Educational Social Spaces for Digital Natives

Last Spring (2008) I wrote a presentation proposal entitled “New horizons in social networking : educational social spaces for digital natives” and I think that the substance bears repeating:


The social networking paradigm can be seen as a catalyst to engage students in academic interchange outside the formal classroom setting. But how can we use social networking tools familiar to the millenial generation to engage them in meaningful academic intercourse without resorting to Facebook?


When navigating the digital seas educators are often faced with steering their ship of youthful minds towards the goal of academic attainment between the Scylla of boring word processor assignments which devour enthusiasm and the Charybdis of media projects, which can get sucked into a whirlpool of technical issues. Online social networking is a concept which the millenial generation seem to intuit unconsciously. The social networking paradigm can be seen as a catalyst to engage students in academic interchange outside the formal classroom setting. So how can we use the social networking tools familiar to the millenial generation to engage them in deep, meaningful academic intercourse that goes beyond the banter and bagatelle of the popular commercial social networking sites for example Facebook, MySpace, Orkut and their ilk?


Ever since Marc Prensky coined the term “digital native”3 in 2001 educators have often tended to think of students in terms of “YouFF”, that is, YouTube-Flickr-Facebook, when dealing with the sphere of online social networking. And it is the case that the constellation of movies — graphics — social networking supernovae constitutes a trinity of attention grabbing Web 2.0 technologies for the millenial generation. But with a plethora of other digital technologies available why would educators want to bother themselves with Yet Another Digital System to shoehorn their pedagogy into?4.

In a posting entitled The Abdication of Community Spaces5 Laura Cohen, author of Library 2.0: An Academic’s Perspective , writes that following the April Virginia Tech shootings she was struck by the absence of a ‘Community Space’ hosted by Virginia Tech itself. Her viewpoint is one of preserving the cultural memory of events affecting the institution but I think that a more important view is articulated in a comment by Jennifer Macaulay in the same blog posting. Jennifer enumerates some issues with external spaces for student communities and then makes the seminal observation about the need for an institutional community space:

“I honestly think that this isn’t something that is even on the radar at most schools. However, I know that it would seriously enrich my academic experience.”


1 Earlham Learning Spaces :

2 community@Brighton :

3 Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1—2. Available: – Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants – Part1.pdf
and at Listen to the Natives :

4 see the slide presentation ‘Learning Landscapes’ by Graham Attwell, Pontydysgu

5 The Abdication of Community Spaces

More on this issue in a subsequent posting.


2 thoughts on “Educational Social Spaces for Digital Natives

  1. Interesting post. I wonder though if millennials, or people like me who have embraced facebook and to a lesser extent Twitter, want to engage in academic discourse over a social networking site? How do we actually cross that bridge?
    Do all of my facebook friends posting links to interesting intellectual articles, or news stories, count as a form of academic discourse?

    I, of course, am most intrigued by the statement about “preserving the cultural memory of events affecting the institution”. That is easily expanded to include the social memory, or even pedagogy. If we had our own social network, we could preserve it for the future, and it would become the archive of the future, perhaps.

  2. Thanks for the comment Anne.

    Exactly my point about the desirability of an institutional social networking site which is independent of and a contrast to “the Facebook” (and, needless to say, Moodle). As to crossing that bridge, the whole point of this exercise for me is to move forward from the current implementation of Earlham Learning Spaces to make it more accessible, inviting and, let’s face it, cool to use. I want to see ELS become a ‘viral meme’ for community discourse in addition to a powerful pedagogical tool. In terms of cultural memory, if it does ‘take off’ and if it continues to develop then ELS will naturally accumulate our institutional cultural memory.

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