Saturday, November 8, 2008

Social Networking Sites


I joined Facebook last year after watching a little blurb on the news about it. The report talked about how people were "addicted" to Facebook, and how they spent hours on it. I had not heard of it before that, but thought I should check it out. What I've discovered is that spending a little time browsing through friend lists is like a walk down my old highschool hallway. I can't believe how many people I've lost touch with, but there they are going on living and representing a portion of their life on-line for all their friends to see. I wouldn't say I'm addicted to Facebook, I don't feel a need to check in daily, or weekly even. But on the occasions when I do go on, I find it almost meditative to check what my friends and family are doing by glancing through their status updates. It is a rather strange phenonmenon, isn't it? I feel like I'm peeking in windows, but with the bizarre notion that I've been invited to do so. I wonder what the effect of this social window peeking is doing for the digital natives out there? Do they feel less inhibited? Do they have the same sense of personal virtual space as we digital immigrants do?

Facebook Can of Worms - Student "Friends"

Shortly after I joined Facebook I had a friend request from one of my old kindergarten students. I was glad to hear from her, but somewhere in the back of my mind I thought I needed to proceed with caution. I wrote back saying "Great to hear from you, hope you're well. Say hello to your parents for me." I accepted the friend request, not realizing what was involved. I didn't know that every comment/photo, etc they post comes on my page, and mine on theirs. Had I known more about how Facebook works, I likely would have done differently. Since then, two other ex-kindergarteners contacted me. I sent out the same message. For me, it was an awkward situation, I didn't want to say "no" to their friend request, and yet I didn't want to share the Facebook space with them. I'm not worried about them seeing what I am doing on-line (I'm really not that exciting), but I was uncomfortable with having access to their world. I was hoping to remember them as sweet little kindergarteners and not young teens trying to represent themselves as party girls, older than their years (their profile pictures alone show this). The teacher/parent in me is nervous for them (are they aware of the dangers?). I also wonder if I have a moral/legal responsibility if I see something like cyber-bullying going on? The whole situation is a Facebook can of worms, and I'm not sure what to do. I've thought about de-friending them, but that just seems cruel (I was their first teacher!). Perhaps they'll see that I'm a rather boring friend, and they'll de-friend me first. One can only hope. My advice for teachers in this situation, don't go down that road unless you are braver than me.

A Social Network I'm not Afraid of - Nings

I'm quite excited about the possibilities of Nings, both in my professional life, and my family life. I decided to begin a Ning that was meaningful to me, so I created a sister site to my Flickr Group Down Syndrome in the Family. I named the Ning Down Syndrome Around the World, and posted an invite to the current members of the Flickr group. You can see it at In my invitation I explained that a Ning is a social networking site where we can each create a page that is unique to our families; post photos, videos, blogs, have discussions, etc. I also made the site public, but said that we can make it private if we want. I'm not sure how it will go, to be honest; such a site has the potential to either flop, or take off. It is rather exciting, though, to watch and see what happens. Many of the Flickr members already partake in discussions on our site, and have their own personal blogs, so I'm not sure that a Ning will fill a need for them, but like I said, I had to try it!

Nings to Schools

Esther Rosenfield, in an article available through Proquest called Expanding Your Professional Network with Nings, believes that "Ning has great potential value as an educational tool, especially for professional development and building professional connections". Many of us studying Web 2.0 have already witnessed this on Nings like TeacherLibrarianNing (, and Classroom 2.0 (( I think they are wonderful platforms for professional development, but I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the vastness of it. For myself, I would be tempted to create a Ning closer to home - with teachers from my school division, for instance. While the global perspective on educational topics is appealing, I would also be interested in seeing the amazing teaching strategies being used in my own neighbourhood.

Within my library, I would definitely want to use Nings for book clubs and literature circles, inquiry projects, etc. as well as encourage teachers to set them up for their class. I think that it would be an exciting opportunity for students to showcase their learning in an on-line social network.

Why Students Should Learn about Social Networking in School

Tim Discipio, in Adapting Social Networking: TO ADDRESS 21ST-CENTURY SKILLS, writes:
"As educators, it is our responsibility to take students from what they already know to the next level of critical thinking. In other words, today's students are using these tools to connect, but are they creating enough, collaborating on projects, or inventing new ideas? Students need guidance, and here is where we can best use practiced methodologies of teaching to our advantage. What needs to be incorporated across the curriculum is a social learning network - if we focus only on the "social" and "network," we are missing the mark. A true social learning network incorporates innovative pedagogy through internet-connected communities, digital resources, and a series of Web 2.0 tools that empower students to master the curriculum and to learn issues beyond the classroom." This is inspiring! Why wouldn't we want our students to be critical, creative, and collaborative thinkers? Who wouldn't want our students to feel empowered?

Ah, therein lies the problem, I think.

Many people get nervous about "empowered" students. What if they don't use that power for good? Once again, I feel a Spider-Man thought creeping up on me. With great power comes great responsibility, and that is why I think it is imperative that we teach students how to use social network sites appropriately, and we should start at a young age. One approach that I read about in an article called text unto others . . . As You Would Have Them Text Unto You, by Matt Villano (available through Proquest) is to teach students "digital citizenship". His premise is that we need to go beyond teaching students to deal with "on-line hazards", and have them take responsibility in building safe and creative on-line communities, and "inspiring others to do the same." I feel this is going to be essential if we are going to bring social networking into the classroom.

I'd better go now, I have to check my on-line social spaces; I don't want to neglect anybody.

Status: Carol is checking her Ning.


chris the teacher said...

Hi Carol!
I was interested in your comment about how you felt like you were peeking in windows on Facebook. I see what you mean, but I feel more like my friends from back in the day are checking in with me and I'm checking in with them. Now that we all have families, jobs in different spheres, and new friends, it's difficult for us to get together in person, but when we do, the elaborate planning involved usually starts up with some Facebook messaging.

Joanne de Groot said...

Hi Carol,

Facebook is kind of a strange thing, isn't it? At first it felt strange to have these windows open to me, but then I got to quite like it! I love being able to connect with friends and family who live far away--and even my friends who live here in Edmonton use it a lot to send messages. We're all so busy that it is fun to be able to see what everyone is up to on a regular basis. I love how you have used a Ning as another way to connect with people in your groups--I hope people take advantage of it and start to really use your Ning as another place to connect!