Thing 21 (Week 24): Social Networking in Education? You Bet!


A social network is an online environment in which people connect around relationships, content, shared interests and ideas. During this course, we have already encountered a number of sites and tools that incorporate social features such as tagging, commenting, user profiles and online groups, to add value. Human beings have always been social learners, and, increasingly, we learn in digital networks as well as "real-life" networks.

Networked learning is based on the belief that when one of us gets smarter, we all do. When used effectively, online social networking can play a powerful role in both classroom and lifelong learning. As Steve Hargadon describes, "'Social Networks' are really just collections of Web 2.0 technologies combined in a way that help to build online communities."

You have probably heard of mainstream, massive, youth-oriented sites such as MySpace and Facebook. You may even use these sites (or similar ones) personally or professionally, or, like many "skeptics," you may view them as, at best, a waste of time and, at worst, a sign of the decline of civilization. Whatever your view, your students (especially in grades 5-up) are definitely connecting via social networking sites and, increasingly, so are professionals, parents, hobbyists, educators, social activists, and all manner of people and groups looking to share, build and organize around content, conversation and ideas.

A recent study by the National School Board Association, entitled "Creating & Connecting: Research and Guidelines on Online Social -- and Educational -- Networking" found that that 96% of kids ages 9-17 with Internet access have used social networking technologies, and that 50% have used those technologies to talk specifically about schoolwork. The final report (only nine pages with lots of graphics -- not required, but definitely worth a read), in addition to presenting some really interesting findings, offers guidelines and recommendations for school boards regarding the uses of social networking in schools. It's worth considering -- if we don't model productive, responsible uses of social networking tools for our students, how will they learn to be productive, responsible users of these tools?

As usual, a word from our friends at CommonCraft - "Social Networking in Plain English" (1:47)

This may not be one of most useful "Plain English" movies, but it does provide a friendly overview of the concept. It may be helpful as you watch to think of a social networking site as a community where we can LEARN, GROW and CREATE together. Try substituting "find jobs, meet new friends and find partners" with "explore ideas, build understandings, and share resources."

Want another intro? Here's a brief article: What is Social Networking?

Discovery Exercise

Explore uses of Social Networking in Education.

¤ NOTE: You are NOT required to join the Classroom 2.0 network to explore its resources, but I hope some of you will. It's an amazing resource.

Increasingly, educators are beginning to leverage the positive aspects of social networking to improve student learning. Ning is a service that allows anyone to easily create and manage a social network for any purpose. Ning sites may be private (viewable only to members) or public, and the site creator/administrator has lots of control over how users join and how they can participate/contribute. Until recently, creating and managing a Ning was free for educators, but in July of 2010, Ning will move to a paid-only service. While this is certainly unfortunate for us educators, it appears for now that you can still join existing Nings for free. I imagine it won't be long before another service comes along that can host free social networking sites for educators, but in the meantime, we'll focus on using Ning to participate in existing networks.

In early 2007, Steve Hargadon created Classroom 2.0, a Ning social networking site for educators "interested Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies in the classroom." The site currently has over 21,000 members sharing ideas and resources, asking questions and discussing ideas and concerns about using these new technologies to support teaching and learning. Exploring this site is a good way to learn more about Web 2.0, and to get a feel for how a social networking site can be used in education.

If you begin to feel overwhelmed by the amount of content, remember that you are not supposed to keep up with everything on a site like this, but rather to skim, explore and focus on those areas which are of real interest to you. In networked learning, the important ideas always come back around. Also, if you can't imagine managing this with students or colleagues, remember that you won't have 21,000 of them participating in your network, and that it's perfectly okay (preferable, even) to start small and limit the scope!

As you complete the exploration exercises, consider how you might incorporate social networking to benefit:
  • Your own professional development / lifelong learning
  • Classroom teaching and learning; Student learning
  • Personal interests, hobbies, community, family, social causes, etc...

PART 1 (~60-90 min): Visit Classroom 2.0. Have a quality look around (see tips immediately following). If you don't spend some time exploring, you won't really get a feel for the site or the potential for this type of tool in education.

‡ HELP: Tips for finding your way around Classroom 2.0
  • Forum - (click Forum tab at the top of the page). Here you will find discussion categories with threaded discussions under each. Find a couple of discussions that interest you and read some of the posts and replies.
  • Groups - (click Groups tab at the top of the page). Here you will find special-interest discussions and resource sharing. Members interested in the topic can join the group and participate in the discussion. Find a group that interests you and explore the discussions and other content for the group.
  • Tags - (right sidebar on Main page) Click a link to find all discussions tagged by tool, subject or area. Or click a tag anywhere within the site (e.g. at the bottom of a discussion post) to view all resources tagged as such.
  • Members - (click Members tab at the top of the page). Click any member's profile picture to view his or her personal page, including their groups, discussion postings, personal blog, comment wall, friends and other self-selected content.
  • Latest Activity - (left sidebar of Main page) See the most recent activity by all members of the site.
  • Videos - (click Videos tab at the top of the page). View videos uploaded and shared by site members.

PART 2: (~20-30 min) Check out this wiki-based list of Ning networks related to education. See if you can find one that interests you, or that applies to your subject area and take a look. (It is possible that a few of these may be private, especially those that are for students)

Further Resources (for your reference)

Write a blog post reflecting on your exploration of Classroom 2.0 and any other Educational Ning network you explored. What were your overall impressions? Did you find any discussions or resources of value? Do you have any ideas for using social networking in your own professional or personal learning, or in classroom learning? Please include "Thing 21" in your post title.