What is Social Networking?

Social networking is a category of Internet communications technology that uses a wide variety of simple tools to help people make connections with each other and to use those connections as pathways to bring them together around shared activities and interests. Students are tremendously interested in social networking sites because of the community, the content, and the activities they can do there. They can share information about themselves and what they are doing, find out what their peers think about topics of interest to them, share photos and links, and post updates or exchange messages easily with all their friends. Relationships are the currency of these systems, but we are only beginning to realize how valuable a currency they truly are.

The next generation of social networking systems will change the way we search for, work with, and understand information by placing people at the center of the network. Social operating systems aim to enable sophisticated new tools that can learn and infer context from our social graphs — who we know — and use those connections to assess credibility, affinities, and even our likes and dislikes. Using the inherent body of background information in our communications flows, these tools make it easy to identify useful connections to people or groups of people that are a likely fit for our interests, be they casual, social, or even work- or learning-related.

Our concept of the purpose and nature of the network is evolving. We are seeing a shift in focus; where the primary purpose of the web has been seen as sharing files and applications, there is a growing sense that the real value of the network lies in the way it helps us create, identify, and sustain relationships. This seemingly subtle change—from an emphasis on file sharing to one on relationships— will have a profound impact on the way we will work, play, create, and interact online.

Early social networking systems already recognize the value of connections and relationships. As opportunities for virtual collaboration increase and we rely more on trust-based networks, there is a growing need for context through which we can interpret and evaluate the depth of a person’s social connections. How do we evaluate the depth of a relationship? Does it reflect years of working collaboratively in a particular discipline, or is it equivalent to the business card exchanged at a conference or an email introduction?

Current social networking systems like Facebook and MySpace are attempts to help people define themselves in ways that provide some of that context, but the information available to us about friends of friends is still superficial and often related more to personal interests than professional work. It is difficult for any given system to present an accurate picture of our relationships: social networking systems are unaware of connections that we have not explicitly told them about, and there is often little distinction between a deep connection and a shallow one.

The issue, and what the next generation of social networking will resolve, is that today’s tools do not recognize the “social graph”—the network of relationships a person has, independent of any given networking system or address book; the people one actually knows, is related to, or works with. At the same time, credible information about your social graph is embedded all over the web: in the carbon-copy fields of your emails; in attendee lists from conferences you attend; in tagged Flickr photos of you with people you know; in your comments on their blog posts; and in jointly authored papers and presentations published online. These data and other information you use every day, analyzed with a people-centric view, can be and are being used to transparently connect the dots among files, contacts, and much more.

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Please "sign" your contributions by marking with the code of 4 tildes (~) in a row so that we can follow up with you if we need additional information or leads to examples- this produces a signature when the page is updated, like this: - alan alan Jan 25, 2011

(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • Since more than 80% of our students, who are in grades 6- 12, are on Facebook, we are using this environment to teach them how to navigate and interact safely on the Internet. We use this space as a virtual lab for our Digital Citizenship course. Another teacher (Physics) has used the quizzes in Facebook to motivate students to test themselves as to whether they had become expert physicists after studying for her test. The students loved the challenge. These are two examples to illustrate how important it is that we as educators embrace the same tools and language to best communicate with our students, and teach them how to use this well, guide them in this new adventure, and not leave them to teach each other or just guess. - cristiana.mattos cristiana.mattos Feb 21, 2011
  • It is also a means of connection. It's useful to build identity for a school, reach out to key stakeholders and continues its links as students graduate to become alumni. - adrian.lim adrian.lim Feb 27, 2011 Agree - this is a great way to promote your institution and stay connected with others who are interested. - mscofino mscofino Feb 28, 2011 Agree. they are also useful in allowing for a more segmented approach to reaching and cultivating a smaller subset of students, or alumni or even parents, in terms of enhancing engagement with the school. - julie.hoo julie.hoo Feb 28, 2011
  • It's an easy way to mobilize students. At my previous school (ISB) one teacher, Kerry Dyke, used Facebook to develop a successful student-led movement (following the Carrot Mob format) to ban plastic bags at the grocery store near the school. Once they were successful in that single location, they moved on to other branches of the same store. The number of Facebook fans went from dozens of people to thousands in only weeks.- mscofino mscofino Feb 28, 2011

