Martha Beagle

Don Hodges
Written by: Martha Beagle & Don Hodges

Facebook, myspace, twitter, linkedin, and fixster are all household names in the social networking circles. Online social networking is so embedded in the lifestyles of our society that it is causing its rival, television, to lose attention. It is reported that sixty-six percent of the world’s population visits a social network or blogging site, and social networking now makes up almost eighteen percent of all Internet use. The significant upsurge in the amount of time that people are spending on social network sites is changing what people are doing online and has consequences for people’s behavior, and how they contribute and relate with those around them and their everyday lives. It appears that social networking will become a permanent portion of daily life.

The main focus of this month’s technology article will be to present the powerful and new ways to communicate and share information. The following sections will be addressed:

• What is social networking
• What is the history of social networking
• What are the types of social networking
• What are the technical considerations of social networking
• What are the pros and cons of social networking
• Social networking etiquette
• How can social networking be used in education
• Academic considerations in an educational setting
• Time and change considerations of social networking

What Is Social Networking
Social networking is a building of communities which bring together people who share interests and activities, or a community of people who are fascinated in delving into the interests and activities of others. Social networking has been around since the beginning of mankind. The Internet has promoted an unequaled possibility that is only now being fully established and subjugated by Web-based groups created for that reason.

Social networking establishes interconnected Internet communities that help people make beneficial acquaintances that they may not have made otherwise. It works by joining a site and inviting people you know to join. Those people, in turn, invite their contacts to join, and the cycle of joining continues, expanding to an Internet community. It might be termed a controlled snowball effect of contacts building upon contacts.

Social networking provides tools that allow people to publish and share content, collaborate with others, form communities of interest, and provide added value and context to knowledge in general. A social network can take on the form of a podcast, vlogging, personas, blogs, tagging, wikis, folksonomies, reviews, and instant messaging to name a few.

History of Social Networking
The idea that individual computers could be linked together electronically pushed the early notion of social interaction and networking. Usenet, bulletin board services, and LISTSERV were examples of the early prototypes of social networking during the late 1970s and early 1980s. In the mid 1990s social networking websites began as pervasive online communities. Geocities is one example. Using chat rooms, people were brought together to interact as well as share personal information and ideas. Such sharing happened using home page publishing tools. Some communities, like, took a different slant by people linking to each other by email addresses. By creating user profiles, messages could be sent to other users on a “friend’s” list, seeking out other members with similar interests. As social networking evolved through the late 1990s, users were given more power over subject matter and connectivity. Between 2002 and 2004, Friendster, MySpace, and Bebo emerged as the most popular sites becoming a global phenomenon. In 2006 Facebook expanded its scope of users as well as capabilities to link social networks and social networking unmatched by previous social network models.

Types of Social Networking
When most people think of social networking today, the first thing that comes to mind is two of the most popular, Facebook and MySpace. While these are examples of a social network category, they do not characterize the entire array of communities that populate the web today.

Today people use the Internet for a variety of tasks, and the scope of one’s imagination broadens the opportunities for social networking. Researching family, finance or other personal decisions; networking with colleagues or clients; attending a virtual class; connecting with people of similar interests (hobbyists); conducting scientific or academic collaboration and research; and spreading of news globally all provide communities for social networking already present on the Internet.

These communities are populated with people who are seeking answers to everyday problems. Blogs, websites, and forums bring together people with common questions or concerns. These communities are often linked to or from businesses that may be using social networks to interact with customers. “How to” information and lots of advice from professionals is provided. Examples: HGTV Discussion Forums, EHow, Goodreads, MyHeritage,

These communities have a purpose of helping people advance within a career or industry. They help people connect to those resources that may be needed to advance in careers or industry. They provide networking solutions in finding experts in their individual career fields and providing avenues of communication and collaboration not likely in some career or industrial settings. Examples: Yammer, Athlinks, Epernicus, MeettheBoss.

These communities provide opportunities for students to work together with other students on academic assignments, to complete research, or to exchange ideas with professors and teachers through blogging and classroom forums. Examples: EduBlogger World, FieldFindr, Global Classroom, ePALS School Blog, eLearners.

