At Saugus, we believe that social networking tools offer tremendous learning opportunities for K-20 students, and empower teachers through the ability to build communities of practice. The SUSD Teacher (this site) and Student Communities are great examples. Here are a few resources that will help you get started:
Below is the slidecast (with audio) of a recent presentation at Harvard University on social networking in K12. For mobile listeners, you can download the audio alone by clicking on the mp3 link beneath the slidecast.
This program runs on the AMP (Apache, MySQL, PHP/Perl/Python/etc) stack, which is part of most Linux distributions (LAMP), and is available for Mac (MAMP) and Windows (WAMP). Of particular interest to K-20 educators are the following SUSD added features:
Improved access controls offering full oversight of student posts and comments
Wiki functionality as a part of regular user profiles
UI improvements for ease of use and flexible embedded content
Sites for creating avatars:
One thing you may have noticed, if you checked out our Student Community site, is that none of our students use real photos in their profiles. Avatar creation sites are a great resource for allowing students to have a sense of self expression, while keeping things safe online. Here are a few sites that are great for creating avatars:
Keep in mind that there are a number of issues that must be addressed before using any type of social media application in the classroom. Discussing these issues up front will be critical to a successful project and the safety of your students. In particular:
Privacy: Take the opportunity before using these tools to discuss issues of privacy with your students. You will have little to no control over what they post on these sites, so you will be relying on each student's sense of what they should and should not post. It is your responsibility to plant a sense of what is OK and what is not in their minds. Safety should be your number one priority.
Policy: Be sure to check your district's policy with regard to posting online. Many districts have specific requirements prior to the use of online tools, such as permission forms, acceptable use policies, etc. Contact your site administrator or IT manager for assistance with locating these if you don't know where they are, and be sure to have parents and students sign them before posting anything online. For some example policies, take a look at this site's Terms and Conditions and Usage Guidelines. For students, you should also consider sending home an introductory letter and permission form like this one: Permission2.pdf application/pdf
Practice: Decide on the rules for your projects up front. For example, what will be acceptable account names? Will students be allowed to post pictures of themselves, or should they create avatars instead? What will be the consequences of misuse of a system? How will their creations be assessed? Make sure you have a plan and specific academic goals before getting started.
Filters: Make sure that the sites you want to use aren't blocked or filtered. If they are, be ready to provide your IT department with detailed information on what sites you wish to use and how you intend to use them.
Licensing and Copyright: Another excellent learning opportunity. Discuss copyright and fair use with your students. Make sure they know what outside media and content they can and can't use in their creations. Show them the Creative Commons web site and talk about how they might want to license their content. Decide on a default license that will be applied to their work, should the sites offer that option. Check out this page from our SWATTEC Community Site for more fair use and copyright resources.
Training: Be sure to set aside some time for the kids to learn to use the tools. Don't assume that they will all be able to "figure it out on their own." The digital native theory is a myth - don't make any assumptions about your students' technical capabilities.
Above all, be sure that you discuss what you plan to do with your site administrator.
Things to Think About:
Consider the following as you prepare to engage students with social technologies:
Context is important. Students need to be in an environment that is oriented toward educational goals. All of the content doesn't have to be teacher or assignment driven, but the space needs to be oriented towards education.
Nurture an embrace “teachable moments.” Social networking tools provide opportunities for learning about digital citizenship, internet safety, copyright, licensing, and even foreign cultures through student mistakes. Embrace those opportunities to educate and guide students. Engage student community members in that process. It's much more impactful when a student shares “right and wrong” with another, and when communities of students learn to police themselves, you've reached nirvana.
“Public” is a huge driver. It's great when a student's work is visible to others within a class, but real communities don't form and active engagement is often limited unless they can reach beyond their classroom. There needs to be a certain “critical mass” before students actively engage in self-directed projects and idea building.
Start early. Kindergarteners CAN social network. Start by second grade (or as early as possible) so that right habits can be formed, and future problems reduced.
A few posts I have created on the topic. I'll post others as I come across them.