How are you using social networks in your schools today? How would you like to be using them?

Is your use of social networking focused on learning or measuring? Recently I wrote an article called "Academic Social Networking: Big Brother or Community of Learners?" I've attached that article to this discussion as a way to start this discussion.

At schools in Toronto, Canada, where I live, "social" networks are being adopted that are really administrative systems for posting and rolling up academic results using the Internet as a broadband pipe. But I see "social networking" in a far different light. I see it as a vehicle for research, discussion, collaboration and learning.

For example, today's headlines on the ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico represents a learning opportunity of enormous importance to young people. The economics of oil is one subject. The science and engineering of deep water drilling is another. The ecology of the Gulf a third. Energy alternatives is a fourth. Carbon footprint is a fifth. The geopolitical implications of oil is a sixth. Risk analysis is a seventh. The list goes on. How can students utilize the tools of the Internet and social networking to engage in these topics? How can teachers direct the community of student learners as they blog, present multimedia, comment, message and share with each other.

When I was a student I never quite fit in with the regular classroom learning process. I was always turning over rocks, conducting experiments, challenging teachers on facts expressed from lesson plans. I was a "pain in the ass" to many. I see in social networking the unleashing of the kind of curiosity I had channeled through the power of the medium. The world of the Internet and mass media is the world of these young people, the first generation of purely digital natives. What tools they use, and how they learn is far different than the way I went about it when I was a student.

So let's engage in a discussion on how to use social networking as a learning environment for students, parents and teachers.

Tags: academic, community, learners, learning, networks, of, self-directed, social

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Good arguments - how to get people interested in these topics and keep them interested. I've noticed huge interest from pupils when I discuss the latest world news or technology gimmic, Pacman on Google's homepage was a huge excuse to discuss Google and what the point of the game on the home page was. The were amazed to hear about it being 30 years old.

As always, it's time though, how much time to give to these topics outside of 'normal' curriculum work?
What is so great about self-directed learning on the web is the access to so many sources of information (some accurate and some not). For example, your 30-year anniversary of Pacman could be a great kickoff to a project on the origin of video gaming, history of the software development stream, the parallel computing development with the two driving each other, the development of virtual spaces, artificial intelligence and the role that gaming and simulation can play in the real world. Students could be put in teams and with minimal direction from the teacher explore major themes right across the spectrum of video gaming. They could develop a wiki reference library of terms and explanations, use the exercise to improve their writing and presentation skills, etc.

This can be done with so many different topics that come to us almost daily in the newspaper. Here's another example, the BP Deepwater disaster is a story that goes back to 1970 with the deepening crisis in the Middle East leading to the US government developing a policy for offshore drilling to encourage oil independence. In creating a present for my brother and sister-in-law on their 40th anniversary I uncovered a newspaper article talking about the very fears and concerns about offshore drilling that we are now reading about in today's news. Taking this current event and doing an entire project on oil, the industry, the challenges, the risks, would be an exercise in understanding earth history, energy, geology, geopolitics and so much more.
Great points - I was already thinking about the potential around the (very sad) oil spill that is ongoing. Unfortunately, for now, my school doesn't do a huge amount of cross-curriculum work so each department is very isolated and it will be tricky to implement in it's current stage.

Having said that, I'm going to be doing an animation project in the coming weeks so I'm going to see if I can work it into this - see if any of the pupils can do an animtion to show how the oil spill is spreading.....if I'm lucky I'll have time to do a bit of historical research alongside it with them.

Great points though, really appreciate the feedback - thanks :)
When you do an animation of oil spill spread take into consideration the two most common variables, currents and wind. The problem with oil spills is they are easily containable at the beginning and impossible to contain beyond a couple of days. The Deepwater disaster was compounded by the attempt to put out the fire on the platform. In drowning the platform the fire and rescue teams caused it to sink. If they had let the fire burn much of the oil would have been consumed and surface containment could have been deployed to localize the spill. But human nature is to put out fires and in doing so the irreparable damage caused by the rig sinking destroyed any opportunity to use the blowout technology on the seabed.

There are some excellent online examples of oil spread from Brazilian offshore disasters that you can access on the web. When I get the chance I'll try and find the links and forward them to you.
You are right that our students are purely digital natives and their knowledge about technology and their learning through ICT is far better than us when we were at their age.
I am using social networking for giving instructions about any ICT activity, uploading their presentations and documentaries. We have discussions when pupils have different opinions about the topics taught in the class. Pupils also gave their feedback about any lesson or activity. They also maintained their journals by writing about their daily activities and their learning through them.
I have another social networking with my colleagues and we discuss about the problems faced while conducting any ICT integrated lesson and also about our achievements.We also share our lesson plans and upload our pupils work. Valuable comments and criticism help us in out further planning and we get more ideas.
I am planning to have a social networking with the parents. Instead of sending a hard copy of newsletters and circulars I will upload them on the blog. I will be able to inform the parents about the class activities and discuss about their kids progress.
Hi Musarat,

What social network application are you using for these virtual interactions?
I have created my social network on Nings. I have also selected features of videos, blog, forum and images.
Discussions are done on the forum and pupils maintain their written descriptions on their blogs.Documentaries made by pupils and other simulations are uploaded with the help of video option.
Thank you Musarat. You have become adept at using Ning to its fullest. Can you harvest data from the interactions in your Ning classrooms? I ask this because this was one of the many challenges we faced in Toronto when we decided to create our own academic social network solution. As a proficient use of this type of technology I would welcome your comments on what we created at
This link confirms how savvy they are - most (not all granted....) of the children I teach are more clued in about privacy online than many adults I know!
(uploaded the Pew Internet Research document about Reputation Management)

Sounds like you're progressed to a great setup for using every possible communication tool, intrigued to see your reply to Len :)



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