Online social networking

It must be about 2 or three years ago that, at a meeting here in DCU, a colleague came up with a rather breathless denunciation of the social networking site Bebo. I think that most of those present had never heard of it before, and I confess that I was one of those. But apparently at that time several universities – not DCU – were banning access on university-owned computers or in libraries because over-use was clogging up the system.

I went from the meeting to have a look, and shortly afterwards signed up for Bebo – I felt I needed to know more about this apparent phenomenon. And not long afterwards I signed up for Facebook and MySpace. And while I cannot say that I spend hours every week chatting (or doing whatever) on these sites, I do use them. And even one or two other, less well known, ones.

No doubt it can be problematic for network servers if there is excessive traffic through social networking, but on the other hand we tell students all the time that the social and community experience of university life is or should be a vital part of their experience. Of course, we may wonder whether online networking could actually undermine face-to-face interaction on the campus, but we’re in the age we’re in and should harness rather than resist the new technologies and the new fashions.

My plan for this academic year is to try to use social networking sites proactively to communicate with groups of students and to get feedback from them, all done appropriately of course. And I shall ask someone to do a review of how we can use the current taste for social networking in a pedagogical context, to add value to the learning experience. That must surely be possible.

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4 Comments on “Online social networking”

  1. Wendymr Says:

    Networking’s a good thing, of course – though it gets to be of some concern when people report that they feel closer to ‘friends’ they’ve only met online than to real-life acquaintances.

    There’s another reason why, as an employment counsellor, I caution clients to be careful about their use of social networking websites, and that’s research findings like this. Also, I frequently get automated email invitations to join sites such as Tagged, Bebo and so on, on behalf of some of my clients… and given the demographic of most of my clients, many of those invitations are in Spanish, Arabic or even Chinese. These sites offer to send emails to everyone in the member’s contact list, and I can just picture the reaction of potential employers to that.

    Me, I stick to LinkedIn.

  2. Ultan Says:

    Good to remember these sites don’t allow everyone to use them – even when they want to:

  3. Emily MFG Says:

    Hello Ferdinand, I’m a lecturer at UCD in Art History & Cultural Policy– while I haven’t yet used social networking extensively with my students, I do run an arts management blog that many of our MA students (and alumni) use: I’ve developed the site as a resource for them over the last year, and I think it adds real value to their MA experience, and keeps me connected with themas they graduate and move on to the working world. Last year our MA students set up their own Facebook users group, which I think they found useful for staying in touch and planning events (as I use my own Facebook account for personal contacts I declined to join).

    Also for a conference I helped organise this year at UCD, I experimented with making the conference site a blog, with good results I think, for a first go ( We had quite a few comments, and many discussions which continued on into ‘real time’. Plus it cost nothing but time to put it up and keep it updated 🙂

    I do think there’s lots of potential to utilise social networking more at universities, for other than purely social purposes… but I am careful myself about distinguishing between my personal use of these sites, and how I use them professionally. I know that Annette Clancy (over at is doing some research for the Arts Council on social networking and the arts at the minute…

    thanks for your great blog! Emily

  4. TheChrisD Says:

    There can be quite a fine line between using social networking sites for keeping track of things, which from what you say, is what you use them for – and out and out obsession with them, as I do see quite a few of my fellow students doing.

    I understand why schools and college want to block access to these sites, as those who are obsessed with them can use up the computer resources that are available for all users to share (that’s not to say I don’t use the wireless for other things…). It’s always a difficult decision to make, especially in a college, where blocking the sites may result in an uproar – although not on the scale of the fees protests, that is.

    PS: I’ve friend requested you on Facebook 🙂

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