Why Is Everyone Afraid of Social Networks?

A colleague of mine recently informed me of her troubles with incorporating the idea of a social network into her classroom. The primary concern is the safety and privacy of her students. This cause for concern is completely warranted and should be addressed anytime you allow students to engage in a web based social network forum. However, my concern with the social networking scare is that our children and students are privy to a social network everyday of their lives. It is called school.

The 21st century student is connected in myriad of ways. Most have a cell phone, iPod and a digital camera. Some simply have an iPhone. These devices allow students to connect, share and collaborate with anyone. Furthermore, students have more accessibility to each other outside of their social networks. The social network, whether it is facebook or myspace is exactly what, those of us who grew up in a pre-online social network world, did everyday!

We took pictures of our friends. We hung them in our rooms or dorms. We relayed secretive notes to those who made our heart flutter through back channels. We snuck out late at night to visit our significant other while our parents were fast asleep, just to steal a kiss down at the end of the block. We sent letters to each other in college and would call from our telephone. Instead of texting in class, we would doodle or write notes about plans for the weekend. Instead of “sexting” we would just write dirty notes to our girlfriends or boyfriends. We had hundreds of friends at our disposal everyday at school and every Friday night at dances when the neighboring schools would join.

Facebook and myspace are not a new concept. I repeat, this is nothing new. I once had a corkboard in my bedroom as well. This is what was displayed on it along with the facebook equivalent:



Pictures of friends posted with pushpins

Pictures of friends posted via digital


Clippings from the newspaper that were of interest to me or that featured my

favorite team or friends.

Links to websites that feature our friends, interests or favorite teams.

Buttons from elections or causes

Digital clip art that represent our causes and political affiliations.

Notes from friends

The Wall

Birthday cards

300 birthday wishes from your network (two who actually say something more than just “happy birthday”

Again, social networks are nothing new and we should not be scared of them. Yes, there have been awful stories about the downfalls of all of these networks, but in the grand scheme the stories that get the headline news coverage are…

A. About as frequent as hearing about a plane crash.

B. Dramatized and sensationalized for ratings.

C. A Situation that is unmonitored and unstoppable in any social forum.

So what is the big scare with social networks? We are all a part of them everyday and have been without knowing for years. Today’s student simply has the abridged version of what we had all but 15 years ago. Let’s be honest, today’s student is lazier then we have ever been. Yes, they are precious and we are all, “so proud of them”, but lets face it, they have it pretty good (well that’s if you exclude graduating into the worst economy in history).

There are many great upsides to allowing students to be part of social networks. One of them is the website called Zinch. Zinch is a social networking site used by many major colleges and universities across the nation. Like facebook, Zinch allows pre-college students to set up a profile that lists all of their major academic achievements. Universities and colleges actually look at this information and in some cases, students can even apply for scholarships directly through this site. It is a great way for students to access heaps of information and showcase themselves in a positive manner.

The fine line between virtual networks and actual socializing is that you can veil certain elements of your life. They allow you to be someone else; someone you are not (although we are transplanting faces now). In any case, social networks belong in the classroom. There is no way of pushing back what is already a part of our students’ life. With anything, we as teachers and administrators, need to set parameters for the social networks we decide to use in our classrooms. There needs to be…

1. Open invitations to all – parents, administration, superintendent, school board, grandparents and cafeteria ladies (yes, they no more about our students than you would think!)

2. There needs to be complete transparency with any virtual social network. Like reality, all content should be on the surface for all to see.

3. The social network should focus on content only. It should be viewed as a social forum for academic dialogue, nothing else

4. There should be a district wide “Social Networking Constitution” that every parents, faculty member and student should have to sign. A team of all of the above including administration should create this document.

There, fairly simple. With great power comes great responsibility. Venturing off into a social network with your students should be taken very seriously, however, you should not be afraid. If you plan it out and cover your bases it should be a wonderful, collaborative environment.

I hope all who read this understand that social networks are nothing new. They have been part of our lives for years. The functionality is all the same, however, the medium* has changed greatly. Please leave me feedback on the parameters your school district has set for using social networks. And let’s collaborate on the best practices for implementing social forums into the classroom.

*This aforementioned medium will be outdated tomorrow

2 Replies to “Why Is Everyone Afraid of Social Networks?”

  1. Nice! I am all about the social networking. Since starting them at my school for teachers/staff/parents, the results have been profoundly amazing. The network and collaboration opportunities never took off before as they are now, thanks to Ning. Next year, I’m going to use a new platform for the student social network. Can’t wait. BTW, love the corkboard comparison!

  2. Good one! I guess we are going to have the same issues with social networking like the ones we had some 10 years ago when we first introduced Internet to primary classrooms in Malta. However we have recently opened up more to blogs and wikis. And our admin is currently toying with Elgg, which lets you create a safe, private, social networking platform.

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