Saturday, March 12, 2011

Applying Social Networking to Education

The articles by Boyd (2007) and Byrne (2008) describe various aspects of the participation by young people in social network sites. Taken together, the articles helped me gain insight about the environment in which the sites are used, what motivates young people to get involved in these sites and what makes their experience different to my own experience.

This understanding will benefit me as designer of education in the corporate world. The young people the authors describe are joining the workforce at an ever-increasing rate. The knowledge I gained from my reading will help me emphasize with my students and apply social networking in a way that helps them achieve their learning objectives.
Boyd presented several concepts that helped me place social networking in an understandable context. Her description of these sites as mediated networked publics was enlightening. It has enabled me view media as an active agent to drive participation and collaboration, rather than just a passive tool that facilitates networking to happen among the participants.

More importantly, Boyd’s explanation of the properties of networked publics – persistence, searchability, replicability, and invisible audiences – helped me reflect on both the challenges and the power of social networks in a different way. Yes, we must learn to contribute responsibly to social networks because our products will carry on, can be found, can be copied and can be seen by people beyond our immediate network. However, if we are careful in making our contributions complete, compelling and meaningful, our work could benefit others in ways that may transcend our initial intent.

Byrne’s article placed social networking within the context of race and race relations. While this was somewhat interesting to me, I found that the real value was in her description of how young people interacted with each other in the social network.  The participants presented by Byrne were motivated to join the network because of a perceived common identity, which served as the starting point for their contributions. From there, they chose to participate in different discussions based on how interesting the themes were to them. Moreover, there are themes that elicit the most interactions (e.g., Heritage and Identity, in Byrne’s article). Also, it was significant to see how the participants taught each other, incited contributions and curtailed “unacceptable” opinions.

I could apply the lessons from Byrne’s article to my own situation. Rather than creating a network around a general theme, why not design one around topics with which my students can identify strongly? Perhaps the social network can be intended for people who share certain common traits (e.g., years of experience or type of profession), deal with interesting situations the students face in their professional lives or elicit ideas on how to overcome difficult problems in the jobs.

To me, both articles drive excellent points about social networking, young people and learning.
·       Social networking is an important component of young people’s lives in the US.
·       Social networking is not separate from young people’s “offline” lives. However, it is separate from their “school” lives at the moment.
·       Young people learn plenty from social networking, usually in an informal manner.

As an educator I am learning to accept social networking and to not be threatened by young people’s use of it. Going forward, I intent to embrace it, integrate it into my learning offerings and utilize its power to help my students gain the knowledge they need to succeed in the 21st century.


Boyd, D. (2007) Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Learning – Youth, Identity, and DigitalMedia Volume. Edited by David Buckingham. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Retrieved on March 7, 2011 from

Byrne, D. (2008) The Future of (the) ’Race’: Identity, Discourse, and the Rise of Computer-mediated Public Spheres. Learning Race and Ethnicity: Youth and Digital Media. Edited by Anna Everett. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. 15–38. Retrieved on March 10, 2011 from


  1. Here is an article by Ronald Berk (2009) that I have used with faculty in the past. It provides a quick overview of "Net Generation" research and strategies.

    Berk, R. A. (2009). Teaching strategies for the net generation. Transformative Dialogues: Teaching & Learning Journal, 3(2), 1-23. Retrieved from

  2. Thank you for a very interesting article, EM585.