Saturday, May 05, 2007

How 'addictive' is Social Networking?

I am worried about 'social networking' and addiction. This started earlier in the week when one of my Horizon Project students told me that SN was not good for students at our school and that it should be controlled a lot more! I was a little taken aback to be honest. Here is a 'digital native' sharing thoughts about tools that we all use and love, but being honest and concerned about what potential damage they are doing. According to my student the use of social networking in school is distracting students from their work, they are not concentrating and are more concerned about who has posted to their blog, or who is on facebook etc. My response was that we all need to develop our own self discipline with this new medium and that we need to encourage more teachers and students to use these tools for worthwhile tasks.

We need to keep students on track with this. We need to be responsible in our own classrooms and in our schools to promote best-practice use of 'social' or 'student' networking. This is a great opportunity we have as educators, as fellow learners with our students. We cannot afford to blow this! I feel that it is like other 'crazes' or 'addictions', the initial engagement stage is the most intense and then it settles down into being a more workable scenario. Do you remember the first days of the Internet? I remember driving for 1 hour across suburban Melbourne (Australia) to visit ano0ther school (1995) pioneering the use of the Internet. They had a computer lab attached to the library where students could go in and 'browse' the Internet. Wow! It was strictly controlled, with teachers patrolling, a very strict AUP and total observance of rules...or they were out! I cringe now to think what speed or access they were getting...or even to think what limited material was available then, but it was a start. Yes, there were people who said the Internet is 'distracting'....I still have some of those working in my school now ;-)!! However, as better methods, approaches and systems were worked out the Internet became a means of communication and interactivity as well as a research facility.

I wish to thank Judy O'Connell for her recent blog post where she states:

"One of the things that keeps being said is that social networking improves communication, and facilitates ‘being comfortable’ for the millenials. Kids use social networking to help them settle into their teen world. Because of Myspace or Beebo, teenagers can walk into a party, or walk around school and know people beyond their immediate ’sphere of influence’. Better than vertical streaming of pastoral care groups in schools (used to help students associate with each other by putting kids of different ages together) online social networking can broaden and enable friends and conversation seamlessly and effectively. Those who are reluctant to talk, or who rarely contribute in a classroom setting, find themselves more able to communicate in a digital environment."

Yes, social networking can be a leveller in a school and provide a differentiated experience. We need to build both student and teacher (not to mention administrators) confidence and support them in their acceptable use of this facility. As ed tech specialists we also need to lead the way and find the best tools to use. I am currently using Twitter....yes, in a way it is a sort of addiction. Through twitter I have connected quickly with other global educators and picked up their current ideas and activities. It is like a community within a community! On a simplistic level I can catch up on the weather in Shanghai, South America and the USA, who is starting the day, who is finishing the day, and the trials and tribulations of the day. On a deeper level I am part of a generous community that shares resources in short 140 character posts....did you see this..., have been looking at this....what do you think about this.....etc. These posts lead me out into unexplored areas or lead me to revisit blogs, other social networking sites (eg and to discover what is being talked about, constructed and going on in the world. I love it!

Oh, and before I finish this rather 'verbose post', there is a new Ning! (Sounds like something from Dr Seuss right??). Thanks to Doug Belshaw (and of course Chris Craft) NextGen Teachers now have a social network ning! You are ALL invited to join in....hurry up now, I'm sure you can fit in one more social networking activity each day! Let's not call it 'addiction', let's call it the best thing to happen to the Internet since........ You can fill in the rest.

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Claudia Ceraso said...

Much needed post Julie. It is interesting to read what your student pointed out about the potential damage. I think it is positive that students can be aware of changes in their behaviour or what their time eaters are. It is also a good reminder that in spite of our enthusiasm and passion, we must reflect a lot on what we plan for them. Not just once, but throughout the course.

Yesterday I asked my students what distracted them from reading the same book for a long time. The most surprising answer was "Myself". The student explained she realised her own eyes starting looking for something outside the page.

Too many hours on the Internet?

We are learning by doing. Perhaps we will need to learn to look at our efforts from a distance.

Durff said...

And since when is conversation an addiction? Join the conversation!

Judy O'Connell said...

Truthfully, we are all still developing our understanding of the 'good, the bad and the ugly' in social networking. It is just as well that so many educators are exploring and sharing in this environment. To do so can seem addictive to those standing on the sidelines - I for one can't do without the generous sharing and quick information updates that social networking allows. How else could I ever hope to keep up with great colleagues like Julie!

Online conversation rocks!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps we shouldn't call it 'social networking' but something like 'learning connections' or similar. It's amazing what semantics can do with students sometimes - for example, saying 'you need to get on with your learning' rather than 'you need to get on with your work' tend to elicit a better response, in my experience.

If we need to 'sell' the idea to administrators, perhaps we shouldn't be using terms which set off alarm bells... :-)

Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher said...

Yes, I agree with Doug and if you see what the students in the social networking area are proposing is that we do just that -- it should be called student networking or academic networking b/c they admit that they want to keep "business and personal" separate-- honestly, they don't want school stuff to invade their personal time any more than we want personal time to invade school time.

I also think that the "addiction" is seen as part of the learning curve -- it is an "I want to figure this out" kind of thing that happens when something new and exciting comes along and I also stress to my students about moderation and that it is possible to have such an online life that RL dwindles to nothing.

Yes, I think social networking or really anything can become addictive and that balance is something important to have. OK, time for balance, time to go clean up!

Anonymous said...

Hi Julie! I just started Twittering too and my poor son, who wasn't supposed to be on MySpace, found my MySpace profile and excitedly sent me a friend invitation. Needless to say, he was grounded and it allowed me to find a loophole in his parental controls.

Please visit my lens on Squidoo about social network sites and let me know your thoughts.

Tiff :)

Anonymous said...

Your student is not wrong. Distraction Technology is seductive. Nick Carr, an influential commentator with the UK Guardian newspaper wrote an article "Google is making me stupid" that expressed the same concerns. I am an educational technologist evaluating the user experience of this phenomenon and I find that my cognitive processes have had to adjust to deal competently with this way of working.

I feel like I'm communicating with a hive mind, that there is no point in remembering where I saw something and I have a better chance of success by considering the strategy I used to find what I wanted.

Even finding your blog entry proved to be a distraction to what I'm trying to do: find evidence of research in South America of the use of Web 2.0 in education. LOL!