It is about Educational Networking NOT Social Networking

simulpost with TechLearning

The Economist debate on social networking has sparked some interesting discussion between Ewan McIntosh (the pro side) and Michael Bugeja (the con side) and uber social-networking researcher Danah Boyd has interjected her wisened thoughts into the matter. I'd like to add my thoughts into this debate as I think that there are some things that should be said from a teacher who is USING “social” (I detest that term) educational networking.

Danah is right on when she says,

“In their current incarnation, social network sites (SNSs) like Facebook and MySpace should not be integrated directly into the classroom. That said, they provide youth with a valuable networked public space to gather with their peers.”

When I first considered the misguided approach of going into “their space” they told me that… it is “their space.” They want their personal and “professional” lives separate as do I. We're heading down a slippery slope of forcing students to delete their own memories when we force ourselves to use “social” networks AS educational or professional networks.

Social networks are great platforms and create spaces that cannot be duplicated, however, either Facebook and Myspace need to allow for different TYPES Of associates: (i.e. family, friends, coworkers, professional, educational) or we will be continued to go to places like Ning to make distinct separate locations for our classroom work.

1) Classroom Networks should be divorced from embedded “social” networks and advertising

While, we allow students to “friend” one another in our Flat Classroom and Horizon Projects, it is not a requirement. They often do it because they “connect” with their classmate from around the world such as Casey (Camilla, Georgia USA) and Cannelle (Bangladesh) did for the first Flat Classroom Project in 2006. And during the project, I unblocked facebook for a while to allow this sort of thing to happen.

However, when we saw the usefulness of such a network, we were concerned about the implications of creating totally unsupervised interactions. Sure, Casey and Cannelle were great, but what happened when everyone started doing it? (We can't KEEP it from happening, on the last project some traded Xbox live ID's. It is what they do when they make “friends.”)

We wanted to make a place using the social platform but to facilitate educational networking, so for this year's Flat Classroom Project, we created a Ning. First it was private while they joined and we encouraged them to “clean up” any inappropriate profiles for the project and then it was made public. To say it was invaluable in connecting our 7 classrooms in Camilla, St. Louis, LA, China, Austria, Australia, and Qatar is an understatement. Students learned quickly and the platform included a blog, photo sharing, audio sharing, forums, and groups that facilitated communication in a way we couldn't do elsewhere. (This is the operative idea behind using “social” educational networking in the first place.)

And the whole project almost came to a screeching halt because of the Google Ads advertising sexy women to the students in Qatar.

From experience, I believe that “social” educational networks for students should be:

  1. Separate from their entrenched personal social networks and
  2. Free from contextual advertising.

As for Danah's thought:

“I have yet to hear a compelling argument for why social network sites (or networking ones) should be used in the classroom.”

Danah, we need “social” educational networks because when you're doing a global collaborative project and trying to “merge” your classroom with students around the world, you need something easy, manageable, and user friendly to quickly build the connections between students that must collaborate without ever having met.

This sort of network “speaks their language” and facilitates communication… it is superglu! It allows us to “broadcast” messages to everyone and gets the communication out of private student e-mail accounts where it cannot be properly supervised onto the Ning which is connected to their e-mail anyway. It is just the right way to do it.

I also have a private Ning for my classroom with ALL of my students. They post their weekly reflections and ethical “question of the week” answers in there in a private place where we have a lively open debate and can share everything we wish to share… photos, videos, podcasts. It This environment cannot be duplicated in any other manner that is as customizable and even at school they like to customize “their” page. They LIKE to mashup their world and when we let them, it becomes more “sticky.” These are a great compliment to my class wiki and fill the classroom with teachable moments about digital citizenship and safety. They can make mistakes with me privately before going “public” accidentally and ruining their lives.

