Why Social Networks?

The Web is increasingly populated by online social networks places where people share information, opinions and resources on a whole range of topics. Facebook, the best known, is a hugely popular online social network where people and organizations share information across the world with friends, colleagues, and organizations. Twitter is another extremely popular social network where users “tweet” about what they’re doing and carry on conversations. However, these networks are largely non-academic and contain much frivolous content, so what role can a social network play in education?

Well, a big one. For starters, there are many online social networks entirely focused on education where members discuss teaching and learning. Classroom 2.0, the biggest of these networks, is an online community of over 50,000 educators who have joined together to discuss the use of technology in the classroom and share resources and ideas. At Classroom 2.0 educators can learn what other educators are doing, share your resources and ideas, participate in focus groups, join live webinars, and research topics of interest. Classroom 2.0, along with many other academic social networks, provides educators with an opportunity to connect and collaborate with some of the most accomplished and creative professionals in their profession.

There are also many teachers who use social networks to connect, discuss, and teach online with their students. While some classes do venture into Facebook or Twitter, many others opt instead to create a customizable and private network. Thus, many opt for Ning or Edmodo, popular platform that allow you to create and customize your own social network in minutes.

Since students already spend much of their free time in online social networks, it’s a great opportunity for educators to coopt student enthusiasm for social netwworks for academic goals. (It also provides classroom context where teachers can teach their students how to behave responsibly in this environment.) When motivated, students are willing to extend classroom discussion beyond your four walls and share their creations. Go ahead and harness that energy!

Social Networks Tools & Resources

Here are two popular online social network platforms used by teachers:

This platform enables educators to connect with their students, and other educators, to share materials, ideas, multimedia and more. With Ning you can easily create and customize a network by selecting features that meet your your needs. You can also determine who has access to your Ning and what they can do once inside. The basic Ning is called the “Mini” and Pearson Education makes it free for all eligible North American K-12 and Higher-Ed Ning institutions. Otherwise, the Ning Mini is $2.95 a month for 150 members. (Should you wish more space and features the Ning Plus is $19.95/month.)

A free and feature-rich platform, Edmodo that allows teachers to customize their online social network. Those features include privacy settings that ensure only your students have access to the network you created. Edmodo provides an easy way to post classroom materials, videos, homework, links, grades and more. There are also specific institutional features for schools and districts.

Social Networks Examples

Many classroom online social networks are private and thus inaccessible to outsiders, but here are a few exemplary public networks:

The Student News Action Network
This student-produced current events journal features contributions from around the world and is led by five student-bureaus: The American School of Doha, Bishops Diocesan College, International School Bangkok, International School of Luxembourg, and Washington International School. The students have cleverly adopted the Ning platform and far-flung students work collaboratively to create an interactive, multimedia-rich, and student-driven online newspaper.

The Flat Classroom Project
The award-winning Flat Classroom project brings together high school and middle school students from around the world to explore the ideas presented in Thomas Friedmans book The World is Flat. These collaborative projects harness the most powerful Web 2.0 tools available including wikis, online social networks, digital storytelling, podcasts, social bookmarking, and more. This link is to the Flat Classroom link. See also their associated global collaborations including NetGenEd Project, Digiteen Project and Eracism Project.

Great Debate of 2008
Tom Daccord of EdTechTeacher created a wiki and a private online social network for the “Great Debate of 2008” project, a student exploration and discussion of issues and candidates surrounding the 2008 presidential election. The project connected students around the country in a wiki and a private online social network to share information and ideas related to the 2008 presidential election. Students post information on campaign issues to the wiki and partake in online discussions and survey with other students in the private online social network. This link will take you to the project wiki; the project social network is private.

What is Edmodo and how to use it” is video tutorial that provides an overview of Edmodo along with classroom examples.

For a professional development online social network, the NCSS Network Ning is focuses on connecting history and social sciences educators. Its groups include “Teaching U.S. History” and “Teaching Civics K-12.”

Social Networks Video Tutorials

Social Networking in Plain English

Mr. Robitaille’s Edmodo Tutorial

Ning Creators Videos – Ning offers a social network with Ning creators that features a range of how-to video tutorials. A few samples:

How to Integrate Social Networks

Social networks can be integrated in history and social studies classes in a variety of ways. Remember that online social networks by their nature and meant to connect people to share and discuss and to build community. With those goals in mind here are some ideas:

  • Do community service by creating a social network to promote a cause. (ex. “Preserve our historical spaces!”)
  • Collaborate on projects. Social networks are designed to connect people, so harness that capability and have students work together on activities.
  • Create a book club or history-related online discussion group.
  • Post student projects for viewing online anytime.
  • Track students contributions to a discussion or activity. Since member activities are recorded in a social network you’ll have an electronic record of student activity.
  • Network in character. Have students become historical or literary characters (ex. a “Founding Father” or Shakesperean character and have them comment on issues of the day.)
  • Have students showcase their video or podcast production.
  • Brainstorm on class topics outside class time.
  • Use a social network to get instant feedback on classroom topics or issues.
  • Invite parents to join your classroom network and post assignments and events.
  • Provide opportunites for shy students to express themselves to you and your students.
  • Have students create “tweets” of 140 characters or less to develop the art of communicating information succinctly.