Ed. 4764 – Social Networking

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Call me old fashioned, but I personally will be avoiding profile based social networking sites as a teacher, at least for the most part. I can acknowledge the fact they do present ways to be utilized in the classroom, but considering the age range I hope to teach, there are many other resources online that I would prefer to use. Other than using Facebook, for example, to promote an upcoming theatre production or something along those lines, I feel that anything this particular website could offer, can be done elsewhere with less issues to worry about.

Quite simply, I feel like there are far too many distractions inherent with a social network like Facebook. With all the applications and instant access to friends or other peoples profiles, it would be pretty easy for students to lose track of why they were accessing the site to begin with. I am all for the use of collaborative learning and sharing online, but why not use something like Google groups as your means to do so? If not that, why not create your own classroom website with a forum, etc. that can be utilized in a similar fashion?

Furthermore, I feel like the over-emphasis of profile based social networking is having a rather negative effect on youth. From my experiences during my practicums, I could not help but notice there seems to be an increasing awkwardness with face-to-face communication amongst students. Often times I would start my first class after a weekend by having students turn to a partner, and give each of them one minute to tell each other about what they did. So “person one” would be given one minute to say as much as they could, with their partners undivided attention, and then the same would be reversed.

What shocked me was the amount of times it seemed like pairs could not even sustain a minute worth of speaking. Even if the student did not have a full-minute worth of things to say, I still expected some form of chatting between pairs, yet there were many instances that I would see two students just sitting there quietly. I can understand not everyone wants to talk about their lives etc., especially if they might have ended up with someone they do not typically talk to, but this would happen with students who I knew were friends.

As much as I love the internet and the great deal of resources it has opened up, one of my greatest fears is the loss of face to face contact. I know this is never going to just disappear, but I do think it is sad there is such a seemingly obsession with profile based social networks. It is ridiculous that people seem to strive to reach “X” number of friends on services like Myspace, and correlate having a friend list in the triple digits as a measure of being popular. At what point did it become so important to have a huge friend list, versus creating actual meaningful relationships?

I should clarify a little bit more, since I do think there are social network sites that make sense for use in education. As the Digizen site pointed out, there are content based social networks available, like YouTube, Flickr, etc., and I do believe these are worthwhile for student/teacher use. Taking YouTube into consideration, there are the obvious draws of being able to find a video that could fit well into a lesson plan, whether for specific information or a hook to engage students. But in addition to that, there are a number of things I think would be a great use of the service in my drama classroom, all with the focus on sharing beyond the classroom:

  • students could create an audition video
  • students could make a video review of a production
  • students could utilize video for other drama-based assignments (music video lip-sync, fake newscast, etc.)
  • I could post exemplars of drama related material as needed (a monologue for example)
  • I could make video study guides
  • I could make “trailer” videos for upcoming drama productions

There are many possibilities for using YouTube as a video host, and one of the best parts of the site is the ability to limit who has access to the videos posted. They could be accessible to anyone; limited to only those who know the specific link; or made to require a password. Along with the flexibility of who can view the videos, the comment section can be tailored to suit classroom needs as well.

Ultimately I envision myself using content based social networks as a complementary feature to a class website. Like YouTube, Flickr could be used to host imagery linked to school productions, whether that be pictures backstage, during rehearsal, or a handbill/flyer created to promote the show, for example.

Some final thoughts: I think it is wonderful that TeacherTube is available to educators now, and see that as another great content based social network. Considering the openness of YouTube, I like knowing I can use TeacherTube to find videos to be used in class, without having to worry about censoring user comments or having inappropriate “related” videos pop-up.

Delicious also seems to be a great website for social bookmarking, and this is yet another resource that opens up resource sharing amongst teachers, which is never a bad thing. Similarly, SMART Exchange is fabulous for finding lesson plans/resources to be used on SMART Boards, and having an online source like that is definitely needed considering the push to have this technology in the classroom.

Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it’s not that I think all social networks should be avoided; but keeping away from profile based ones seems to be the best option, in my opinion. Since I am in the classroom to teach content to my students, I would rather do just that and utilize the social networks that are specifically designed for such a purpose.

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