"Does social networking foster a generation of students with poor real world social skills?

Hi everyone,

Today I was visiting our School of the Future Ning. 

I found a new and  fascinating discussion around the question, “Does social networking foster a generation of students with poor real world social skills?”.  The question itself is interesting.  I think “social networking” and “real world social skills” need to be clearly defined for this conversation to have merit.

I like this one for “>Social Networking

Social networking is the practice of expanding the number of one’s business and/or social contacts by making connections through individuals. While social networking has gone on almost as long as societies themselves have existed, the unparalleled potential of the Internet to promote such connections is only now being fully recognized and exploited, through Web-based groups established for that purpose.

Based on the six degrees of separation concept (the idea that any two people on the planet could make contact through a chain of no more than five intermediaries), social networking establishes interconnected Internet communities (sometimes known as personal networks) that help people make contacts that would be good for them to know, but that they would be unlikely to have met otherwise. In general, here’s how it works: you join one of the sites and invite people you know to join as well. Those people invite their contacts to join, who in turn invite their contacts to join, and the process repeats for each person. In theory, any individual can make contact through anyone they have a connection to, to any of the people that person has a connection to, and so on.

From the comments so far, it doesn’t seem like social networking itself is the problem. Most of us realize that in addition to what you know, who you know can mean all the difference when trying to get something worthy accomplished. It seems that the amount of time devoted to perhaps recreational uses of online social networking might be the challenge and that some worry that interacting with people online rather than face to face is the issue.

The second term is more interesting to me “poor real world social skills”. I agree with Mark – what is “real world” is changing before our very eyes and what is real world to some may not be real world to others. I’m not sure it’s a students versus teacher argument though I need to reflect more on that. However, I think it is more relevant to ask ourselves what we mean by social skills. To me the question is “What social skills do our students need in this rapidly changing and flattening world?” Some authors like Wagner are addressing this issue. Perhaps a list of them can be generated by this group. I would start with how to address others in online forums, recognizing how “googleable” one becomes when one posts something online, how to compose thoughtful and well written posts, how to write for different audiences, how to navigate through and evaluate which social networking sites are worthy of their time and thoughts, how to keep and maintain positive relationships online, how to multi-task effectively or how to manage time online, when it’s time to stop and reflect, etc.etc,. Then we can move to, “How can we best teach our students to strengthen these social skills using social networking tools that they will likely be using professionally and personally as they enter adulthood?”

Personally, I think that we need a balance. Teachers need to design meaningful tasks that can help students see the power of social networking tools to help them with their learning. We can look at Jean Lave, Etienne Wenger and John Seely Brown’s work to understand the power of social learning theory and if we can understand how learners construct individual knowledge by their interactions and experiences with others in the context of a particular topic or skill, we can begin to see that social networking can have amazing implications for learning. This learning might be more engaging and relevant if we can design it around tools that our students (and many adults) find useful and interesting. Just look at this discussion thread as an example. My knowledge on this topic has expanded significantly in just 30 minutes by reading the posts and thoughts of others and placing that alongside what I already know and understand about the topic. I was then able to construct new understandings and express them to others which in turn might help your learning. This to me is the power of online social networking – expanding our knowledge base meaningfully and helping us want to become an expert in something.

I hope we can get past the “emotional” arguments and just look as a profession at how we might best teach our students the skills needed for personal (including inner peace, balance, finding meaningful work and relationships) and professional success using tools that are becoming more and more prevalent (and evolving rapidly themselves) in our ever changing global economy.

Aloha and thanks to Mark Hines for the initial question – what a great way to get us all thinking more cogently and directly about these important issues.


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