Teacher, Leave that Social Network Alone?

While reading danah boyd’s post, “some thoughts on technophilia”, I felt mixed emotions.  I wholeheartedly agree with her assertion that there are no digital natives; boyd points out, “Just because many of today’s youth are growing up in a society dripping with technology does not mean that they inherently know how to use it. They don’t”;  just because they may have grown up around digital media doesn’t mean all students have an intuitive knowledge of it.   In addition, more students than you might suspect have little or no access to technology in their homes.

However, boyd then shifts the conversation to the use of social networking tools/social media with students for educational purposes.  These statements stopped me cold:

Putting Facebook or MySpace into the classroom can create a severe cognitive collision as teens try to work out the shift in contexts. Most problematically, when teens are forced to navigate Friending in an educational setting, painful dramas occur because who you’re polite to in school may be very different than who you socialize with at home. Using technology that ruptures social norms in the classroom can be socially and educationally harmful.

These statements, especially “Using technology that ruptures social norms in the classroom can be socially and educationally harmful”, are troubling to me.  I am not sure how offering students the opportunity to use social networking as a learning tool can be harmful. I personally think it is more harmful to NOT provide students the opportunity to see how they can use social media and social networking to collaborate with others, to create a personal learning network, and to learn how to harness these tools for learning.  In addition, how are students to learn how to negotiate private and public/professional worlds if they are not taught?  Are they to just be left alone to figure it out themselves when they graduate from college or go into the workworld?    If learning is social, then it seems only logical to tap into the power of social worlds for knowledge building.

In addition, teens may be eager to explore the use of social worlds as part of a larger “ecosystem of learning.” My Media 21 students participated in this anonymous poll this week:

While this is admittedly a small polling group, it does reflect an interest in at least trying a tool like Facebook as a means for information and knowledge sharing for class projects.

boyd also has this to say about social networking:

Along the same lines, keep in mind that the technology that you adore may hold no interest for your students. They don’t use del.icio.us or Second Life or Ning or Twitter as a part of their everyday practices. And the ways that they use Facebook and MySpace and YouTube are quite different than the ways in which you do.

Perhaps the reason students don’t use these tools as part of their daily practice is because they have never heard of the tools or because they have never the had the opportunity to fully explore how these social media tools can be used.   In our exploration of social media during the first three weeks of Media 21, my 10th grade students have expressed that they had no idea about these tools, or if they had heard of them, they didn’t realize how they could use these social media tools for learning.   Now they are intrigued and want to know more about ways they could use these tools to enhance their learning experiences.

In addition, many teens may not be aware of these tools because school filtering policies block their access to these learning tools; in addition, students’ opportunities to discover and use these tools have been limited because many teachers are just now discovering ways to integrate these tools into classroom life.  At the beginning of this week, one of my students posed this question:  “” I wonder why I have not heard about or used some of these Learning 2.0 tools before now?”

Our AASL Standards for 21 st Century Learners (American Association of School Librarians) call upon librarians to teach students ““Use social networks and information tools to gather and share information” (Skill 4.1.7).  How are we to teach students the information gathering and sharing power of tools like delicious or a Ning if we they aren’t at least given the opportunity to try them or participate in these networks in an educational setting where they can receive guidance and and advice on utilizing these networks from experienced others?  How are we to create connected students if we don’t integrate social media and social networking as elements of learning networks and as tools for discourse in our learning communities with our students?

I believe there is another digital divide building in addition to the one of access to technology that boyd discusses:  it is the digital divide of those who are and those who are not being taught how to harness the power of social networking to enhance their knowledge whether it be for personal or school based information seeking needs.    I feel a responsibility to expose my students to the learning potential that lies within the tools; at the end of the day, they can ultimately choose which tools work for them.

In a few weeks, my students will be sharing what they have to say about this issue.  Until then, what do you all think?  I welcome your constructive feedback and ideas!

7 comments

  1. I’d suggest the other “cognitive collision” that students might experience would be in the area of student/teacher relationships. Is my teacher now an adult authoritative figure and guide or is the teacher my buddy and confidant?

    Might get a little “cognitive collision” on the part of teachers too.

    Good post!

    Doug

    1. Doug:

      Thank you for pointing out that there are other areas of “cognitive collision”! In a class discussion we Friday with the Media 21 students about the pros and cons of using social media and networks, some students shared their thoughts about how the use of these tools for classroom discussions would affect how they view the teacher. I think that area of “cognitive collision” is definitely worth continued thought and reflection by both teachers and students.

      Thank you, as always, for sharing your thoughts here! I have a feeling this is a topic that will generate more discussion in educational circles.

      Best,
      Buffy

  2. I’ve been in recent discussions where the use of social networking tools as a part of the business world has been discussed. If our students don’t get exposure to using these tools in a learning setting, how in the world can we expect them to go to post secondary education or work and use them effectively? In addition, it is in the school setting where we have some of the best opportunities to educate them on how to present a positive online identity and protect their privacy.

  3. As a technophile in the classroom, I have found that group sites, such as a class blog, are effective tools for bringing the class together. Having recently discovered Ning, a site where users create a personal network, which may, if the user chooses, be closed to only those who are invited, I am planning on running one for my two developmental English classes which will only be meeting two night a week. The concept is to bring them together in a non-classroom online environment and utilize this as a means of communication between the two classes with the goal being higher student retention in these classes that typically run a 75% dropout rate. Having used blogs on several occasions, I have discovered that it is not the internal relationships that need to be guarded, but rather the outside ones that have the freedom to log onto and comment on the class. I would not use a facebook or myspace account for the classroom, but there are resources out there, such as wordpress, that we can use to teach our students the digital literacies and effective means to interact online that they will be needing in the future.
    I have also found that just because a student knows how to download a video does not mean that individual knoww how to open Word, much less type a paper.

  4. Mary and Joe:

    Thank you both for your thoughtful comments and for sharing your experiences. It is so easy to assume students know more than they actually do. In a conversation we had with our Media 21 students Friday, it became apparent very quickly that some understand the privacy controls in Facebook really well while others had very little knowledge. I am hoping that through our Media 21 project, I can help students to see the positive possibilities social media can provide for learning.

    Thank you again for reading my blog and for sharing your ideas!

    Best,
    Buffy

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