When you hear the words “social network,” what comes to mind? We all have social networks – our friends, family, work colleagues – but what about your online social networks? Do you network professionally with colleagues through LinkedIn? Do you keep track of high school buddies on Reunion.com? Facebook and MySpace are two of the most famous (or infamous) social networking sites. CNET News reported in May of 2008 that Facebook had 50.6 billion page views and MySpace had 45.4 billion. Wikipedia has compiled a catalog of social networking sites that contains over a hundred listings. These sites are being used regularly by millions of people and are transforming the way people communicate and share information with friends and colleagues.
According to Steve Hargadon, an online social network is the aggregation of web tools for building community and content. Members of online social networks share interests and activities and are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others. Social networks provide ways for users to interact and form groups around topics of interest such as literature (Shelfari) or photo sharing (Flickr). For instance, Beyond Penguins has its own Shelfari group where users can add, review, and discuss their favorite children’s books. With Flickr, users upload their photos and provide descriptions. Users with similar interests in photography are able to form groups and communicate with each other.
ESTABLISHED EDUCATION SOCIAL NETWORKS
Many educators are using MySpace, Flickr, and other popular social networking interfaces to support educational endeavors; however, some social network interfaces have been built with education in mind. Tapped In, ePals, and Curriki are online social networks built for educators.
Tapped In is a web-based learning environment created in 1997 by SRI International to transform teacher professional development. Through Tapped In, educators can extend their professional growth beyond courses or workshops. It provides the online tools, resources, colleagues, and support educators need to implement effective, classroom-centered learning activities. Tapped In allows for the creation of virtual communities of practice around a wide variety of topics. The environment is built on the metaphor of a college campus with buildings, floors, conference rooms, special interest groups (over 700!), and offices. Beyond Penguins has a room and “holds” monthly events where participants meet and discuss the latest issue of the magazine.
Using the ePals social network, half a million educators and millions of learners across 200 countries and territories safely connect, collaborate, and build community, using school-safe email and blog tools. Teachers can set different levels of monitoring, even for individual students, make pages public, or limit blog views to particular audiences, including workgroups within a class. Students can upload files or photos, create polls, and use a calendar. The technology received an award for excellence from Teaching & Learning Magazine in 2006.
Curriki is a community of educators who support the development and free distribution of world-class educational materials to anyone who needs them. There are 40,000 registered members, and more than 14,000 learning assets in the repository. Founded by Sun Microsystems in 2004, the organization has operated as an independent nonprofit since 2006.
BUILD YOUR OWN SOCIAL NETWORK
Ning (which means “peace” in Chinese) provides an easy-to-use platform for setting up a fully functional and visually appealing social network from scratch. Ning currently offers three plans that range in cost from $2.95 a month to $49.95 a month. The “mini” plan is ideal for teachers setting up networks for classroom use, and a partnership with Pearson currently provides sponsorship for eligible K-12 and Higher Ed networks.
There are 11 products that come “standard” when building a Ning network – everything from custom video players to event listings. Premium services are also available. All of Ning’s plans include the ability to run ads, or be ad free.
A couple of Ning groups that I recommend are Ning in Education and Classroom 2.0. Both of these social networks are all about using social networks and other collaborative digital tools in education. When you are ready to participate at a higher level –
- Reply to someone else’s Forum or Blog post.
- Start a discussion using the Forum.
- Give your opinion by creating a Blog post.
- Keep track of all new Forum discussions or Blog posts and comments by using the RSS feeds.
What about using a social network with your students? Ning allows for private networks. What kinds of groups do you think your students might start?
Whether for personal, professional, or classroom use, social networking sites have the potential to enrich existing relationships and foster new ones. How can social networking transform your life?
A web-based environment for professional development. For more information, see “Tapping In to Professional Development: Virtual Communities of Practice.”
A secure social network for educators and students.
This network focuses on creating resources and curriculum for teachers and students around the world.
Ning in Education
A Ning dedicated to using social networks and digital tools in education.
A social networking site dedicated to the use of Web 2.0 tools in education.
Copyright February 2009 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.