Lange (2008, p362), when describing social network sites, state two fundamental aspects – ‘constructing a public or semi-public profile within the system and [to] formally articulate their relationship to other users in a way that is visible’. Boyd and Ellison (2008, p 211-13), expand on this by stating that members share a connection, and that this ‘public display of connections is a crucial component of social network sites’. My previous experience of social network sites has been in the connections with family and old school or work friends. However, I can see the possibilities of using these sites in other ways.
Since I developed an interest in using technology to enhance my teaching, I have wanted to use social networking to create a group of likeminded people with a shared interest to enhance the learning. I have a dream of students both past and present, sharing ideas, best practice and advice. So far, my dream has yet to become reality. My first attempt to create a Facebook group became bogged down with technicalities. The students didn’t want to use their facebook profile for the group so created a second profile, but quickly found friends being requested for a second time to the second profile, and stopped accessing the second profile and submitting opinion and/or content. This is a pity, because the vast majority of my students already use Facebook and are very familiar with it.
Perhaps the way forward was something which would be totally new to the students. Bradford college have been using Yammer as a social platform, and as an ophthalmics team we (somewhat unwisely) tried to use it as a social network with our students – not realising that the College did not want us to encourage this (our mistake, not the college). However, it was really well received by the students and very well embraced by the student cohort. All was going well until it transpired that some of the students had been invited to an open group so the posts were seen by all, rather than just the ophthalmics group. Unfortunate, perhaps, but not a disaster that cannot be rectified. It then transpired that a post by one of the students (albeit unwittingly) crossed the line of what is acceptable to post to a group. It became known around the office as ‘Yammergate’ and we disbanded the Yammer group shortly afterwards (ironically, I understand the students have set up their own Facebook group without the tutors being invited)
So, I continued to look.
MySpace? This isn’t the 1990’s.
I was introduced to Edmodo by one of my colleagues , as well as Google+ by my tutors. Both certainly have possibilities. Edmodo appears to be quite simple to navigate and has a very private feel about it – with an invitation code to each of the students you would like to participate. Google+ has more familiarity – Google is ubiquitous these days. I have decided to try both platforms with different cohorts of students – to get a feel for which the students engage with, and for which I prefer to use.
The next setback I have hit yet again is due to bad timing. I am in the unfortunate position of being in the last week of the course this week – the students are in examinations for the next two weeks and have then finished until September. As a result, my pleas to join me in an online community have fell on deaf ears. I currently have no students in my Edmodo account and one student in my Google+ circle. The students clearly have their minds on other things at the moment.
I remain resolute, and determined to proceed. I rather fear that the best time to set up a group is at the beginning of the academic year rather than at the end, and so blame my timing (and, perhaps, poor communication skills) for the current failure of my social network adventure. Zuckerberg I am not. But Pacansky-Brock (2013, p41) warns that ‘teaching with emerging technologies is, by nature, experimental and failure is an implicit step in an experiment. If we don’t fail, we don’t learn’. I don’t necessarily find any comfort in these words – I don’t like the idea of failing. However, she agrees that our fear of failure is inherent in education (p42) ‘educational society..has taught us to…be ashamed of mistakes, to always be right’. I consistently worry that if I try something that is unsuccessful, then will the students just lose a little bit of confidence in me. This is part of the learning journey.
Boyd, D. M., Ellison, N. B. (2008) Social Network Sites: Definition, History and Scholarship. Journal of Computer Mediated Communication. Vol 13 pp210-230
Lange, P. G. (2008) Publicly Private and Privately Public: Social Networking on YouTube. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. Vol 13 pp361-380
Pacansky-Brock, M. (2013) Best Practices for Teaching with Emerging Technologies. New York:Routledge