Random Thoughts

Social-Networks: Grabbing The Skunk By The Tail

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A few days ago my friend and fellow blogger Doug Johnson wrote a blog post about social media and feeling overwhelmed  taking aim at my recent blog post about playing with Google+.

OK, Utecht, cut it out. I know I should be playing with Google+, but give me a break. I can’t keep up with the social networks I have now.


Of course you can’t! Trying to keep up with social networks is a loosing battle. They move too quickly, change too fast, and most of the stuff shared on them isn’t worth our time….except that it is worth our time (please watch below). 

Does every teacher need to be using Google+ today? No. Does every Technology Integrator, or Technology Teacher, or Technology ???? need to be using it today? Yes

Especially if their school has gone to Google Apps for the students. Soon enough Google+ for K-12 Education will be released and when it does there will be power there to form communities, classes, groups, etc within the ecosystem that is Google Apps. 

But what I really want to talk about is Doug’s final question to me in his blog post:

Here’s my question: Is the ability to select and discriminate among social networking tools a needed, teachable skill? Or should every tool be used by every teacher?

My thought is that when any pundit recommends a new tool, they be required to suggest a tool that is no longer useful. 

So, buddy, what is getting less attention from you now that Google+ is getting more attention? I certainly hope it is not Ms Utecht or the Mariners.

Great question!

Do I think that discriminating among social networking tools is a needed teachable skill? Absolutely!

Should every tool be used by every teacher? Nope…but they should be using the ones that fit their discipline. 

Why Teaching Social Networking Tools is a Must

Let’s start with the fact that today’s students enter our classrooms with some social presence. Whether they have created a Facebook account themselves, or their proud Moms and Dads have created one for them with all the images they have shared on their own Facebook account of their children. Or let’s take the more likely account of some game they play on their iPad in which they had to create a user id and password to play with others. 

I’m not going to guess the percentage of students 3rd Grade and up that have a social networking presence…but I’m sure you can think for a minute and come up with your own number for your own school or classroom that is most likely a significant amount.

Social-Networking sites are a part of our world today and will only become increasingly so in the world of our students. Therefore, I would suggest that teaching students how to use, when to use and which social network to use to gather information, to find resources, or to catch up on current events is a must. Students may have a social network or social presence but it doesn’t mean they know how to use it properly. 

There’s no reason why teachers in Kindergarten can not be using social-networking tools with students. In fact those that are, give them opportunities not only to learn how these different social-networks operate, but also create some pretty cool projects in the process

These tools are so powerful when used correctly that it is a must to be teaching the skill of powerful social-networking in our schools and classrooms.

Not Every Tool for Every Teacher

Not every teacher needs to be using every tool. But every teacher should be exposing students to the social-networking tools of their discipline. 

For example, english teachers should be using a social networking site like Good Reads with their students. I would say this social-network could be way more powerful to an english teacher than Twitter or Facebook. At the same time the teacher should be teaching students about how to behave in social-networking sites that carry over to other social-networking sites as well. 

Not every teacher needs to be using every tool, but every teacher should be using some tool.

What Gets Your Attention

No Doug, my social-networks do not get more attention than the Mariners or my wife. But my social-networks are part of the attention I give to the Mariners and my wife.. At Mariner games I check in on Foursquare to Safeco Field and upload many of the images there. I follow the Mariners on Twitter and tweet during the games (many times getting responses back).

While I travel, my wife and I use Google Hangouts and Whatsapp on our phones to stay in contact. 

Much like the video talks about above, I think all these things, online social-networks and our offline life, are melding together to become…..life. What we need to be teaching students is how it all fits together. Some networks are created for sharing pictures (instagram) while others are for sharing your location (foursquare) and yet others are created to share that great book you just read (Good Reads). All of these apps connect to our real world in some way and are meaningful in that time and place. 

So what gets my attention? Life.

Thanks for the push back Doug….and for being a part of my social-network for so long. 🙂

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Hi Jeff,

    I am honored by your response. You turned a quick dig and a little rant into a meaningful exchange. Thank you.

    As you can probably tell, I am still very divided in regard to the value of social media in education – and in life. My old school values love the F2F contact and see online conversations and exchanges as rather pale substitutes. I want to see faces and read expressions and sense both excitement and boredom.

    But I also acknowledge that my reaction and that of my generation to online communication is fading as younger, brighter educators use these tools to reach and teach in powerful new ways. Keep pushing, my friend.

    So, will Google+ make our efforts at engaging teachers and students with Moodle and Edmodo irrelevant? I wonder in our continuous exploration of new technologies and applications if we ever stop and take the time to explore the richness and depth of the one we are currently using (and took the time to learn.)

    Keep up the good work, buddy. You are sounding more like a librarian with every post.

    Go Twins. Go Ms Galloway.


    • Jeff Utecht Reply

      I think Google Apps and their 3rd party add-ons are already making Moodle and Edmodo irrelevant. I was a huge Moodle fan up until the last couple years where I feel like the software just hasn’t kept up with the times. I’m not encouraging schools to use Haiku and Schoolology as their LMS and there integration into Google Apps for those schools is so seamless that it makes it an easy choice.

      I know I’m sounding more like a librarian with every post….probably because the ideas of merging as well.

