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To “Like” Or Not To “Like.” That Is The Question.
A lot has changed since we were in school. Even the youngest generation of teachers these days grew up in a digital environment in which a teacher with an email address, or one who actually used email to talk to students, was a rarity. Just a few years ago, the talk about school and social networks was about whether they should be used in school. These days, we talk about how they can be used best, and mostly safely in a school environment. While social networking in general has its critics, who call it wasteful of productivity, and shallow as a social experience, most fail to account for the fact that social networks simply accomplish, faster and more visibly, the same types of information sharing mechanisms that people engage in across all communication channels.
As Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic points out in the above article (recommended 4,500 times on Facebook), we only emphasize the “growth” of social networking because we can measure it so easily. The fact that the growth of most non-social or non-public “Dark Social,” forms of web communication have grown at pace with social sites (email remains many times larger than all the social networks combined), is often ignored only because it cannot easily be studied by the media or social scientists. So social networking gets a lot of scrutiny for being less influential than it really is. Still though, social networking has a big leg up on conventional email and messaging, for some key reasons- reasons which multiply every year as new services are pioneered to bring content, make connections, and help you discover the best of what’s on the web.
Still, if you’re like us, you sometimes feel a little overwhelmed with choices. How do you know which social networks and “microblogging,” services are really for you? If you’ve been in the workforce for a number of years as a teacher, studies suggest that you aren’t as focused on these new tools as your newest colleagues might be. Well, lucky for you, we spend most days just trying to keep up with trends, and we’ve come up with some recommendations that should help you focus on the right things. So for this EduTech Monday, we’re going to talk about which social networks you should use as a teacher, both for your professional development, and your teaching. Whether you’ve decided it’s time to get with it… or only want it to look that way, we can help. We’ve split the networks we’re going to talk about into three categories, with some overlap, which represent the three key functions of social networking in a school environment: Connecting, Exploring, and Curating.
The first thing that pops to mind when we talk about social networking is “connections.” Social networking is an easy and scalable way of maintaining contact with different groups of people, professional and personal, in one place. Here are some services teachers should consider using:
Facebook, with its more uniform design and its real name policy surpassed Myspace in the mid-2000′s to become the big daddy of all social networking. Facebook is a little bit of everything, but its chief distinction early on, and mainstay of its success, was its basis in real life connections between users. Facebook friend networks grow organically as its users meet new people, so interactions on Facebook are tied to real life events, and human relationships. These days, Facebook ranks low on our list of useful in-class resources. However, it may be helpful to maintain a “public profile,” on Facebook as a teacher. This type of page is visible to the public, and allows you to interact with students and parents in a public environment, without involving your personal Facebook account (which you should never share with teachers or parents). From a public profile, you can share content, assignments, and other information with your classes and school. But beware: assume that anything you put on Facebook can and will be viewed by anyone. It is about as secure as a noodle strainer.
Twitter is another animal entirely, and one possibly better suited to the needs of the 21st century teacher. Here’s a great article we found: 5 Reasons Why Every School Should Have a Twitter Account.
Founded in 2008, Edmodo is basically what Facebook would be, if it were designed to be used exclusively in a public school environment. It combines this overall approach with a grading and student management system. While there are a few questions about Edmodo in terms of privacy practices, security, and integration to school systems, it has become a popular tool with millions of teachers and students.
LinkedIn is a professional social network that can help you connect with and explore networks of teachers, discover conferences and other professional organizations, and connect with bloggers and authorities on different teaching topics. LinkedIn may also help you land that next job.
These social networks are great for staying in touch, but they won’t tell you much about what’s going on that your friends don’t already know about. In short: they are not really the best sources of up-to-date information, of relevance to your or your teaching.
Enter Mashable, the “all that’s new on the web,” resource gleans stories from news outlets, blogs and other sources, and ranks them according to their popularity in social media, separating them into categories for easy access to different subject areas. While Mashable is more oriented towards news stories than interesting content, it provides the advantages of a social network’s personalized “democratic,” approach to content, and a larger number of sources and users than is possible in a more closed and personal service like Facebook, or even Twitter.
Other content exploration sites include Stumbleupon, a sort of “accidental,” search engine that learns about your interests and finds recommended content for you, one page at a time, Delicious.com, which allows you to collect and share your findings from around the web, and Digg.com, with a process similar to Mashable, but focused more heavily on tech related news.
Some social networks are for communicating directly, but others are for find and sharing interesting things with others. Services like Flickr, Youtube, and Vimeo, as well as Facebook allow users to upload content, but they do not specialize in helping users to explore that content in more meaningful ways. Just as importantly, they do not offer us ways of curating that content: of organizing it and presenting it in compelling and useful ways, for ourselves or for others. This is where the “curating” or “microblogging” service comes in.
Pinterest has exploded onto the social networking scene as an excellent tool for sharing interest based pictures, video, and infographics culled from many sources online. Users can design and maintain their own “pinboards,” full of media pertaining to a specific theme. The experience is enhanced by the ability to “Repin” from other pinboards, and discover new things through other users with related interests. And unlike Tumblr.com, Pinterest is heavily moderated, and does not allow pornographic or obscene material, meaning that there is less danger of encountering inappropriate content while browsing.
Delicious is a service not unlike Mashable; a “social bookmarking” service, but with tools to allow you to personally curate a set of interests that are important to you. This is a great tool for collecting interesting content and ideas that can inform your teaching, or which you can use to create reading lists or content libraries for your students.
What say you?
Which socials do you use for teaching, and how do you use them? Tell us about it right here, on the EduTech Monday blog.