This Web 2.0 topic could be the largest one to tackle. Where to begin? “Social networking websites help people connect with others who share their interests, build online profiles and share media such as photos, music and videos” (Glaser, 2007). Social networking allows people to come together ‘virtually’ by sharing common backgrounds, goals, topics of conversation or collaboration.
Wikipedia lists over 100 hundred social networking websites with a little disclaimer “please note the list is non-exhaustive, but is limited to some notable, well known sites” (Wikipedia, 2008). What motivates the first-time user to join an online social community? It may be sparked by an electronic invitation from family/friend or colleague, a professional purpose or simple curiosity.
As I researched online to find out which networking sites
were the most popular in 2008, I quickly discovered that each resource I found posted slightly different results. Two social networking powerhouses that consistently ranked in the top two were MySpace and Facebook, while others listed in the top ten changed slightly. Here are a few of the most common sites from my search:
The most popular of the networking sites, with a Wikipedia listing of over 240,000 registered users. Interactive network full of personal profiles, blogs, photos, videos and music.
A network utility that connects members with friends, family and colleagues unique to their world.
A social media network where members share their profile and can explore videos, music, authors and join in groups which share common interests.
Helps members stay in touch with existing friends and create new ones.
Find and connect with friends and acquaintances throughout schooling from kindergarten to university.
Focuses on career networking for potential clients, field experts and business providers that can also help provide job opportunities.
A micro-blogging social community that allows users to read each other’s updates, also known as ‘tweets’. Posts must be 140 characters or less in length.
Find friends, display photostreams, or build a homepage to express your personal profile.
(Image created using Wordle)
Why Join a Network?
A social network provides members with unique connections between people that might not otherwise be possible outside of the Internet. Imagine building relationships that have no global boundaries, sharing experiences, problem solving, collaborating, learning and teaching all through a free social network. “Social networking is currently one of the most interesting phenomena on the Internet. Millions of people belong to online social networks” (Bell, 2007). A Dummy’s Guide to Social Networking gives new social consumers a quick introductory guide to contemplate before making a commitment to a network.
It is important to be familiar with the Terms of Service for each network as they all vary slightly. Wikipedia’s List of Social Networking Websites page provides a comprehensive overview of the 100+ most notable sites that include defining the membership’s focus group, number of registered users, and registration requirements (ie. Open forum, invitation only, age restriction etc). It is noteworthy to find out whether or not the social network you are interested in has membership fees that will only then provide all-inclusive access to the network. An example of this is joining Classmates.com. Initial sign-up allows users to register a free account, but information and access is quite limited without purchasing a Gold membership.
While I don’t personally have Facebook or MySpace accounts any longer, I do not miss them. I have chosen to participate only in social networking for professional purposes through places such as Ning and Twitter. I don’t want to be social networking in the same places students and parents may be venturing and so I have consciously chosen to limit my social networking interactions. I have made unbelievable professional contacts with specialists from around the world in the area of education, technology, media, literacy and music. My most exciting social networking gain came from attending the Internet Librarian 2008 Conference in Monterey. By noon of the first day conference attendees were tweeting comments about the conference, it was listed on the front page of Twitter Search as one of the hot topics. Out of nowhere I could view dozens of conference participants who also actively networked on Twitter.
Embracing Social Networking as a Professional
My focus on incorporating social networking would mainly be at the collegial level at school. Educators have wonderful opportunities at their fingertips in finding networks suitable for enhancing online professional learning opportunities, instructional areas of interest or professional growth needs. A few examples…
NECC 2008 (National Educational Computing Conference) site gives attendees an online professional development opportunities to extend learning post conference.
Yahoo! Teachers is a peer social network strictly designed for teachers, created by teachers.
Social Networks in Education Wiki houses a wide range of social networking websites for educators categorized into helpful topics and subject areas.
Classroom 2.0 is a “social network for those interested in Web 2.0 and collaborative or transformative technologies in education” (Hargadon, 2008). This is a support network for educators who want to engage in digital dialogue, share video and photos, access wikis and blogs as well as join groups of interest.
TeacherLibrarianNing is an online community build for teacher-librarians and educators by Joyce Valenza.
New Social Literacies
As educators we must recognize the world in which our students live in and that one of social community and networking. We must teach our students how to be socially effective in the digital world, how to engage responsibly, interact safely and be well-informed 21st century citizens (Smith, 2007). Social networking can not only change the way educators instruct lessons, but change the way students look at education and expect instruction. If schools have access to social networking sites, educators may embrace teachable moments with these sites and help address new merging social literacy skills. Students need direction in developing and nurturing these new skills to ensure safe, responsible decisions as they connect to digital communities around them.
Stephen Abram (2008) highlights the importance of emerging literacies in education, specifically social literacies. Schools must now “expand the teaching of information literacy, computer literacy, media literacy, critical literacy…” (p. 21). The security watch-dogs of these social sites try make them as safe as possible, however Abram (2008) reminds us that “they are only as safe as the user has the awareness and skills to make good judgements” (p. 21). He suggests to parents and educators that at different stages in a young person’s life we help them define a level of awareness about their personal information.
“What would we tell others about ourselves in our family?
What information would you email grandma versus a stranger?
Do you share more or different things when you’re out in your neighbourhood?
When do you tell people your whole name and address?”
(Abram, 2008, p.23)
Not only do social networking sites promote new social literacies, they can also support student learning by:
-Building online communities
-Promoting social discussions and collaboration
-Allowing shared grade level or subject specific resources and research
-Creating interest groups and forums
Social Networking Safety Concerns
Many school districts block sites such as MySpace and Facebook. These sites are often not as secure as they need to be, and anyone can view profile information and contact users who set up an account. Educators want to encourage students to express themselves with healthy social networking interactions but can a school computer lab provide the safety net young students need? Can educators guarantee that students will maintain privacy settings while using a social site at school? Social networking sites also can open up behavioural concerns with a relatively new phenomenon called cyber-bulling. Cyber-bulling can be defined as “the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behaviour by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others" (2Learn.ca, 2008). The 2Learn.ca Education Society has excellent resources for educators and parents on Internet safety as well as a Web 2.0 overview. I do not have access to these kinds of sites at school and I don’t think that I would jump into using them if access was opened up as there is a complex process to ensure all students have parental permission in using accounts such as these.
Abram, S. (2008). Scaffolding the new social literacies. MultiMedia & Internet@Schools. 15(2), 21-23. Retrieved from ProQuest.
2Learn.ca Education Society. (2008). Net know-how: Cyberbullying overview. Retrieved from http://www.2learn.ca/nkh/nkhcboverview.html
Bell, E. (2007). A dummy’s guide to social networking. Retrieved from http://www.pcworld.ca/news/column/8ba3be240a010408011d3f0bae419646/pg0.htm
Glaser, M. (2007). Your guide to social networking online. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2007/08/your-guide-to-social-networking-online241.html
Hargadon, S. (2008). Classroom 2.0. Retrieved from http://www.classroom20.com/
Smith, F. (2007). How to: Use Social-networking technology for learning. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/how-use-social-networking-technology
Wikipedia. (2008). List of social networking sites. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_social_networking_sites