Saturday, March 29, 2008

Part 4 – Social Networking in Education

Issues and Concerns

While social networking sites lend themselves to numerous educational uses, there are many school districts that block these types of web sites. Since Acceptable Use Policies for computers in schools are intended to convey that computer resources are meant for school work, “social networks” are likely regarded as non-school related because of the potential for misuse. If certain social networks (such as Facebook) are blocked in a school district, it still may be possible for teachers to use social networks with their students. Instead, teachers may have to subscribe to a social network which is designed and created specifically by the teacher, such as Ning (check out Ning in Education: “a community of educators using Ning to build social networks”). Also, some school districts can lift the block off certain sites for particular class projects, by special request from the teacher.

A recent and highly publicized issue relating to Facebook as a tool for peer tutoring in Ryerson University reveals how students have adapted social networking for educational purposes. Chris Avenir and his classmates used Facebook as means of comparing notes and sharing homework tips and questions. The controversy lies in the fact that his professor stated that the assigned work was to be done individually, and not worked on with others. However, Avenir’s argument remains that an online study group is no different from an in-person mentoring group, or peer tutoring. Despite the circumstances of this situation, the use of social networking as a method of online peer tutoring becomes apparent.

Potential Uses of Social Networks in Classrooms

How can classroom teachers use social networking? Social networks allow students to:

* learn how to come together in an environment to interact for a specific purpose; build a community
* personalize pages to express individuality and creativity
* pose questions to the community
* hold forums to discuss topics of interest
* find and share research resources
* create study groups and peer tutor
* interact with people who are working on similar projects/homework

Educators and students may find some of the following sites useful for their activities:

LinkedIn: A networking site for professionals looking to make contacts and build relationships in their professional communities.

Xivio: This is a networking site designed for children or young adults. You have to have permission of an adult if you are under 18 and the site is monitored to ensure appropriateness. It is a 3D world for chat and video and music uploading and sharing.

Imbee: Imbee is designed for children ages 8 to 14 and is designed to be a chaperoned site that adults can keep tabs on. Accounts are free and they are actively courting teachers to set up classes using the service.

Bebo: Bebo is a social media network where friends share their lives and explore great entertainment. Open to anyone 13 and older.

Yahoo360: This site combines a personal webpage with a blog and a photo album.

Ning: An online service where you can create, customize, and share your own Social Network for free in seconds.

Twitter: Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing? It provides a constant feed of updated personal information to those in a social network.

For other ideas about how educators are using social networks, take a look at the list of links at Social Networks in Education.

Potential Uses of Social Networks in the Library

Social networks, such as Facebook, can have many potential uses for the school’s library. Miller and Jenson (Connecting and Communicating with Students on Facebook) suggest that Facebook be used as a way to communicate the events and services of the library to students. The four Applications they recommend to utilize to grab students' attention are: My Profile, Notes and Posted Items, Albums, and Events.

Some suggestions include:

* posting up to date contact information and office hours
* share favourite books, TV shows, interests, or quotes
* get the word out about a new database or resource
* post a weekly trivia question and offer a prize to the first person who messages you with the correct answer
* create a library tour that features hotspots in the building and details guidelines for their use
* describe how to use library technology, including software and hardware. For example, you could provide screen shots of citation management software and the instructions for using it.
* plan a drop-in workshop that highlights a new tool at your library. The R.S.V.P. feature will let you know how many students to expect.
* create Events for book groups, exhibit openings, or student appreciation festivities

Merideth Farkas writes about another interesting way libraries can utilize the power of social networking. She explains:

“We need to start thinking about how to make our content more portable so that we can easily place it into the paths our users travel online. The more places our content can be found and ways it can be accessed, the more likely it is that our content will get used…. If the library is literally in our patrons' faces when they need to do research, they are much more likely to utilize our resources….Last spring, I wrote about creating a portal to library services in Facebook ( and MySpace ( (AL, Apr., p. 27). Since then, Facebook has opened up its platform to software developers, enabling people to create applications that will either pull content from other places into Facebook or to search content already in Facebook. A number of libraries have created applications that will search the library catalog and selected databases. Patrons can add these tools to their profiles for easy access” (Your Stuff, Their Space).

Currently, the University of Michigan Library, among many others, has created a Facebook application for searching their library catalog, while the Birmingham Public Library has a catalog search widget in MySpace. Patrons can easily add these widget applications to their profiles so that they may search the library from within these social spaces (Kroski).

Social Networking for Educators

There are many professional development opportunities available through social networks. Edublogs has several recommended social networking sites for educators:

Classroom 2.0
EFL classroom 2.0
Kingswear School Network
Talkabout Primary MFL
Voices of the world

Social networks for educators can provide forums to share teaching strategies and ideas. I have found Classroom 2.0 helpful on numerous occasions while learning about the uses of web 2.0 tools!

Some Final Thoughts

I could not help but find myself completely consumed by this week’s blog topic. I am fascinated by the phenomenon of social networking, and how it is shaping our day to day interactions. I recognize that there are still several barriers which may prevent social networking from finding its way into classrooms immediately, but it is not likely a permanent situation. As with any new technology, there is learning curve, as well as some “troubleshooting” which must happen before the educational uses can be fully realized. With some careful preparation by a knowledgeable teacher, I believe that social networking can become an effective tool in classrooms and libraries. Social networks provide a way in which we can teach, and learn from others through a collaborative “dynamic” online community!


Val said...

HI Ronda: Well what a learning curve it is this SN eh? Still so many questions, protocol and guidelines to discover. I like it as a peer tool among educators. I like Ning and Classroom 2.0 and see value and opportunity with using it in the library (although at this stage I would choose other tools over SN). Like you, all our high schools are filtered for facebook, myspace YouTube etc. I think with more research, more case studies on positive uses and positive responses and outcomes to SN sites, school districts may gradually see value in the tool.

Katie said...

Thanks for the list of other SN sites and the explanation of what they are all about.

We are also filtered for Facebook and Myspace. I'm not sure I could ever convince the division to unblock it, but with the problems we have been having with cyber bullying, etc. I'm not really sure I want to. Other SN sites may be ok, but I'll have to have a poke around at your list and see if they can change my mind!

Cindy said...

Great ideas for potential uses of SNS in the classroom and library.I really enjoyed reading your post on this subject and look forward to checking out 'Ning in Education'. Thanks!

elizabeth said...

Hi Ronda,
I am interested in what you think SN can accomplish over other web 2.0 tools? As you know I am not sold on using SN for educational purposes, but am still gathering information. If you have a chance, I'd be interested in your thoughts. Aside from what Jensen and Miller describe as Friends and Feed (which I doubt would work at an elementary or middle school), I am at a loss. I am still leaning toward a blog vs SN.