and information on Classroom 2.0 and the Teacher Librarian Nings. (Diigo allows you to follow people and check their websites, but doesn’t allow you to contact them directly.) However, I would argue that Diigo still meets the criteria for a social network in that it allows you to view the profile and recommended websites of members, and groups.

Other social networking sites that I explored were Twiducate, Ning and Edmoto. Twiducate is a closed social network where I can create a class, add students, post assignments, add links and dates. Twiducate allows students to connect with each other in an instant message, Twitter-like format. As always, there’s a video on YouTube about it! I am not sure how students will respond to Twiducate. I think that they might find the format limiting, however, it would certainly teach them to be concise! 🙂

Ning is a site where you can create online social networks for a specific population. (Nings used to be free, however they now cost from $20 to $500/year). I have not used Nings, however, in my social network of teacher librarian friends, one described her success with using a Ning for an English class she taught. She reported that students were highly engaged, focused on the task, and demonstrated higher level thinking in their discussions and responses. After watching the video below, I thought that using a Ning would work best for middle and secondary students.

Edmodo is a free site where you can create a closed online social network site that has the look and feel of Facebook. (Screencast with Jing). It allows you to create groups, invite students, create posts of class alerts, assignments, upload documents and links, and have your students submit assignments. Students can post to discussion groups or individuals in their class. Like Facebook, they can upload video or links in their posts, and similar to a wiki, you are notified when students post or comment. There’s even a gradebook where you can store the class’s grades. Edmodo can be used school-wide, so you can connect with other teachers.

Personal use of the tool

I am not the best Facebook friend you will ever have. I am friends with 36 people…my daughter has 300! Most of my friends come from the yoga community (how do you say no when people ask you to be their friend?) some from family and some from work. I rarely go on Facebook, preferring to connect with those I am close to by phone, email or in person. To be honest, I barely have time for the friends and family that I am close to, never mind spending time chatting with my cousin from Toronto who I haven’t seen in years, and don’t feel a connection to (can she see this???). I loved Will Richardson’s (2010) tweet: “Spend my 10 minutes a week on Facebook? Check.” It gave me permission to say that 10 minutes a week works for me!

On the other hand, I enjoy checking in with Goodreads for reviews of books that I am reading, or would like to read, or to check in with my groups (Adult YA Fiction Addiction, Children’s Literature, Wild Things: YA Grown Up, and KidLit),  checking out discussions on books in my shelf and discussions in my group ‘Great Books for Teachers’ in Shelfari,  or looking in at Ravelry to see some new patterns and check in with the Edmonton Knitters and Knitting with Ewe groups. However, most of my social networking is professional in nature.

Professional use of the tool

The social networks I belong to in relation to my professional life are: Classroom 2.0, Diigo, Twitter, Teacher Librarian Ning, and the CASL Teacher-librarian Ning. These are the sites that I look for information on, read the blog posts, check out new videos, discussions (loved this one on using YouTube) and forums. Groups like Elementary Teacher Librarians, Classroom 2.0 Beginners, and Tech Tools for Teachers give me the opportunity to learn and ask questions. I would like to form a group for my school on Classroom 2.0, and invite those teachers who I know are interested in technology to join. However, the push in our district is to use a private site they have developed called ‘Share’ for our Google Apps Education. The teachers in our school are expected to use the Share site for most of their technology needs, including classroom blogs, websites and eportfolios, using Google docs for sharing with each other and for student homework, assignments and calendars. We are supposed to be able to use Google Talk as well, however we have not yet discovered how to use that feature. This site allows us to teach students some social networking skills, and is a ‘safe’ site for students to use and to share. I think it falls short of other social networking sites such as Twiducate, Ning and Edmodo in that it is not truly similar to the real world of social networking, however, the ‘Share’ site is a work in progress, so it may evolve toward evoking a true social network feel.

Diigo is a site I have written about in a previous post. I love the ability to share sites I find useful with others, and to see the sites that the groups I belong to, such as Teaching and Learning with Web 2.0  have bookmarked. I have created a group for my school for teachers to share sites in curricular areas, both to use with students and for professional development. I am in the process of helping them to create education accounts to use with their students.

Teacher Librarian Ning and the CASL Teacher-librarian Ning are sites that I usually use when I am interesting in doing some reading of blog posts, or looking for some information or ideas. I have not yet joined any groups in those networks.

