Student Voice on Educational Social Networks

Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 2:44 pm
Jennifer Dick's picture

Last week, we took a brief look at how SFUSD used an educational social network to introduce the concept of a professional online presence as part of its summer internship program. While this is something that educators and business people care about, it can seem rather abstract and distant to some teenagers. What did capture teens’ interest, however, was being able to share their workplace experiences with each other. All of this behavior is second nature to the youth of today, so why not meet them where they are: online? In past years, internship seminar teachers in San Francisco might have asked their students to keep a journal, but this wasn’t a standard practice. If they could, students would sometimes discuss among themselves what was happening at the work site, troubleshooting new interpersonal situations that they didn’t have experience in dealing with. But every year, these youth experiences benefited only those who had been directly involved with them. It’s an accepted fact that we learn best from our peers, so the SFUSD decided, “Why not give students a 24-hour online platform in which they can learn from each other?”

Unsurprisingly, the interns needed almost no orientation to the site’s user interface or various tools, such as photo albums or bookmarks. Once they had their user names and passwords, they were customizing their profiles, uploading pictures, friending their classmates, and leaving messages for each other on their walls. Joining their seminar teacher’s group to get class updates, download materials, and engage in online discussions made sense to them. They responded to a set of weekly blog prompts that helped them apply the topics being discussed in their seminar class to their own workplace experiences. Students also uploaded pictures of themselves at their workstations, of their supervisors, and of the other important parts of their internship.

Here are some activity ideas for providing students with opportunities to share and honor their experiences:


  • Blogging | Incorporate opportunities for students to reflect on their experiences and what they’ve learned. Not only is this an excellent venue for introducing literacy activities that students find more palatable, it’s also a great way for shyer students to have their voices heard.
    • Some common metacognitiveprompt stems include:
      • What was the most interesting or important thing you learned?
      • What do you want to know more about?
      • What was the most successful part of… ?
      • What was the most challenging aspect of… ?
      • What are you the most proud of? Why?
      • What would you do differently next time? How?
  • Photo Essays |Most social network platforms make it very easy to incorporate digital photographs. With very many students having cell phones these days, this means nearly all students have access to a digital camera. Photo essays give students a venue to show us the world through their eyes. This is a less-intimidating option for English language learners and for those students who have difficulty verbalizing their thoughts.
    • See how teacher Kimberly Johnson at Wisconsin’s Sheboygan Falls High School is engaging her senior English class in a photo essay assignment as a means of documenting student inquiry into the question of “what is art?”.
  • “On the Street” Reporting |If you or your students have access to a camera that records video, students can also report from the field and upload their videos to the social network. It’s a very powerful experience for students to see themselves online, and especially to know that others are watching.
    • EarthEcho International just launched the STREAM (Students Reporting Environmental Action through Media) initiative to train youth in citizen journalism in the U.S. Gulf region to document the impact of the BP oil spill. Hear what co-founder Phillipe Cousteau has to say about this program. Remember: It’s very important that students comment on each other’s work, and that you comment as well! They will be enthusiastic about this platform only if they know they have an audience. Monitor comments to ensure that they are appropriate and that students aren’t just responding to their friends. Fostering an online community can spill over into the classroom or educational program.

Additional Reading on Using Social Networks to Support Student Voice