Thoughts on teaching, technology, learning and life in an era of change.
Social network sites in the classroom
January 17th, 2008

The Economist has set up a debate between Ewan McIntosh (National Adviser on Learning and Technology Futures for Learning and Teaching Scotland) and Michael Bugeja (Director of Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, ISU). The debating topic ~ “Social Networking: does it bring positive change to education?”

Danah Boyd wrote an excellent post reflecting on the debate. Her thoughts mirror my feelings on social network sites and their place in education. I commented on her post as follows.

‘Danah – A post that emulates my own thinking. Facebook and MySpace are not tools that can be embedded into a teaching and learning curriculum. I personally cannot imagine incorporating Facebook or Myspace into a teaching programme.There are better strategies and tactics that one can use to achieve the desired learning outcomes. Blogs, wikis and Flickr – sure, they can be used to augment learning and provide opportunities for collaboration.

As I say at the beginning of all my workshops… as a teacher I have a ‘backpack’ of tools that I draw upon to teach and foster learning. What do I find when I reach into that ‘backpack’? Whiteboard markers, exams, rulers, field trips, debates, pens, text books, metaphor, discussions, pencils, storytelling, writing responses and… technology now and then. What do I mean by technology in this case? It could include the Internet, Word, blogs, wikis and others.

Facebook and MySpace have their place in the community. I simply cannot see either of these being written into one of my teaching programmes at this point in time. Yes, technology is not the universal cure and it is not the enemy. Technology is just another tool, a way, a thing. I wish I had written your post Danah. I often relate these ideas to other teachers. I think I should write more.’

Will Richardson, whose post alerted myself to Danah’s wrote some telling thoughts on the issue of Social Network Sites as well. Will writes that he finds tools such as Facebook to be redundant with reference to the other tools that he employs. I agree.

I gave Facebook a trial and frankly it did not impress me. The ‘games’, comparatison tests, super wall stuff and the rest of it just seemed to be so puerile and a complete waste of time. Do I really care that someone likes the same movies as myself? I ask, will that knowledge assist the planet in its rotation around the sun? No, it will not. There are more significant matters in life. As I posted on my own Facebook site I felt that it was not a great tool. I have not looked at it for a while now. I could not employ this tool in the classroom. It is a great vehicle for maintaining tabs on friends near and far but right now I could not see it incorporated into my teaching programme.

MySpace is simply not for my classroom or for me. I gave it a try to and in fact I am in the midst, albeit part time, of trying to code an elegant looking MySpace page. My dislike of MySpace is well documented elsewhere in this blog yet I am willing to see what I can do with it. I dislike MySpace for a number of reasons. I find the interface to be clunky and ugly. I also believe that people waste a great deal of valuable time with their use of this social network site. The same applies to Facebook. MySpace in my teaching programme? Not yet.

On social networking sites Danah wrote, “I have yet to hear a compelling argument for why social network sites (or networking ones) should be used in the classroom. Those tools are primarily about socializing, with media and information sharing there to prop up the socialization process (much status is gained from knowing about the cool new thing).” I agree.

It really does not require that much thinking. To me it is plain commonsense. Just because it is a “Web 2.0 tool” it does not mean one has to weave it into a teaching and learning programme. As far as I am concerned any attempt to employ MySpace or Facebook in the classroom would be like trying to bash a square peg into a round hole.

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