Searching the web and finding a website based on a favorite hobby, one may find a whole community of people from around the world who share a similar enthusiasm and hobby interest. This presents an ideal setting for an active social network and how it works. Examples: Lifeknot, Quarter Life, GardenWeb, Sports Pundit.

Because of the opportunity for common research ideas and collaborative efforts, social networks provide wonderful experiences for academic researchers from a wide and diverse population.
Examples: ResearchGATE,, AnswerNetwork, LinkedIn.

Sites that control and monitor community content publishing provide great opportunities for social network members to circulate news stories, commentary, or just about anything else. If scrutinized, these sites can provide some interesting content as well as being paid for your writing. Examples: WiserEarth, Helium, Suite 101, Triond.

Technical Considerations
The support of social networking isn’t always a straightforward issue. Many schools have been reluctant to allow the use of social networking access due to the “social” aspect. This comes at a time when bandwidth is protected to allow academic workflow over personal workflow. However, this isn’t always the best model since more and more students view the ability to be “connected” as essential.

Students are able to access social networking sites from any networked device. The cell phone has revolutionized how we communicate with others not only in voice but also in data. All major social sites have mobile versions that keep users connected. Some sites, such as Twitter allow users to cross communicate with other sites and create a chain of followers.

Finally, social networking communication offers a relief from overburdened and SPAM laden email systems. The fact of the matter is that many students simply don’t check their email accounts, especially institutional accounts, because of the amount of SPAM. However, they are very willing to read and post to a social networking site.

Pros and Cons of Social Networking

Social networking sites have provided opportunities for uncomplicated interaction among friends, family, or colleagues. One example is, rather than meeting in a particular place, classmates could chat about a school activity in a certain site that they are all members of, averting time and energy. Virtual communities are also created connecting people by common interests, intention, and aim. Interaction with diverse cultures happens automatically with the click of a mouse.

Creating a network of acquaintances goes beyond geographical and cultural differences. The world seems much smaller when there is interaction with people who share common interests and live in a foreign country. Acquiring knowledge on a specific topic is quicker and simpler, because a network of friends can be asked to supply links to credible and worthwhile websites and the information desired. Or, they can offer the information themselves, especially if they are an authority of that particular topic or discipline.

While social networking sites have become places for establishing contacts and linking with friends, they have also become locations for identity theft and fraud. Providing certain personal information, such as e-mail address, name, and location, allows others to feign a new identity developing into illegal activities.

Furthermore, someone pretending to be somebody else can present a credible business offer, set up the meeting time and place, and walk away with the money unbeknownst to you. Pestering and harassing online has become easier. Cyber bullying, cyber stalking and cyber abuse are examples of unsafe and irresponsible behaviors that exist in social networking. To negate the cons and prevent such occurrences sites such as,, and make it their mission to educate, protect, assist, and train users of all ages about Internet and interactive technology safety issues.

Social Networking Etiquette
How does one “look” their best when participating in social networking? There are some general netiquette rules that should be followed.

• If you post any profile pictures, be selective and consider your reputation and the image you are putting out there.
• If you post a profile, post carefully. Consider about your audience. Be aware of privacy settings.
• Be honest and accentuate the positive.
• Think carefully about what you are communicating.
• Take advantage of your anonymity.
• Be knowledgeable and educated related to your postings.
• Be pleasant and polite – don’t flamebait!
• You are not the only one in cyberspace.
• Don’t monopolize your time or other people’s time.
• Check out sites before joining by listening to chats and reading archived materials.
• Don’t be shy about sharing your knowledge. It’s fun, and it makes it a win/win situation for everyone.
• Be ethical.

Social Networking in Education
In a study conducted by the National School Boards Association (2007), it was reported that 96% of students with online access have used social networking technologies, and more than 50% talk online specifically about schoolwork. These statistics support the likelihood of being able to bring these technologies into our classrooms and find successful teaching methods to employ their use in an educational setting.

