Session Seven—Social Networking

Barbara’s Facebook Page
This session will focus on the popularity and appeal of web-based social networks and how they are increasingly used in education to:

  • attract students to academic programs
  • connect students to campus organizations and activities
  • engage students with course material in a dynamic, collaborative environment

Martina

This was my favorite part of the class so far. I am absolutely convinced that social networking is one fascinating and important tool for our academic life (therefore I am interested to write about this in our wetpaint course wiki). While, for example, I considered facebook.com, myspace.com, and twitter as a more or less “vain” websites (“these are my friends, look, how pretty and popular I am” :O)) and simply quick exchange possibilities for students, I hesitated so far to sign up. The Educause articles on Facebook I and Facebook II as well as out discussions last week in class however, helped me to see these social networks in a more academic way. It is fascinating to see other groups from a similar background and exchange, e.g. on conferences and the job market. Even if I am just “twitting” during a conference about good or bad panels…

I liked the idea of a social network for “study abroad”, as presented by Eliane DalMolin (Summer in France) on Barbara’s Facebook website in particular. In my opinion this could be a wonderful tool for students as well as a language department. In this context I am also thinking about Ed Shaw’s dissertation topic, analyzing technical tools for modern language classroom. As he suggested, it might be a wonderful idea to develop virtual networks for returning students and the exchange of experiences, pictures, comments, and so on. This might be interesting for new students as well. Thus, universities and high schools could prepare their student’s better for an exchange program and the experience of a global world. Returning students as well as new student’s could in this way benefit from these exchange experiences. Also, these presentations could help to “draw” possible future student’s into these programs. Therefore these presentations could and should be linked to social networks as myspace or facebook as well as a university’s website.
Last but not least as I read in the Educause article, it might be that future employers might check your profile there. … :O) One commenter on NPR’s “All things considered” also mentioned that she, as a high school teacher, learned a lot about her own class while visiting her student’s websites…

Felice

As I read Lefever’s descriptions concerning the differences between social networking and traditional online communities, I began to think how this instrument could be used in our field. Some very basic questions popped into my mind: if we were to create a social networking page for one of our classes, can we LEGALLY oblige our students to take part or are there matters of privacy that could prevent this (given the interconnectivity of the displayed member profile)? If SN entails “explicit links to those members who have chosen to join the group” – the keyword clearly being chosen – one student’s refusal to join for any reason whatsoever would unravel the whole bundle. Also, I would imagine that the creation of new pages for new classes should not be a problem; however would it be possible to create an archive of previous class pages and, again, would it be necessary to have the students sign off on such an archive (assuring its existence even after their graduation)? Furthermore, it seems to me that in order for it to be an effective didactic tool, and avoid the “lurking” that Lefever mentions, we would have to require an active participation in discussions of all class students – pending a passing grade – thereby resulting in “an identity.” Yet, doesn’t the sentence “social networking enables the creation of identity in the community without participation in discussion” nullify SN as a tool for teaching, by removing the requirement for participation? The interconnectivity Lefever posits – from rock climbing to kayaking – is fascinating from a personal point of view but I fail to see how this specific aspect of SN could be beneficial to us as language teachers, unless the string of connections were to lead to a language or cultural forum or website (granted, we could create these connections ourselves beforehand).

Renato on Facebook.

I read the article 7 Things You Should Know About Facebook and I was appalled by its superficiality and, yes, let me say, stupidity. Two, in particular, the ideas that struck me in a very wrong way. The first: ” Facebook has the potential to teach students about appropriate citizenship on the online world.” Well, thank you Facebook for teaching our students how to post picture of parties and being drunk. About the Netiquette there are better ways to learn it, starting with email etiquette. How many students starts their email to professors with “Hey.” If there is one thing that FB teaches our students is how to be approximative, superficial and how to create fake images of themselves. The case of Angela studying in Budapest seems so fantastic and unreal that I really believe it is invented. But, as we know, that’s the general problem with the net where we are never sure we are chatting or emailing to a 23 years students, or someone who is wasting our time.

Second quote, and this is even worse: FB is “drawing them [the students] in to an online world where they spend countless hours browsing profiles, meeting new people, and exploring relationshipp” (italic and bold are mine). I think the editor of the article spent countless hours on the Internet and he/she got few surviving neurons to rely upon. Apart that the “countless hours” are spent uselessly doing just nothing (instead of reading or studying or researching), but what kind meeting he/she is talking about? He/she even contradicts the him/herself because just before he/she said that we are never sure about the identities. So we meet new people, meaning we don’t know who they really are and so they are new?

But the last line… “exploring relationship”… ok I will stop here!

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7 Responses to “Session Seven—Social Networking”

  1. Barbara Says:

    You posit some interesting questions, Felice. I wonder if we can look at social networking as something that supports our classroom teaching. For example, a goal could be to increase the number of students involved in extracurricular language and culture activities, thereby expanding their opportunities to engage with the language and culture. Another goal could be to give students another venue to connect and stay connected to academic programs. If so, could an online, interactive presence for a language club or organization, a hosted film series, or a virtual locale for future and returning study abroad students help achieve these goals? The August 2006 Read/Write Web has an interesting post on Elgg, an open source social network software that specifically targets the education market and allows for customizable control of who has access to posted materials, addressing some of your concerns. More and more libraries (even ours at UCONN) and universities use social networks like Facebook to provide students with information in a format that engages them and disseminates that information to vastly wider audiences than possible before. Professionally, could we create or sign up for accounts in order to share similar research or teaching interests, much like the Library 2.0 Interest Group on Facebook? In a quick search for other groups on Facebook, I came across the following: “Friends of French Literature Majors” a ‘Latinos/Latinas” group at UCONN, a “French Film” Interest Group (connected to a U of Kentucky course), the “UCONN Italian Club”, and the “Wittgenstein Society”. So while social networking may not work as the main teaching environment for a particular course, it could support that course, that program and that department.