Should we use social networking with students? This is a question I would add to George Siemens’ 2010 post of “Questions I’m no Longer Asking.” Our students ARE using social networking sites. Its time we stopped chopping off their tentacles, as David Warlick (2007) says, and start teaching them how to use these tools appropriately. In my own family, my daughters regularly use Facebook, not only for social situations, but to also ask for homework help and to share information on assignments. Conversations around the table have included what and how to post appropriately, what to do when others are posting inappropriately,  how to be digitally aware, and how to be a good friend on Facebook. Concerns have been raised about issues such as cyber-bullying, however, we don’t ban recess. Instead we teach students to be good citizens. Why not teach them to be good digital citizens as well? Berger and Trexler (2010) share a study done by The Mac Arthur foundation that states that, through social  networking, teens are ‘navigating complex social and technical skills that they need to fully participate in contemporary society.” (p. 162).

I believe that we should be using sites like Edmomo, Ning and Twiducate, especially for elementary students, many of whom will not yet have a Facebook account. (Just spoke with a grade 4 teacher. Apparently many students in her class have Facebook accounts! This means that it is even more essential to include teaching social networking skills to younger students. ) They introduce students to social networking in a safe and controlled environment and provides teachers with the opportunity to teach appropriate social networking skills. Angelita Williams (2010) talks about the importance of college students learning how to create a ‘personal brand’ in today’s global market and lists steps for students to take to create their brand through social networking, including identifying goals, separating friends and work and using appropriate pictures. All of these are skills that can be taught previous to college. Why not teach skills before students begin and develop bad habits?

How do you teach appropriate behaviour when using social networking? Fran Smith (2007) quotes high school principal Chris Lehman;

“You ask: What does it mean that fifteen-year-old kids are calling themselves nineteen and posting racy pictures online? What does it mean that college kids are posting raunchy spring break pictures that a prospective employer can find? The idea that we are the stories we tell has never been more important. Schools have always taught kids how to present themselves — that’s why we did oral presentations in the classroom. Now we need to teach them to present themselves electronically.” (para 3).

Keith Schoch (2010), on his blog Teaching that Sticks, talks about the learning in his grade 6 classroom after 5 days of using Edmodo:

“Technically, students learned how to:

  • follow and contribute to a threaded conversation, rather than firing off comments into the great abyss;
  • consider audience when choosing a group with which to share a given message, link, or video;
  • tag comments for friends to find;
  • use a filter to sort through collected postings to find what was needed; and
  • change avatars to match their personalities, while at the same time protecting their identities.

Socially, students learned to

  • think before posting, and edit remarks when peers disapproved;
  • refrain from certain conventions and language which, while acceptable with friends outside of the school setting, are considered inappropriate in school;
  • select hyperlinks and videos which would be enjoyable and appropriate for everyone in the group; and
  • disagree with ideas without attacking the students who posted them.” (para. 5)

Final Thoughts

Davis (2010) says: “it’s (social networking) a world that students feel at home in and is unlikely to disappear” (p. 2). She quotes Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, a 21st century learning specialist and popular educational blogger as saying, “It creates a global awareness. Students find it’s just as easy to collaborate with a class in England as with the class next door.” (p. 3). Hull and Stornaiuolo (2010) discuss how social networking in the classroom can lead to students seeing themselves as global citizens, able to share and appreciate the point of view of the ‘other’. Students in their study began developing a “…self-reflexivity that is both inward and outward looking, balancing one’s position in the world with a consideration of others and our obligations to them.” (p. 7) and a “…critical distance, gained from considering one’s position in the world relative to others..” (p. 7).

Is this not the way that we wish our students to become? True global citizens, connected to and vitally aware of themselves and others.

References

Berger, & Trexler,  (2010). Choosing web 2.0 tools for learning and teaching in a digital world. Santa Barbara, Ca: Libraries Unlimited.

Davis, M. (2010). Social networking goes to school. Digital Directions, 3. Retrieved from https://vista4.srv.ualberta.ca/webct/urw/lc5122011.tp0/cobaltMainFrame.dowebct

Hull, G., & Stornaiuolo, A. (2010). Literate arts in a global world: Reframing social networking as cosmopolitan practice. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 54(2). Retrieved from https://vista4.srv.ualberta.ca/webct/urw/lc5122011.tp0/cobaltMainFrame.dowebct

Schoch, K. (2010). Using Edmodo in the classroom: Five days later. Retrieved from http://teachingthatsticks.blogspot.com/2010/02/using-edmodo-in-classroom-five-days.html

Smith, F. (2007). How to use social-networking technology for learning. Retrieved from: http://www.edutopia.org/how-use-social-networking-technology

Wikipedia (n.d.). Constructivism learning theory. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constructivism_(learning_theory)#Learning_is_an_active.2C_social_process

Williams, A.(2010). 5 Easy steps for students to establish their personal brand using social networking. Retrieved from:

http://www.emergingedtech.com/2010/09/5-easy-steps-for-students-to-establish-their-personal-brand-using-social-networking/

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