  2. John Dewey once said, “If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.” While I have long been an educator that did not believe in the use of Social Networking in the classroom, I am starting to change my mind. I struggle daily with the amount of Social Networking I must keep up with and the rate at which the new becomes old and the old becomes extinct. Maybe if we look at using any of these in the classroom and teach students the skills needed to legally, ethically, and safely use social networks, they can transfer the skills to whichever “network” they wish. Are we more worried about the skills and responsibilities or which one is “better” and “newer”?

  3. modernteacher27 Reply

    I think that teachers as well as students benefit from social networking. If we do this together, we can be on the same playing field and learn from each other. Teachers especially need the down time to reflect and discuss.

    If you need to go back to the much needed social aspect of education, when you have a chance, I would be honored if you have a chance to check out my blog that I just created- It’s got a different twist on education from the perspective of a teacher, principal and director. It’s great for the new teacher on the block or for the teacher who is looking for a job. Thanks!


  4. Pingback: Week 10: The Thinking Stick | Maria Ross -

  5. Dear Doug and Jeff,

    I hear the both of you… I think this issue of Social Media is the great divide and perhaps the last divide between “our” generation and the “x,y” generation in terms of 1:1 programming.

    I’m not a technology geek but people seem to think I am just because I am handy on a computer. It seems every time the topic of “technology” comes up, the skeptical ones bring up the differences between face2face and social media: “Yes, I see the differences too. Yes, I agree that social media can’t compare to face2face, in many ways. YES, I am TERRIFIED at how the world is changing because all the kids are stuck to their screens.”

    I’m a Mom of 4! I feel like I’m always trying to get my kids to balance themselves between “on-screen” and “off-screen”. But, I feel it’s like trying to hold back ocean waves. The waves keep on coming. Closer and closer. Louder and louder. I can’t keep up with trying to stem the tide.

    I get “push-back” from people who think just because I’m handy on the computer and love what it can do in the classroom that I am a Social Media fanatic too. Actually, I don’t have a facebook account and NEVER plan on having one. I only recently had an online presence because of Coetail (Twitter and Blogging). I had a personal blog before but it was kept on private settings. I’m only wiling to have an on-line presence if it’s professionally-related. I am not a Social Media fanatic. I never plan on having a personal online presence, if I can help it.

    When people give me “push-back” on Social Media (because they erroneously think that because I am comfortable with technology, that I love Social Media), I only have one thing to say to them: “The kids feel that their online friends and relationships are just as important as their off-line friends.” (Often their off-line friends become their on-line friends and vice-versa.) So, the discussion is rather MOOT, don’t you think? At the end of the day, we can have our academic discussions and rants, but what does it matter? What matters is what the kids don’t see the difference and I’m not too sure there IS a difference for them. So, let’s deal with that reality instead of wishing that our old reality was still with us. (The Old Reality being when friends were people we interacted with face2face)

    So, as a Digital Immigrant, I totally understand you Doug. Sometimes I look at my kids and worry about them. But, as an Educator and as a responsible Parent, I get what Jeff is saying too. I have to acknowledge that if my kids feel that their off-line and on-line relationships are equal in importance to them, then I have to give their on-line relationships equal respect. That means acknowledging the value of it (from their perspective if not ours). Then, our behaviours as parents and educators will go accordingly…

    I finally leave you both a link about the science between off-line and on-line relationships. The article talks about the value of face2face, body language, tone of voice, as Doug was mentioning.


    At the end of the article, it gets to the POINT of the discussion. People criticize Social Media (and many times justly), but somehow they just stop there. The article goes on that the point of the discussion is not getting rid of it (impossible), ignoring it (foolish) but taking up responsibility and doing something about it. Ah, there’s the catch. We (including myself) are reluctant to do something about it. The thing we’re supposed to “do” is to take ourselves off the screen more often and take our kids by the hand and have a conversation with them and doing something else with them. As long as we’re reluctant to do that sort of “work”, we can’t complain when they lose themselves for hours in Social Media.

    Perhaps the argument over Social Media isn’t really what are they doing on it and how much time are they spending on it? But the frustration that we feel as the pressure mounts on us as parents and educators to balance them. It’s become an added responsibility on us, when the list was long-enough before the internet. Uphill battle but I can’t quit if I’m a responsible Mom.

    Thanks for discussion. Really interesting food for thought.

    Warm regards,


    PS. I have a Google+ out of curiosity because I had to get a gmail account for Coetail etc. I took a look at it but I’m not tempted with that either. That might change (probably will change) if I ever have a school using Google Apps for Educators but it would be Social Media in a classroom context only.

  6. What is the reference to the “Skunk and its tail”? Sorry, this Canadian doesn’t get the reference lol.

  7. Hi Vivian,

    I responded to your comment here:

    Is it worse or simply different? bit.ly/10KbFDT

    Thanks for the great insights!


  8. Hello Jeff

    I came by this post because there was a “ping-back” link to this exact blog from Ben Sheridan’s site:


    I was reading about Ben’s project and suddenly I’m at your blog.

    Then, I left my reply on this blog which precipitated Doug’s blog on his site and then I was there and left a comment to THAT reply:


    Round and round it goes… but lots of fun, inspiration, and food for thought.

    Hope you’re having fun in Shanghai!


    PS I figured out the reference to the Skunk tail now!

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