Session 4.1: Social Networking and Writing I: Developments in Social Networking
Randall Woodland (University of Michigan-Dearborn), John Gantt (Auburn University-Montomery), Jason Kneip (Auburn University-Montgomery)
Randall Woodland , University of Michigan Dearborn: “When MySpace is OurSpace: Social Networking in/as the Classroom”
Woodland’s talk focused largely on his experiences creating a course at the University of Michigan-Dearborn titled “Wireless World: How Computers Change the Ways We Read and Write.” As this course is postponed until 2008 and is in continued development, Woodland discussed the progressive changes the syllabus for “Wireless World” has gone through; he provided for conference-goers a handout of the proposed syllabus from last fall. Woodland began by discussing the institutional context for this course, which would be a first-year seminar in the liberal studies focusing on the life of the mind. These seminar courses are paired with a composition course; the content of the “Wireless World” course would focus on literacy studies. Woodland articulated his goal for this course is his desire to “help students contextualize the technologies they take for granted.” In particular, he would like students to think more critically about the Web 2.0 spaces they already use. To help students meet this goal, the course centers on three main technologies: blogs, social networking sites, and wikis (with other technologies given briefer attention, such as iPods). The course asks students to interrogate these technologies using various strands of inquiry: textual analysis, historical analysis (examining such issues as the history of the book, printing, journalism, encyclopedias, and the emergence of Web 1.0), and research methodologies. After explaining the goals and the modes of analysis for the course, Woodland turned to some issues he had encountered in planning this course. Some of the larger issues he encountered dealt with how to incorporate the varied literacies enrolled students would bring to the class, how to use web tools to study web tools, and where to situate the learning space itself. In particular, Woodland found some issues with MySpace as a teaching site. For example, privacy surfaced as a potential concern. Should instructors give students their MySpace addresses? Should instructors look at students’ MySpace accounts? What should instructors do to address online security and identity theft as well as the requirements of institutional review boards? Finally, how should instructors guide students to approach research in MySpace (such as asking them to create fake personas for use in these sites, which Woodland notes “he is concerned about,” or giving the students the choice to “go live” with their real profiles)? Woodland’s talk overall offered a brief foray into some of the pressing issues regarding cyberspace research and student writing and research online.
John Gantt, Auburn University-Montgomery: “Not a Bob Dylan Song: Folksonomies and Academic Research”
Gantt, a cataloging librarian at Auburn University-Montgomery, began by touching on the debate regarding how academics should adapt to the revolution of digital sources and argued that folksonomies represent a promising approach to metadata. Noting that “folksonomy” has become a buzzword in libraries and library schools, Gantt attempted to offer a clear definition for the word: “A set of user-generated metadata that applies to a particular Web-based information domain.” (As an example, user-generated tags in the social networking/tagging application del.icio.us would count as folksonomies.) Currently, many libraries are debating whether to continue with traditional subject cataloging or instead shift to Google-like interfaces that rely on keyword searching. While traditional cataloging is based on a top-down model wherein higher-ups establish the terms (and offering a highly sophisticated level of access), traditional methods are not practical for web-based documents. For online documents, folksonomies offer a user-friendly, inclusive (incorporating diverse users), highly current, inexpensive and efficient method of searching and browsing for information. However, librarians are concerned about folksonomies for several reasons: a lack of synonym control and control for words with multiple meanings (for instance, does “cold” refer to the illness or to a temperature?); inconsistent or inaccurate usage in the application of tags; “tag bombing” (where commercial spammers promote their products with fake or inaccurate tags or where individuals simply attempt to create havoc via inappropriate use of tags). Yet there are ways around these issues, notes Gantt. First, encourage tagging in context. Second, encourage the use of tagging itself. Third, encourage libraries to participate in social networks, such as the public libraries on LibraryThing and PennTags (user tags in the University of Pennsylvania catalog). Gantt’s talk brought a fresh perspective on user-generated content from the viewpoint of an academic librarian and his discussion of folksonomies was a useful introduction to some emerging issues regarding tagging systems.
Jason Kneip, Auburn University-Montgomery: “Emerging Threats: Social Networking in Public Spaces”
Like Gantt, Kneip’s institutional affiliation is also Auburn University, where he works as a special collections librarian and archivist. His discussion focused largely on the Deleting Online Predators Act, or DOPA, a recent attempt to block social networking sites for minors at schools and libraries. Offering a brief history of DOPA, Kneip described how the bill had gone to the House of Representatives, where it passed by a large majority, then moved to the Senate where it died. Ted Stevens, author of the bill, then renamed it the “Protecting Children in the 21st Century” act, an act which is still in committee. Since then, Illinois, Georgia, North Carolina, and Oklahoma have introduced similar legislation. However, Kneip notes, DOPA doesn’t prevent sexual predators from contacting minors. Instead, we should focus on the benefits of social networking sites, which range from easy communication with others to the ability to work collaboratively on documents with others. Again, as an academic librarian, Kneip’s perspective on DOPA and social networking in the academy was interesting, though I would have liked to have heard his perspective on the Deleting Online Predators Act versus the already enacted Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA).