As I was working on this week’s assigned blog entry, I realized that I was writing two separate pieces. While I spent a lot of time reading and thinking about students (and my grandniece, Lauren) using social networking services (see Social Networking 1), I also have been trying some out myself. I’ll share some of what I discovered here.
For a long while I got caught up in the technology, frustrated with making my pages look and work the way I wanted them to. Then I had a light bulb moment – actually, several of them. Two of them happened live online, and I’ll tell you about those later. The others happened as I was reading.
The first was when I reread Stephen Downes’ article, Seven Habits of Highly Connected People, Downes says, “Be yourself. What makes online communication work is the realization that, at the other end of that lifeless terminal, is a living and breathing human being.”
Sometimes I forget that what is important is what I have to offer as a person, not as a geek. If I’m connecting with friends and family through my Facebook page, it doesn’t matter that I can’t get some extra trendy application to work the first seventeen times I try!
Dustin Wax’s Lifehack article, 9 Tips to Get the Most Out of Social Media, includes a tip about this. He says, “Social networking is about connections between people, not profiles. Worry less about finding the perfect background or your 5 favorite songs and more about creating something people want to pay attention to.”
Wax gives some other excellent advice. He points out that signing up for sites is easy, but keeping them current requires effort and commitment, including the fact that “you must maintain at least a marginally active presence, and talk to other people now and again to make it work.” As he says, “You have to put into social networks in order to get out from them.”
In another article, Building Relationships: 10 Ways to Get the Most Out of Social Networking Sites , Wax made some suggestions that resonated with me. I had another “Aha!” moment when I read these tips:
- Have a clear purpose: Know what you’re using a social networking site for.
- Pick one or two sites and focus all your energies on creating useful, meaningful connections there.
- This might not apply to everyone, but for most people, once you’ve decided to use a social networking site for business purposes, don’t use it at all for non-business communication – and vice versa.
- Complete your profile: Put some thought into what you want people to know about you and why people should care.
These tips helped me clarify my conflicted feelings about Facebook. Originally I wanted to use it to connect with former students. Then I was contacted by old friends. Then my family began to use Facebook, and now I am using it as a demonstration of my learning for a class. I have discovered that all these different connections don’t necessarily work that well on one site.
In some ways using Facebook has been a wonderful experience for me because I have reconnected with old friends and former students. On the other hand, some of the content posted by some of my contacts is not necessarily appropriate for my other, rather more conservative (older) contacts to see. This has been a good learning experience, one that I would share with peers or students when talking about social networking services.
Conflicted feelings aside, two light bulb moments happened while I was working on my Facebook page. One was that I got a video from my six-year old nephew, whose father discovered how easy it is to create these on Facebook.
But the major one was this. I got a “friend request” from a former student, and was able to email back and forth with him (I know now that we could have used Chat, but I didn’t know that then.) Turns out he was in a bad way, struggling with college and work and family problems, and just needed a comforting voice. Without Facebook, that interaction would not have happened. And neither of us cared about anything other than that conversation – the virtual face time.
In my previous post, I quoted Will Richardson, who over and over again has said that teachers who want their students to succeed with Web 2.0 applications must first succeed with these applications themselves. His most recent, and, to my mind at least, most eloquent expression of this is in the November 2008 issue of Educational Leadership, in the article Giving Students Ownership of Learning: Footprints in the Digital Age. Richardson gives five suggestions to help teachers get started with social networking, and I’m proud to say I’ve done four of them.
- Read blogs related to your passion. Search out topics of interest at http://blogsearch.google.com and see who shares those interests. [My latest find is the forum at the Teacher Librarian Ning, where members are invited to share links to their blogs.]
- Participate. If you find bloggers out there who are writing interesting and relevant posts, share your reflections and experiences by commenting on their posts. [I’ve commented on several forum questions on the Teacher Librarian Ning, and started a discussion of my own.]
- Use your real name. It’s a requisite step to be Googled well. Be prudent, of course, about divulging any personal information that puts you at risk, and guide students in how they can do the same. [I’ve started trying to standardize user names and photos for all the sites I’ve joined. One contact said she recognized my photo from another site, so that strategy seems to be working.]
- Start a Facebook page. Educators need to understand the potential of social networking for themselves. [Done. Also joined GoodReads and LibraryThing]
- Explore Twitter (http://twitter.com), a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables users to exchange short updates of 140 characters or fewer. It may not look like much at first glance, but with Twitter, the network can be at your fingertips. [I haven’t yet done this, but plan to.]
And now that I’ve completed two blog entries when I planned to do one, my family needs some face time.