Sunday, November 14, 2010

Social networking... education's friend or foe?

"Life is partly what we make it,
and partly what is made by the friends whom we choose."

Photograph courtesy Flickr: Gwennypics
Tennessee Williams from

I suspect that when Tennessee Williams coined this phrase, he wasn't thinking about the World Wide Web.  After all, Williams died in 1983.

Just the same, I think we can all learn a valuable lesson from his words, whether we place them in the context of the real or virtual world. 

Let's take a closer look...

Social networking... t'week'ed for me!

By definition, social networking is "an online service, platform, or site that focuses on building and reflecting of social networks or social relations among people, e.g., who share interests and/or activities"(Wikipedia).

Immediately, I would happen to guess that most people associate the massive social network, Facebook, when they hear the words "social network".  After all, doesn't everyone have a Facebook account?! Currently over 500 million Facebook accounts exist, in 70 languages. (  Even the Queen of England launched a British Monarchy Facebook account on November 8th! Now, who requires further proof that social networking is huge! (By the way, there is also a Royal Channel YouTube channel.)

As for me, I have had my own Facebook page (Yvonne Denomy) for sometime.  I will admit that I was slow to start.  Like many of my web explorations, my Facebook account sat virtually unused.  Remnants of my inactivity still haunt my profile (no hobbies, education, work etc. listed).  I never noticed this before... I think I'll add some info there.  But truthfully, it has only been this year when I started to use my Facebook page more. My reluctance wasn't about safety or privacy, but more feeling that Facebook was a place for teens.  Interstingly, according to Richardson... the fastest growing population joining Facebook is the over-55 crowd (p.132)!  Perhaps due to the course requirements (and feeling kind of young being much, much younger than 55... wait is my age on my Facebook profile?)... or maybe the fact that I am home full time again, I have been participating in social networking a lot more than in the past. I would say that I am even enjoying the participation.  Proof: I have started to update my status every week or so... or when something happens. I even posted a video from my last week's blog for feedback.   On a personal level, I don't worry about my exposure on this site. I feel I have enough sense to monitor what I put on there... and I have privacy settings that limit my account to 'friends only'.
But as a parent of a teenager, Facebook creates a whole new dilemna.  In last week's Twitter EdChat, the topic that emerged was social networking.  Interestingly, one of the participants shared the following Facebook for Parents brochure. I think reading this is a must read for every parent, by the way, and in my opinion, the facts will interest any user.

Being a fairly relaxed parent, I decided to really explore my son's account. I was first surprised and relieved to hear that there are automatic protections in place (I didn't know this) for teens between age 13 (minimum age for an account) and under 18.  These protections apply providing your child has been honest about his/her age.  My son had... so a little relief there. 

I viewed his profile page... I had never done that.  All was well.  I did find a few little safety and privacy settings that I wasn't comfortable with... I asked him to please change these settings so we changed them together. Likely not a huge deal, but safety is important. Certainly there is risk in any online domain.  An interesting quote from this document, "A child's psychosocial makeup and environment (for example, home and school) are better predictors of risk than any technology that the child uses" (p. 3).  I thought about this quite a lot, and have to agree. 

All the same, safety in these networks depends on your knowledge and your behaviour as the user.  I would advise anyone publishing their personal information on the web to know what you are sharing, think carefully and make decisions accordingly.

Before I head into the classroom, a few short words about other popular social networking sites.  Of course, another ever popular site is Ning. I checked it out this fall, but chose not to sign up (as this site was no longer free and I felt that with Facebook, and so many other free social networks available you have to make choices). 

One choice I have made and my favourite, LibraryThing.  I really enjoyed creating this account over the summer for my Selecting Resources for Children and Young Adults course. I still look back from time to time and try to remember what I read, especially before I head to salon as my hair stylist always asks me for a new recommendation for her teen daughter, an avid reader. I find it so great to be able to go into LibrayThing and check out what I've read, or knowing that she loved the John Green books I recommended last visit, I'll see what other books John Green fans are reading before my next visit in two weeks.  I admit that I haven't added... but I am a little behind in my reading these days (after immersing into coursework this fall). 