2) Private “social” School-Wide Networks are the Greatest Opportunity for School Building and Digital Literacy Ever Created

If you ask administrators, communications is one of the toughest issues administrators face. PTO's have pitifully small numbers of parents attend and papers often don't get home to parents. I've personally seen children as young as 9 lying about their age to get on facebook. They have an innate desire to communicate in this way with their peers. Additionally, adults have to use things to understand them.

The private “social” School-Wide Network solves all three problems. This was the brainchild of my tenth graders as they were asked to brainstorm ways to help our school become digitally literate and digitally safe. While we're completing Beta testing, our small social network created a few weeks ago has grown to 100 members.

We have 65 year olds blogging and grandparents messaging their grand kids. The other day I had a parent come in and say,

“I get it now, I see why they like Facebook.”

A 65 year old teacher about to retire is blogging, as is a coach, the curriculum director, and headmaster.

It also gives a place for the outlet for the younger children, keeping them from lying about their age on Facebook to communicate in this way… the older students serve as mentors to everyone on HOW to do it, the parents and staff agree to give feedback on the ethical, safety aspects and I premoderate the photos and videos although I do not premoderate comments and blog posts.

Every class has a “group” as does each organization and after people join, they can be contacted via e-mail with a click.

We're early on the stages of adoption and are going to require permission forms for the younger kids, however, the initial response has been very positive. The conversations that have started are great and I feel closer to the students, other faculty, administrators, and parents that are also “ningers” as we call it.

3) We need networks for learning

I believe every platform has its uses, however, it bothers me greatly that as professionals and educators inundate facebook's inherently “social” nature that people will be forced to delete their memories as did the fictitious character Fred that I created in Freddie's Two Faced Future.

Textbook companies should be making networks for their teachers and all of the classes using that book to share and communicate because eventually the pro-sumer (or pro-student as we like to call it) will be contributing to those textbooks. We're making networks ourselves and if you don't watch out we'll be making our own textbooks and leave you out.

Social Networking Companies are Missing the Point of “Life” Networks

The social networking companies do not seem to understand that we want a nexus from which to manage our lives… a life hub if you will. However, to treat every spoke of the wheel the same is network malpractice. (I can't add my children if everyone in my network can see who they are. I won't!)

We want more than a social network, we want a life network that is archivable, livable, and compartmentalized.

Nix the Social when its not social

I agree with Danah — we should stop calling it “social” networking unless it is for Social. Social is just one spoke of the wheel of life. Here we're talking education.

The students don't want us in their private lives any more than we want them in ours. We've got great platforms, lets make them practical now.

I applaud the Economist for promoting the debate. And if they read this, I hope they'll fix their site to work with my firefox browser…I'd be in there more if it did.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Hank January 18, 2008 - 3:53 am

I am with you right up until you get textbook companies involved in the process. They are as concerned about profits as google. I thiink this is something that educators will have to do for themselves.


P.S. I blogged on this topic almost at the same time as you :)

Moturoa January 18, 2008 - 9:43 am

It seems to me that the Economist debate has taken a turn for the worst with a bit of a slanging match going on.

Thank you for keeping it real and in a language I can understand.

I also think that kids don’t want us in their ‘social network’ any more than we want them in ours.

I think the networks that we make for learning need to be advertisement free- for my class I try my best to keep advertising away from sites the children use.

We podcast with Podomatic but listen through iTunes. Wikispaces can be advert free and we remove the navigation bar from Blogger.

We learn from our network but it is monitored through me if possible. There is always the chance that things might go ‘feral’ but with consistent learning about cyber-safety hopefully we can keep things safe and learn, via the network.


Moturoa January 18, 2008 - 9:44 am

It seems to me that the Economist debate has taken a turn for the worst with a bit of a slanging match going on.

Thank you for keeping it real and in a language I can understand.

I also think that kids don’t want us in their ‘social network’ any more than we want them in ours.

I think the networks that we make for learning need to be advertisement free- for my class I try my best to keep advertising away from sites the children use.

We podcast with Podomatic but listen through iTunes. Wikispaces can be advert free and we remove the navigation bar from Blogger.

