Earlier I Tweeted that this post by danah boyd might be the most important blog post I’ve read of 2008 thus far and now, after reading it through for the fourth time, I’m thinking it might stay that way for a while. It’s important to me because it clarifies a lot of my thinking about social networks in schools yet leaves me with a number of other important questions that I struggle to answer.
I read both sides of the debate over the potentials of social networking in schools at the Economist, and while I obviously agree more with Ewan‘s view that â€œIt’s more about helping learners become more world-aware, more communicative, learning from each other, understanding first hand what makes the world go around,â€ I have to admit to feeling a bit of â€œstarry-eyednessâ€ about the description of how this will all play out. I’m not so sure I agree that â€œexponential adoption of the â€˜new webâ€™ is only round the corner,â€ or that this new generation of â€œBebo-boomersâ€ (ugh) will suddenly impart effective pedagogy in classrooms simply because they will be â€œmarrying their inbuilt capacity with social networks to the theory of sound educational practice.â€ (It would be nice if I saw more evidence of teacher prep courses actually teaching them to do that.)
But all of that is pretty much besides the point.
danah adds a much needed focus: there is a difference between social tools and social networking, and she argues quite compellingly that social networks have no place in the classroom.
â€œSocial network sites do not help most youth see beyond their social walls. Because most youth do not engage in “networking,” they do not meet new people or see the world from a different perspective. Social network sites reinforce everyday networks, providing a gathering space when none previously existed.â€
Reading through the rest of the post makes clear that for most kids, what they do online is simply an extension of what they do in physical space. They interact with primarily the same groups, and, as danah has argued in the past, they use SNS as a way to make up for the dearth of opportunities to socialize that our kids have today. She writes:
I have yet to hear a compelling argument for why social network sites (or networking ones) should be used in the classroom. Those tools are primarily about socializing, with media and information sharing there to prop up the socialization process (much status is gained from knowing about the cool new thing). I haven’t even heard of a good reason why social network site features should be used in the classroom. What is the value of knowing who is friends with who or creating a profile when you already know all of your classmates?
I’m not saying that social network sites have no value. Quite the contrary. But their value is about the kinds of informal social learning that is required for maturation – understanding your community, learning the communicate with others, working through status games, building and maintaining friendships, working through personal values, etc. All too often we underestimate these processes because, traditionally, they have happened so naturally. Yet, what’s odd about today’s youth culture is that we’ve systematically taken away the opportunities for socialization. And yet we wonder why our kids are so immature compared to kids from other cultures. Social network sites are popular because youth are trying to take back the right to be social, even if it has to happen in interstitial ways.
Often in my presentations I ask how many folks are teaching MySpace or Facebook in their schools. Not teaching with MySpace, but teaching the literacies of networking through the lens of a SNS. Rarely do more than a few hands go up. I wonder what would happen if we contextualized our approach not in the fears that our kids will get themselves in trouble by using these sites but, instead, in the spirit of encouraging them to experience the socialization that danah speaks of. Not that we invade their spaces or friend them, but that we acknowledge the importance of Facebook in their lives, stop pretending like it doesn’t exist, and include it in the discussion of what’s important in life.
The key thinking for me, however, is about the difference between social tools and social networks. To be honest, I find Facebook and even Ning hard to like in my own personal learning practice. They seem redundant to me in some sense, I guess, replicating in large measure what I already find so powerful in this â€œsmall piecesâ€ suite of tools that I already use for social and learning purposes. And, in a lot of ways, and this may be ignorance, hubris, snobiness (or something much more disturbing), I feel like it’s almost cheating, like the hardest and best work is building that network node by node through blogging and reading and creating and developing those relationships with all the messiness that the Web allows for. I know, I know…there is a lot of that going on too in SNSs. But it feels too easy sometimes, like it’s moving into an apartment instead of building a house. You don’t learn too much about the way the thing works or how all the pieces fit. And you don’t learn all those building skills either. Yes, I’ve come around to the idea that much of what we need to know to flourish with these tools is nothing more than solid reading and writing literacy. But there still seems to me to be a network literacy as well, something that stands apart from simply reading and writing, something that deals with our ability to create and find and connect dots.
So yeah, I agree. Social networks as they are currently defined and delivered aren’t for schools. But using social tools to teach our students to build their own networks, networks that go beyond simply socializing with the people they already know has to be.
