Saturday, April 4, 2009

Workin' the Web: Social Networking in School

Facebook, Wikipages, and Nings…oh my! We know our students use these technologies outside our classrooms, but how might such social networking platforms be used to promote critical literacy skills inside our classrooms? Can Web 2.0 technologies help students learn to interpret, question, summarize, evaluate, and synthesize their worlds? With multiple studies suggesting teens are more apt to pick up a laptop than a paperback, it is imperative that educators find ways to bridge the gap between traditional and digital texts. Instead of blocking and banning Internet use from our schools, twenty-first century teachers must learn to embrace this new frontier of reading. This means teaching our students to be critical readers and consumers of media. In reality, this is no different from the skills that we have been teaching our students for decades. It is not a change in content; it is merely a change in where and how we apply the skills of critical literacy. Practically speaking, this means that English teachers must broaden our definition of what constitutes a “text.” By utilizing social networking platforms to engage our students, we will help students become more competent readers in the world in which they already dwell—the world of Web 2.0.

Education writers and bloggers David Warlick, Will Richardson, and many others see Web 2.0 technologies as transformative, a way to encourage students to be not only consumers of their education but creators as well. Students use wikipages to summarize, question, and create knowledge. They use Facebook and Nings to interact with learners in other classrooms, other cities, other states, even other countries. Social networking sites have the potential of connecting students to learners in ways that we could not have imagined just a decade earlier.

According to David Warlick, social networking includes:

  • the process of initiating, developing and maintaining friendships and collegial or professional relationships for mutual benefit. Current discussions surrounding social networking deal with web-based or technology-mediated tools, interactions, and related phenomena, but social networking occurs in many forms, including face to face.
  • person-to-person exchanges that can be classified as question and answer, point and counterpoint, announcement and support.
  • technologies that facilitate social networking tend to emphasize ease of use, spontaneity, personalization, exchange of contacts, and low-end voyeurism.Some technologies that are often considered social networking technologies may not be socially oriented in and of themselves, but the communities that form around such technologies often demonstrate key elements of social networking (for example, the discussion communities that form around collaboratively authored wiki content).


  • Wiki Pages - Sites like PB Wiki and Wikispaces offer free pages where users can collaborate to create content online. These sites are offer students a place to demonstrate knowledge, interact with other learners, and create a product for an audience outside the walls of their classroom.
  • Ning - A Ning is a platform that connects invited users to interact with one another through discussion boards, personal spaces, video links, and more. A central administrator oversees who is allowed to join the site, the types of posts made, and design of the site.
  • Facebook - Facebook has replaced MySpace in popularity. Facebook is a site that allows users to "friend" one another, post updates, play games, upload photos, create and join groups, upload videos, and comment on others content. Users have control over who is allowed to see their content. Check out this presentation on using Facebook in the classroom.
  • LinkedIn - Unlike Facebook which was originally started as a way for university students to connect with one another, LinkedIn is a networking site meant for professionals. There are LinkedIn networks for accountants, teachers, psychologists, and more.
  • Twitter - Users are limited to 140 character posts. Users "friend" one another in order to follow the updates of a particular Twitter user. Each update is called a tweet. Innovators of Twitter have used this application to inform their network of friends of interesting content on the web and to create "Twitter Stories."
  • Voice Thread - This is an application that allows users to upload images, presentation slides, or videos, record narration for them, and post them to share. It is a social networking site in that it also allows other users to also comment on the uploaded presentation. There is even a specific section of this site with added security for teachers and students called Ed.VoiceThread. Check out this example of a teacher's Voice Thread site.





  • SocialNetworking4Teachers - David Warlick had assembled a wonderful wiki all about how social networking can work for students and educators alike.
  • Classroom 2.0 is a Ning website for educators. This site helps to connect teachers around issues of technology.
  • The English Companion Ning was created by author and teacher Jim Burke. It is a wonderful resource for content specific lessons as well as ideas on how to incorporate Web 2.0 technologies into the classroom.
  • Use Twitter to build your Personal Learning Network (PLN). Check out this post for ideas on how teachers can use Twitter to find curricular resources.
  • This is good information about how to protect you and tour students when using Facebook in class.

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