Social Networking in Schools: Incentives for Participation By Patricia Deubel 09/16/09 In July 2007, the National School Board Association published results of three surveys regarding social networking, which included 9- to 17-year-olds, parents, and school
district leaders in charge of Internet policy. While it came as no surprise that 52 percentof all districts interviewed prohibited any use of social networking sites in school, aninteresting result with implications for schools was that "almost 60 percent of studentswho use social networking talk about education topics online and, surprisingly, morethan 50 percent talk specifically about schoolwork" (NSBA, 2007, p. 1). The NSBA alsofound that schools and especially parents have strong expectations about the positiveroles that social networking could play in students lives, and both are interested in socialnetworking as a tool.With this in mind, one has to wonder why social networking has not been leveragedmore in schools to enhance the education of youth. A quick answer would have to dowith ensuring their online safety, which has posed a challenge to schools, as well as thetypical issues surrounding introduction of any innovation. Such issues include factorsthat teachers can not easily influence or alter: research and policy factors and factorsinherent to technology itself, and those factors that they can influence: district/schoolfactors such as culture, factors associated with teachers and students beliefs, attitudes,experience, technology skills, and so on, and the technology-enhanced project itself(Groff & Mouza, 2008, cited in Klopfer, Osterweil, Groff, & Haas, 2009, p. 16).However, there are at least two more issues to consider. District leaders want someevidence that social networking would fulfill their expectation of adding strongeducational value and purpose. According to NSBA, before district leaders would buyinto social networking for school use, there would need to be a strong emphasis oncollaborative and planned activities, strong tools for students to express themselves, andan emphasis on bringing different kinds of students together, all with adult monitoring. Iwould add that social networking activities have not been promoted in schools, in part,owing to how student achievement has been measured as mandated by the No ChildLeft Behind accountability system, which has strongly influenced daily life in classrooms.So where is the evidence that district leaders need, and what are the incentives forparticipation in social networking activities? Such evidence is tied to providing a 21stcentury global education, including project-based learning, which connects the socialand the networking to curriculum and standards. An additional incentive considers thevalue and renewed focus on the development of the whole child, if changes in schoolaccountability noted within School Accountability: A Broader Bolder Approach (BBA,2009) become a reality.Going GlobalInterest in social networking in education is global, as evidenced by the wiki SocialNetworks in Education, which contains a "must-see" extensive list of social networksused in a variety of educational environments or for educational purposes. While open-access sites like Flickr, MySpace, YouTube, Del.icio.us, and Facebook might easilycome to mind and contain relevant curricular content or groups with dedicated purpose(e.g. YouTubes education channel or Flickrs Visual Story Telling), schools often bantheir use. They might be considered just too global and too scary. Youll find somealternatives among the Global Projects listed by the Department of Education and EarlyChildhood Development in Victoria, Australia. Childnet International, a London (UK)based company, provides additional information, advice, ideas and examples, andresources for using social networking services with young people at its Digizen.org.As Tim DiScipio (2008), co-founder of ePals, noted, we need a dialog to determine "whatkind of curriculum-based activities can be enhanced through use of social networkingtools. There are many tools available. The key is to incorporate a holistic approach--
weaving a combination of tools throughout the curriculum and across the pedagogy" (p.10). The learning theory is Social Constructivism. Further, "[w]hat needs to beincorporated 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 networkincorporates innovative pedagogy through internet-connected communities, digitalresources, and a series of Web 2.0 tools that empower students to master thecurriculum and to learn issues beyond the classroom" (p. 10). It is evident that projectslinked to specific subject areas will also ensure that many state academic contentstandards can be met, as illustrated by ePals and CultureQuest.ePals provides collaborative projects linking classrooms from over 200 countries. Amongfocus areas are biodiversity, black history, geography, and human rights. Youll findprojects on global warming, habitats, maps, natural disasters, the way we are, water,and weather. Educators will value the essential questions, objectives, the culminatingactivities to demonstrate learning, and links to standards. Students have opportunities todevelop many of the skills identified within the 21st century framework by thePartnership for 21st Century Skills, as well as National Education Technology Standardsfor Students from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), such ascomputer literacy, critical-thinking abilities, global awareness, collaborative skills, andmulticultural friendships. Writing skills are improved owing to the e-mail and bloggingtools provided. Best of all, e-mail can be automatically translated into eight otherlanguages to support collaboration.CultureQuest, co-directed by Sheila Gersh (2009), has a partnership with ePals.Learners explore other peoples and cultures via inquiry-based classroom projects that"involve the focused, intensive study of one or more aspects of the art, music, literature,religion, values, daily life customs and traditions of other cultures. Students supplementtraditional resources with extensive use of the Internet, both for information and forcommunication with knowledgeable adults and peers in the country they are studying"(sec: Welcome to CultureQuest). They might even communicate using Skype, which isfree online videoconferencing software. Their work becomes part of a class web site,which may be accessed at the CultureQuest site.Thus, these web resources provide evidence that district leaders would need for usingsocial learning networks in their schools. But there are so many others to explore thatadd strong educational value and purpose. For example, consider Voices of Youth,Global SchoolNet, and Oracle Education Foundations ThinkQuest.Demonstrating LegitimacyIf we want social networking to make a difference in instruction and learning, the mediumshould also be used for its publishing and production aspects, reaching higher levels ofcollaboration and creativity, and for enabling learners to network with experts and peersin a manner where their work gains legitimacy within the larger community of experts invarious fields. It also makes learning more interesting (Reynard, 2008). The tangiblesdeveloped by learners participating in the social learning activities within theInternational Education and Resource Network (iEARN) and the Globaloria networksillustrate such value.There are more than 150 projects at iEARN designed and facilitated by teachers andstudents to fit their curriculum, classroom needs, and schedules. Online forums enablecollaboration with learners in other classrooms around the world that are working on thesame project. Projects help learners become global citizens because all projects mustdemonstrate a contribution to improving the quality of life on the planet in keeping with