We learn from our network but it is monitored through me if possible. There is always the chance that things might go ‘feral’ but with consistent learning about cyber-safety hopefully we can keep things safe and learn, via the network.

Allanah K

Mr Jones January 18, 2008 - 8:51 pm

I agree completely that we need to distinguish between the different networks in our lives – social, family, professional. Have you seen ? It does just that, a whole bunch of different public profiles. I’ll invite you into the beta if you want to have a look.

kolson29 January 19, 2008 - 2:00 am

I love you crossing out of the word social – I completely agree that there is great educational potential for networks, the labeling of all networks as social diminishes the percieved educational value. I posted about social networks today at (not quite so eloguently as you, though)…..I completely understand why kids are so drawn in and feel it’s necessary to capture their enthusiasm for the medium and bring it into the classroom.

Greg January 18, 2008 - 9:01 pm

Funny! Can we call it “e-networking?” ;)


zephoria January 19, 2008 - 4:18 am

So, while I totally agree that there are good reasons to connect classrooms, do you really want students to be listing who is (and who is not) their friend in the context of a school? This feature alone seems to be a bad idea and, yet, it’s the cornerstone of SNSs.

Vicki A. Davis January 19, 2008 - 1:24 pm

Zephoria –
Actually, within the past two weeks I’ve learned how to customize the language used in Ning — for example, in my private class network we use the word “classmates” instead. While it is too late for this year’s flat classroom project, for Horizon I expect that we will use a different term other than friend — probably “teammate.”

The terminology must change because we’re not SOCIAL networking we’re CLASSROOM networking, so you are exactly correct, we can’t just impose the terminology from social networks onto classroom networks.

I believe Social networking is just a spoke of the wheel and we need ways to network immediate families, close friends (when you get 100 friends, you’re way past close), professional careers, and hobbies. We really want to compartmentalize our lives a bit more than facebook and myspace let us.

So, yes, I think the best practice is to rename the term “friend” for many reasons including social/cultural in which the term friend has a different meaning than here.

I’d also like the way for my network to translate itself automatically so that we could include more languages other than English (but we’ll have to wait on that one!)

Thank you so much for coming by.

Vicki A. Davis January 19, 2008 - 1:29 pm


I believe that profitable companies are good for society. If they provide a good service and are willing to rectify their flaws: just a few editors, no connection of teachers and classrooms, no wiki, etc. Textbook companies can give us a great service AND make money. Although they are “trying to make money” and right now they’re doing it by refusing to change and keeping curriculum directors in the dark… if they wake up, they’ll see they can be the textbook company of the next 100 years not just the next 10 years.

Moturoa – You are in the “trenches” as am I and see the usefulness of a separate network for classrooms. It bothers me that the debate is lumping them all together with no practicality whatsoever. I don’t even think the question is correct!

Mr. Jones – I’m interested in seeing the beta! coolcatteacher [at] — is there a way some other educator friends of mine may receive it also?

kolson29 – I think the word social should be removed. Social is a spoke of the wheel — not the wheel.

Thank you everyone for making this a great debate — even over here!

Carla Raguseo January 20, 2008 - 3:35 am

Dear Vicky,

Thanks for this great post. I’ve been struggling with some concepts on one of my blog posts
and your words have thrown light on them. There was something about “popular” social networking site that just seemed not appropriate in an educational setting.

I look forward to meeting you at Blogging4Educators

Best regards from Argentina
Carla Raguseo

jon January 22, 2008 - 1:06 am

great post, Vicki. In terms of the “social”, using danah and Nicole’s definition, this specifically refers to being able to articulate, view, and traverse the connections between people. Various social networks are generalizing the current impoverished “friend” notion, both allowing customization as in Ning, and allowing different kinds of relationships with different properties (e.g., Facebook’s “Fan”, or Wordpress’ blogroll).

