Random Thoughts

Teaching Social Networks

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Some rights reserved by Brice Reul

 In two weeks time I have to give a presentation to our high school student body. I always struggle the most with what to talk to them about…..them being kids in general. I’ve got about 15 minutes to inspire them to use technology in ways that really matter. 

Thanks to the Kony 2012 campaign I have a starting point to talk about this new world that they are going to create. I believe this generation could be the greatest generation since the great WWI generation years ago. They have the ability to connect and communicate in a virtual way that can bring real impact to the world. We are already seeing it happen: The 2008 Presidential U.S. elections, Arab Spring, London RiotsOccupy Wall Street, Stop SOPA, and now Kony 2012 just to name a few of the larger movements where social networking has had a direct impact on world changing events. 

….and the great news is….this generation is just getting started. 

They have older generations running scared. From Iran to Syria, China, Thailand and most of the western world, governments and generations are fearing what is to come when this generation decides they have had enough, can connect, communicate, and bring about change in the blink of an eye. 

I read a new term the other day:

Slacktivism: The word is usually considered a pejorative term that describes “feel-good” measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it feel satisfaction. The acts tend to require minimal personal effort from the slacktivist. The underlying assumption being promoted by the term is that these low cost efforts substitute for more substantive actions rather than supplementing them, although this assumption has not been borne out by research.

I am still feeling my way around this new term and not sure I totally agree with its ideals. The cases I stated above are all cases where the rally cries within social networks saw real change in the world. Retweeting or reposting the Kony 2012 video is good for spreading the message, but what are you and I going to do in the real world that really matters? That’s what this will come down to. 100 million views on YouTube mean nothing if nothing changes for the better out here.

And then there is our generations, any of us born before 1980 basically, who for the most part do not understand all of this. I have heard on more than one occasion ”I don’t get it” from people, and instead of helping this generation understand the power they possess, we fear it, run from it, and then turn around and punish this generation for using tools that are as much a part of their generation as the TV, gaming console, and microwave oven were to ours. 

Some rights reserved by Yaniv Golan

Social Networking can be scary if we don’t teach students the amazing power that lies within those connections. Today I read this article about a girl in Minnesota that is suing the school district over her Facebook privacy. Now I don’t know the details and I’m sure it’s not as bad as the article makes it out to be, it rarely ever is. But the point is, could the school have handled this in an educational way? What if the school had been teaching social-networking rather than cursive handwriting in 3rd, 4th, 5th grade? 

And then there is the part of the article that talks about potential employees being asked to hand over their Facebook password during interviews as part of the interview process. 

A number of prospective employees have complained that they were forced to hand over their passwords to Facebook and Twitter when applying for jobs.

Really? Do employers really have that much to fear? If they do then they have bigger things to worry about than an employee’s Facebook page I would think.

Or what about this bit about university athletes: 

In an recent investigation, the TV station MSNBC found that many university sports departments now require students to “friend” their coach, giving officials access to their “friends-only” posts.

The University of North Carolina handbook reads: “Each team must identify at least one coach or administrator who is responsible for having access to and regularly monitoring the content of team members’ social networking sites and postings.

Could we view these as educational opportunities rather than potential threats? Gee….a university teaching students how to use their social networking connections for good…there’s a thought!

Then there are guys like HeeJin, an American Idol contestant, who may not be the best singer of the group, but is leveraging his twitter account and the connections to stay in the race. Whether he really knows what he’s doing or not he’s trying to use those connections to bring about change….change for himself in this instance but real change in the world for sure. 

So this is the direction I want to go with my talk in two weeks. I know some faculty on my staff will be upset that I won’t warn the kids about sexting, or about spending too much time online, but they’re 15-18 years old and the last thing they need is another person from the older generations telling them what they should and shouldn’t be doing rather than getting them excited about what is possible for them and their future. 

The danger lies in not educating them on how to use these connections for the better. Instead of scaring them into not using them at all….can’t we help them understand the power of an update, the power of a connection and use it to do amazing things in the real world? 

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. The point you make about taking steps in the real world is very well put. It’s all well and good to click “like” or post a link to a video on your FB page, but what are you going to DO about it? 50million “likes” does not make a difference in the world.

    And that’s the best starting point for your talk. As you said, the kids get enough warnings about sexting or spending too much time online or the dangers of predators, etc. Instead of telling them to stay offline, tell them to get online MORE but instead of just clicking and linking, they should be acting and pushing and working to make a difference.

  2. Gwen Martin Reply

    Interesting position to be in, how to encourage students to use technology to contribute to society while having some fun at the same time. I have started a cyberbullying unit in the 4th and 5th grades due to some cyberbullying coming to light. I had mentioned being responsible net-citizens earlier but this is much more specific.

    What I REALLY want from the younger generation is that those that hack do so to make a positive change in society and not to send everyone on my contact list information about a body part enhancement.

  3. Diane Boudreau Reply

    Mr. Utecht, I am a student in EDM310 at the University of South Alabama. I enjoyed reading this post and as a “Kid” in this generation you’re speaking to I full heartedly agree with how you plan on talking to these students. I think if we were taught more about the power that we hold and the changes that we can make with this technology, the older generations would be more proud to call us theirs. I believe that we hold some very talented individuals within our generation, but they are misguided and it is still up to past generations to push us in the right direction.

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  6. This is a fantastic post and i totally agree with you and i thing now these days Social Networks change the work and make the world so small and accessible for every body.

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