Once upon a time when I was five years old, I lived in a neighbourhood called Petrolia in south Edmonton. How did I learn about my neighbourhood? Well, here were the basic steps as I remember them.
1) My parents drove me around the neighbourhood to show me all the people and places.
2) My parents talked to me about my neighbourhood and how to be safe as I gained more and more freedom.
3) My teachers forced me to memorize my address, my phone number, and other key numbers so I could be safe if I got lost or if I needed help.
4) Police officers and block parents came into the school to teach me what to look for in things to avoid and places to run to if I needed to.
5) My parents followed behind me as I walked to the places they told me were safe in my neighbourhood. Then my dad would praise me about what I did right and correct me if I skipped or ignored rules learned in the previous steps.
6) Once I had passed all the above tests, I finally got to tour my neighbourhood with friends on my bike with very strict guidelines.
7) My final emancipation to truly claiming my neighbourhood came when I was 9 or 10, when I was allowed to bike on my own to and from school, my friends houses, and even the local mall.
Learning about my 21st century online neighbourhood was similar. Four or five years ago, students in computer classes started touring something called Bebo. I assumed it was a regular webpage until I noticed their pictures, their comments, their top then lists, and all their friends were listed. I thought this was cool but this was quickly shut down as parents and colleagues began noticing profanity, references to substance abuse, inappropriate images and detailed personal information on these pages. Fast forward a couple staff meetings....Bebo and the like were banned and it was our job to police our students to make sure the evil was kept at bay.
Fast forward a few years, I notice staff and friends with Facebook pages. This didn't seem evil as they were sharing about deep stuff like family members who had passed away, memories about high school, and aspirations for the future. I took a leap and joined in and voila....roughly 280 friends later, tons of useless add ons later I am fully Facebooked. No more carrying around photo albums or wondering what my old chums are up to....Facebook opened the door to allow me to explore my social neighbourhood with ease (cool thing is...I don't need a bike with a banana seat to tour this neighbourhood).
Enter EDES 501. It is suggested to me that other neighbourhood touring/creation tools exist. I created a network through Ning (http://teachnwt.ning.com/) that allowed colleagues and myself to freely share resources, ideas, coping strategies, best practices....each other without having to fly or drive thousands of miles. In a very short time, they joined, added their own images and new conversations began. The professional neighbourhood that I thought had disappeared when I moved away was reestablished....until the great filter tragedy (more on that later). The more I explored other peoples Ning networks the more excited I became at the possibilities because it appeared to be more "adultish" and powerful than Facebook. This was cemented by joining an actual online conference through Ning that instantly exposed me to countless professionals that existed in my global neighbourhood that I didn't even know existed (instead of just embarassing jr high photos being posted by old girlfriends).
Personal Social Networking Ramifications
1) Redefining "fake" - My childhood neighbourhoods consisted of people, pets, smells, sounds, allergens (oh...hives), metal, cement, churches and junk food. All of these elements were real. My friends and I had imaginary friends but even we knew hangin with real friends beat fake buddies any day. 20 Years post 80's...
An alternative perspective sees virtual worlds as three dimensional social networks-online environments where users meet and interact with each other and collaboratively create and edit virtual objects" (Davies & Merchant, 2009)
Social networking sites take out the concrete and physical contact and force me to focus on the invisible parts of neighbourhood life...namely connections and shared purpose. Instead of seeing these sites as being full of imaginary friends, I am accepting these sites as tools to connect me with people who genuinely want to shoot the breeze about things we mutually care about. It is just hard getting used to creating virtual objects in virtual environments.
2) Neverending teenage syndrome:
Take a quick look at the vids below.
I loved being a teenager and I love working with teenagers but...social networking does seem to amp up some teenage like qualities that I struggle with. In the first video, he talked about people being not only able to see you but also all of your connections...24 hours a day. While this may facilitate getting together with old pals, this also opens up people snooping into my business and possibly misinterpreting relationships/links I have with other people. The second video hit home the frustration I have had with Facebook mostly. Now prying eyes can see all my affiliations, surf through to make whatever assumptions they like, and leave ambiguous comments that may be misinterpreted by others (short version major drama potential...bad teenage memories). I am still uncomfortable with my personal connections being so public. I am even more uncomfortable with seeing other people battling it out online as text, images, and video are far more permanent. Instead of just having to explain yourself to a couple people....you may have hundreds of people to be accountable to. This is why I think I prefer Ning as it affords me more control.
Professional Implications of Social Networking:
The video below is by no means extensive but it will give your eyes a break from reading and a few things to think about.
GoAnimate.com: Global Neighbourhoods by nwtbajan
Like it? Create your own at GoAnimate.com. It's free and fun!
I truly believe that if we take the time to learn how to introduce students to social networking like my parents introduced me to Petrolia, students and staff will be empowered to explore, to connect and to grow. If my parents had locked me in the house to protect me from my neighbourhood instead of guiding me...what would I have faced after I moved out? What will happen if we do the same with social networking in schools?
Next week....chatter about Twitter!