I also recently signed up for Ping, the iTunes social networking site.  It's pretty new and I'm not entirely sure what connections I will make, but music is something I love... almost as much as books! 

By the way, why do all these Ning sites have to end in 'ing'.  In fun, my family and I invented a few more Ning sites. Here is our list:

To network with those who share my new passion... triathlon... How about "Tri-ing"?
A network for bankers: Ching-Ching
A network for cooks: Ding-ding (bad idea?)
A network for potters: Ming
A social network for violinists: String

Okay, I never said they were any good.

Social Networks... T'week'ed for education 

Not surprisingly, social networks aren't really taking off in the world of education.  After all, when it comes to school, a long standing tradition of individualism versus collaboration has taken root (I think it's changing though).  But if parents (even technologically savvy ones like me) aren't effectively teaching their child about online behaviour, who is? How are our students learning to be responsible online citizens if they aren't learning it in school? I really think that we need to begin rethinking how we view social networks, like Facebook, in education.  Take a look at this Prezi, for starters.

This Prezi started me thinking about some of the great reason for connecting on Facebook.  At the same time, questions emerged for me about teaching students to use the teacher's class account.  I have to ponder this some more.  I guess for now I am wondering if there are better ways.  At the same time, I agree with this teacher that with so many parents already online, why go elsewhere?  It certainly provided some great thinking for me though, and I hope for you, too.

But we do really need to quit taking away all the technology at the door.  After all, let's not forget that the students go home and use it as soon as the bell rings. Further yet, they used it before they came to school, too, on social network sites like Webkinz and Club Penguin (my daughter's new favourite... MapleStory).

I also can't help but agree with Richardson that this is publishing!  Students are engaged in more writing than ever, thanks to social networks like Facebook.  They are 'micro-bloggers' as Richardson states.  Why not take advantage of it?  Instead, what do we do? We ban it. We take it away. We filter it out.  We let them go home and learn, on their own, to be responsible consumers and publishers.  What's the better option? I think schools need to get on board.

I recently read an article by Michelle Davis (2010), Social Networking Goes to School.  The first line... "At New Milford HIgh School in New Jersey, the school's official Facebook page keeps its 1,100 fans updated on sports events and academic achievements." Wow. This makes sense to me.  Why not have a school Facebook Fan page, for starters. Or a library page, for that matter.  What a great way to keep parents, students and family/friends updated.  My son's school still uses automated telephone calls to announce events (I guess that works, too, if you actually stay on the line).  Milford High's Principal, Eric C. Sheninger, informs the readers how he used to block every social media site out there, for students and staff, but has since changed his mind. "I'm passionate about engaging students and growing professionally, and I'm using these free tools to do it." (p. 14)

Of course, like we would expect for ourselves and our children, educators should take some caution (don't 'Friend' your students, my first advice).  Certainly though, let's find a way.  How about VoiceThread (a tool I highlighted last week), or LibraryThing.  The perks... building a global awareness, collaboration, feedback and assessment, topic expertise, and let's not forget student engagement.

Social networks: t'week'ed for professional learning

I see social networks as fantastic resources for professional learning. I had actually blogged about the idea of using Library Thing for collaborating on new curriculum resources last June.

Of course, Twitter is becoming the professional network of the new generation... stay tuned for more on this next week.

Until then... choose your friends carefully. 
Additional reference cited:
Davis, M. (2010). Social Networking Goes to School. The Education Digest, 14-19. Retrieved from


  1. Love your Ning names... Very cute! I agree with your points about social networking and student engagement - we should be harnessing this passion, enthousiasm and excitment - while a bit tricky to monitor it would be a hit with the kids! Reading your blog made me smile...

  2. Martin and I add-

    network for those that love jewelry - Bling
    network for those who want to have affairs - Fling
    network for those interested in playground equipment (or jazz music) - Swing
    network for those who love chess - King (or for Prince William fans)
    network for wedding planners - Ring

  3. Great Information, i really appreicate your efforts taken for the same to share it with all.
    linux certification