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Social Networking

August 1, 2009

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“According to a National School Boards Association study (2007), more than 75 percent of U.S. students with online access have either a MySpace or a Facebook account,” (Richardson, 2009).  With numbers like 250 million on MySpace and 125 million on Facebook, you are bound to have students in your classes who actively participate in Social Networking Sites (SNS). Blocking SNS  in schools seems counterproductive, as children would then receive the message that inappropriate behavior is expected on these sites…why else would they would be banned? As a result, inappropriate behavior on SNS becomes the accepted norm, and the vicious cycle continues. While I do understand schools wanting to limit students’ chat and email use during school hours, it seems reasonable to me to promote SNS use after school hours to enable collaborative knowledge construction. I concur with the idea that creating a class network on Facebook or Ning would motivate students to learn alongside their peers, and encourage life long learning skills, not bound by classroom walls. While there are serious issues to consider when implementing this type of tool, the advantages of motivating learners and connecting with our students seem to be worth the time and effort in preparing them to become responsible digital citizens.

What kinds of social network sites are out there?

 Social networks connect people with similar interests and needs. They allow people the opportunity to establish an online identity and creatively express what is important to them using multiple media formats. It is also a means by which people from anywhere can meet in cyberspace at any time to make meaning of what is going on around them.

Myungdae Cho, a professor presenting in September at a University in Korea, classifies the different types of SNS . Many SNS can now fit into more than just one of Cho’s categories. For example, Facebook can be profile-based, mobile, micro-blogging (“What’s on your mind?”), and can be used for people search.

I would like to add one more category to the types of SNS Cho describes because it applies to my personal and professional context and that is “SNS For Kids.” To register on WebKinz, you are required to purchase a webkinz toy before you are able to use the site. This site allows children to chat online, but it is constructed in such a way that personal information cannot be revealed. Club Penguin is much the same. Kids can play for free, but get more privileges with a paid membership. They can even build igloos in which they can invite friends. Sounds a lot like they are being prepared for the “groups” on sites like Facebook.

 For an extensive list of SNS and their intended purposes, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_social_networking_websites

A SNS that is quickly gaining popularity is Ning.com, a tool used to create a private network where you decide who joins and what information needs are to be addressed. I see the potential uses for Ning.com in education for book clubs, school projects, professional learning circles, etc. but couldn’t a wiki be used to do the same thing? As Michelle Pocansky points out in her screen cast, “Ning – A Social Learning Goldmine for Educators” http://vimeo.com/4715434  ,using a SNS like Ning, you can actually protect student privacy by controlling who views and adds to the site.

There seems to be SNS for every age, need, and interest. Most likely, however, the SNS you choose will be the one that most of your friends and family use. I know that the only reason I chose Facebook is that my friends all use Facebook. The first step I will take in my new career as the teacher-librarian at my school this year, is to make contacts with others in the same profession who have similar interests and needs. Teacher Librarian Network Ning and Facebook might be the best SNS for me maintain at this point in my life.  

Issues

Danah Boyd (2009) talks about the characteristics of social media, each of which is binary in that each characteristic provides advantages as well as disadvantages. The characteristics Boyd describes are “persistence, replicability, searchability, scalability, and delocatability.”

  •  Persistance – What you say online is permanent (for good or bad), but also gives you an opportunity to archive important information.
  •  Replicability – what you write can be copied and altered, made public and embarrass you, but can also serve to endorse any original content you create.
  •  Searchability –this is why it is so important that we practice safe online behaviors. At the same time, anything we want to know about anyone is basically at our fingertips, which makes it easier to locate old friends.
  •  Delocatability -you have access to social media at any time through the use of cell phones, netbooks, and desktops, which makes it difficult to know where you are at any given time, but makes SNS more accessible.

Boyd’s (2009) first SNS characteristic, persistence, makes me think of my first inquiry question about a teacher-librarian’s role in creating a safe online environment, or more specifically, taking a proactive approach toward preventing cyberbullying among elementary aged children.  When should we start educating kids about safe online behaviors? While most SNS like MySpace and Facebook try to restrict children under the age of 13 from signing up, Clare Dowdall (2009) reports  a 2008 Oxfam study in the United Kingdom that showed, “27 per cent of 8–11-year-olds who are aware of social networking say that they have a profile on a site.” Abrams (2007) discusses the issue of privacy and says that rather than pretend SNS don’t exist or that they are evil, schools should be scaffolding the safe use of SNS. With sites like Webkinz and ClubPenguin, young children are definitely aware of the concept of social networking and its social implications. Using a site like ClubPenguin at the age of 8 might be a very appropriate medium in which to begin scaffolding safe behavior and online etiquette. As I mentioned in an earlier post, as early as 3rd grade, children at my school have begun cyberbullying. I believe this is because no one has taught and modeled appropriate behavior online. They are simply instinctively surviving in their social world. When do you think is the best age to begin safe and ethical online behavior?

