Friday, February 27, 2009

Are you putting the networking in Social Networking?

I have been having a lot of conversations recently about the power of social networking. Tools like delicious, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others are everywhere we look. Radio hosts invite people to Twitter about their shows. Everyone advertises by saying, "Check us out on Facebook!" What does it all mean?

Many people I have spoken to are concerned that social networking is just online meaningless blabbering. I disagree. Think about how you converse. When you are talking to one or two people, everyone focuses on the same conversation. That is how email works as well. But what happens when 20 people are in a conference room? Multiple conversations start to take place. You, sitting in the middle, have to decide which conversation to participate in. Maybe halfway through, you decide to switch to another conversation. Such is the way social networking works. You don't pay attention to all of it, but choose what elements are relevant to you and ignore the rest.

So why bother with it? When I have a conversation with the people I know, I am limiting my audience. Some of my friends share my interest in technology integration. Others share my interest in soccer, or birding, or films, or my kids, or we share a common past. I can have a single conversation with all of these friends. They can choose to participate or not. The ease of sharing means I share more often. It also means I take part in my friends' conversations more often.

In addition, I can link to their friends, people who might share those same interests I mentioned above. Why do I care about these people if I've never met them? Because they often share information about topics I care about. I might learn about a new website, or soccer league, or bird sighting, or upcoming film from people I have never met. We are connected, or networked, by our common interests. It doesn't matter that we don't share other interests. We can ignore those parts of the conversation and focus on another conversation instead.

So what does this have to do with our students? This concept of social networking is intuitive to our students. They have no problem keeping up with multiple social networks and many people. What they are lacking is an understanding of the power of their network. They may use their network to talk about meaningless things. Why? Because they lack a purpose. Why did I spend hours on the phone as a teen? Because I lacked a purpose for how to use my time. It is our job to help our students learn to use these tools to work collaboratively, to communicate about issues of importance, and to draw upon their network to access information efficiently.

To do this, we must become familiar with these tools. Some are not appropriate to use with our students, but learning about them helps us learn how to find opportunities to teach our kids about their potential. Some social networking tools allow us to monitor our students and control who can access them. Tools like Ning, certain tools in MOODLE, and ELGG allow us to provide social networking in safe ways for our students.

To start to learn more about social networking, visit me at:

www.delicious.com/dzukor

www.twitter.com/dzukor

http://www.linkedin.com/pub/2/410/b82

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