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Social Networking @ EMU

Team   Summary of Community of Practice Meeting

Wednesday, September 26, 2007 held in Halle 109

Present:

Facilitator – Michael McVey (Education),
Cassandra Turner (African American Studies),
Sara Memmott (Library),
Karen Busch (Faculty Development Center),
Deborah Silverman (Faculty Development Center), and
Matt Sauber (Marketing).

Regrets: Toni Stokes-Jones (Education)

Summary

During this evening’s meeting, the facilitator, Dr. McVey (Education), provided an overview of one social networking tool that might provide additional levels of education in the classroom. He talked participants through the web site called Ning.com and demonstrated highlights such as podcasts, videos, discussions, and the inclusion of images of participants in a particular social network. McVey is presently using this network in an online only class he is teaching.

The ensuing discussion raised several important issues that teachers must consider before embarking upon the use of a social networking site as a supplement to class activities. This group presents the following issues for further discussion by the EMU community.

Coordination of Social Networking

A number of the issues during our discussion brought up questions about the basic structure of social networking sites and broad questions that we must ask.

Participation: voluntary or mandatory
Should social networking sites be an optional or a mandated feature of the class experience?

Content: formal or informal
Is social networking better suited to informal exchanges about subject related issues or strictly for networking and enhancing communication?

Control: editable or non-editable
Should instructors using social networking sites be limited only to those that have the capability of editing and moderating commentaries from students and outside participants?

Management: in-house or outsourced
Should EMU purchase software for running their own in-house social network or should we outsource to advertising-driven sites or for-pay sites?

Security: closed or open
Should professors only use social networking sites that give them the option of controlling subscribers or capitalize on existing social networks with nonacademic membership such as Facebook?

Pedagogical Issues

The effect of bias upon instructors
One participant raised the point that some photographic images of students might lead to bias on the part of instructors, especially in an online learning environment. Are there alternatives to the photos, perhaps other graphics or drawings that might work?

The regulation of discussions
If the social network is informal in nature, what recourse do instructors have if participants in the social network are fervent promoters of causes not aligned with the topic of the class?

The perception of interpersonal boundaries
Are participants finding the boundaries between instructor and student blurred by social networking? Should we develop a kind of netiquette for interactions online between instructor and student?

Policy Implications

Formal versus ad hoc
Should instructors who include social networking sites as part of an EMU course be required to adhere to policies beyond that of the Student Code of Conduct, or should instructors have the ability to set up social networks on a completely ad hoc basis?

Information versus misinformation
Are there safeguards to ensure that the personal information students provide to the site is truthful? What policies should cover the possibility of students misrepresenting themselves on social networking sites?

Personal images versus avatars
Should instructors insist on the inclusion of personal images to identify participants or should participants be encouraged to create generic avatars?

Liability Implications

Impact on Students
What are the potential liability issues from having a social network site that allows discussion that the instructor does not moderate?

Impact on Instructors
What protection will students have if they believe their informal comments in a social networking site are having an adverse effect on their grades?

Impact on the University
What might be the impact of third parties controlling information students have shared informally outside the password-protected security of a controlled academic environment?

Unrefined Research Questions

Our discussions also raised several questions that would make for an interesting study in any number of academic fields.

Should instructors adjust social networking sites in courses based on the kinds of learner they have such as the Boomer, the Gen X, or the Millennial student?

Do social networking sites improve and enhance communication between online instructors and their students?

Do social networking sites improve and enhance communication between face-to-face instructors and their students?

Do personality images in the user profile assist or hinder informal communication?

How can faculty be encouraged to use social networking sites wisely?

Has social networking benefited students or caused some discomfort?

Next Steps

Please join the discussion in http://emusocial.ning.com for the next steps in this Community of Practice or add your comments below.

Submitted for discussion September 28, 2007

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