Dowdall’s (2009) second SNS characteristic, replicability, brings me to discuss an ongoing  issue; Ownership rights. On SNS like MySpace, it is encouraged and acceptable to copy and paste the designs, words, and photos from other people’s spaces. While it might not be necessary from a legal standpoint, great learning would come from students looking into www.copyright.gov/register to claim their ownership rights for a piece they post on their SNS page. This helps them become more aware of the issues of copyright and that everything they borrow is owned by someone. To help students practice ethical online behaviors, they can also encourage their readers to let them know if they see anything on the page infringing copyright laws, which would help to protect students. More information on this is available at www.copyright.gov/legislation/dmca.pdf .  Recently, in the news, there is talk of a man who has been sued for downloading 30 songs illegally and for sharing up to 800 songs. According to the Winnipeg Free Press article, he was warned about his misdemeanor and that he should delete his files, but he claims he just couldn’t erase his large library of songs. And besides, he had been buying cd’s all along. It is this kind of reasoning that proves we need to teach students to do everything they can to protect their ownership rights and to respect those of others.  

One more issue that must be considered when talking about SNS is that of digital divide. However, the divide I am talking about is not between generations, but rather between a students ability to manipulate technology and really understand what he or she is reading and writing through the use of those technologies. Stephanie Vie (2008) talks about the current divide between students’ technological abilities and literacies, which she dubbed as “Digital Divide 2.0.” She claims that in order to help kids achieve the two levels of technological literacies, teachers must show students how to research and organize information online, and they must teach students to understand and value the social and cultural implications of composing online. What you post online can be interpreted in different ways, depending on the reader’s social, cultural, and geographical influences. She promotes social networking tools as a way to achieve these two literacy goals.

While I am seeing the light with regards to how SNS can improve the way we teach our students, I do still have one concern.  If we use social networking sites as a medium for collaboration and learning in education, how do we deal with cases where offensive and inappropriate material are posted outside of class time? Who creates the policy on this is and what interventions are appropriate for these types of infractions? How do we respect and encourage freedom of speech and simultaneously send the message that students will get into trouble if what they say is considered inappropriate or offensive? And finally, if we impose policy and restrictions, will this inhibit the motivation that SNS initially provided?

Curricular implications:

The NCTE recently announced that 21st Century Writers and Readers should be able to…

  • Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
  • Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally
  •  Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
  • Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous
    information
  • Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts
  • Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments

 I don’t know about you, but to me this screams, “social networking!” NCTE suggests that our curricula evolve with the evolving needs of the 21st century learner.

 Blanding (2009) talks about what students think they learn from social networking sites. Their responses include technology skills, creativity, accepting diversity, and communication. But as Jennifer Schauffler replied on Feb.13,2009 to Blanding’s (2009) post, social networking sites are quickly becoming professional networking sites,  which might be the a very convincing reason for high schools to incorporate social networking sites and developing online identity in school.

Obviously, writing and reading are two skills that are affected by SNS. When I first started researching SNS, I had questioned whether online reading and writing on social networks was really beneficial to student learning? Can it be counted as valuable reading and writing? Clare Dowdall (2009) states, “A growing body of research is finding that while young people transfer knowledge and practices across the sites that they occupy, children’s text production using informal digital literacy practices and children’s school-based text production can be regarded as increasingly disparate activities.” Based on her observations of and interviews with a teenage Bebo user, Dowdall (2009) found that generally, teenagers produce three types of writing when adding to SNS.

  • impressions; the way they intentionally represent themselves in their page
  • improvisations; include comments and pictures of friends, over which they have no control and which tell about their interactions within their peer group
  • and compositional; which are the about me and blog posts that require higher level thinking

Perhaps by incorporating the use of SNS  in education, students can be taught how to create more compositional writing in an environmental they find comfortable and motivating. Richardson (2009) supports this possibility when he points out that we need to include literacy in social networking sites as a part of the curriculum. In order to be able to do that, we must make kids comfortable with reading online, by introducing them to RSS feeds so that they can filter through all the irrelevant information they might encounter. We also need to teach students to read critically so that they can evaluate the credibility of a source or person. Richardson (2009) provides a good example of how necessary this is when he talks about a professor asking middle school students to evaluate a fictitious and outlandish site http://zapatopi.net/treeoctopus , which 24 of the 25 students said was “very credible.”

How do I see SNS being used in the classroom and in my library?

Blanding (2009) says that social networking sites have educational value, “if teachers can find out how to use them. Follow this link  http://vimeo.com/4715434  to view Michelle Pocansky’s video about the ways Ning can be used for online learning. She discusses the benefits of protecting privacy, encouraging collaboration, and personalizing the online learning environment that Ning offers.

I think that if a teacher or librarian was going to integrate a SNS in their teaching, they would need to do so for the entire year, not just as a snippet of the year. Potential uses for SNS in an elementary library include:

  • A Facebook site for the elementary library where all of our students and parents can join the group. This would likely be monitored by a group of volunteer teachers, to ensure that student privacy is protected as much as possible, but would also encourage parents to become more involved in teaching their children about safe online practices.
  • A Twitter account for the library, which announces a feature book each week or special events at the library, as well as resources for reading.

