Social Networks – why?

I had a busy morning at the school – there are many things to get done this last week before holidays. I know that I will not get them all done but I want to at least get them whittled down a bit. While doing various tasks I was able to keep up with what others are doing through Twitter and Pownce. Now, Pownce is a tool that allows you to share comments and thoughts with those people that you make friends, similar to what Twitter does. I am looking closely at this tool because I think it might have some use in the school setting so that teachers in the school could begin to use a social networking tool and become comfortable before venturing out on Twitter and other social networks. It might be a good way just to see how these networks work.

I also spent lunch doing some reading.  Dean Shareski has been having a conversation on his blog about the place of social networks and the use of tools for enhancing communication and connectedness. This all leads to what can and cannot be accessed in schools and what teachers will be expected to do, be able to use and be able to pass on to their students through the use of different tools. The two posts that Dean references demonstrate the frustration of people who are running into filters that block certain sites from being accessed. Now, I’ve run into this problem a few times with such things like Twitter and Blogger. I still cannot access my Blogger site from school. However, this is not the point of this post. My main purpose is to ask why we need to have these social networks available?

Dean points out;

Because most teachers do not practice or engage in the same kinds of online activities which for the most part is social networking, it’s going to be difficult for them to model. In addition, they likely don’t consider it a relevant topic of discussion amidst the daily work load they already face.

So, is it relevant to the daily work they face? With the number of initiatives that teachers face, do they have time? Some would say that time isn’t the question anymore. Instead, it is the reality that these are the tools of the youth which need to become part of the fabric of schools. Others would point to particular examples of teachers who are using these tools with incredible success.  One cannot argue with their successes and the incredible things that they are doing. However, it must also be noted that for teachers who are placed in the position of being required to prepare students for passing particular types of exams, there needs to be more than just the push to “get with the times.

Teachers need to see that their time will be better used by using the tools. If you were in my school, you would not be convinced of this because of the difficulties that we have been having with our technology. We know that the IT department is working as quickly as they can but we are still lagging in computer availability. We’ve had some network issues which have frustrated teachers and students. Myself, I’ve found it difficult to use some of the tools I want just because of some of these issues. This has meant I have had to replan my unit a few times to accommodate these situations.

As someone who uses technology fairly fluently, I see that we need to teach students about the social aspects of these tools and the various morals and values that go along with them. We need to discuss bullying of any kind, we need to work through the appropriate use of tools like cellphones and chat while in a learning setting.  We should be able to discuss how people interact with others but I’m not sure that teachers need to use all these things themselves in order to discuss what is an appropriate way to interact with another person or appropriate behaviour in social settings.

Now, Dean refers to the following quote by Regina Lynne:

All adults who work with youth should be aware of how young people communicate, fall in love and stay connected; I encourage teachers to try social networking services, to have a blog, to text message with their own families and friends. Experienced teachers will not only gain a better sense of the world their students live in — indeed, a world their students are creating — they will have a greater understanding of the young teachers entering the profession.

And I agree, mostly. They need to be aware. They need to have an understanding but, I’m not sure they need to do all those things themselves. As a professional, they have so many different obligations besides just teaching. Maybe, if the social pressures that are placed on schools were to be redistributed to different organizations or people, then the teachers might be able to find time to do these things. However, as I watch this last week of school begin, I know that many of them are looking forward to the break so they can relax and take a break from the various pressures that they encounter each day. Some of them will take time to work online but many of them will use the time to re-energize themselves. They will spend time with family and friends, people they haven’t had enough time for because of the time they dedicate to school. They will reconnect with their personal networks which might include some online interactions.

Yes, teachers might find networking with other teachers to be great. They might find it useful, much like their students find it useful to text each other during class when they don’t feel motivated or surf the web or check email when their professors are not connecting with them. However, in my many discussions with teachers, they are so busy that they rarely have time during the day to go to the bathroom never mind check their email or check their network.  They work with different students, differentiating curriculum, helping their students to acquire the information that the curriculum has prescribed for them to teach. Because they are professionals, they are very aware of what their responsibilities are to their students and not just the academic responsibilities. They are making human connections that many of the students do not have and seeking to guide them through this time of school so that when they leave they can make good decisions. I think they are preparing them for the world after school because so much of that world will deal with interactions and making personal decisions.

As for networking, the I work with  uses various technologies to communicate. The tools work to keep all of us informed and help us to share ideas with one another. We discuss  concerns we have with students in our school, the problems that some of our students are facing and the different alternatives we might seek. We share links and other such information. We use tools that help us to be more productive and help us to stay in tune with the others in the building. For most of the teachers in this school, this is enough networking for them. As we struggle to work with students about bullying, peer relations, drugs, sex, dating, relationships with parents and the myriad of other non-educational concerns that come our way each day, time spent on developing other networks isn’t a priority.

Finally, as for the young teachers entering the profession, I’m not sure about this one. In fact, from what I’ve seen, these teachers are striving to come to terms with a whole host of things that are beyond networking. Most veteran teachers, where I work, are more than willing to lend a hand and assist any young teacher. I’m not sure how understanding texting and social networks fits in with that unless it’s networking with other younger teachers who are overworked and tired. In fact, it’s usually the young teachers who are having a difficult time with the many educational requirements like differentiation, class expectations, marking, parent interactions and covering the curricula that they get and who seek out the veteran teachers. As for using other online tools, I don’t see a whole lot of increase even when the tools are available.

