Last year, I blogged a bit about social networking. I want to revisit the issue, since I continue to receive emails with questions about where to find safe alternatives to the mainstream sites, or teacher-oriented social networks, as well as invitations to come discuss the issue with school boards, and so on. I'll respond to some of that below.
First, a few updated statistics on the social-networking phenomenon. According to a recent Pew Internet study, about 55 percent of teens have online profiles on MySpace or Facebook, and that percentage continues to grow. Also according to Pew, "Two in five (42 percent) teens who use social-networking sites also say they blog. And, in keeping with the conversational nature of social media, social-networking teens are also interacting with others' blogs.
"Seven in ten (70 percent) social-networking teens report reading the blogs of others, and three in four (76 percent) social-networking teens have posted comments to a friend's blog on a social-networking site," the report added. So, why should educators care about social networking?
I visited a few high schools recently to chat informally with some teens. The handful I spoke with had nothing in their online presence I would consider inappropriate or alarming. I did find some music or video issues that either crossed the copyright line or teetered right on it, however, and we had some insightful discussions about that, of course.
There are also numerous reports around the world about some of the seedier, and sometimes dangerous, aspects of social networking. Although that issue does exist, I found a lot of original poetry and music and a wealth of creative writing and interacting. I also did a rundown of the skills I see in action on a site like Facebook, such as producing, collaborating, communicating, writing, creating, reading, decision making, social interacting, and countless technology skills.
Interestingly enough, a report entitled "Are They Really Ready to Work?" (released in October 2006 by the Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and the Society for Human Resource Management) suggests that some of these skills are growing in importance in the workforce, including capabilities in critical thinking, information technology, collaboration, creativity, and innovation. In my opinion, the abilities required in social networking and those needed in the "real world" outside school aren't that different.
I know many educators who are working hard to key into these skills, but in the context of an educational atmosphere. To me, that's an ideal approach -- use social-networking technology skills while addressing content and curricular standards.
How do you feel about social networking? Do you think of it as a skill-building resource for teens growing up in a world in which collaboration is becoming increasingly important? Please share your thoughts.