The obvious answer to the subject line above is 'Yes', obviously social networking is relevant in Education. To anyone reading this blogpost you are more than likely educators (most of my followers on Twitter are) or you have searched for similar relevant terms on Google. This means you dear reader are almost certainly confident in the ways of social networking and can see it's benefit in Education. Note briefly, before I move on to the next point, that I said 'in Education' rather than 'for pupils' as I am firmly of the belief that social networking of whatever flavour can have immense benefit for any teacher regardless of years of experience.
So I clearly have in a sense a probably converted audience reading this blog post. So my next question is 'What about those teachers who are not on Facebook or Twitter and have no desire to be for whatever reason they may have?'. Guessing statistics is pointless but it would be fair to say that a vast number of educators in this country fall into that group. Many may be supportive of social networking, many may not, but regardless of numbers there always will be differing viewpoints about social networking and education. Why should I care then? Last week I ran a Twitter CPD session for teachers at my school during which I did not set out to convert them into instant twitter users but simply show them how how the site worked. Being able to educate teacher's as to what social networking does for other people is a start in at least showing the positive benefits of the technology.
So what sort of benefits should be pushed to staff in terms of social networking? This is where considering 'literacies' and 'play' becomes important. I know that defining 'digital literacy' is difficult due to the multiple formats it can take and I know even some people do not even like the term but for me it is a useful way of getting to grips with what pupils know and what teachers should know. It also should define what pupils and teachers should be teaching each other.
Davies in her essay 'A Space for Play, Crossing boundaries and Learning Online' (2009) uses Barton and Hamilton in saying that Literacy is not just about decoding marks on a page, it is also about performing social acts of meaning, where meanings and practices vary according to context. Davies goes on to to say that this definition is well founded in the way individuals collaborate and socialise in Web 2.0 spaces. This in essence is social networking, the ability to collaborate and socialise in a way which I would say is not just about making meaning but is also about making connections as well. In listening to my pupils talk about their friendship experiences online they are incessantly talking about things they know and have found out through their friendship connections. Their connections and socialising lead to learning and although the information they are learning is trivial they are at least becoming very skilled and adept at picking up information through their sources online.
Taking this paradigm to teachers is a start. Being able to show them that the social networking usage which pupils are getting up to is leading to a new style of learning should be a useful point to challenge educators on. It then becomes up to the educators to look at the technology their pupils are using and turn it to their own advantage in class. Teachers should also improve their own skills in using social networking to the point where they themselves can confidently show that their making connections through social networking which yield meaning. Most power Twitter users should be able to demonstrate that through the use of their own PLN.
As for the use of play related to social networking and literacy Davies describes a social networking project involving photos of cupcakes staged in amusing positions with Googly eyes attached (not those sort of amusing positions …). Play was clearly a motivating factor for these individuals to get involved in the project and it certainly helped inspire their participation through easy reward. This is perhaps what teachers are not getting when understanding why pupils spend so much time with social networks. Their social networks have become 'play time' where participants get 'rewarded' through social interaction online by yet more social interaction.
Although I am not advocating turning lessons into nothing more than social network mucking about I do think this is a key point for teachers to understand. This can be extended into how we teach pupils as well by encouraging them to see the reward in completing challenging work. Getting pupils to blog about their learning experiences is perhaps the starting point for this as we can then show pupils that through a fairly simple task of writing and posting about their work they can hopefully get almost instantaneous response from peers and parents to what they have done. This then becomes the reward which should encourage further learning.