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Social Networking – New Research

The UK Office of Communications (Ofcom) has just published new quantitative and qualitative research on social networking in the report Social Networking
A quantitative and qualitative research report into attitudes, behaviours and use

The report categorizes users and non-users:


  • Alpha Socialisers (a minority) – people who used sites in intense short bursts to flirt, meet new people, and be entertained.
  • Attention Seekers – (some) people who craved attention and comments from others, often by posting photos and customising their profiles.
  • Followers – (many) people who joined sites to keep up with what their peers were doing.
  • Faithfuls – (many) people who typically used social networking sites to rekindle old friendships, often from school or university.
  • Functionals – (a minority) people who tended to be single-minded in using sites for a particular purpose.


  • Concerned about safety – people concerned about safety online, in particular making personal details available online.
  • Technically inexperienced – people who lack confidence in using the internet and computers.
  • Intellectual rejecters – people who have no interest in social networking sites and see them as a waste of time.

These categories are similar to those reported by Alec Couros in his post Digital Footprint: Where Do You Fit In? about the Pew/Internet study. This Ofcom report provides a more detailed categorization but the themes are the same.

The Ofcom report also provides a balanced approach to the risk analysis. It supports the study published in American Psychologist, Internet “Predators” and their Victims, that separates the safety risk from the actual incidents. (See also Kevin Jarrett’s post for a commentary.)

The report includes a significant literature review, but also indicates there remain gaps in the research, intimating that behaviour may have geographically, and presumably then culturally, based differences. I found this latter comment intriguing – do social networks remove time and space from relationships? are they a reflection of real life? does the networking site itself reflect a particular use? My Twitter network is not geographically bound, but I am aware of many teens that use social networking sites as a social organizing tool.

This work makes an important contribution to the growing body of evidence about social networking, but still perhaps asks as many questions as it answers.


Re-defining Technical Support

@achurches wrote an insightful post titled “One Size Fits All”. He writes about the barriers to teacher creativity due in part to lack of flexibility from school and district administration and a locking down of technology by technical support staff.

I agree.

But teachers need help in working with tech staff. Allanah commented on “One Size Fits All” that we need to walk in each other’s shoes. Basically, let’s figure out how to communicate with each other.

I am on a mission to do three things:

  1. Help teachers/administrators talk to their tech staff. I am putting together this how-to that I will post here in the near future.
  2. Promote the right kind of professional development for technical staff. What are the issues in allowing access to wireless networks? How do you configure a device to allow for creative use? I am starting with a discussion about social learning tools with some very knowledgeable technical staff to identify the specific security issues that each presents (or not).
  3. Evangelize the construction of technical architectures that drive the right balance for learning and availability. In the absence of understanding the difference between administrative systems (that need to be secure and reliable) and teaching and learning systems (that need to be responsive and flexible), districts will choose a one-size-fits-all approach. Networks can and should be designed to support these two uses in different ways.

Wish me luck!

Twits are (not?) for kids

I keep two blogs. My other blog Masterthoughts is where I chronicle my personal learning journey through my Master’s program, struggle through learning issues, and generally find my way. I appreciate feedback and discourse at Masterthoughts, although sometimes it is good enough to just get my thoughts on the virtual paper.

This blog is for my contribution to the network – I think of it as more outward facing and hopefully engaging. But sometimes my blogs cross over. Yesterday I posted Twitted, Tweets and Young Learners that in the end could find its way here. So here is where I’ll continue the thread.

I had three more encounters today about K-12 and Twitter. On my commute, I listened to a recent Podcast from EdTEch Posse about Twitter. The key message is that Twitter is meaningless without a network, and not just any network. It must be a network that is willing to share, to engage, to provoke, to discuss. No surprise, just the essence of learning. Tonight in ECI831 Clarence Fisher talked about backchanneling in a K-12 classroom (middle school). And the IT Guy at techlearning.com talked about Twitter as “something to be very aware of in our schools” in part because it “also allows much faster spreading of rumors”.

I’ve taken from these that the jury is still out on Twitter in the K-12 classroom. Here are some of the issues:
1. Classroom management. Do you know where your students are? But let’s be realistic, many high school students are already texting in class – why not make it about learning?
2. Appropriateness. I’ve deliberately avoided the safety label for this issue. It is more about providing age-appropriate environments.
3. The network. Students micro-blogging with each other in a K-12 classroom might as well be on their friend’s Facebook page. Without a reach outside the classroom there is no power in the network.
4. Purposefulness. Curriculum-centred but not curriculum-bound.

