Saturday, 7 February 2009

'Friends' feature on Ning

Doing our online school project has made me wonder about the usefulness of the 'friends' feature on the site. For some time all I could see was classmates befriending classmates, which in my opinion hardly contributed anything to anyone's learning process. Because of my mission or attempt of actually enhancing students' learning through involving them in this project using social media tools I thought that this feature was nothing but an irritating distraction, tantamount to leading to unwelcome competition between students over who seems to be the most popular.

The other day, however, checking through student messages, as I routinely do to keep a watchful eye on what is going on, I found proof that the feature might serve a purpose after all. I had assumed that most young people swim in these social networks just like fish in water. Yet, I found this message written to a classmate:

Surprisingly to me, some of them find it hard to approach unknown students in the network. Maybe this is also reflected in the fact that the majority of messages so far have been exchanged between classmates from the same schools.

The benefit of the 'friends' feature is apparent in the following message. This student is using it as the icebreaker to get to know others from different countries.

I am now trying to find out from the students themselves how they feel about 'friends' in this project and some other aspects of the network through this discussion. I look forward to seeing if anyone is brave enough to give us any insights into this! It seems that all the students are still rather apprehensive about any initiatives set by teachers on the site. The playground mentality still largely pervades.

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