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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Is Social Networking a Necessity for Primary Students?

After all the scary talk about social networking websites and student safety today, I've been wondering how vital it is for primary-aged students to be using any of these sites. I guess I'm just struggling to find things to do that could involve using social networking websites, except perhaps using a networking group page as a class hub. This appeals to me, however I think better ideas would be to use a Wiki, a blog or a walled garden to meet these purposes (my personal preference would be a wiki). A school network would be an interesting idea, where students, staff and parents could all interact in a single hub; however then there are age restrictions to overcome for the main providers of these kinds of services. Something I've just come across is Schools United, which seems like a social networking site designed to link schools across the globe, a kind of penpal system, although it looks like it hasn't been updated since 2008 suggesting it has fallen to the almighty Facebook Empire.

I remember using Neopets when I was in primary school and it was a fun, interesting experience but it didn't have all that much educational value, nor did it add much to me socially. By bringing social networking sites into the school, I fear that they'll be used as a "oh, you've finished your work, OK you can go onto such-and-such website", which undermines the idea of normalising technology in schools. I agree that there is some value in social networking sites in actual (or metaphysical?) social interaction and networking (especially in the teenage years, when some confrontations might be better behind a monitor), but I believe at primary level face-to-face interactions are far more important if we are looking at the bigger picture of moulding socially capable, intelligent and responsible human beings - we can't downplay reality, for all its ugliness.


  1. These are some great points - I never realised that social networking sites had an age restriction of 13 years old until the lecture today. In this sense I would probably leave SNS's in primary school and stick with walled gardens, wikis and so on (just to be on the safe side!). Perhaps social networking should remain a feature for outside class...for student's social lives! Then at school we can focus on the nitty gritty of learning (using appropriate technology tools). The students are at school with a variety of classmates so that they can socialise face-to-face and learn useful and relevant skills/knowledge for their future. No matter how far the digital world progresses, students still need people skills on a face-to-face level. Lets focus on encouraging these kinds of social skills so that when they have to face an employer for a job interview, or interact with a group of strangers later in their lives, they won't run from the room in shame!

  2. I agree with Jenny. SNS's in schools in primary school when used in teaching should not be open slather, it needs to be linked to a particular lesson and particular learning outcomes.

  3. Yes, I think you're right. SNSs are generally not going to be appropriate at primary level, because of the age restrictions apart from anything else. If you wanted to set up such a site, you'd be better to create a wiki (as Matt suggests) or use some kind of proprietary VLE of the kind that some schools have, and you could just mimic some of the key features of SNSs in the way you set up your structure. Obviously, SNSs will be important for students as they get older.

    The other focus of yesterday's class was how SNSs might be useful to you as teachers - and, as we said, they can be very important not just socially, but educationally and professionally. It's worth checking out the many educators' groups that meet on Facebook, for example, and thinking about building up your professional networks on LinkedIn and/or Twitter.

  4. Yes, that was an interesting aspect to Tuesday's discussion - I have many "friends" on Facebook and Twitter who I only know in a professional sense, but I find it fascinating to get regular updates on what they are up to (people such as authors, composers, etc). I imagine this to be a useful activity in a primary class using Twitter with students being able to follow authors (such as J.K. Rowling, Eoin Colfer, Charlie Higson) or politicians and/or news organisations with topical postings. But yes, as a network for teachers - I think it can only be a good thing (besides the privacy thing, but there are alternative services to Facebook - I keep feeling like if I mention the F-word, someone from Facebook is going to send me a cease-and-desist letter!)

  5. There certainly are more niche alternatives to Facebook, but there's no doubt it's currently the dominant international service, so, to have the maximum chance of connecting with the maximum number of people around the world, you really have to be in this space. I think it's just a case of using it sensibly, i.e., making the most of its affordances while remembering that it is a semi-public space. More private communications can be kept for email/inboxes/IM/Skype, etc.