Artificial Social Networking

I learn a lot from the web.

For example, today I discovered that the overly-large school district in which I work makes social networking tools available to students.

And that we believe that “in the right environment these social networking tools do have instructional value”. At least according to an administrator in our IT department.

Reading down a little, however, we find that the “right environment” actually refers to the modules that insert blog- and wiki-like features into our Blackboard installation (about which I’ve ranted many times before).

Blog and wiki modules that have some major flaws.

  • they have no RSS feed;
  • they cannot be searched, either internally or globally;
  • they can only be seen by those who have been added as members of the same class;
  • they are wedged into Blackboard’s already slow, clunky, and difficult to modify interface.

Not particularly social. A network on training wheels.

Ask any of our tech-savvy students if this is an adequate substitute for the resources they’re already using and you’re likely to get one of those teen-age “what? are you totally clueless?” kind of smiles.

Ok, so it’s a start, right? Educational systems adapt very slowly so maybe this is only the beginning of our district’s efforts to help students learn how to contribute responsibility to the real world web.

I’d be willing to concede that point if I saw any signs that our system has a plan for going beyond this so-called “walled garden” approach.

But I don’t. Most of our leadership, especially those in the IT driver’s seat, thinks what we have is just fine.

However, even more discouraging is the fact that our district offers no “approved” tools for teachers and principals to learn to use blogs or wikis for their own communication and professional development. And little support or training on why they should.

Other than, of course, to tell them that the same crippled “social networking” modules we bought for the kids are just wonderful for them as well.

But then that’s just one more example of how we use Blackboard around here: an all-purpose tool for publishing to the world.

Or at least the part of the world that has a key to enter our garden.

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