I guess, as someone who has been developing a network for about a year, I do see the positives. However, I’m not all that convinced that it is what every teacher needs to have. There are times when, having thrown out a question or concern on one of the social networks to which I belong, I get no response. Yeah, I learn alot from some of the people but, and I again put this forward not as a complaint but as an observation, unless you are “in the group”, you might not get the networking you believed you would get.  I know that is how it sometimes seems to me whether it is here or twitter or other social networks. To be really connected, you have to spend time developing the relationships and, as an administrator, time with the students is more important than time online trying to make friends who will answer your questions when you ask.


  1. Reply

    We’ve set up a school wide social network (sans the word social) for parents, grandparents, kids, and everyone with amazing results. The adults love it and are saying things like “I get it” and “this is great.” People who wouldn’t touch a blog are blogging. It is great. It is a tool to connect us and creates an environment that cannot be duplicated offline.

    I think it is a great augmentation to any communications that are in place in schools and are going to become an essential thing that parents eventually ask for. If we’d nix the word social and talk about building educational networks, I think we’d see better results and understanding of the purpose.

    It is not about the technology, it is about the people and about how the technology is used to connect them. We get way to caught up in the acronyms.

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    There are a few things in your post that I relate to. First of all, how can you sell teachers on using technology to plan in embed into their lessons unless it works. We struggled mightily with our tech infrastructure last year and eventually have gotten to the point where when teachers turn their machines on, they expect it to work. However, every time something does go slightly awry, which things do even in a perfect world, that feeling still creeps into their minds of “why should I try to do this if I can’t rely on it.

    Secondly, I just read a response to a department discussion group in which a teacher was addressing the time issue, not only from the point of view of the teacher, but also of the student. I am sure you have seen the various reports lately citing the decline of reading aptitude in our schools, and this teacher pointed to the fact that students today do not have the time to actually read to the levels that they need to: work, sports, clubs, music lessons, video games, etc. Your point about the items taking up a teachers day are similar. However, as Vicki points out above, If you lay the tracks over what is already taking place and use the social network to enhance it, the community, all stakeholders that is, benefit. I would like to see how they are doing that.

    We often pilot various technological applications with our new teachers during their monthly induction meetings. Their whole first year is being chronicled via a 21classes blogsite that we keep and each month we ask them to reflect on lesson strategies and experiences. I don’t know what the carryover will be in regards to teacher blogging, but at least we are desensitizing them to the elements of blogging and other forms.

  3. Reply

    We had a discussion along these lines at the Shanghai Learning 2.0 conference this past fall when talking about whether there was “any hope” for schools making these shifts (I know I’m being vague here, but my fiancee is here and I’m trying to be a normal guy – and failing!).

    I said that, as much as I hated to admit it, I probably became a teachergeek/futurist guide/whatever in my classrooms, blogged, developed a network, etc, because I was single and childless, and thus had the time. Those who aren’t – where would they find it?

    I’m not sure how convinced of my own argument I am, but do agree with the thrust of your argument: the demands of classroom teaching are so consuming, I think many who have left it forget that when they bemoan from outside the teacher’s life the slow adoption of Things 2.0.

    And I hear you too about the replication of good-old-person 1.0 networks in the 2.0 world. It can be frustrating. For me the valuable connections on Twittter are, with a few exceptions, not the biggest names – too many of them don’t teach anyway – but, in many cases, the newest ones.

    Enjoyed your post. Now back to life 🙂

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    I have had three separate instances in the past few weeks of colleagues seeing something that was being done in class (inclusion in a VoiceThread, adding to a wiki, and creating digital stories) and, in all three instances, the teacher asked, “Where did you find out about this?” My answer: “My network.” I would not be at the level I am today with teaching if it were not for my network – supporting me, giving me ideas, joining in my projects.

    But the really great part of it all, is that I am introducing my fifth graders to my network of educators. They blog with their students, ask questions about avatars, fonts, and creations they view, and contribute comments to ideas. So, because of my network, 10 year olds are creating their own. Imagine what they will be like in high school.

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    Patrick’s comment raised an interesting question in my mind. Is there a direct benefit to student’s reading ability attributable to reading an posting to blogs? Is it possible we are weakening that ability through the “spoon feeding” of multimedia sources? I was concerned myself as to the rarity of when I actually sit down and “read” now until I did a quick self-study and determine I read 50-75 pages online a day minimum.

    If we can correlate it, can we justify it?

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    Vicki and Lisa – because I follow both of you, I know the energy and the time you spent building, improving and developing your own professional lives. The two of you put in tremendous amounts of time and resources into the technological side of your teaching which has paid dividends to both you and the teachers around you. I would be a fool to even begin to say that this type of effort isn’t paying off in spades. However, as both Clay and Patrick suggest, that is not the ilk of all teachers. In fact, we seem to forget that not all kids use technology at the same level. Yes networks at school are great and teachers working with students online is wonderful, if your networks are up to that. If they aren’t, what do we do? How do I, as one of the people in our building that uses technology, get people to begin looking at options when we can’t even get teachers to print from our lab because of network problems and administrative confinements?
    We can demonstrate to the teachers all the great things but if there is no time in their lives for this because of other demands, do we hold this against them? If being a life-long learner means looking at things in different ways, do not we, who are on the edge of technology use, have to remember that there are so many ways to connect to children. I watch teachers read with students on their laps, work beside students doing math problems, have lunch with students, hold them when they cry and help them see where they have made mistakes. Yes keeping in touch electronically is important and, yes, we’ll probably end up with an educational network that our community can access. But right now, I’d really like if all my teachers could print from the lab, save to their server drive from their rooms and use our wiki calendar without having to have it unblocked once a week. Hard to convince people when the simple things don’t work.

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