Potential uses for SNS in an elementary classroom include:

  • a Ning for ongoing book clubs or one that could hold a different area for each subject, and can serve as a place for the teacher to post homework or for students to share photos, videos, resources, and notes related to classroom content.
  • A class wiki can be used to communicate with parents and demonstrate student work.

I think it would be most beneficial to have students involved in brainstorming ways that SNS can be helpful in their school learning, as this is a medium they are most likely more comfortable with than we are.

My personal journey

I have been a member of Facebook for quite some time. I signed up because my friends were signed up, and mostly, I use it as a way to keep up with my friends and family in Canada. We used to get a hard time from family about having our kids live so far away from then, until we signed up on Facebook. With regular postings of pictures and videos, family now feel they are not missing out quite as much on our daughters’ lives, although they would still prefer we lived closer. I definitely use Facebook as a social tool, and do not feel that it, in any way, contributes to my learning. It is for this reason I decided that I should join a Ning. I had considered creating a Ning for the professional learning circle I will be leading in the fall, as this would be easy to add articles, videos, and photos to, however this will become my project once our learning circles begin.

Considering my current learning needs and knowing that Joyce Valenza really is a leader and innovative thinker in our profession, I checked out the Teacher Librarian Network . I joined because I thought it all seemed very interesting and easy to use. I also really liked the idea of belonging to this community of lifelong learners. I began creating My Page by uploading a profile picture and writing a brief introduction. I was able to add myself to the Frapper map on the homepage, and see where most of the other members were located. This is how I realized two of my classmates are also a part of this Ning. Next, I checked out some of the groups and joined the Web 2.0 world and Elementary Librarians groups because I felt these were most relevant to my needs and I could contribute the most to these two groups. I have only introduced myself in a discussion group, but look forward to interacting more in the near future. I managed to find a few people and invite them as friends. That was exciting. I also posted a cool slide share presentation at the top of this post about why libraries can become nodes in people’s social networks. The statistics are based on a Pew Internet study, and are quite interesting. I found this video under the video tab on My Page. Here is a link to my Teacher Librarian Network Ning page http://teacherlibrarian.ning.com/profile/NatashaHritzuk?xgs=1 . I think I’ll have fun with this. 

Final Thoughts

Richardson (2009) mentions several potential dangers with SNS and young people. These include identity theft, online predators, invasion of privacy, and cyberbullying. These dangers are very real in all Social Networking Sites and require that parents and educators take a proactive approach in teaching children how to be cyber safe and information literate. Increasing internet user awareness of potential dangers, providing coping strategies, and helping users to acquire skills in evaluating sources are all essential when we are talking about integrating technology into education. By carefully using Social Networking Sites in our classrooms and libraries, we are providing students with necessary modeling in an environment where they are comfortable and motivated to learn along side us.

References

Abram (2007). Scaffolding the New Social Literacies. Multimedia and Internet @ Schools. Pipeline Column; March/April 2008 issue. Accessed July 30, 2009 at
           http://www.sirsidynix.com/Resources/Pdfs/Company/Abram/MMIS_23.pdf
 
Blanding, M.(Winter 2009).  Thanks for the Add. Now Help Me With My Homework. Ed.Magazine. http://www.gse.harvard.edu/blog/news_features_releases/2009/01/thanks-for-the-add-now-help-me-with-my-homework.html
 
Cho, Myungdae. Library Applications of Social Networking. A PowerPoint posted July 14, 2009. Website: http://library20.ning.com/forum/topics/library-applications-of-social    July 31st , 2009.
 
Dowdall, C. (2009, July). Impressions, improvisations and compositions: reframing children’s text production in social network sites. Literacy, 43(2), 91-99. Retrieved July 31, 2009,
          doi:10.1111/j.1741-4369.2009.00521.x
 
Miller, K. (2008, May). Copyright in a Social World. MultiMedia & Internet@Schools, 15(3), 14-16. Retrieved July 31, 2009, from Academic Search Complete database
 
NCTE (November 2008) Framework for 21st Century Learning. Website: http://www.ncte.org.login.ezproxy.library.ualberta.ca/governance/21stcenturyframework/contenthistory Retrieved July
          31st, 2009.
 
National School Boards Association (July, 2007). Creating and Connecting// Research and Guidelines on Online-Social-and Educational-Networking. Website:
           http://www.nsba.org/SecondaryMenu/TLN/CreatingandConnecting.aspx   Retrieved July 31, 2009.
 
Richardson, W. (2009, March). Becoming Network-Wise. Educational Leadership, 66(6), 26-31. Retrieved July 31, 2009, from Academic Search Complete database.
 
Vie, S. (2008, March). Digital Divide 2.0: “Generation M” and Online Social Networking Sites in the Composition Classroom. Computers & Composition, 25(1), 9-23. Retrieved July 31, 2009,
          doi:10.1016/j.compcom.2007.09.004
 
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