Monday, July 25, 2011

Connection Between Social Media and Life

One of my favorite sessions to lead with other teachers or those involved in ministry roles is Technology Trends Teachers Need to Know (replacing the word "teachers" with "pastors", "DCEs", or "church members" for whatever group is my audience). I enjoy sharing this session with other professionals because this is never the same presentation twice. Technology, education, life, and culture are changing so quickly that this session never becomes stale and I am forced to stay current by reading, blogging, and researching.

In this research, I came across a blog post by Lisa Nielsen at The Innovative Educator. Ms. Nielsen analyzed the findings of a recent report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. This research project showed that, in the words of Ms. Nielsen, "Note only do social networks fail to retard offline growth, they actually help users develop connections and form stronger relationships in the real world." (Read Ms. Nielsen's full summary and blog post here.) These findings run counter to common criticisms about social media -- counter to the claims that social media turns people into antisocial entities, disconnected from real relationships with people.

These findings prompt some new questions for all of us in education, but especially those of us connected with churches and ministries.

  • How does this research inform our work with students in the way we design curricular lessons and activities?
  • How does this research inform our interactions with school families and church members?
I would love to post your answers to these two questions. Please share your thoughts as a comment to this blog.


  1. I have often suggested that social media is just an extension of real-life and never a replacement. Although I do know there are some kids and adults who use it to escape away from "real-life." Much like everything else, social media should never replace full social interaction, but rather augment it. There are just some things that need to take place F2F. Similar to what you tell parents during orientation, if something goes wrong or I need to tell you something important, I'll always call or meet with you and not send an email.

    Didn't the Pew Internet & American Life Project also find that most teens on social networking sites "friend" mostly people whom they have previously met face to face anyway? If that's the case, we already see that relationship dynamic playing out.

    This all just means that we must begin to move in a direction of blending our instruction. Like you and I have talked about before, how do we create hybrids or our current courses to give students the opportunity to practice effective online communication and learning skills?

    Great thought provoking questions. We are actually dealing with these discussion in my Discipleship in the Digital Age class I'm in right now.

  2. To reference your statistic, only 3% of Facebook "friends" are ones that the user never met in person.

    The word "enhancement" comes to my mind when considering social media interactions. For many people, social media enhances already healthy relationships. In my case, I can honestly say that I would not have attended a 30th anniversary reunion of my high school class this summer had it not been for social media. I re-connected with high school classmates, which enhanced my connections in such a way that I was comfortable and anxious to attend such a gathering.

    If social media can be used to enhance the body of Christ, what excuse do we have to shy away from this? It is easy to worry about the problems of social media, but we need to also be intentional about looking at the opportunities for education and ministry.

  3. Thank you for sharing this. We need new ways of thinking about how we are doing the work we are doing. When people have beliefs like social media makes us antisocial and disconnected or wanting to escape from reality, I say, "But it is people they are speaking to online. Real people who share their interests."

    I disagree with Rob Jacklin's belief that there are "just some things we need to take place F2F." Not at all. I've had the great opportunity to develop a personal learning network comprised of people across the globe. When I think of them I am not thinking of where the live but rather what they think.

    Geographical boundaries / limitations are gone with the advent of social media. I have done amazing work with those I've collaborated with online (developed projects, written a book, written articles, developed friendships). F2F was not necessary in fact, it doesn't matter whether I'm emailing, BBMing, IMing, texting, Tweeting, Skyping, or Hanging Out. It's all just communicating by whatever means makes sense at the time. If we happen to be in the same place, F2F is great, but if we happen to be across the globe, there are many other options that work as well and often even better.

  4. One thing to consider before becoming giddy about this research is that it was conducted on adults. It is safe to say that for those who already have a social skills set, social media is an extension. For young children (and school age children) our research tells us that face to face contact is essential for social and cognitive development.

    I am all in favor of accepting the reality of social media and using it in the classroom. However, I moved from teaching 5 year olds to teaching undergrads. Please do not assume that what works for adults or older children is what is best for younger children.

  5. Point well taken, Kim. Thanks for chiming in.

    It is interesting that the report noted that users of Facebook tended to be more trusting of others, perhaps because they have a comfort level about their information being digitally available. That is one area of concern for the use of social digital tools at a young age -- the fact that they might not have the same judgment when becoming more trusting.