“Challenges are not simply individually faced frustrations, Promethean mountains to climb alone, but mutually shared, to be redefined, solved, resolved, or worked around—together.” (Davidson, Goldberg, & Jones, 2009, p. 32)
“Coming back from the dead can be rough.”
– Takeshi Kovacs (Morgan, 2002, first line of Ch. 1)
Imagine a world where your consciousness can be downloaded into a different body. This is the stuff of many a sci fi tale. In Richard K. Morgan’s Altered Carbon series, this take idea takes on a dark edge in a world that cares little for human life, and where, when people die, their cortical stack is “resleeved” into a new body. But, only those with the monetary means can be re-sleeved more than once or twice, to become essentially immortal. Distant travel across space can also be managed by digitally transmitting a stored consciousness to a new sleeve, or body, at the destination point.
So, how does this rather unsettling scenario fit with social networking as we know it?
There are three social networking issues touched upon here by this storyline.
First off, as we marvel at our ability to communicate via social networking and socially networked virtual worlds, and consider how to use these tools, do we also recognize the lack of access to money, resources, and even intellectual freedom experienced by many, because the “… ‘digital divide’ is not just an old concept but a current reality.” (Davidson et al., 2009, p. 22). In Altered Carbon, only those with money could become immortal, and experience numerous sleeves. In our current time, the unprecedented ability to network globally using a variety of media is quite alien to many on our planet.
The second social networking issue that Altered Carbon brings to mind is that of the ability to travel. In Altered Carbon that travel could be to distant planets, given personal money or government wherewithal (e.g. to send special-ops soldiers off to assignment, such as in the case of Takeshi Kovacs). In our reality, we may not have reason to travel to human colonies on extrasolar planets, but we do wish to interact with other human colonies right here on Earth and have the opportunity to better understand other cultures and perspectives for reasons of sound economic preparation, human knowledge, and the development of cooperation and peace between nations.
Finally, do we wish our world to descend into that uncaring one portrayed 500 years from now in Altered Carbon (well, more uncaring than that world in which we currently live)? Assuming that we don’t, we need to find ways to teach students how to communicate with one another, such as in a social networking situation, in a fashion that is respectful of others and cognizant of how one’s behaviour affects others and ultimately oneself. Students need to be able to function effectively in an increasingly digitized world. Furthermore, they do need to take into consideration the concept of identity, because while they may not literally be re-sleeved, they do often provide for themselves a new avatar and even personality to go along with it (Hull & Stornaiuolo, 2010), giving them a sense of license to behave in ways (both positive and negative) that they might not in the face-to-face world.
Reflections on the process of learning about the tool
I continued to experiment with social networking tools that I have used some previously, as well as explored new ones.
This tool will be ignored for now as it gets its own post down the line, so just hold on to your horses there…
I focused on LibraryThing’s cataloguing features in my social bookmarking/cataloguing blog. Here, however, I will focus on this application’s social networking features. I started off by finding Altered Carbon in LibraryThing, and noted that it allows members to post comments, rate the book, see which other members have read this book, find where to get the book locally, find recommendations of other books, and get involved with groups, such as the Science Fiction Fans.
I must seem terribly anti-social, but I just can’t get into using Facebook. I rarely use it as I usually do not have time at this stage of my life to socialize much in any form, to be frank. I only add friends when I am requested to do so by them and only then if they REALLY bug me about it. I am pleased though that Facebook is not (no longer?) trying to claim ownership of my content, according to its most recent Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, because the idea of Facebook owning my content and photos was a bit of a deal-breaker.
My profile also stays fairly hidden, not out of general fear, and not only because of time-management issues, but because I am a teacher and thus don’t want to be dealing with the awkward “friending” by students issue, nor what could happen to me if something inappropriate ends up on my wall, which is not highly likely, but some of my friends do still lead more interesting lives than I currently do (although I acknowledge I could create a separate professional profile and actually prefer to keep even my personal life somewhat departmentalized).
That said though, I do have quite a good understanding of how Facebook works even if I don’t like to post anything, because I have friends who post quite a bit, and I note the kinds of things they are doing. Richardson (2010) does point out too the importance of getting on to Facebook so that educators can understand the student experience on such a tool, and so I try to keep this in mind when I do make the occasional visit.
Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to get, after first hearing the word, the Ning a Ning a Ning, Ning, Ning thing outta my head. It makes me think of the duelling banjos theme from the movie Deliverance, but I assure you, that’s the only connection to Deliverance that I make when I think of Nings (although, grasping at straws, could probably find more, but will spare you that).
I joined several Nings some time back. On the TeacherLibrarianNing, I thought I’d check out a really active member’s page. Who better than Joyce Valenza then? I snooped around her page for a bit, and discovered that I could subscribe to her “wall” activity via RSS reader, check out which groups she belongs to, and read her blog. Okay, just HOW ON EARTH does this woman find the time to blog here, post a ton of video and photographic resources, have constant conversations on her Ning, administrate this Ning, write SLJ articles, keep up all of her wikis, consult on DVD teaching resources, etc., etc., etc. etc.?
Of course then I had to head over to the Canadian 21st Century Teacher-Librarians Ning, started by my professor, Dr. Branch-Mueller. I’ve also belonged to this Ning for awhile. Someone has posted a bunch of photos on the main page, including some very familiar faces. I have to say, there is something very lovely about being able to belong to a professional community in this fashion.
I find the Ning platform easy to navigate between the forums, groups, various resources, members’ pages, blogs etc. Searches are easy too. These Nings are really very fantastic and if I had two seconds I’d actually participate much more.
Overall, I prefer the Ning layout. Both Facebook and Ning are busy, but I find Ning easier to navigate and better built for professional purposes. Plus, Nings don’t have advertising to further clutter things up (unless you want it). But, if you want something free to promote your particular small organization, then Facebook is the way to go, although Nings now have a free education mini-Ning account (good for up to 150 members), which you have to apply for through Pearson. Note though that mini-Nings lack some of the features of the PLUS and PRO plans.
With both Facebook and Nings, I think a danger for education purposes is that both have such a significant number of apps (and Facebook has third party ones which I think give away too much user information) that they could become a major distraction for students.
One really big advantage of Facebook over Ning is that many students already have a Facebook account, whereas it would take work to get students on a Ning.
Moodle is a type of closed social networking system as well as a learning platform. Its social networking features are not as user-friendly as they are in Facebook or Nings, so while I enjoy using Moodle for a number of reasons, social networking is not one of them. If all else is blocked though, Moodle might be the way to go.
I didn’t explore ePals thoroughly, as I am holding off until our school is set up on the new International Baccalaureate social network, run through ePals. ePals is touted as being useful for project-based work and connecting with other classrooms in the world, which are both very appropriate features for the International Baccalaureate.
LM_NET is a listserv for teacher-librarians all over the world. I have been on this listserv for some time now and it is easily my most favourite social network. Kist (2010) describes a listserv as a “fairly primitive (yet still powerful) social networking tool” (p. 34). I’ll explain in the next section just how I use it, but to get set up on this subscribe via e-mail. You will receive daily e-mails from people asking questions plus the follow-up answers from others. I highly recommend subscribing to the digest version though, as otherwise you will be overwhelmed by the number of individual e-mails coming through: LM_NET is very active. Be sure to read the listserv etiquette too. If you want other education-based listservs, google “”education listservs” and you’ll get numerous lists.
Virtual Worlds often have a social networking component too them. Quest Atlantis is a virtual world for 9-16 year olds and their trained teachers, which is meant to promote cross-curricular critical thinking skills in a socially networked (with strict limits) environment. I got a guest account last year, which meant I could peruse some of the site and modules, but could not get a proper sense of the social networking part of this as my guest account, which has since expired, would not allow me to interact with others. It does, for instance, include a module on water, which fits well with grade 6 British Columbia watersheds curriculum. The relevant teachers in our school had some interest in this last year, but due to a lack of time and computers, we were not able to move forward with potentially implementing this program, but I hope to renew interest in this again in future. Also, I showed some students my exploration around Quest Atlantis and they did say it looked rather low-tech compared to other virtual worlds, so it might not appeal to some hard-core gamers.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
Then there is the Second Life virtual world, which includes tutorials etc., and an economy. You could spend a lot of time, as well as money (and make money, actually – now we’re back to Doctorow’s For the Win), personalizing your experience (although you can move through this for free). It also has a translation feature, so you can network with others in the world. There are custom-built worlds for educational purposes here too, but these are currently at the post-secondary level due to Second Life’s requirement that users be at least 18. Unfortunately, Teen Second Life, which is for students 13-17 years old, is set to close. Apparently though, 16-17 year-old users are going to be moved to the regular site, and the 13-15 year-old crowd will have to wait, although the company behind Second Life is looking for ways to allow 13-15 year-olds to access some areas of the grid (Harrison, 2010). I hope this is true, because Second Life has some great groups located in it, such as NASA.
