Teaching the Social Web

Yesterday my wife got a message on Facebook from a friend asking for advice on how to handle a young teenage girl’s use of MySpace. I instantly went into parent mode and told her how we deal with our teenager. The overall theme of my response was trust and communication. If you build trust and communicate openly, you can avoid a lot of problems and pitfalls.

Then I got to work and started thinking about social learning, the workplace, and generation gaps. Today we think and talk about how to implement and manage social learning in the workplace. I’ve seen discussions and blog posts about appropriate use of social tools like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and FriendFeed in the workplace. People talk about the same themes I did in my response: Trust and Communication.

  • Do we trust people to be responsible in the workplace?
  • What types of communication are appropriate?
  • Are usage guidelines effectively defined?

The talk is often reactive, e.g.  people have the tools and are using them, so we need to put some guidelines and policies in place. It’s shifting to be more proactive, e.g. how do we build social learning tools our employees can use effectively?

We need to be proactive and think about our future workforce. My 4th grader just finished a research report. From my perspective the goal of the report was to prepare kids for more in-depth research and reporting as they get older – valuable skills in the professional workplace. There was a direct correlation between the 4th grade report and the work I do daily. Schools have built-in programs that prepare kids not only for the next level of education, but also for life as a working adult. But does that preparation adequately address the rapid shift of social interactions to the online world? Are kids being prepared to use social tools as resources?

At a certain level and in some cases, yes. But are the foundations for responsible and effective use being laid at the right age? I’m not sure. If kids, and I mean pre-teen kids, can learn to research online using government web sites and Wikipedia, then shouldn’t they also learn about how to use social sites for learning? At what age should they start learning how to be an online citizen?

Parents need to be responsible and discuss appropriate social use of the web with their kids, but do schools bear some responsibility for preparing kids for appropriate social learning? What does that preparation look like? Most professional jobs expect entry level workers to know certian tools like Office. When do we start demanding that workers also demonstrate effective use of Twitter or LinkedIn or Ning or blogging? It’s a question worth asking of your local school board.

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