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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

How to Use Social-Networking Technology for Learning

Why teachers should embrace networking, and how they can use it to improve education.
By Fran Smith

This how-to article is accompanied by the feature "Social Networking at Science Leadership Academy."

Social-networking tools aren't just for flirting. The evolving world of Internet communication -- blogs, podcasts, tags, file swapping -- offers students radically new ways to research, create, and learn. But, too often, schools use computers as little more than glorified workbooks, and that's criminal, says Chris Lehmann, principal of Philadelphia's Science Leadership Academy. He explains why teachers should embrace networking and how they can use it to improve education.

What exactly is social networking?

It's software that allows people to come together around an idea or topic of interest. A school could use blog software to bring together anyone who's writing about politics or computing or Greek literature.

Credit: Klaus Schoenwiese

Why should schools encourage all this sharing and meeting?

Schools should reflect the world we live in today. And we live in a social world. We need to teach students how to be effective collaborators in that world, how to interact with people around them, how to be engaged, informed twenty-first-century citizens. We need to teach kids the powerful ways networking can change the way they look at education, not just their social lives. We don't talk enough about the incredible power of social-networking technology to be used for academic benefit. Let's change the terms. Let's not call it social networking. Let's call it academic networking.

What's a good way to get started?

A teacher can set up kids with accounts at the Web site Delicious, which lets you store, organize, and share links -- for example, an annotated resource list you use on a project. You can also see links other people have saved, or browse to see what everyone has bookmarked on a subject. It's simple. You don't need your own server. Any teacher with a computer and an Internet connection can use it.

How do you keep students from wasting time chatting or sneaking to inappropriate sites?

You teach! You have frank discussions. You show them examples and ask them to make ethical decisions. You ask: What does it mean that fifteen-year-old kids are calling themselves nineteen and posting racy pictures online? What does it mean that college kids are posting raunchy spring break pictures that a prospective employer can find? The idea that we are the stories we tell has never been more important. Schools have always taught kids how to present themselves -- that's why we did oral presentations in the classroom. Now we need to teach them to present themselves electronically. That's why it's so scary to lock these technologies out.

The school day is already jam packed. How do you find time for networking?

Administrators have to facilitate change. A lone teacher can do it, but it's hard to sustain. Administrators have to decide this is valued for the whole school community, and they have to give teachers time and freedom to learn, experiment, and play. Lots of teachers are doing it on their own, but it can be exhausting. That's classroom 2.0, not school 2.0.

Fran Smith is a contributing editor for Edutopia.
Kim Girard contributed to this report.

Comments (26)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Len Rosen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The value of social networks within a school cannot be underestimated. The Internet generation is engaged with technology. The data overwhelmingly supports that. In a recent study 96% of students reported using social networks and 60% reported using them to talk about educational subjects. Half reported using social networks for school work. And yet 62% of schools in that survey prohibited blogging or online discussion boards at school. 52% prohibited any social networking sites at school. In that same study, 76% of parents felt that social networks could conceivably improve their children's reading and writing. This is evidence of a disconnect among the participants in education, teachers, students and parents. Embracing social networking technology and harnessing for use in the classroom is a paradigm shift that is needed. Placing it inside the school firewall would enhance its value dramatically while reducing school board concerns about the potential downside of these networks - cyber bullying, frivolous chat, use of explicit language, pictures or even inappropriate music. I am working with a company that is providing just such a solution for schools.

Sandra Sanders's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As an English teacher, it seems that being able to post to a blog site would encourage students to write more freely and become comfortable with the written word. Is it possible to set one up and require that they use standard English rather than Internet short-hand?

(I always encourage my students to write notes to each other. If something is inappropriate, I usually hear about it or see it. Then we deal with it. In the past this has provided more relevant writing practice than many of the assignments. )

Sandy Mission, SD

Rachel Thompson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'd love to know the company you're working with. We have that same disconnect between district policy and the tools that can help our students learn in a meaningful way, and I'd like to hear more about your ideas.

Maria's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a graduate student, I am using Sciweavers.org. It is a free academic social network that enables researchers to bookmark their academic contributions and research related materials such as publications, source code, presentations, tutorials, lecture notes, etc. What I really like about Sciweavers is that, it associates with every posted contribution a thumbnail image that best describes it, and hence the image can tell me at a glance what the entire contribution is trying to expound. This helps me quickly to judge the quality of research without the need to read the title or even the abstract. Also, because each post is associated with a rating system as well as a discussion board, this helps me quickly to decide which content should be read first.

katie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Try imbee.com, its give teachers the tools to help monitor their kids easier and get parents involved.

Rahila's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

hi i just wated to no were you got the statistics you have included in the above text.
i am a university student and i have a assignmetn on the above topic and need more information and stats. if you can let me it will be apricited..

thank you

rahila

David L Mackzum's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love the application of social network learning for graduate research. Currently, in my Ed.D. program we are utilizing social networks for our cohort. It is named after our Cohort symbol, the Sankofa Bird.

http://sankofaspirit.ning.com/

I think it could be a hub for shared practices for educators across the learning spectrum. Think of the possibilities if an educator was to share (post) an educational challenge in a blog and have the wealth and variety of resources of a social network to overcome their challenge! I also think it could revolutionize professional development for educators if applied properly.

I believe that you could utilize this technology to promote your skills through "publishing" your accomplishments. This is also good for any organization.

Liz Peters's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Yes, it is absolutely possible to set up a site where students are required to post writing and responses in standard English. For the past three years I have used an online forum with my 6th grade Writing/English classes. They have loved posting their writing to it, and giving each other feedback. One of my requirements has been that they use standard English, because one of our purposes in school is learning how to use our language correctly. This year I will be using a Ning with them, which will allow them to network, academically, even more than a forum. Anyone can set up a Ning for free at ning.com.

A. Sandag's picture

I wonder how long educational leaders are going to hide from the fact that social media is not only here to stay, but can actually help tremendously in the teaching and learning process. For example, teacher-specific platforms like http://www.fatclass.com help educators collaborate and communicate with students in a safe and productive way. Think of the implications of SMS, text messaging, digital planners, forums and blogs in the classroom. Educators have to start speaking up about this and developing some sort of guidelines, workable code of ethics, etc. Up to know, FatClass.com is probably the best example I've seen of this.

A. Sandag's picture

I wonder how long educational leaders are going to hide from the fact that social media is not only here to stay, but can actually help tremendously in the teaching and learning process. For example, teacher-specific platforms like http://www.fatclass.com help educators collaborate and communicate with students in a safe and productive way. Think of the implications of SMS, text messaging, digital planners, forums and blogs in the classroom. Educators have to start speaking up about this and developing some sort of guidelines, workable code of ethics, etc. Up to know, FatClass.com is probably the best example I've seen of this.

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