I also found the web-based SmallWorlds, which allows user aged 13 yrs. +, and then there is Open Sim, which is not an online community, but you can download the software and create your own virtual world.
Discussion of the tool in terms of my own personal life and learning
“With social networking allowing teachers to connect one-to-one and one-to-many, they have the professional development that they really desire.” (Davis, 2010)
Some personal and professional uses of social networking tools are:
- use to post announcements to interested users, including to personal networks, such as for a family reunion.
- create a school group for parents and teachers on Facebook, as our school has done. Many announcements and newsletters go out on it. It’s a bit ironic, since Facebook is blocked at our school for students (although teachers can get past the firewall), and also since one of the parents posted this on our school Facebook page “The Case for Social Media in School”
- have a discussion regarding the pros and cons of various social networks, such as this one on the TeacherLibrarianNing, or a topic around a personal hobby or cause.
- create temporary social networks for e.g. conferences. These may or may not last long-term.
- participate in a special-interest group, such as this TeacherLibrarianNing discussion group about a great professional development book. They’re analyzing every chapter!
- another TeacherLibrarianNing group is devoted to the International Baccalaureate (North America).
- Go to this active Ning for all things to do with education.
- geek-out with educational technology at this Ning.
- maintain and develop connections with family, friends, and colleagues.
- visit Second Life for professional development, such as to the American Library Association area (see here for more info), community virtual library, or various university libraries. As Davis (2010) notes, “in Second Life, a virtual world where users interact as avatars, or electronic representations of themselves, the North Carolina Community College System has developed an island for teachers to show them how to work with audio and video….[and] virtual field trips can be beneficial for teachers, particularly in “experiencing” other countries.”
- take advantage of an active professional listserv in order to look like a genius to your colleagues. My personal favourite is the LM_NET listserv – I find that it is my most convenient and effective social networking tool. It makes me look brilliant and has garnered me more responses by far than anything else I’ve used. I actually use it less than I could because lately I’ve not had enough time to help others on it – a lack of reciprocity guilt on my part. Anyway, its simplicity and lack of features is part of its benefit, I think. People stay focused. It also has an archive you can search through, and you should check this first before asking a question.
- hang out with the librarians in the Librarians who LibraryThing group.
And, for some more ideas, see Top 100 Ways Librarians Use Social Media.
Discussion of the tool in terms of teaching and learning
The connectivities and interactivities made possible by digitally enabled social networking in its best outcomes produce learning ensembles in which the members both support and sustain, elicit from and expand on each other’s learning inputs, contributions, and products. Challenges are not simply individually faced frustrations, Promethean mountains to climb alone, but mutually shared, to be redefined, solved, resolved, or worked around—together. (Davidson et al., 2009, p. 32)
If this quote rings true, then truly those lacking the means to make these connections are at a serious disadvantage. Certainly, amongst tightly-knit, highly community-oriented groups, culturally relevant Promethean mountains may be tackled by working together around a village hearth, but those isolated from such experiences by e.g. poverty within an urban environment, or by a politically repressive regime, are truly disadvantaged if they do not have the means to access these increasingly key social networks. It is like the disadvantaged faced by those without enough wealth to continue buying a new sleeve in Altered Carbon: they are unable to build up the same store of knowledge, experience, and connections as those with enough wealth to live continuously and take advantage of this cumulative store-house of information.
