Social networking initially is understood to be a network of people who join together and interact with each other to share personally or professionally. It is therefore as successful as those who join the community or network of people who have chosen to participate. Social networking has always existed throughout history but since the inception of Web 2.0 the opportunities and possibility to connect with a much wider global community has meant the ability to expand ideas and thoughts. Many more voices provides much more depth to the dialogue.
Social networking allows individuals or groups to develop connection and increase learning based on their interests and passions. There are so many social networking sites that individual preference, passion and purpose determines which social networking sites are used by the individual (Ishizuka, 2010). Social networking allows people to continue along their quest for knowledge and the importance of concepts such as lifelong learning are another of the benefits of this participatory, collaborative connection between people. It highlights the need for individuals to develop knowledge and skills about recognising fact from fiction, developing their boundaries through critical thinking before contributing or sharing too much. Social networking requires people to be able to bring the digital and the face to face into a one world view rather than a belief that is what happens online is different to what happens offline. The question is, how private? how public? how much is too much? in this ever accessible network of people. Is it really healthy to be connected to the technologies being offered by Web 2.0?
I have used various social network sites but my purpose and experience is quite different for each one. Facebook, Instagram are by far my personal playground. They are where I share anecdotes with family and friends as we live quite some distance from each other. Twitter is where I find useful professional information with links to educational specialists and gurus from around the world and I tried to use Linked In for a while but found it not as effective as Twitter. I have a Pinterest account to curate resources that could be useful for that rainy day, or meals to make for my family. I have a You Tube account, a Google + account and these are new areas for me. Anything that involves me sharing actual footage of myself I tend to not contribute but appreciate and comment on the efforts of others.
Throughout this unit though I hope to learn how to utilise the benefits of social networking in a primary (K – 6) educational setting. What is it that needs to be considered? How can the vision of a primary school library use social networking platforms to serve the needs of the learning community?
What an exciting time to be involved in education! What a challenging time to be in education! What a busy time to be involved in education! Anybody who is involved in education is feeling all of these things – fight and flight is present in most staff meetings when it comes to working out the best way to address all of the implications of living in this digital age. The digital divide isn’t just a concept of socioeconomics or geography or generational it is present within each and every school and teachers are feeling the pressure.
The concept of connected learning is more than just having the hardware and the apps. The tension for education is how do we integrate these tools of learning to enhance learning for all students in our care. We cannot assume that our students know how to use these tools effectively for their learning just because they have been born into an era where digital technologies are as much a part of everyday life as eating and sleeping. They have been immersed in a world of connection through digital technologies but just as we have to teach our students to be citizens in the face to face world, we also need to help them understand that values and ethics are just as important in the online world. We cannot assume they know the best information sources or the best way of communicating their resources. They demand more of us as teachers in that they expect to be connected, they expect to be collaborative. How do we meet their expectations by placing our own learning expectations for them upon them?
The answer would seem to rest with the concept of digital literacy. So what is it to be digitally literate? Trilling & Fadel (2009) define digital literacy as a combination of information, media and ICT literacy skills (Chapter 4). Rheingold in his book, “NetSmart: How to Thrive Online” describes it as a combination of 5 literacies – “attention”, “crap detector”, “participation”, “collaboration”, and “network smarts.” Chase and Laufenberg (2011) view it as “a genre, a format and tool to be found within the domain of standard literacy, rather than a concept standing at odds” (p.535). So many definitions! No wonder teachers feel like they are like the hamster running on that wheel, they need clarity.
The definition I have found most useful is that of Gilster (1997) cited by Bawden (2008), digital literacy is “an ability to understand and use information from a variety of digital sources and regard it as literacy in the digital age” (p.18). Chase and Laufenberg (2011) then would seem to agree with this more broad definition. I would agree with all of the definitions I have read and suggest that digital literacy is an umbrella term used to describe a combination of literacies that represent a variety of skills needed to be successful not just in the context of a classroom but in all areas of life both now in the present time and in the future.
We use our digital literacy when we are participating in the online environment but as it is part of standard literacy practices and not separate, our students need to know that sometimes the information available digitally may not compare with the information available in printed formats. Our students still live in privileged times where both forms of information are accessible. This is where information seeking skills are required rather than information searching as they need to learn the difference between and to filter quality over quantity of information.
Connectivism is also an important component of digital literacy as it doesn’t just refer to the physical connecting to the network known as the Internet. It is the ability our students have to connect with like-minded people, to access information quickly to build upon their already established knowledge base. This idea of connectivism has so many strengths for education and it is fraught with so many ‘dangers’ as well. by ‘dangers’ I mean students need to have the critical thinking skills of digital literacy that will enable them to evaluate credibility and validity of information. This is a vital role of teacher librarians within schools as well because some teachers allow students to research without any guidance or feedback to the students’ processes used in gaining information. Connectivism is not just about student learning it is also about teachers’ depth of understanding of the information environment using digital technologies. The challenge is helping our students know their purpose and placing it in context and ensuring that the context is credible and relevant to their learning.
Siemens (2004) describes the theory of connectivism as the way “people, organisations and/or technology can collaboratively construct knowledge” through “the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories”(Starkey, 2011, p.21). Connectivism is the building of knowledge in a social and collaborative way. This highlights the importance of teachers needing to immerse themselves within the chaos of the knowledge network to increase their own digital literacy skills and to form their own connections with other ‘experts’. Teachers are no longer the only experts in their students lives and the students know this. Formulating Personal Learning Networks (PLN’s) online as well as offline is a necessary part of every teacher’s professional development and we also need to assist our students in creating their own learning networks. Our students current learning networks are social media and gaming sites. We need to guide our students to using their critical thinking skills to filter and seek people that truly represent valid and credible learning within their PLN’s. We need to try to find the way to harness these platforms to engage our students in learning.