I spend a lot of time, particularly at the start of the academic year, introducing students and teachers to the power of sharing via social networks. I tell them the story of how social media has defined my career, share some amazing case studies, and placate their fears by discussing anonymity and ways to ‘own’ their digital footprints. Many get involved enthusiastically, but when presented with the ‘sign up’ screen or a flurry of 140 character tweets for the first time, a good number still don’t see the point of mastering this often confusing world.
This week I stumbled across a great idea, built on from the excellent ‘Gamestorming‘ book (I really am giving away my kryptonite here…); the ‘low tech social network’. This activity, framed as an ‘ice breaker’, suggests asking participants to list some interests on a post it note and then draw all of the links that could connect them.
I tried this with one of my social networking classes today, instead of sending them straight to a screen I asked them to put their names and three interests on a post it and then link themselves to others in as many ways as possible. The existing social ties proliferated; the ‘housemates’, the ‘lecture buddies’, amusingly even the ‘wing men’ (it must be noted the two in question were female). However, what also came out were some links that they would not have made before that activity. Two students linked themselves because they discovered from the post its that they both played guitar, two because they played netball. Sharing these things exposed the existing connections, but it also exposed the potential new ones, and the people they could learn from.
From there, explaining the power of professional social networking was easy. Just imagine if we could create this shared awareness of people’s interests, strengths and experiences across the world in a way in which we could connect with people from whom we could learn anything we want to. Guess what.. we can. Ivan Illich would be proud.