Being an elementary school teacher means that you are always scouting for educational value in what people would normally classify as fit for the trash heap. For example, discarded cardboard is templated into dazzling, life-sized “guitars”,overturned paper bowls morph into out-of-this-world flying saucers,Thanksgiving turkey carcasses provide the foundation for one-of-a-kind bling,
and popsicle sticks are crafted into bobsled Christmas tree decorations. I take special ecological, creative and budgetary pride in being able to discover and exploit the pedagogical power of almost anything. That being said, I found myself humbled –initially at least - by my lack of ability to imagine academic worth in social networking sites. Aren’t they a social, not an educational construct? What business do I have poking my nose into my students’ and colleagues’ personals? Armed with my doubts and girded with my cynicism, I set out to explore social networking and how it could apply to classrooms and teaching.
I began by turning to a bread-and-butter component of my Web 2.0 investigations: a Lee LeFever video. (I always appreciate the down-to-earth, concise nature of the Plain English videos. To me, they’re reminiscent of Doug Johnson’s salute to Denzel Washington’s line in the movie Philadelphia: “Explain it to me like I was six years old.”) I moved from LeFever to wikipedia, another staple in my Web 2.0 pantry. Wikipedia provided a list of social networking sites, including Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, Orkut, Bebo and Hi5. Delving into the wikipedia stewpot provided lots of good information and links on social networking, including this site which provided great information regarding social networking’s definition, history and scholarship issues.
I learned that social networking can provide connections for business and medical applications. Sermo, for example, is a site set up for physicians to post and read observations, questions and opinions about clinical issues. Both business and medical applications could easily find their way into CALM (career and life management) classes.
I also learned that social networking can ignite and advance social consciences, an integral part of global citizenship and social responsibility components of Social Studies courses. Even very young children can – and should – be in tune with the need to champion social justice and equality in all avenues. The SixDegrees site, initiated by Kevin Bacon and other actors, seeks to advance causes such as UNIFEM (the United Nations Development Fund for Women), YouthAids and Operation Smile – all worthwhile causes that classrooms could find connection to and rally around.
An excellent site showcasing ways to use social networking systems in educational settings can be found here.
In education, social networking can:
• create outlets for creativity and imagination, through personalizing spaces.
• provide a forum for discussion, planning, brainstorming, critiquing, questioning, supporting.
• allow users to share resources and ideas.
• extend curricula beyond the classroom parameters, allowing for “teachable occasions” from a limitless pool of expertise and serendipity. (You never know when what you contribute will trigger a “Eureka!” moment for someone else.)
• sponsor a sense of community and collegiality.
• support collaborative learning.
• roaden the horizons (geographically, culturally, religiously and temporally) of user groups.
• provide a venue for modeling behaviors, ideas, etc.
• act as a “water cooler” to promote personal introductions and connections.
• connect people and ideas globally.
• supply a venue for announcements and general information.
• become a repository to collect material and subsequently manipulate, synthesize, analyze and present it.
• help streamline searches for information and ideas, aiding the “inflo-glut” battle that McKenzie writes of.
• accommodate Glazer and Page’s collaborative apprenticeship for teachers’ professional development.
• pave avenues for different learning styles to be modeled and suggested, simultaneously honouring Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.
• be a platform for study groups, tutoring, or mentoring.
The topic of study groups provides a segue into the cautions that should be observed for using social networking sites; Chris Avenir, a Ryerson University student, is under investigation for allegedly cheating by setting up a study group on Facebook. His instructor had specified that individual work was required on the assignment in question and that bringing a study group into the scene violated the rules. Avenir contends that if what he and others were doing was cheating, so are all the activities related to the university’s tutoring and mentoring programs. Regardless of the outcome of this case, it illuminates Al Roger’s contention that tech tools are transforming our culture. It also reminds us to have close regard for the “netiquette” that Valenza advocates.
Social networking sites have problems other than cheating associated with them. Setting them up for a classroom and monitoring them adequately might entail time that teachers don’t feel they have to give, although I’m guessing that the educational dividends accrued would be worth the effort. As well, I’m certain that parents would express concerns for the safety of children using social networking sites. To gain ideas on how to help alleviate parental concerns, I would recommend visiting Classroom 2.0 . This site describes itself as “a social networking site for those interested in Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies in education” and has some excellent ideas and links, including this one on cybersafety. It suggests implementing safety strategies such as:
• watching cybersafety videos, like this teacher tube offering.
• using discussion and frequent verbal reminders regarding the need for safety – no addresses, phone numbers, or personal data should be posted.
• creating avatars – in lieu of photographic ID’s for blogs, voicethreads, and other online sites. An example of an avatar creation site is here.
• having an information evening for parents. At the meeting, suggest the parents sign permission forms agreeing to allow publication of their children’s work online and/or to show online photos (preferably group photos) with no names or with pseudonyms attached.
• making provisions for participants without at-home internet access to use libraries for social networking sites. This way, all students may get comments on their sites and tune into proper, polite responders.
• letting the students know that you – and others, such as parents – will be monitoring posted comments.
• educating about and utilizing appropriate privacy settings.
• having students discuss, design and sign codes of conduct/behaviour contracts.
• utilizing the “Queen of England Rule” – treating everyone online as though they were the queen or as though the queen were watching, i.e. using respect for all.
• reminding students that what they put online may have lasting consequences – link it to the old poem: “Your future lies before you like newly fallen snow. Be careful how you step in it, for every step will show.” Some employers, for example, check out the Facebook entries of potential employees.
• reminding students that what they put online may have unexpected results – link it to another poem: “They walked the lane together, the night was filled with stars. They reached the gate together. He raised for her the bars. She neither smiled nor thanked him, for she knew not how; for he was just a farmer lad and she – the jersey cow.” Just as the poem has an unexpected ending, so may postings have surprising reactions – have the students cast a critical eye over them before posting.
• talking to the students about cyber bullying. Bullying is a time-honoured disgrace but student bullying has now developed the insidious ability to enter the previously sanctified and safe realm of the students’ own homes. Bully education needs to extend to the tech arena.
• discussing the Ten Golden Rules.
On a personal note, I have set up my own Facebook account, and, when I have time to use it, see it as a way of connecting with friends and family. My two daughters are ardent fans and frequent Facebook users; they rarely miss a day without checking in on their accounts.
On a second personal note, I came across this site discussing the type of people who do and the type of people who don’t use social networking sites. I intend to look for myself in both categories, as the “Bah humbug!” Ebenezer persona I began this blog with has become more like Liza Doolittle.....transformed…… into a proponent for and supporter of social networking systems.