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:

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.

Non-users:

  • 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.

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Can Pre-Built = Personal?

Personal Learning Environments are

a single user’s e-learning system that provides access to a variety of learning resources, and that may provide access to learners and teachers who use other PLEs.


In a recent discussion with fellow grad students and Stephen Downes, Dan made what I thought was a brilliant comparison about two kinds of technology-enabled learning environments. He said that Linux is outrageously customizable while Mac and Windows is outrageously simple to use.

We had just observed Stephen Downes’ highly customized, highly personal learning environment. Stephen had built that environment himself, from scratch.

And I wonder – can teachers create their own highly personalized environments with pre-built tools? Is that an oxymoron?

Not Detached?

It was an article that made me sit up and take notice. The Faculty is Remote, but Not Detached was recently published in the New York Times. In fact, some of the faculty referenced in the article appear to have either taken a detached stand-and-deliver style to the Internet, or won’t move to the Internet at all because they don’t believe it will work (in this case, I don’t either).

Stephen Ruth, professor of public policy and technology management at George Mason University, said that while online classes could be very effective, they were “not on par, in my opinion, with traditional classes at top-tier universities.” One reason is that “the general ambience of the class provides a better experience,” he said.

The writer herself may not understand the power of the enabling technologies of Web 2.0, as evidenced by this statement:

And technology like Web streaming has made online learning more like a real classroom experience.

These are outdated paradigms of what could and should be happening in our classrooms (and beyond). First, there is more than enough evidence that online learning is on par with classroom learning. But more important, engaged learners who are so engaged by virtue of Web 2.0 tools (including streaming) have the potential to do better than in a stand-and-deliver environment.

I invite Ms. Tahmincioglu to visit with some of the teachers she mentioned in her article – Robert Vernon and Terry Baron – and to interview other students and professors who are both highly engaged and interactive in their online space. I might even venture so far as to suggest that there can be more engagement in an online environment that is not bound by time and space.

I for one am taking two online graduate courses this semester. I have never met either professor nor most of my classmates face to face, but through various communications technologies I have had a wonderfully enriching experience and built connections that will outlive the end of the courses.

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!

Free and Open Content

I want to consider a distinction between free open source software, and free and open content.  
Teemu Leinonen 
brings us this picture of the evolution of educational technology:    
Leinonen describes our current state as social software and free and open content. I think we confuse the issue be assuming that all social software is free open source software. The important components in our classrooms and for our learners are the availability of social software together with free and open content.

Rather than focusing on whether the “free-ness” of open source social software, I think the real attractiveness of open source lies within its roots – the collaborative social learning environment.    Let’s bring that KIND of technology and thinking into our schools, whether it be open source or not. 

And then let’s focus on sharing content – openly and freely. 

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?

More on Social Networking for Kids

Thanks to all who responded to my last post.  I’d like to try to summarize the responses, which wove threads into the same fabric:  we are being over-protective:

1.  There is a difference between safety and literacy.  Children must learn to survive in this new culture they themselves are creating.  Ignorant children cannot grow up to make informed decisions. Let us promote literacy.  An informative model of e-safety in the UK covers content, contact and commerce.  Digital literacy is one key for children’s safety.  Technical safeguards provide other safety for data and transactions.

2.  There is a difference between institutional safety and child safety.  Let us be clear as to when we are concerned about lawsuits and when we believe it is unsafe for kids.  Rather than locking down the environment under the umbrella of child safety, perhaps we should be investing our energy in preparing our teachers to be good stewards of the environment.  Which leads to point #3..

3.  Modeling is essential.  Our most important work is with teachers, so that they may model appropriate behaviour in an online environment.  And let’s not stop there – our work needs to include parents as well.So thank you again for the thoughtful responses.I would like to re-visit the other dimension to the security issue I raised – that being the security of the technology environment that is provided for schools to use.   One comment suggested that firewalling between the data and student environments solved the issue.  I wish it were as simple.  I’ll discuss this further in a future post!