In regards to the use of social networking to expand students’ understanding of and ability to work with people of other cultures and perspectives, the National Council of Teachers of English (2008) developed a position statement that discusses 21st century skills and the ability of students to work face to face in virtual environments. This group asserts that students must be able to “build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally,” and “design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes” (National Council of Teachers of English, 2008). These standards reflect the social and cross cultural elements of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills Life and Career Skills.
Students also need to be taught appropriate ways of using social networks. Kist (2010) provides numerous resources for teaching online safety on pages 48-49 of his book, and Richardson (2010) points out that incidents of inappropriate behaviour on social networking sites should be used as teachable moments, rather than as a reason to shut down social networks in an educational setting. Davidson et al. (2009) also point out that “Socially networked collaborative learning extends some of the most established practices, virtues, and dispositional habits of individualized learning. These include taking turns in speaking, posing questions, listening to and hearing others out. Networked learning, however, goes beyond these conversational rules to include correcting others, being open to being corrected oneself, and working together to fashion workarounds when straightforward solutions to problems or learning challenges are not forthcoming” (p. 30). These skills are echoed in the Communication and Collaboration Skills from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills framework.
Some educational applications of social networking are:
- posting announcements about homework, field trips, upcoming units of study, clarifications when noticing a number of students are having difficulty with something etc. to students.
- get students to write book reviews on LibraryThing, and to participate in online discussions, input common knowledge, etc., as an alternative to the traditional book report.
- have students pose questions in the author interviews community project on LibraryThing. Upcoming interviews are posted and members ask questions they’d like the interviewer to ask the author. Later, the interviewer posts the answers back into the community project.
- use Facebook or Ning for training and portfolio purposes. Students could show potential employers etc. not only their work, but also their ability to communicate appropriately and effectively in such an environment, which would be reassuring to employees fearing embarrassing behaviour by employees.
- use social networking to promote the library, such as is done by the Unquiet Library, which has a significant social networking presence. These people must have an army doing this though…
- invite experts in the students’ field of study to the social networking application of choice, so experts and students can interact and communicate with one another.
- like the internship program discussed in Richardson’s (2010) book starting on page 141, our CAS (Creativity, Action, and Service) program could really take advantage of social networking. The International Baccalaureate Organization now has a social network up and running (although it’s not completely rolled out yet as many schools, including our own, does not yet have access) through ePals.
- our Extended Essay students could also take advantage of this IB social network in order to connect with others who might be writing on a similar topic as they. These students might then be able to commiserate, share resources, and perhaps even interviews of people in their own home countries, thereby providing differing perspectives on an issue.
- I don’t see listservs, with a small number of students, replacing groups on e-mail, but a listserv on a general topic for a large school might be appropriate.
- While Second Life is currently off-limits to middle and high school students (although this may change), this video provides ideas of to use Second Life in education, which should provide some inspiration for educational uses of other, more kid-friendly virtual worlds.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
Davidson, C. N., Goldberg, D. T., & Jones, Z. M. (2009, June). The future of learning institutions in a digital age. Retrieved from Massachusetts Institute of Technology website: http://mitpress.mit.edu
Davis, M. R. (2010, June 14). Social networking goes to school. Education Week’s Digital Directions, 03(03), 16,18,20,22-23. Retrieved from
Harrison, D. (2010, September 1). The end of the virtual world. The Journal.
Retrieved from http://thejournal.com/Articles/2010/09/01/
Hull, G. A., & Stornaiuolo, A. (2010). Literate arts in a global world:
Reframing social networking as cosmopolitan practice. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 54(2), 85-97. doi:10.1598/JAAL.54.2.1
Kist, W. (2010). The socially networked classroom: Teaching in the new media age. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Morgan, R. K. (2002). Altered carbon. London, Great Britain: Gollancz.
National Council of Teachers of English. (2008, November 19). 21st century
curriculum and assessment framework [Position statement]. Retrieved
November 13, 2010, from http://www.ncte.org/positions/statements/
Richardson, Will (2010). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Canadian 21st Century Teacher-Librarians Ning
apply for a free education Ning through Pearson
Top 100 Ways Librarians Use Social Media
Partnership for 21st Century Skills Life and Career Skills and Communication and Collaboration Skills