This is part of a regular series of articles exploring some of the terms used in e-learning (view other articles in the series). We’ll do our best to break down the jargon and explain what things are from a basic perspective.
Social networking in the online world builds upon concepts of social networking in the face-to-face world, maintaining relationships and connections with people that you know. Social networking tools allow you to quickly communication and share information, manage a variety of contacts and make further ones.
The most popular social networking site among students (and just about everyone) is Facebook. Facebook is a site which allows you to create an online profile which you can connect to people that you know (‘friends’). Once connected, you can share your photos, short status updates, weblinks, and biographical data. You can also invite people to events you are holding, set up groups where you can discuss particular topics, and send emails as well. In addition there are online games that you can play with your friends.
One social networking site which is growing in popularity is LinkedIn, a social network for career networking. While Facebook feels more informal and is filled with many games and other activities, LinkedIn focuses mostly on the development of career relationships, allowing users to put their educational and employment histories online, and connect to other individuals. LinkedIn also allows you to see some information about individuals that are connected to people you know but may not know directly. This can help facilitate the process of finding contacts who work in a related field.
Other sites such as Flickr or YouTube have created social networks centred around sharing media and connecting to related interests.
Some educational institutions have been exploring creating a private social network for their students and staff, to encourage informal academic and research connections to be made. However this is far from a mainstream practice right now in higher education. As online social networks are so new, it is unknown how many will be sustainable in the long term and what features will most appeal to users in different settings. However it has been a quickly growing phenomenon that it seems wise for universities to pay attention to.
Read more about Facebook and social networking in the Education Learning Initiative’s handout 7 things you should know about Facebook (II).