Akili Lee: Social Networking Tools for Educators ... and Students
1.27.09 | The National Education Association just published an article, “Online Social Networking for Educators” encouraging teachers to embrace online communities as a way to further their career.
Teachers using social networks to connect with innovative and like-minded educators is a wonderfully powerful phenomenon that we’ve seen a lot of growth in as of late. From Steve Hargadon’s Classroom 2.0 to Global Kids’ RezEd, there have been dozens of online communities popping up for educators looking to build their thinking and practice by leveraging web 2.0 tools, virtual worlds and the like.
In many cases, which is the focus of the NEA article, educators use these spaces as new ways to pursue professional development opportunities. Beyond that, though, there are many who use these spaces to learn about innovative new approaches to using these same tools with their students. My hope is that as more educators come to embrace the Web 2.0 space, the majority of us begin to give at least equal focus to the latter.
With greater understanding of social networks as a communication platform and collaboration space, my hope is that teachers will take this a step further and embrace some focused and controlled social networking tools in the classroom.
Schools are spaces with a unique social dynamic not mirrored in many other contexts. Often much of the community’s norms, expectations, aspirations, social climate and hierarchy are all driven heavily by the intersection of these varied student driven networks. At the middle and high school level, there is enormous pressure on the individual to find an identity in this cluttered space and in turn just as much pressure on adults to support this search. As we come to better understand the affordances of these online tools and their potential for supporting collaboration, learning and interest-based connections, educators must take the next step.
We have to go beyond exploring social networking tools as just a way to connect with like minded teachers, but come to understand that we have a unique opportunity to create better connections with and facilitate unique and natural learning moments with our students. While these tools may be new and unfamiliar to many of us, we must recognize that for many of today’s kids, setting up a profile page, making friends online, blogging and sharing media is as natural as phone calls and trips to the movies were for previous generations. As we collectively gain better understanding of how students operate online, are we also looking for new opportunities to leverage these spaces to support their personal and academic development?
How often have english or social studies teachers struggled with pushing students to properly develop and support an argument? Are these same teachers aware of debates their students are already having online with their friends? While its not in traditional essay form, is this not a valuable interaction to build on in this lesson?
How much time do teachers and counselors spend supporting high schoolers struggling with identity issues? Do they recognize that that student in their urban school has been spending hours quietly exploring their interest in anime videos, comics and fan fiction? They’re extremely quiet and reserved all day in school but have established themselves as active and respected members in these online communities. Is it not our role to help transfer this confidence?
Students have already embraced MySpace, Facebook, Tagged, YouTube and more as communities where they look to connect with others, express themselves through writing and media, claim a space to represent themselves and build a public identity. Why wouldn’t we want to support and build on that? In the coming weeks we will use iRemix.org to provide resources, best practices and general insights on how educators can better integrate social networking tools into teaching. Next week, we will be launching a publicly accessible demo version of our custom built social networking system Remix World. We’re in our second year using a social networking platform for extending mentorship, self-guided and supported learning and community building opportunities with the Digital Youth Network. We’ve been quite amazed by the results we’ve seen and can’t wait to share it all.
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