Constructivism & Technology/Case Examples/Social Networking Tools
In today’s day and age, social networking sites, such as My Space and FaceBook, seem to reign supreme when it comes to social interaction amongst the peers of today’s digital generation. According to an article entitled “At Social Network Sites, Talk Includes School”, 96% of students age 9-17 reported using some type of social networking site on a regular basis, and a surprising 60% of these students reported using these sites to connect with their peers for educational purposes, such as school project collaboration (2007). In response to the recent popularity of social networking sites in the secular world, in this section of chapter 8, we will examine the use of social networking sites in the educational realm, analyze how social networking sites relate to and complement constructivism, and discuss how social networking sites are currently being used across subjects areas and grade levels in today’s classrooms.Also what are these sites really for? All this and more is down below.
Key Concepts 
Social Networking & Social Networking Sites
A “social network” is defined as the complex web of professional and/or personal relationships or ties that exist between people or groups of people within a culture (Rodriguez, Manzanares, Ronzio, & Zimber, n.d.). Typically, social networks can benefit individuals by helping them find new friends, employment opportunities, romantic partnerships, etc. (LeFever, 2007). For example, you need a job, and your friend Sam knows Chris who knows Shelly, and Shelly’s friend Kate is going to “put in a good word for you” with her employer (LeFever, 2007). Author Lee LeFever reports that even though these social networks can be exponentially beneficial to individuals, they are only as valuable as the connections that can be seen and directly utilized because oftentimes, social connections are invisible and go unnoticed (2007). However this problem has recently been alleviated by the advent of a category of websites called “social networking sites”. Social networking sites are technological tools that bring these unseen social connections / networks to the forefront and make them more visible, tangible, and accessible in people’s everyday lives (Rodriguez et al., n.d.).
Social networking sites operate by allowing clients to sign up and create a user profile containing basic personal information, such as name, age, birthday, occupation, likes, dislikes, interests/hobbies, etc. Once a member of the service, users are allowed to search the website’s database to find and connect with other users that they know or would like to know. Once these users become “friends” via the website, the users have a shared visible connection on the site that can be viewed by the public. These public connections posted on the website allow users to see and keep track of “who they know, who their friends know, who their friends’ friends know”, and so forth (LeFever, 2007, no page numbers). People are no longer distant strangers to one another, and these now visible social connections allow users to unlock the hidden potential of their social network (LeFever, 2007). According to author Fran Smith, social networking sites allow individuals to bond or connect through a mutual topic of interest or around a shared idea (2007).
Social Networking Sites & Constructivism
As we have previously discussed in this WikiText, constructivist theory contends that learning is an active and social procedure in which learners engage in “active dialog” with their peers and their teachers, and establish and participate in interactive learning communities where teachers and students alike collaborate to solve real world problems (Educational Broadcasting Corporation, 2004; Kearsley, 2009). According to author Tim DiScipio, social networking sites complement these aspects of constructivism very well because they provide students with a tangible venue to connect, communicate, and collaborate about their learning (2008). Moreover, DiScipio insists that social networking sites are relevant to constructivism because while using these sites, “students can collaborate using tools such as email, blogs, and wikis to create, invent, and showcase their work in a way that unlocks intrinsic motivation and advances learning outcomes” (2008,no page numbers).
Social Networking Sites in Today's Classrooms
Even though the idea of using social networking sites in education is a fairly new idea, a variety of social networking sites are currently being used across subject areas and grade levels in many classrooms around the world. Currently, many educators are using Ning, an online service that allows users to generate, customize, and share their own social networks, to create their own classroom-based social networks for educational purposes (Confino, 2007). For example, in the primary grade age bracket, a second grade social studies class is using a Ning-created social networking site called “World Village” to learn about different cultures by connecting with age appropriate peers from countries all over the world (Cofino, 2007). The class also uses the social network to collaborate with classrooms around the world on social studies projects. Similarly, a fifth grade English class is using another Ning-created social networking site called “Xtreme Learning” to connect with several other U.S. and international fifth grade classes to discuss reading and literature (Cofino, 2007).
Social networking sites are quickly becoming commonplace in higher grade levels as well. For example, an eighth grade science class has created a Ning social networking site called “Big Dog Science” to “share class notes, project ideas, absentee work, quiz and test study material, peer tutoring and general classroom information” (Cooper, n.d., no page numbers). In the high school age bracket, a theatre class at Garden City High School in New York is using a Ning social networking site called “GCHS Theater Arts” to connect and reflect about performances and theater-related issues (“Social Networks”, 2009).
In addition to using Ning-created social networking sites, some university professors have started using public social networking sites in their college classes. For example, David Perry, an Emerging Media Professor at the University of Texas – Dallas, reports using Twitter, a public social networking site that allows users to create, share, and receive “tweets” or short 140 character messages from their “friends” on the network, in his classroom (2009). Perry reports that he has students use the social networking site to “tweet” about the connections they have made between real-world situations and classroom content and any questions about course content/material that happen to arise while students are completing their class work/homework (2009)
At social network sites, talk includes school. (2007, August 24). Electronic Education Report, Retrieved April 7, 2009, from Business Source Premier database.
Confino, K. (2007, December 22). Making connections: Social networking in the elementary classroom. Message posted to http://mscofino.edublogs.org/2007/12/22/making-connections-social-networking-in-the-elementary-classroom/
Cooper. (n.d.). Big dog science. Message posted to http://htmsscience.ning.com/
DiScipio, T. (2008, September). Adapting social networking TO. MultiMedia & Internet@Schools, 15(5), 10-11. Retrieved April 7, 2009, from Academic Search Premier database.
Educational Broadcasting Corporation. (2004). Workshop: Constructivism as a paradigm for teaching and learning. Retrieved February 3, 2009, from http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/constructivism/index_sub4.html
Kearsley, G. (2009). Constructivist theory (J. Bruner). Retrieved February 3, 2009, from Theory Into Practice (TIP) database: http://tip.psychology.org/bruner.html
LeFever, L. (Producer). (2007, June). Social networking in plain English. The CommonCraft Show. Podcast retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6a_KF7TYKVc
Perry, D. (2009). Twitter for Academia. Message posted to http://academhack.outsidethetext.com/home/2008/twitter-for-academia/
Rodriguez, C., Manzanares, K., Ronzio, J., & Zimber, C. (n.d.). Trend analysis: Social networking in K-12 classroom. IT 6750: Current Trends and Issues in Instructional Technology. Retrieved from http://web.mac.com/crodrigo/IT6750_Trends/Social_Networking.html
Smith, F. (2007, April). How to: Use social networking technology for learning. Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/how-use-social-networking-technology
Social networks in education. (2009). Retrieved April 10, 2009, from the WikiSpaces Wiki: http://socialnetworksined.wikispaces.com/
Chapter Quiz 
1. According to the article entitled “At Social Network Sites, Talk Includes School”, _____% of students age 9-17 reported using some type of social networking site on a regular basis.
2. Social networking sites allow individuals to bond or connect through ____________________.
c. A mutual topic of interest or a shared idea
d. Social studies
3. Why do social networking sites complement constructivism?
a. Because social networking sites provide students with a tangible venue to connect, communicate, and collaborate about their learning.
b. Because social networking sites are popular in today’s society.
c. Because social networking sites are designed with kids in mind.
d. Because social networking sites are entertaining.
4. Currently, many educators are using ______, an online service that allows users to generate, customize, and share their own social networks, to create their own classroom-based social networks for educational purposes.