Many administrators, teachers, and parents simply associate MySpace and FaceBook with the term social networking, possibly adding Twitter to the mix and generally writing off the technology as an unsafe liability. However, we all need to expand our view of what social networking can be. Kid-friendly social media also doesn't need to mean Club Penguin and Webkins.
eSchoolNews put together a brief, yet useful roundup of social networking sites that can help actively engage students and teachers in learning, whether within their schools or around the world. ConnectYard, ePals, eChalk, and Saywire each provide unique tools, but all are focused on bringing the promise of social networking to the classroom without the hassle, privacy issues, and general scariness (at least from a parent's or administrator's perspective) of MySpace.
Most contain wikis, blogging, email and/or other communications tools. ePals, in particular seems to offer an especially broad set of tools. Saywire also takes an interesting approach, eschewing the anonymity that many students seek in their personal online interactions:
Saywire does not allow for nicknames or handles, and every feature or activity that a member engages in within Saywire will be stamped with their first name, grade, and photo ID. According to Saywire, this is monitoring, not filtering, and students learn that bad behavior will be noticed...
Of course, to be really successful (and safe), these tools require a high degree of teacher involvement. Kids need to see their teachers modeling appropriate use of social media tools so that they can see important applications later and keep themselves out of trouble when the call of FaceBook becomes too strong.