I like your distinction of the classroom network; using that perspective the Economist’s question reduces to whether social network technologies (and potentially sites) are valuable platforms and/or components for these classroom networks; and I’d say your Ning experience — as well as many others that people have recounted — is a pretty clear indication that in at least some situations, the answer is yes.

Profv January 22, 2008 - 12:54 pm

I currently am teaching a course which includes discussion about e-networking (I can’t say educational and I agree with you that social is not appropriate) in the workplace. Organizations and employees are having the same struggles that you point out for educational uses. Like you, I think there should be different categories.

From a parent’s point of view, I think your private school network would be a great opportunity to bring parents into the equation. Just imagine having a virtual group discussing ways to prevent cyber bullying. Not only could parents understand what places like facebook and myspace are all about, but they could experience both the positives and the negatives. I know that as I become more knowledgeable as a user, it is easier for me to allow these programs for my children, knowing how to set the software up for maximum security, while understanding the level of supervision and support I need to give my children as they use social networking programs.

jon January 22, 2008 - 8:45 pm

I’d like to enthusiastically second ProfV’s point that organizations and employees face similar problems. When I was at Microsoft I looked at questions related to an internal social network (both from the perspective of something that would improve things at the company, and as a potential product). Of course there are some major differences, and the stakes are much much higher in education. Still, there are a lot of important commonalities: the importance of privacy, challenges with anonymity and pseudonymity, possibilities for misuse, generational challenges (younger employees typically being much better with these technologies than the entrenched decision-makers who rarely have time to develop their skills) … and of course a huge mistrust by management: “they’ll just waste their time“. The result is that these technologies and techniques that are being developed by and for corporations are often leveragable for improvements in education — and conversely, of course.

And the point about bringing others into the network to allow multi-directional learning is an extremely important one — including both the parents learning from the students, the older students mentoring the younger ones, and (especially in high school and college) the teachers learning from the students, who tend to be much better at applying these technologies to real-world situations than those of us who haven’t grown up as wired.


jon January 25, 2008 - 1:50 am

Ripped from yesterday’s headline, and supporting moturoa’s point above: Parents crashing online party.

And cross-posting from the definitions thread on apophenia:

I agree that a different name is appropriate for what you do in schools. Whatever the right term is, these educationally-focused networks potentially include functionality like file sharing, communication (chat and discussion forums), information networking technologies (, and social networking technologies (profiles, connections). Some of the important connections here include “classmate”, “teacher/student”, “past teacher/student”, “collaborator” (on a project), and so on.

Blaine205 February 1, 2008 - 5:11 am

I am a preservice teacher who is learning about the use of technology in the classroom. I LOVE the idea of networking, but I agree it shouldn’t be a rehash/ knockoff of social networking. The students don’t want us there and I certainly don’t want to go there either. But to tap into that concept in order to facilitate group work and other cooperative learning has a great deal of value. I’m eager to hear more on this…

Vicki A. Davis February 1, 2008 - 1:35 pm

@carla – Yes, I believe your teacher’s intuition told you accurately there. We wouldn’t go to the video arcade to teach science unless it was for a special purpose, I agree we should let kids have their own “spaces” and we should ALSO have classroom “spaces.”

@Jon – It is very clear, as you say, to me that these networking technologies are the bridges upon which we can build truly collaborative projects between geographically and culturally diverse groups of students… the understanding of “social” networks is a common denominator across which we can build projects (as long as we keep out of their space and make distinct classroom spaces.)

@profv – I think that private social networks for schools are perfect ways to educate parents. WE are going to have the full rollout of the Westwood ning in February to all families and are excited (and a little nervous) about the learning that will happen there.

@Jon – re. your second post — I LOVE THE TERM multi-directional learning. I think that one is a keeper!

Dexrex August 6, 2008 - 5:55 am

I love the idea of educational networking. I found networking as a tool which had been primarily designed for social interaction and sharing. You can gain lots of friends and build reputation over the net.

Janice Sapp February 6, 2011 - 8:48 pm

This article makes some important points. I really like the idea of a school-wide educational network…

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