What are some constraints and possibilities for social networking sites to be used for instruction?

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I posted my opinion here.
The discussion thread that Nancy pointed you too is thoughtful. I have to say I'm still conflicted on this... at one point with a high school elective class I did use facebook in a group style but it was short lived because other resources moodle forums, our wiki with wet paint and our wordpress blog could really support learning better with less distractions. But with that said it is very tempting when you know that it's easy to get their (students) attention on myspace of facebook. The real question that developed when I tried it was how to keep their attention for more than 2 minutes? Not easy with the ability to chat, and dig around on the social level. Sure this is good when it's classmates talking about the content but let's face it using Facebook or myspace for students isn't about the academic side of learning usually.
Kids 13-17 don't need MORE social networking, IMHO. I know I'm the lone ranger but I feel like it's a step down to re-enforce some of the stuff that goes on for many kids on social networking sites, with cellphones, IM, etc. I wish the focus was more on a real, rich and relevant content--kids should be doing REAL work in a REAL work environment. In the last few years I feel like tech-lovers are pandering to kids. Boy do I seem whiney tonight!
I think there is merit to using social networking software for education. I haven't used it myself, but I plan to. Rather than using MySpace or FaceBook, I think that a closed system is more appropriate for K12. Since I have a strong bias toward open source software, I plan on using Elgg. I am also looking at Mahara.

I don't think Social Networking per se is either good or bad. It depends upon how it is used. Since kids are going to use these tools, I think if is important to demonstrate constructive, positive use of such tools. Since I will be building my own, it is up to me to frame the structure in a manner that promotes these goals.

I'd like to point to another social technology that has a bad name--messaging. While it may be used in non productive ways, I used messaging with a person in Australia for awhile to collaborate on creating and running an Internet business that had sales growth of over 2000% in the space of four months. These tools are what you make of them!

Additionally, American schools will soon be required to teach social networking safety. What better way than to apply these lessons in a safer closed environment in which mistakes and missteps would become teachable moments. It is certainly better than talking at them about the hazards.

I live in a deeply rural area where homes and communities can be rather isolated. This may be a great way to extend collaboration beyond school hours. It may also be a way for our students to interact with someone other than the same dozen classmates that they have been with since Pre-K.
I agree with all you have to say. Any tool can be used for good or "evil". I have a concern that many teachers think kids will use and are using the tools appropriately but I've seen "educational" nings and wikis used by students that are filled with pirated images ( bleeding skulls!!) and music provocative pics of students, chat lingo, etc. These are teacher initiated "educational" sites developed for educational purposes! A modicum of discretion is needed here. Yikes!
I am investigating the use of social networking, wikis and blogs in education and the "proper" use of these tools is certainly necessary and needs to be taught before and while engaging in the activity. Discretion and best practices in teaching apply to the digital environment as well as the physical. As with any tools, a textbook, video, etc, misuse is certainly possible and unfortunately, probably quite prevalent. Just as videos have value, so too do these web 2.0 tools we are all talking about. Why wouldn't educators use the very tools students use anyway? Let's make them our own.
I like to refer to our class networks on Ning as "learning networks". The main constraint I currently deal with is the lack of ubiquitous computing while teaching in a very economically-depressed area.

I have several networks running:

Principles of Biology

Marine Biology

Virtual Southside (staff dev. network)

Nice job on the Principles of Biology site.
I really like your Biology Site too. Great job. I would like to show it off to some colleagues! Computer connectivity and compatibility (or lack thereof) are also a big issues for us since our students are scattered across 10 states and often living in remote areas. I have to be flexible in what I require (always allowing for alternative assignments in case someone does not have the opportunity to get online...) It is that geographical distance between us that makes these 'learning networks' all the more powerful as a means of first reaching students, and then getting them involved and allowing them to learn from each other. Thanks Raina for this thread!
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