Technorati Tags: danahboyd, socialnetworking
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Rodd Lucier says
I think the term ‘social learning’ is more apt than ‘social networking’. Perhaps ‘social learning networks’ or even ‘learning networks’ may be more appropriate terms.
It’s too easy in using the term ‘social networking’, to focus on the normal everyday social communication (absent a true learning purpose) that young people participate in. Learning networks are different, with a clear educatioinal purpose.
Is it new?
Building social learning networks is something many educators have done for years via email/webpal programs. (I remember doing such a program via a 1200 baud modem via AT&T around 1990). The difference is that we now have access to tools that give us instant access not only to text, but to video and audio as well.
Corrie Bergeron says
“Glog, look! Me tie rock to stick! Make hit more hard!”
“Nice job, Blog! You be famous some day!”
(hat-tip to M. Nadler / WSJ 9/8/07)
Any technology is just a set of affordances and constraints.
Any technology is just a set of affordances and constraints.
We make a new tool, we get a new set of affordances and constraints. What we do with the affordances – and despite the constraints – is where it gets interesting.
“teach our students to build their own networks, ”
Yes, I think this is the way to go and now there is enough free software out there to make it possible.
Scott Meech says
Your video at http://www.plpnetwork.com/videos.html should have been referenced here in my opinion… I think the real discussion regarding SNS should revolve around what you advocate in that video.
You state, “The issue is that no one is teaching them how to leverage their participation within the context of the social networks.” We need to teach them safety, ethics, and how to use the networks effectively.
Several teachers from around the United States have created a project called ProTechT that is an attempt to talk to our students about these issues. Admittedly, we are not going as far as having students use facebook or myspace, but we are having the discussions about these tools that you have said is important. The amount of teachable moments within the first week of the project has been amazing.
I would be more than happy to show you around our wiki project and the discussion forum that we have created for them to get your opinion. Are we on the right track? Have we created something useful? Perhaps we can get you to guest speak to our middle school students on our project http://www.protecht.wikispaces.com.
Regardless of our project… I think we need to focus our discussions on improving our student’s understanding and use of their own personal networks. The debate should not be about using specific popular tools but the issues surrounding the use of such tools; ethics, safety, collaboration, leadership, debate, discussion techniques, brevity within one’s writing, etc.
Steve Goldberg says
My comment deals with this section of Will’s post:
“Iâ€™ve come around to the idea that much of what we need to know to flourish with these tools is nothing more than solid reading and writing literacy. But there still seems to me to be a network literacy as well, something that stands apart from simply reading and writing, something that deals with our ability to create and find and connect dots.”
I am wondering to what extent “solid reading and writing literacy” is a prerequisite to “network literacy” —
I teach world history to 9th graders at a private school where each student has a school-issued tablet PC. Many of my students are “ready to go” in that they are already strong readers and writers. They are ready to learn “network literacy”.
However, I feel a lot of the time that my students who are not strong readers and writers (they can text small thoughts quickly and can multitask, but they seem unable to follow — let alone put together — a sustained argument) are getting further and further behind.
The majority of the class is “connecting dots”, using the assigned reading as a springboard to the web, where I urge them to learn more about the historical period we are studying (the depth of study we can get into, given our curriculum of surveying from prehistory to 1500 CE is another post).
However, I have a number of students who need more practice just figuring out what the reading assignment for the day said, let alone using the internet or any sort of learning network to extend their learning.
I know that it’s possible to use networks and web 2.0 tools to help students build basic reading and writing skills, but in my experience, students need a certain baseline of reading and writing before they can leverage web 2.0 — and students lacking that baseline would seem to be better served by not having the distractions of a tablet PC at their disposal.
It’s my first year at the school and it’s only the second year the school has put tablets in students’ hands, so we’re still figuring things out — but I thought I’d share a preliminary observation and question: what skills (if any) do students need to have first, before they are “let loose” in a web 2.0 environment?
Will Richardson says
@Scott Meech– I agree. Safety, ethical and effective use should be the foundation of the pedagogy with these tools and environments, whether they are pre-packaged or self made. I’d love to participate in your project (nice name, btw).
