I'm interested in learning about social networking projects that have been carried out in schools, particularly those that promote literacy. How effective have they been? What applications appeal most to students? and any other reflections from practitioners that will help me set up an online literacy community for the middle school where I work.
The school where I am employed also does not allow the use of social networking sites. They have been found to cause more harm than good. Students use these sites to socialize and I believe they are just too distracting to the educational process.
I find that most schools avoid using them altogether - any time you set up a situation where students and teacher communicate online and outside of the classroom, there is lawsuit vulnerability, and school districts nationwide hate being exposed legally like that.
I recently took a class on digital video blogging (vlogging) and classroom blogs. It was really interesting and seemed to tie in really well with promoting literacy, especially multimodal literacies. If you have a class mature enough and the resources creating a class site that focuses on a main issue or is used as a homework/peer assistance center. You could pick a theme for the year or for select units. The students can use hypertext and other web based multimedia to enhance the blog.Yet for this, you need to make sure you use a site where you control the information that goes onto the page so that if you need to you can censor inappropriate material.
As far as myspace or facebook, I would not recommend them. Go for a classroom community blog/vlog or even a wikipage.
My school uses gaggle instead of social networking, but one of the most effective sites that I have used for social networking with my little ones is Small Worlds. Since their parents have to sign them in, I am not responsible for what happens when they use it on their own, but it has been great to create profiles, (such as in Second Life) and learn about nettiquette
Last semester the Blackboard platform at the local college where I teach online went down for about a week. I had my students start a Twitter account so they could keep up their journals, plus correspond with me as well on my Twitter account.
It turned out to be a good teachable moment as well, since they had to learn to be concise and succinct in their posts, without reverting to the usual Internet shortcuts. It also gave me the opportunity to come up with some interesting lessons for them in the art of clean, crisp writing.
I have used enotes in my class. Students were required to analyze a question related to their literature circle book. Enotes was used because I was trying to differentiate instruction. This was the easiest and most effective way for all students to answer the question and have some discussion about the topic. It was similar to an online college class. The students responded to two questions. My goal was achieved. Students incorporated technology to gain greater understanding of their literature circle book.
I would actually not advise you to use a social networking site to set up a literacy group. While the format itself is not bad, there is no way to prevent students' social lives from "bleeding" into your literacy page. You could definitely set up something using another forum, though. How about a Google Sites page or something similar? You can "share" one of these pages with as many people as you like, so students would be able to post on it. There are lots of other systems like Blackboard (usually used at a collegiate level) that allow teachers to set up discussion boards for students to access.
We use blogs at our school, but they are very structured. Other than that, our school district's server blocks access to social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook because of all of the reported security and inefficiency problems associated with such sites. Post #4 describes what many schools suggest when it comes to such sites.
Personally, I would not be in favor of using social networking sites for the classroom, because then you have to consider parents who do not want their children using the sites at all or students who do not have regular access to the Internet (I still have many who are in this situation).
One more problem we've encountered at my school is teachers and students "friending" each other on Facebook; this creates a serious issue with the teacher-student relationship and a breakdown of boundaries that should exist between the two groups.
First, I use enotes to set up class discussions and question/answer sessions for my various subjects. I made them private, so only kids who are granted access by me are allowed to participate. I usually provide a link to a news story and ask the kids to discuss it. They debate each other or ask questions of one another. This generation is so much more comfortable and confident speaking up online than they ever are in class. Plus, the flexibility for signing on at any time day or night and participating in class discussions is a huge help to many students who have jobs, college classes, or family responsiblities that they can't find time during the traditional hours to contribute to homework. This has been a great addition to the classroom curriculum.
I never used commercial social networking sites when I was in the classroom, but I did use an online discussion board with a lot of success. Students who didn’t speak up in class discussions frequently would blossom in the online discussion environment. My senior English students got so caught up in their online discussion board that they would carry over in-class discussions into cyberspace and back into the classroom the next day.
I have a social studies colleague who uses a blog for his middle school class and requires students to post responses to topics he puts on the blog.
The obvious drawbacks to social networking sites are present. I do think that there is a component of computer literacy and "teachable moments" within utilizing social networking sites. While students have done some rather reprehensible and ignorant things with such sites, perhaps being able to discuss with students elements of responsible user status as well as overall understanding about how abuses of such privileges impacts everyone could be done. I think that, while schools have erred on the side of caution by banning the use of such sites at schools, teachers and educators can discuss with students what it means to be appropriate and acceptable use in cyberspace. I might add that from an educational point of view there is a difference between myspace and facebook and blogger. Online blogging can be a very viable and worthwhile endeavor for students to write about their reaction to content. Students have always been asked to compose reader response journals, and creating a blog is merely the technological extension of this.
From my experience, these sites have not been used well in schools. In fact, the two personal experiences that I know of have been harmful to the student body. In one school, which will be nameless, students wrote horrible things about their teachers on their social networking sites. When they were confronted, the parent's sided with their children and one faculty member even left. In the other situation, a child's language and attitude got him into quite a bit of trouble.
In addition, often times, students waste too much time on these things and I believe they will regret it. Schools should stay away.
I know for sure many schools have the sites like facebook, and myspace blocked at our school. Many of my students are not old enough to use those networking sites so we dont use it. However, it would be interesting to maybe have someone create a kid-friendly versions of those type of sites. I have seen some of my students registered in sites like facebook, and myspace, so to have a safe site they could actually use like that would be interesting to see. Even to have a site where they are able to blog every now and then would be a great outlet for some students. Maybe they have already created a site like that. Does anyone know?
I have never heard of gaggle or Small Worlds. I am a primary teacher so I'm not sure my students can handle this. We email Buddy Bear from our Weekly Reader, but that's about it.
Social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook, in my personal point of view, have not been as effective as we would like them to be. They have actually caused, in my last school, a decrease in productivity and work ethics in the classroom ( when used ). As such, if you are planning to use this method to teach, I would suggest against it.