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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Geographer Looks at EdTech - Part 2 - Social Media

--- This post is the second in a ten part series examining top 2011 trends in education technology in the context of GIS and geography education. ---

The second theme Audrey Watters identified in her top ten list of ed tech for 2011 is social media. She discusses the rise of Edmodo, a growing education-only social media tool and the legal challenges teachers and students face when using worldwide social networks such as Facebook.

While there are still legal issues to be ironed out with "non ed-specific" social media, my gut feeling is that whenever possible, students should use "the real thing." That is, they should use Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, etc. - the same tools they'll use in the real world. I know that can require more energy for IT departments, legal departments and instructors, but I think its worth it in the long term.

It's worth noting that a new geospatially focused social network is launching in January. It's called GISnation and will have all sorts of membership types including one for students. I confess to having mixed feelings about this venture. While it'd be lovely to have a discipline-specific social network, many attempts at something along these lines have failed in recent years. A whole raft of sites with forums and blog consolidation have failed (see for example The GIS Forum, which shut down about Feb 2011 and has since lost its domain registration). A geospatial Reddit is still alive but pretty quiet. GIS-StackExchange is doing better but seems to have a programmer focus, rather than a more general scope. I expect the most valuable social networks for students and users of GIS will be self-forming on platforms like Twitter and Google+, which it's rumored, may have a dedicated K-12 segment in time.

On the other hand, I do expect more and more cloud based mapping sites such as ArcGIS Online and to have their own in-built social tools. Those could be most valuable for students, as long as they are guided in responsible use by educators.