  2. rventura Says:

    Renato
    I totally agree with Felice on his interpretation of the term “oblige.” We, as instructors, cannot force our students to participate, both in class or elsewhere. Only if the classroom is participating to such initiatives (actively I mean) it will be productive for the learning process. I am facing this problem in my ILCS 147 (third semester). When I proposed to create a Google Group (like in my more mature ILCS 239) they decisively refuted, and plainly said that they will not to do any extra work. It is the same with VoiceThread… I thought was interesting but when I showed it in class, they were like cold fish. But there is more: to learn the subjunctive I asked them to write a song (one of our students is a great guitarist) and then sing it in class… make a clip too and share with other classes. Well I have to threaten them with quizzes and extra written assignment. Ok, ok, this sounds like a special situation but the point is always there: Social Networking works only if students are motivated and not just to use such instruments, but motivated as students in general. Think about Facebook. It works because they socialize (or they believe so) and they can keep each other posted on happenings and things to do.
    My objection to Barbara is just one: why waste our time to use SN to support our classroom teaching, if the participation will be zero? Students who are simply in the network but do not participate. It would be great to find a common cultural ground to arouse their interest, but it seems that many students are in our language classes just because they are forced to do so…

  3. felicebeneduce Says:

    Barbara, I completely agree with you that the function of SN as an extracurricular support to our in-class teaching. In that role, it can be extremely useful. I have to point out, however, that your premise is the same as Lefever’s: a voluntary association of individuals (the networking of his page appears appropriately under the rubric “Friends”). As an Interest Group, Club or Society of like-minded individuals, the advantages for language instruction are obvious (at least to me) and may even extend beyond the academic career of the student who might want to practice language skills after college. Notwithstanding everything, I am still uncertain on the value of something Facebook for direct didactic purposes. I am certain that the anguish (and anger) of Renato’s posts are not limited to his particular case or to the Italian section or to any specific department. Granted the motivation should come from us but the whole “enthusiastic” (ah that word!) approach in some of our readings smacks a bit too much of hunky-dory conformism for my tastes: Facebook as a means to “appropriate citizenship on the online world”?

  4. martinawp Says:

    As I read the discussion on social networking one important aspect becomes obvious: motiviation. In my opinion this is the crucial factor for teaching and learning in general as well as social networking in particular. To provide an example for this assumption, there is the motiviation to sign up for facebook.com or myspace.com : a) I could do this (in a non academic way) in order to connect with my friends for fun or b) I could do this (in a more academic way) in order to connect with interest groups for research, new ideas etc. The choice how to use this is completely mine. Thus, if I want to use social networking in the classroom I have to make sure that I use social networking from an academic perspective.

    For example, in my interdisciplinary LTL class linked to German 169 we use google.docs for extra-credit work. We watch the movie “Good-bye, Lenin” in class and discuss it there. At home they share their ideas in written form online. Despite the beginning was complicated (some found it difficult to sign up for google and then use the site, then they had to get used to write what they think and response to each other), now this writing process has become more vivid and I hope we can enhance this. I found my student’s very motivated to participate this kind of extra-credit work since it is not a common assignment. And, they have access from all over campus and do not need extra paperwork.

    I also want to point out that there is not threat of “loosing privacy” since these websites have tools to regulate the access to accounts and webpages. If I want to, I can allow only those I invited to, to share my ideas. Therefore, to use of social networking not necessarily means a lack of pivacy. Instead, as I pointed out above, social networking appears for me as a wonderful tool to broaden my cultural and inter-cultural experience (e.g. the study abroad opportunities I mentioned) and to have a fast and direct exchange with colleagues and researchers all over the world.

  5. johnkrueger Says:

    Great discussion. Hearing the range of opinions about the use of Facebook as a language-learning tool has been very helpful to me.
    We are planning on using Facebook for our German II and II distance learning program this upcoming year and will be experimenting in the next months. I can understand the resistance if students perceive Facebook entries and work as being just an additional requirement. For my students, I am hoping to promote this as something fun and rewarding as much as possible. Since I am dealing with K12 students and the perception of fun might be a bit different of course…. But I know that in DL environment especially, students learn better when they are connected to other learners and communities.
    I think Facebook will be a great platform for us to help build community. Thanks again for the enlightening discussion.

  6. martinawp Says:

    Dear John,

    Thank you so much for your interest and the reply. It can be tough to promote languages and FL communities, but I am positive that new technical opportunities can help. Many language clubs at the University of Connecticut successfully “adverstized” on Facebook.

    Good luck with your work!

  7. orsitto Says:

    I have to agree with Renato. After reading the article 7 Things You Should Know About Facebook I was appalled too. I do not consider myself a prude, but I believe that statement like the following are extremely superficial: Facebook has the potential to teach students about appropriate citizenship on the online world.” What about the most recent trend of people posting on facebook pictures of when they are drunk or half naked? Even though, the following link will direct you to an Italian website, I believe that the few images (I suppose this is just the tip of the iceberg) you will be able to see there are pretty self-explanatory. I also have to agree with Renato when he says that facebook may actually teach students” how to create fake images of themselves.” I will conclude by saying that I have found Renato’s other citation pretty scary as well. In fact, if it is true, as the article states, that FB is drawing the students into “an online world where they spend countless hours browsing profiles, meeting new people, and exploring relationships,” I think that we should all ponder seriously the real consequences FB may have on the new generations of users.


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