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • As this is in the context of grades k-12, perhaps mentioning the misuse of social networking sites by students to intimidate and bully their fellow classmates. This obviously can have a negative impact on generating a safe learning environment. - virginie.aimard virginie.aimard Feb 21, 2011
  • There are age restrictions on some social networks and others designed for K12 - so Facebook may not be the best example - bwatwood bwatwood Feb 21, 2011 Important caution. We have to make sure the students using Facebook are at the appropriate age group. - cristiana.mattos cristiana.mattos Feb 21, 2011
  • Do students need their own "space"? They will always find a place to socialize that is private for them. As more and more teachers and classes start using Facebook, will the students find somewhere else to go? Is it possible to think we can even hope to stay current? Should we?- mscofino mscofino Feb 28, 2011
  • as this medium allows for a high level of anonymity, my concerns are how to balance this with the teaching of digital citizenship, and taking responsibility for what one says and does on the site - julie.hoo julie.hoo Feb 28, 2011

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, or creative expression?

  • These networks already have a large impact on wired lives and are poised to have even more. Increasingly, these are the networks where we not only connect to friends and colleagues but also where were we can find sources for ideas, expression and information that we be hard to find elsewhere. Pew's first research study on Twitter shows shows that adults 18-29 (prime higher education ages) are much more likely to use Twitter than others. Additionally, 62% used Twitter for work related activity (not personal updates). If used wisely, these networks can be good sources of real time feedback to questions, issues and links that can help in the process of learning. http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Twitter-update-2010.aspx - KeeneH KeeneH Feb 15, 2011
  • Social networking can have a profound impact on education if we propose that reform happens when we focus on rigor, relevance and relationships. alice.owen- alice.owen alice.owen Feb 19, 2011
  • Social networking sites can be utilized to help students build trust and thereby be more inclined to work together on collaborative projects. - virginie.aimard virginie.aimard Feb 21, 2011
  • Social networking also gives kids a global audience. Our students, for example, are choosing to post their messages in English, even though it is a second language for them, so that they may feel part of a broader community. Our native language is Portuguese. Another interesting fact was that until last year, our students prefered Orkut (the Google social network). But Brazilians dominated that community, and most messages were in Portuguese. We started noticing last year that kids were not satisfied with that anymore, they wanted to go farther. That's why this year we saw that kids are leaving Orkut and migrating to Facebook. They want to go where everyone else is. - cristiana.mattos cristiana.mattos Feb 21, 2011
  • At the high school level, students are primarily concerned with building their current peer networks (people they know face-to-face) rather than connecting with others based on interest (like Twitter). Developing strong social networking skills during the HS years may help students be more adept at utilizing other powerful networking tools for professional learning as they become more mature. - mscofino mscofino Feb 28, 2011

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

  • On a university level in the United States, intranet systems have been created where students not only log in to access their personalized email accounts, but can also post notices to bulletin boards and engage their fellow students in chat rooms. - virginie.aimard virginie.aimard Feb 21, 2011
  • At Colegio Bandeirantes we use Facebook to teach Digital Citizenship and communicate with the students and alumni about school and cultural activities, Twitter to communicate about science, culture, and sustainablity, Twitter + blog to teach educommunication. - cristiana.mattos cristiana.mattos Feb 21, 2011
  • At YIS we have a number of classes, activities and community events that use Facebook to connect students. We also use Twitter and blogs as part of our student and teacher learning portal.- mscofino mscofino Feb 28, 2011

Please share information about related projects in our Horizon K-12 Project form.