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Virginia Journal of Education


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Used Wisely, Social Networking Sites Can Be Useful to Educators


by Karen Work Richardson

Since we're educators, we usually think about how we can use technology to support our students' learning. But technology also has much to offer to us, too. In fact, I would argue that one way to encourage technology use in the classroom is to encourage its use among teachers first. If they can see the affordances of technology to support their own learning and professional growth, it may lead to some "lightbulb" moments for how to make better use of technology in the classroom.

One area in which young people seem to be far ahead of adults is in the use of social networking communities like MySpace (www.myspace.com ) and Facebook (www.facebook.com ). We've probably all heard negative stories about these sites-and indeed, they can pose problems for educators. But beyond the headlines, the fact is that young people are using these sites to communicate and collaborate in many positive ways. In fact, I would recommend that if you haven't explored a social networking site, you should set up an account and do some browsing. It's free, and there's no law that says you have to be under 30. There's a lot of schlock, for sure, but I remember spending a lot of time yakking with my friends on the phone when I was a kid, and this feels like the 21st-century version of that. There's also a lot of creativity: songs, poems, stories, videos and more. Friends of mine who are musicians have chosen to use MySpace as the tool for communicating with their local fans, most of whom are just a bit over 30 years old!

MySpace and Facebook seem, however, to cater to the younger crowd so you may not want to do more than browse. Fortunately, there are social networking sites for adults. One of these, Ning, is a free social networking tool. It provides an easy-to-use platform for creating networking websites that include built-in collaboration tools such as discussion forums, blogs and wikis. While there are a variety of sites that might be of interest to teachers, I would suggest starting with Classroom 2.0, a group of mostly educators who are interested in Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies in education. They are most welcoming to newcomers, so if you've always wanted to explore social networking but were put off by the average age of MySpace or FaceBook, then this is the place for you. Visit the Classroom 2.0 webpage to learn more and get started: http://classroom20.ning.com .

Many groups are part of the Ning network: Visit the Ning network homepage at www.ning.com and search on a content area or grade level. As I browsed the various communities, I found lots of private websites being run by teachers for their students. These sites require an invitation to join so teachers can limit access to just their students but also take advantage of the interactive tools. Teachers who do not have access to a content management system can use Ning to create an interactive learning environment for their students.

Another social networking site is being developed by a Yahoo. Their free site is not quite ready for prime time, but you can view a short video describing its organization and purpose. It focuses primarily on helping educators locate classroom-friendly resources and facilitating project and lesson collaboration. Teachers are able to both share their own materials and save links and resources to an online folder for future use. It was developed with the help of dozens of teachers who have been doing beta-testing for Yahoo. Visit the site to learn more and sign up for email notification when it does go live: http://teachers.yahoo.com/home .

Finally, almost everyone has heard of YouTube (www.youtube.com ), the funky video sharing site. Because it is such a mix, it often gets filtered for schools. However, a version for teachers, appropriately called TeacherTube, is designed with K-12 educators online. It is a great place to find videos related to different content areas and technology tools; in addition, you and your students are welcome to upload your own videos (www.teachertube.com ). When I browsed recently, I found some great videos about Internet safety created by middle school students.

Social networking websites are making it increasingly easier for teachers to open the virtual classroom door and step into communities of practice. I encourage you to get involved with an online group.

Richardson has been working as an educator for over 20 years, currently as an adjunct instructor in educational technology at The College of William and Mary, where she is also working on her doctorate in curriculum and educational technology. She also serves as regional director of the Virginia Initiative for Technology and Administrative Leadership, a professional development program for school administrators.


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