@Steve Goldberg– I hear these points echoed by many teachers, and they are totally valid. Without baseline reading and writing skills, much of this becomes difficult. Two points: I think we can teach reading and writing through technology by offering up pieces to read and topics to write about that tie into kids’ own passions. And maybe we start our reading and writing with them through multimedia. Let them “read” skateboarding videos and then write them. Let them engage in skateboarding networks by sharing their own works and by writing and reading the conversations around those works. I think that is the real power here, that we can connect kids to their passions and teach them that “network literacy” in that context.
Not easy, and maybe I’m dreaming, but those tablets are a connection tool to so many ideas and people and teachers…
Mike Parent says
As many educators come to Web2.0 kicking and screaming, I think it is important to give them a comfortable starting place. SNSs offer reluctant, fearful, ignorant educators an opportunity to learn how and why we must change our teaching.
As a high school administrator, I can tell you that over 90% of our faculty have NEVER heard of RSS, are unfamiliar with blogging, collaborating, sharing files, have no idea of what a wiki is, how to use it, why they work, or even what basic functions of interactive websites feature. I think we owe it to our faculty – and, subsequently, our students – to teach them how to ride this bike. See my post (http://nlcommunities.com/communities/michaelparent/archive/2008/01/14/164533.aspx) about what I have done to make the change more palatable.
I agree that SNSs have its limits. But I can’t demand change unless I teach the change and do so in a manner that will be comfortable for them. To unleash teachers into the unknown by giving them bits and pieces then expecting them to put it all together is foolish and will not serve them well. I have to teach them the way I expect them to teach their students; meet them where they are and take them to where you want them to go. SNSs offer administrators this pedagogical method. I equate SNSs to the water which we must lead the horses from which to drink.
You have taught many of us well. We, the cohort, thank you for your guidance. We are attempting to do you proud!
Will Richardson says
@Mike Parent– Thanks for commenting Mike. Nice to get some crossover from the class. I hear what you are saying, but I wonder if the idea of starting teachers in Facebook or MySpace seems “comfortable” to them. And I’m not discounting the potential of Ning type sites as a great entry point to all of this, in fact I use Ning a great deal in my other work. I think, however, that to really understand the literacies and complexities of this, at some point, you have to graduate into your own personal learning network that is self-chosen in terms of people and tools.
Dave Waltman says
We are talking about tools here. It’s really all about how we ask students to use these tools. I don’t think it’s about whether or not Facebook, Ning, or MySpace, have a place in school but how are we asking students to use these tools. I recently blogged about an editorial in our local newspaper about a University of Rochester graduate student collaborating on fusion energy research over Facebook. I recently used Ning as a place for students to collaborate on a project about the 1970’s. They shared content, wrote summaries, asked questions, participated in discussions before I opened up the network for others to join. Now, other adults are sharing their perspective on the 70’s (sometimes from other countries). The concept of social learning networks however is powerful. Yes, my students can socialize online but how can these use the same tools to enhance their learning. We might have to show them how it has happened for us…but it doesn’t mean these tools cannot work for them in a classroom setting. It’s like saying blogs have no place in the classroom because some blogs are nothing more than a personal diary and commentary.
Melissa Tredenick says
I read through Danah’s post and many of the comments. I agree with the general concensus that SNS don’t have a place in the classroom. We have many other and more useful tools to put our energy into.
However, I think schools as a whole might benefit from using them more. We have created a Facebook group for our alumni and use it to get various messages to them and keep communication open. Though I haven’t tried this, I imagine if a school had a student government asking the officers to create a Facebook group and using it to send out school information would be beneficial as well.
Dave Netz says
As a 63 year old educator/librarian I find the new technologies and social networks fascinating. They provide new tools in our toolkit for learning and infomration sharing. Having said that, I wonder if anyone else feels slightly overwhelmed with all the new products? Perhaps my age is showing a bit.
Great posts by you and danah. I love social networks, but I’m not seeing the classroom application yet, beyond “look how cool it is to communicate with people who are far away”. Wikis and boards make sense for collaboration and discussion. Some tools are helpful because they give you a space to store files in a very usable way. The network itself, doesn’t seem useful yet.
I’d argue that the idea can’t be used by public schools until there is some sort of “locked” K12 social network which schools must sign up for and where all participants are verified students or current educators. Otherwise, it’s just too indefensible if the worst should happen.