Module 4: Technology Investigation: Social Networking

Social Networking websites, such as Facebook, MySpace, and Ning, have quickly emerged within the past five years and are now taking the world by storm. With over 500 million users worldwide on Facebook alone, people accessing these online spaces can connect with friends, family, and others sharing the same interests, to discuss experiences and keep contacts informed. Many social networking sites act as personal websites which allow the user to meet new people and share information quickly and easily. Users are able to post information about themselves including pictures, videos, biographical information, and interests while sharing with their approved connections. These sites have evolved to now include other facets, such as event planning, gaming, live chat, and even third-party applications.

Primary Use

Primary use of social networking sites is for personal utilization, connecting with others worldwide. Due to its popularity, social networking has extended to brands, businesses, and celebrities advertising their products and image. These sites are now acting as immediate ways to spread the word about a website, event, or product. What makes this form of advertisement interesting is the fact that users are now able to share their immediate thoughts to others at their fingertips online instead of face-to-face at a later date and time. These thoughts are made available online and in mobile applications that stream the feed of updates and information directly to the user at any location.

Social Networking in Education

Beyond personal interaction, online education has begun to utilize websites such as Facebook and MySpace to connect students online with the website they most commonly visit in their spare time. Educators are grouping student interactions on these sites into separate group pages where they can share class discussion via the web either in front of their computer or on their mobile device. Here, students can share their perspectives on the material taught and disseminate their work for the class to see.

In recent years, more schools are using social networking sites to share important information on school activities, sporting events and academic achievements. While many educators look at social networking as a time-waster, others are using the “can’t beat them then, join them” mentality by providing information online. Of course, this stance on social networking does not come without concern. Many school officials are addressing questions such as privacy issues, bullying, and proper management. Some argue that this teaches “online responsibility,” which helps students to understand the positives and negatives of posting information online.

The facilitation of conversations is most likely the most common educational use of social networks, and students use them for this purpose regardless of whether instructors have directed them to do so.These social networks allow students to converse asynchronously and in real time. Students can chat with the teacher or other online students when they are struggling with homework. They can post their questions to a group wall or send a private message to the instructor.

Instructors can use these tools in more directed ways as well.  An instructor who wants students to learn other cultural perspectives may connect the class to students throughout the world. They can use these networks for specific class discussions or as a collaboration area for group projects. Instructors can ask students to collaborate on an annotated bibliography by posting links to their walls and commenting on them.

Teaching students how appropriate use of social media has been identified as an important lesson by educators. Students often misinterpret social networks as private spaces and post information that undermines their reputation or expresses disrespect to other students. Educators must be aware of this type of behavior and educate students how to conduct themselves on social networks.

Facebook and MySpace are public or semi-public social networks that are open to people outside the classroom. Most students are already comfortable with these networks and they use them on a regular basis, which make these sites attractive to educators because their use does not require efforts to get students to adopt the technology.  In these public social networks the line between between a student’s educational and personal life become blurred. Even closed groups on Facebook appear on a user’s profile and may reveal more that a student would like to share. Many students prefer to keep their educational and private lives separate. For this reason, many educators have chosen to use more private social networks like Ning or the secret groups within Facebook.

Some educators believe that social networking use shouldn’t be limited to teenagers and college students, but they should be aware of federal laws, such as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA), Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA).  All of these laws seek to protect the privacy of children and students and limit the access student have in online educational environment.  A presentation on using Facebook in the first grade details how classroom teachers should be showcasing their students work on a classroom group page in Facebook to interact with parents and family members in another way besides parent-teacher conferences and school events.

Interesting Uses of Social Networking

As social networking sites continue their popularity world-wide, online activity has been used to stage organized protests and potentially end marriages. Because of their world-wide access and difficulty policing the web, officials have become concerned about the effect that social networking has on large groups of users. Flash mobs, bullying, and violence are the theory of blame in some instances.

Spreading the Word about Social Networking

One of the biggest realizations that social networking is sweeping the world is that President Obama recently met with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to discuss job growth related to technology. Facebook has recently been recognized as an Internet ‘titan’ not only because of its $50 billion net worth, but because of its rampant world-wide impact with what seems to be endless possibilities in the technology marketplace.


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