Friday, December 14, 2007

Horizon Report 2007: Social Networking

The New Media Consortium's [NMC] Emerging Technologies Initiative focuses on expanding the boundaries of teaching, learning and creative expression by creatively applying new tools in new contexts. The Horizon Project, the centerpiece of this initiative, charts the landscape of emerging technologies and produces the NMC’s annual Horizon Report

Social Networking

The expectation that a website will remember the user is well established. Social networking takes this several steps further; the website knows who the user’s friends are, and may also know people that the user would like to meet or things the user would like to do. Even beyond that, social networking sites facilitate introduction and communication by providing a space for people to connect around a topic of common interest. These sites are fundamentally about community—communities of practice as well as social communities.

Undoubtedly the most pervasive aspect of Web 2.0, social networking is all about making connections and bringing people together. Conversations that take place in social networking contexts are inherently social, and often revolve around shared activities and interests. The heart of social networking is fostering the kinds of deep connections that occur when common pursuits are shared and discussed.

Students are tremendously interested in social networking sites because of the community, the content, and the activities they can do there. They can share information about themselves, find out what their peers think about topics of interest to them, share music and playlists, and exchange messages with their friends. [snip]

Researchers note that online spaces like Myspace and Facebook give students a safe place to gather, [snip]. Not all social networking sites are aimed at students, of course. LinkedIn is designed for professionals ... . Sites like these, though popular, are not the driving force behind the adoption of social networking in education, however. It is the intense interest shown by students that is bringing social networking into academia.

Social networking is already second nature to many students; our challenge is to apply it to education. Social networking sites not only attract people but also hold their attention, impel them to contribute, and bring them back time and again—all desirable qualities for educational materials.

Relevance for Teaching, Learning, and Creative Expression
Because of students’ tremendous interest in social networking, colleges and universities are increasingly going to be seeking ways to employ the same strategies that make social networking sites so effective. Although there are not yet many institutional examples of social networking, there are easily dozens of examples that are familiar to students and used by them on a daily basis; institutional uses will emerge very quickly because these approaches clearly appeal to students.

Indications are clear that universities are turning their attention to this phenomenon. Centers like the Social Computing Lab at the Rochester Institute of Technology are beginning to examine the effects of social networking in education (see [snip] Research and use of these systems are occurring in tandem, and both will contribute to the integration of social networking and education.

... [T]ools like Elgg (, an open-source system ... lets each user set up a blog, a web profile, an RSS reader, and a file repository with podcasting capabilities. Systems like Elgg offer an easy way to provide social networking options without a huge amount of work by providing hosted accounts or even entire private hosted communities. Such open-source systems can also be downloaded and installed on campus, providing a secure internal community site.

Social networking sites are among the fastest- growing, most-used sites on the Internet, and the features that make them so compelling are features that we need to understand and incorporate into higher education websites. The fact that so many students want these interactions and seek them out is a strong indication that we need to be very interested in them as well. The way these sites bring people together makes them powerful and exciting. This is the next step after portals: to harness the power of social networking to build rich, interactive, robust learning communities.

Sampling of social networking applications across disciplines
Encourage community and self-expression.
Campus-based social networking sites offer a safe, convenient space for students to build ties with community members and experiment with developing a public self. The University of Pennsylvania offers membership in Pennster, its social networking site, to incoming freshmen so that they can begin to get to know their classmates before arriving on campus.

Offer immersion in a foreign language environment. Students learning another language can join a community in that language, where they will be exposed to conversational and colloquial reading and writing, learn about daily life, and establish friendships with native speakers. The Mixxer is a site devoted to helping language students find conversational partners and connecting them using voice-over- IP software.

Extend the impact and life span of conferences and workshops. Topical social networking sites can be used before, during, and long after an in-person conference. Attendees can begin to network before they even get to the hallways, and the group’s wisdom can be collected and preserved, increasing the effect of the conference and prolonging its usefulness.

Examples of Social Networking
Allegheny College on MySpace - At Allegheny College, it’s not just the students who do social networking—the college itself has a MySpace page.

Big Blue Brainstorm - IBM hosted an online Innovation Jam in September2006 that used social networking tools as a way to connect participants worldwide.

RateMyProfessors & Pick-A-Prof - These two services give students an idea of what to expect of a class based on information provided by other students. Students share and seek opinions about 770,000 professors from 6,000 schools at RateMyProfessors. Pick-A-Prof connects with Facebook to integrate students’ friends lists with professor ratings.

Many2Many - A group-authored blog discusses social software, social networking, and their implications for education (Clay Shirky, Liz Lawley, Ross Mayfield, S├ębastien Paquet, David Weinberger, and danah boyd) - is a notetaking tool that lets students take and share notes, quickly link to Wikipedia and Google entries for keywords, keep track of assignments, and manage students' studies.

Further Reading
How university administrators should approach the Facebook: Ten rules (Fred Stutzman, Unit Structures, January 23, 2006) Describes current trends around Facebook and recommends measures for university administrators.

Mashable! (Pete Cashmore, retrieved November 15, 2006) A blog focused exclusively on social networks - a meta-collection of social networking sites, with commentary.

The MySpace Effect (Christopher Heun, SchoolCIO, retrieved December 19, 2006) Discusses how to balance the benefits of social networking spaces with concerns for student privacy and safety.

Social Networking: Five Sites You Need to Know (Fred Stutzman, Unit Structures, June 14, 2006) Overview of five lesser known social networking sites and describes three emerging trends related to the use of such sites.

Social Network Sites: My Definition (danah boyd, Many2Many, November 12, 2006) Describes social networking and offers examples.

Social Software in Academia (Todd Bryant, EDUCAUSE Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 2, 2006) Describes a variety of types of social software and lists examples of educational use.


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