How Schools Can Use Social Networking

By Laura Lefkowits

Choice is ubiquitous in our lives. From on-demand TV programs to music downloads to “fast” gourmet restaurant chains that let customers build their ideal burrito, we like “having it our way.”

This trend toward using technology to support individualization and customization has been immersing itself in our culture for the past decade, along with fears that such technologies would isolate us from one another, severely restricting face-to-face communications. Now, however, our fears are subsiding as another trend emerges -- the rise of dozens of new voluntary communities, or social networks, that are bringing us together in unique, technology-driven ways.

Ask students about social networks, and they’ll tell you that, whatever their geographic locale, they are a mere breath away from each other on Facebook. They regularly negotiate sales of everything from video games to car parts on eBay, prefer to share vacation memories and weekend photos on Flickr, and of course, create their alter-egos on MySpace.

The participation and active contribution of users is what makes these networks powerful, “purposeful communities.” My organization, the Denver-based Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL), believes these communities can have a powerful effect on student achievement in our 21st century schools.


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