What is the difference?


Most people (OK, most adults) don't know the difference between "blogs" and "social networking" sites. MySpace.com is an example of a social networking site.

What is social networking?

Social networking sites, while they include the ability to post written material to the web like blogs do, revolve much more around the ability of an individual to build a web "presence" and to create visible links with others in the network. What writing there is on a social networking site is often in computer slang, intended to be "different." These sites often allow the ability to place music, photo, and video content on the site, allowing the individual to showcase their likes and dislikes. A form of text messaging is often included as well, with a history of the messages appearing on the site. Again, all of the features of social networking sites are intended to create social interactions with others.

Why are social networking sites so appealing?

Many parents understand the appeal of social networking sites, as they are used to the lengths that youth will go to receive attention--whether positive or negative. Our individual needs to be acknowleged, to be valued, and to be part of a group are heightened during teenage years. Social networking sites provide a fast and effective way to give and receive attention, though not all of it appropriate.

Why do kids often behave inappropriately online?

Because technology often provides 1) a perceived buffer from regular consequences and 2) a real buffer from traditional social cues, people will say and do things through technology that they would not do face-to-face. (The scientific term for this is "disinhibition.") If this is apparent with email, instant messaging, and text messaging on cell phones, it seems even more glaring on social networking sites. Youth who do not have any real understanding of the dangers or consequences of certain behavior will often talk openly about sexual issues or post provocative pictures online. While this may sometimes reflect their actual behavior, it is believed that many youth are being provocative in order to gain attention--not realizing how dangerous this actually is.

Education is vital

This is why it is vital to educate children of these things in a formal way. To deny the effective, academic use of these tools in the classroom will prevent discussion and education of children on these topics.

Educational Blogging


Educational blogging takes advantage of the desire to express oneself and to receive feedback, but within the confines of the technology and the educational environment it is implemented in. And when done as part of a teacher- or parent-initiated program, educational blogging starts with the assumption that the teacher or parent will be actively watching the content and the dialogue. The ability to contribute, through posting content and comments to the web, in an academic discipline accomplishes something of significance: it gives youth a vision of their ability to add to the accumulated knowledge and understanding of the world.

Risks

Both social networking and blogging carry a risk of an "online predator" seeking to gain information about individuals through their online content. Blogging sites are relatively easier for parents or teachers to protect (and can often limit their ability to viewed to only to certain other individuals), but it does require thoughtful oversite and discussion to make sure that personal details are not divulged that would create risk (e.g., "today I went to my regular yoga class that I go to every Tuesday at 6:00 on Douglas Road..."). Blogging sites devoted to educational topics are less likely to carry this type of "journaling" content as well.

Are there Educational Uses of Social Networking Software


The inherent risk

Social networking sites are accurately described as typically revealing personal details that would put a youth at risk of a predator. By their very nature, social networking sites are intended to create social connections. While there are many youth using social networking sites in responsible ways, such sites are just inherently revealing. Many parents are either unaware that their children have social networking "presences," or that these sites even exist.

Opportunity to educate

There are thoughtful voices in the educational world that argue that not paying attention to, or guiding the use of, emerging technologies like social networking actually contributes to the abuses that take place on sites like MySpace. By not helping them to use the new technologies in safe and productive ways, we yield the space to kids, who do what kids do: some push the envelope, disregard safety, and disrespect others--but some also make brilliant uses of the space. As we begin to move beyond the Internet as merely a library where you go to look up information, to a space where all users can contribute knowledge and insights, we need to recognize that the potentials for teaching and learning in these environments are exciting and enormous.

There are social networking tools such as wikis that are being used by teachers as part of their academic curriculum in meaningful ways. These voices in the educational world view the use of wikis and other emerging tools as a great opportunity to harness the power of the social network to promote education.

Parent Supervision is Paramount


Clearly, the best remedy for making sure that parents are comfortable with the online behavior of their children is awareness and oversight. And while there may be differences of opinions on how much of the new Internet technologies to use, it would be a shame for the very real risks of social networking to discourage parents and teachers from active involvement in its safer technological cousin, educational blogging.