Akili Lee: Social Networking Tools for Educators ... and Students

Filed in: Civic Engagement

Filed by Akili Lee


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.




Picture of Mechelle



You make some excellent points. However, I’d have to say that you are
preaching to the choir.

This leads me to wonder if you’ve ever been a public school teacher?

Do you realize that teachers are often not allowed to teach? In many
cases we are handed a script. I blogged 4 years ago and now we are not allowed. There’s sooo many restrictions for curriculum teachers! It is sad! Plus, creative teachers often get punished. I could share so many experiences.

Also, relating to your comment on identity, guidance counselors complain they have no time to counsel the kids anymore because they have so much paperwork.

It frustrates me as a teacher to hear other people who are not full-time
public school teachers telling us what we should or should not do.
People who have never taught public school do not understand teacher culture and the challenges we face.


Picture of Kate Miranda
Kate Miranda (Music Island/Sea Turtle Island http://slurl.com/se)


The thing that I often think is missing from the dialog on media literacy is that civic engagement is more than media literacy.  To further one’s goals in civic engagement one needs 1) basic literacy 2) a knowledge of the organizations you wish to change (governments, corporations, etc. 3) a knowledge of the tools at your disposal (format of petitions, letters to the editor, press releases, media events, etc.), 4) new media tools to further news of your cause.

Picture of Akili Lee
Akili Lee (Digital Youth Network)



I agree with you 100%. I would never want to suggest that media literacy, as we and others approach it, by default is completely inclusive of civic engagement.

Our approach has been to build on new modes of communication, collaboration, community building, research, etc that we see prevalent in many social media tools to greater support youth ability to and interest in effectively engaging in social issues important to them and those around them.

Simply understanding the tools and developing the skill set to navigate and excel in these new spaces does not by any means ensure that youth or adults will do so responsibly or that their respective interactions will be toward anything beyond their own individual gratification.

Coupled with efforts to focus on media literacy there must be similar supports in developing the knowledge and disposition necessary for us all to best leverage these tools toward some socially responsible means.

At DYN we’ve embraced this approach and seen success consistently using our youth social network and pods to support knowledge building around social issues and positioning the students to use their media skill set to engage and inform others around their identified cause.

I think your point is a critical one Kate and I concur that there’s much more to be done to ensure we’re preparing youth to be engaged citizens. To your points, many of the tools and networks we’re all exploring can very much be leveraged to further: 1- address ‘traditional’ or ‘basic’ literacy 2- provide transparency into organizations in which one may be seeking to impact 3- support more effective creation of petitions, letters, etc while also providing readily/instantly accessible networks of millions of people to support you in expanding reach



Leave a comment

Comments are moderated to ensure topic relevance and generally will be posted quickly.

Commenting is not available in this section entry.