Framing the issues is only a starting point. Where to next? Let’s talk!

The Emotion-Charged Debate about Internet Safety

Dean Shareski linked today to an important article about Internet safety for kids. The article debunks the myths that the Internet is always an unsafe place.

Safety on the shelvesIn an environment that is so emotionally charged, it is important that data is presented and this research article does just that. However, there are many creditable agencies that describe the tragedies that do occur with children and adolescents. There is important work to be done that cannot be ignored, in helping our children learn to be Internet-savvy. Interacting online with strangers is potentially dangerous behaviour. It is the same education we have provided our children about being street smart.

But there is much to learn in our world, just as there is much to learn and be connected with on the Internet. The data presented in this report focuses our work as adults in watching for children at risk, preparing all children to be Internet savvy, and then leveraging this amazing resource for all the positive it can be. The paper suggests that the focus should be more on the adolescent and less on the parent. The research also suggests that the prevention focus needs to be with adolescents, who are in a position to act independently.

The Parent’s Edge website describes seven warning signs for parents. This aligns with the research recommendations about prevention and is part of the parent’s role. Controlling behaviour by the parent is seen as less effective than teaching the adolescent directly. But how much of the advice is directly related to individual parenting styles?

I wrote a post not so long ago about defining safety and security as I personally explored this question of “do we worry too much?”. Josie Fraser offers a framework that assesses Internet risk according to contact, content and commerce. I was looking to extend that framework to assessing risk about safety for the user, safe practice by the user, safety of the site, safety of the technology/system from intrusion. The research presented here deals primarily with safe practice by the user, and may suggest that a site itself is not inherently unsafe by virtue of the functionality it offers.

Where to from here? Dean suggests we need to get on with the learning. I suggest we need to present the evidence first – or at least give it a wide public voice to fuel an intelligent debate based more on fact than emotion.

Identity 2.0

Identity management is a very important part of supporting our Web 2.0 experience. Thanks to a tweet from Matt I just watched Dick Hardt from Sxip Identity, a Canadian company, talk about Identity 2.0. Just as we describe learning with the learner at the centre, Identity 2.0 puts the user at the centre.

Open Source, Open Content, Open Access

Thanks to Glenn, Rob, Lisa, Rick, Dan, and Peter who offered great perspectives to my recent post about the polarization of open source and proprietary software. Not everyone sees open source as the only way to support technology-enabled learning. There is room to explore the range of options and still be advancing a belief in open education.

So what happens if Microsoft buys Yahoo? Google has set the benchmark for open collaborative tools, and recently announced Google Apps Team Edition which will find its way into the enterprise. How will we selectively secure these spaces? When do we need to secure them?

Open source is an option for the learning delivery platform – either hosted or in-house. Open content is critical if we believe that what is important is having access to knowledge and a space to create or co-create meaning or knowledge. Open access is the third leg of the stool, and a potentially dangerous one. Not everything should be public. We have a responsibility to protect confidential information about our students. Where is the line between open access for knowledge and closed access for personal information? Who gets to decide?

Defining Safety (and security)

Under the umbrella of “do we worry too much about safety”, I’ve realized I need a framework to categorize the worry bits.  In the absence of a framework, safety covers too broad and diverse a set of topics.  There are some worry-bits that are worth worrying about, and some that can be addressed with information and education.  A framework might be similar to the UK version offered by Josie Fraser that assesses risk according to contact, content and commerce.  

But that may more one-dimensional than I’m contemplating? (I’d love more info.)  There are various perspectives or views – safety for the user, safe practice by the user, safety of the site, safety of the technology/system from intrusion.  It’s about performing a threat/risk analysis. 

So I’ve looked at the models from the ISO/IEC 27002 standard (security of information systems) that discusses a methodology using assessment of Threats, Vulnerabilities, and Controls.  (See Wikipedia or Security Risk Analysis for more information.) There may be value in a 2-dimensional model that assesses Threats, Vulnerabilities and Controls not just from the system perspective but also from the different perspectives of user, internal technology/system (eg the school district), and external website/service. And is there a third dimension that assesses maturity or experience as these relate to risk?

Is anyone aware of a framework or model that organizes these worry-bits?  Any experience with extending the traditional qualitative risk analysis methodology to other dimensions?