Social networking inherently encourages collaboration and engagement. This is meaningful to teachers who are trying to find ways to involve every student in something that is personally engaging. For the teacher, social networking provides professional development by introducing them a discovery of the learning potential for themselves, finding other educators who are using such technologies in their classrooms, and then connecting with those educators who automatically provide a virtual support community.

For the students, the very nature of their student work changes. When a student’s work is posted and seen, commented on, and collaboratively enhanced by a larger participative group, their work becomes enhanced as all students are drawn into an extended educational conversation. The teacher is no longer the sole person that a student has interaction with, but interaction is now among peers discovering, exploring, and clarifying knowledge. This audience may be immediate classmates or students from all over the world.

Social networking unlocks access to a unique collection of learning prospects in an atmosphere where students and educators often feel at ease expressing them, sharing their ideas and becoming the mechanism for change. Chat rooms, instant messaging, blogs, and wikis are examples of activities that appeal to today’s student, even students who are reluctant to participate in the classroom.

Academic Considerations
Social networking encounters must be well planned and specific. Allowing students to access such sites within the context of a class session must be monitored to ensure that students are using the sites for the correct purpose. In many classrooms site monitors are used. These are students who monitor the conversations and postings to make sure that everything is on task and topic.

If social networking activities are part of a formal grade, strong guidelines must be developed to hold students accountable. This may be a grading rubric or some type of quantitative measurement to encourage students to become active participants.

Finally, may teachers find that students who don’t normally express their opinions in a live classroom setting “come alive” in the virtual world. This is normally true among students who find it easier to write their opinions, responses, and thoughts rather than speaking them out. They are also more willing to defend their point of view in an online setting than in a face to face setting.

However, some students may be intimated by the technology or prefer face to face experiences. Because of this it is important to create a learning experience that encompasses both types of students. Students should be allowed the opportunity to express themselves in which ever media they prefer. This allows the teacher to level the playing field and help students feel comfortable with providing their insight.

Time and Change Considerations
Above all things, it is important to consider the implications that using social network sites may have on time management. In the beginning, more time has to be put into learning the technology and creating the educational experience than maintaining the environment. Because of this, it is important to begin planning the online learning experience well ahead of time. As an educator having a defined plan of implementation complete with outcomes and goals is important. This serves as a roadmap to guide the learning process from start to finish.

Just as important is the need to be flexible. This type of technology changes from day to day so it is a must to stay current. Today’s popular social site might be tomorrow’s trash can. You may find yourself moving from site to site at the start of each semester. However, this is important because if you continue to use a site that students no longer have interest in or have a presence in you will be reaching out to no one.

Finally, become familiar with the policies of the social networking site. These usually govern how the site can be used and what is permissible for posting. You may find it necessary to devise complementary policies. Encourage your students to review these policies to avoid situations where students or teachers are put into a bad position.

Social networking allows the ability to gather like-minded or like-interested educators or students. Social networking will potentially allow educators and students to more easily develop and broaden their interests in a way that was much harder when it required publishing or speaking. Social networking will provide a different type of voice for educators and our students, collaborating in ways that were unheard of ten years ago. We are becoming a more connected, more communicative, and more intelligent group – what can I learn from others?

Our classes do not end when they walk out the door. They continue to interact with each other and with you as the teacher by using various online tools that can be termed social networking. They post to blogs and respond to each other. They are using social bookmarking, folksonomy, class wikis, creating podcasts and vodcasts and putting them online, using special imaging such as flickr. As an educator, it is our charge to use these technologies as a means to encourage motivation and excitement in their quest for learning. This is the challenge we have in 21st century learning. Rather than starting your class by saying “take out your books and copy this from the board,” say “open your blogs…” The possibilities that technology offers is essential to our children’s education, future careers, and lives.


Schlager, Mark S., Farooq, Umer, Fusco, Ju. “Analyzing online teacher networks: cyber networks require cyber research tools. (Report)” Journal of Teacher Education, Jan-Feb. 2009
National School Boards Association. “Creating and connecting: research and guidelines on online social – and educational – networking. January 2007


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