iEARNs mission. Strong educational value is evident in the final products or exhibitionsof the learning required of all projects. "These have included magazines, creative writinganthologies, websites, reports to government officials, arts exhibits, performances, andmany more examples of youth taking action as part of what they are learning in theclassroom" (sec: Projects).Youth 13 and older develop creative self-expression, communication, collaboration, andresearch skills by participating in Globaloria from the World Wide Workshop Foundation.Globaloria is a social learning network of educational, programmable web sites andrelated wikis and blogs that has been touted as a pathway for digital literacy of youngpeople. Working alone or in collaboration with other learners worldwide and local orglobal mentors, they are using Internet social media tools to make interactive games andsimulations for their personal and professional development and for the social andeconomic benefit of their communities (sec: About Globaloria). At present there are threeactive theme-oriented global networks of young people. Within MyGLife, studentscollaborate to develop educational games on global and social issues, such as climatechange, ecology, water, community services, technology skills, and peace; participantsin MySLife develop games and simulations on global warming with other topics inscience to follow; and MyHLife is for those who are interested in creating games andanimations about living a healthy life. MyALife, MyMLife, and MyRLife are still to come,which will be networked communities about art, mathematics, and human rights,respectively (sec: Globaloria FAQ). The value to 21st century learning and to curriculumin this country is clear, as evidenced by the many West Virginia schools participating inthe program.Broader, Bolder Approach to EducationEven with evidence of safe social networking possibilities to help students acquire skillsneeded for the 21st century and to meet standards within curriculum frameworks ofmajor national education organizations, there remains one challenge to an expandeduse of social networks in schools. Namely, this is the current NCLB accountabilitysystem with its singular quantitative measure of achievement based on test scores.The good news is that details of a new accountability system were released on June 25,2009 in the report School Accountability: A Broader Bolder Approach (BBA). The BBA(2009) proposes new accountability systems that combine appropriate qualitative andquantitative methods. Such methods at the federal level would include an expanded roleof the National Assessment of Education Progress and would "[r]equire states todevelop accountability systems that rely upon scores on states own academic tests andother key educational, health, and behavioral indicators, along with approved inspectionsystems to evaluate school quality" (p. 1). It is those inspection systems that will makethe difference. Obviously, as the BBA drafters recognized, developing such a rigorousand comprehensive accountability system will take time.What does this mean for educators should these recommendations for newaccountability systems become a reality? Everything that teachers do in theirclassrooms, beyond preparing youth for state standardized tests, would matter greatlyand be taken into consideration in accountability, including their innovative teachingpractices. The BBA (2009) "urges that national and state policy abandon itsdisproportionate focus on basic academic skills narrowly defined, and pay attentioninstead to the development of the whole person including, along with academic skills,physical health, character, civic and social development, from birth through the end offormal schooling. BBA assigns value to the new knowledge and skills that young peopleneed to become effective participants in a global environment, including citizenship,creativity, and the ability to respect and work with persons in a pluralist society" (p. 3).
This latter is the ultimate additional incentive to use social networks in schools as onecontributor to developing youth to take an appropriate role in a global society. Only timewill tell.So much evidence can be provided--one just needs to know where to look for qualityresources. Ive only tweaked your appetite by those Ive provided here. As Henry Jenkinsand his colleagues (2006) pointed out, "Our goals should be to encourage youth todevelop the skills, knowledge, ethical frameworks, and self-confidence needed to be fullparticipants in contemporary culture" (p. 8). Many of our youth are already doing thatinformally through their various affiliations in popular open social networking sites, theircreative forms of expression using social media tools, their collaborative problem solving(e.g., via alternate reality games) and in what they circulate in their podcasts, blogs, andso on. Our challenge is to harness that informal learning bringing it to school settings as"each of those activities contains opportunities for learning, creative expression, civicengagement, political empowerment, and economic advancement" (p. 8). There aremany ways to be social; theres more than one way to learn, and definitely a nearlyinfinite number of ways to form a network. But, you have a winner if you can put all threetogether in a social learning network in schools. References DiScipio, T. (2008). Adapting social networking to address 21st-century skills. MultiMedia & Internet@Schools, 15(5), 10-11. Also available here. Gersh, S. O. (2009). Global projects and digital tools. MultiMedia & Internet@Schools,16(1),10-13. Jenkins, H., Purushotma, R., Clinton, K., Weigel, M., & Robison, A. (2006). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. Chicago, IL: The MacArthur Foundation. Available here. Klopfer, E., Osterweil, S., Groff, J., & Haas, J. (2009). Using the technology of today in the classroom today: The instructional power of digital games, social networking and simulations and how teachers can leverage them. Boston: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The Education Arcade. Available here. National School Board Association (2007, July). Creating & connecting: Research and guidelines on online social--and educational--networking. Alexandria, VA. Available here. Reynard, R. (2008, May 28). Social networking: Learning theory in action. Campus Technology. Available here. School Accountability: A Broader Bolder Approach (2009, June 25). Washington, D.C.: A report from the Accountability Committee of the Broader Bolder Approach to Education Campaign. Available here.