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Purposeful Networking

This post was co-authored with Stephanie Sandifer and is cross-posted on her blog Change Agency.

In another infamous “Twitter learning moment”, we were directed by @durff to an engaging Ustream presentation broadcasting live from the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs and Executives (unfortunately, this hasn’t been archived, but we’ll post it when it becomes available). The focus of the panel discussion was on the use of Social Networks in the business world, and the discussion generally addressed the idea that professionals should be “fluent” in the use of social networks (like Facebook and Linkedin, Twitter (increasingly important), Ning — but not MySpace) for professional networking. The term “purposeful networking” was brought up in the Ustream presentation, and tweeted by @durff and replied to by Stephanie (@ssandifer):

Durff @ssandifer purposeful networking – things that make me think
ssandifer @durff So much content here for a high school level 1/2 credit course in “purposeful & professional online networking”
Durff @ssandifer yet those who graduate will need skills to communicate, connect, and collaborate in these online networks
ssandifer “purposeful networking” could/should be considered a 21st Century literacy.
ssandifer @durff @kolson29 And we continue with malpractice by NOT prepping kids for this…

The idea of purposeful networking has been discussed many times in the world of business, but somehow hasn’t become a matter of importance in mainstream education. In my post This is IT – Why Web 2.0, Aaron Strout of Mzinga was mentioned for posting a job and requiring applicants to apply through social media rather than the traditional resume. Wesley Fryer wrote a post this week titled Web 2.0 in the Enterprise which details the webinar “Web 2.0 for your Business” from Irwin Lazar, Principal Analyst and Program Director for Nemertes Research. The post is excellent and a must-read for educators. Some of the notes in the post include this:

We are living in an information society now, and we have to react quickly to news and trends
– brokers, real estate agents have certainly seen this in the past few weeks
– need to be able to process information, share it, aggregate it
– agility: the ability to react quickly to change
– agility is key in the 21st century business environment

This increasing use of networking in the business world leads us to believe that purposeful networking is an essential skill for students today. The ISTE National Educational Technology Standards for Students (NETS-S) states standards for technology in education today, but doesn’t actually mention networking as a skill. The closest standard is under Communication and Collaboration where it states “interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media.”

As this post was being written, I asked Aaron Strout (via twitter) about essential skills in business and social media today. He responded in less than 5 minutes and we were able to have a phone conversation about this. (note: Aaron and I have never met, he works in Boston, I in rural Wisconsin – this networking would NOT have happened without Twitter.) Aaron is the Vice President of New Media at Mzinga, a company which believes, “that companies can use their existing communities of people – their employees, their customers, their partners, and their shareholders – to solve their business needs and provide real value to the business.” While this company is obviously on the cutting edge of social media, adoption of Web 2.0 technologies and online interactions, it’s a clear indicator of the future skills that our students will need in future professions.

Aaron and I spoke about how networking and Web 2.0 skills are essential for anyone entering (or already in) customer service, marketing, product design and recruiting, to name just a few fields (I would argue that education should be included). For those in public relations, things have changed – rather than releasing information directly to the mainstream media, now the mainstream media often looks to bloggers for the most current trends and information. Isn’t blogging a skill that professionals should have? As Mzinga itself is recruiting through social media (as are various other companies, several tweets/day roll across my screen with the words “we’re hiring”) and LinkedIn and Facebook are becoming more and more popular as a professional networking platforms, wouldn’t “purposeful networking” be a valued skill in our students?

While it’s more common to find younger candidates with the necessary skill set for social media, Aaron was telling me about a meeting he was in recently in which they were discussing the need for more younger people in nonprofits. He mentioned that someone brought up the point that it isn’t necessarily a distinction between young and old, it’s a distinction between connected and unconnected. This is really interesting as the terms “digital natives” and “net generation” are being thrown about with abandon in education and the media. I did an unscientific poll recently of my twitter network and found that the average age of the people who follow me on twitter (226 of the 370 or so) is 39.6 – while this was a very casual survey, this is a pretty clear indicator of the fact that social networking is not only for the under 25 demographic.

One distinction is how the different age groups use networking. As Aaron pointed out, most younger professionals are coming into the workplace very comfortable with the concept of social media because they’re already using it informally – for interaction with social groups. In my experience, and evidenced below, the older demographic uses networking more for professional purposes. There are obvious reasons for this, but the implication is that “purposeful networking” is a skill not gained strictly through the use of social networking sites. There are levels of interaction in networking, and although transparency is becoming more accepted and valued, there is still a line between the strictly social use of networking and professional. Aaron describes how he’s fine with seeing the real side of prospective employees on Facebook profiles and twitterstreams because it gives him a better picture of who people are, but in our opinion and experience, networking is much more than simply posting information about yourself on various sites.

There are several great pieces about the topic of different generational uses of networking on the Wikinomics blog – “A Digital Generation” and “GenX and the Real Talent Crunch“. The bit that was most intriguing was this, from “GenX and the Real Talent Crunch“:

What’s more, as Dan points out in his recent post “A digital generation?,” Gen Xers have mastered productive uses of the Internet to a much higher degree than the entertainment-focused Net Gen, and are the true drivers of technology innovation.

This is where purposeful networking as a 21st century skill comes in. When I “asked Twitter” for the skills necessary for success in social media and business today, here’s what came back:

skydaddy @kolson29 Same as always: Be professional. Follow through. Take less and give more than is expected of you.
dpenrose @kolson29 Of course, being able to communicate effectively, time management, flexibilty, a generalist, a minimalist, innovative, workaholic
krusk @kolson29 How about authenticity? It’s becoming more important online, and I think that translates to the offline world as well.
andykatz22 @kolson29 relationship builder, finger on the pulse, multitasker
LaurieShuls @kolson29 I’d say that you need to find creative ways to comm with this niche media – no phone calls – converse via tweets, FB, etc.
LaurieShuls @kolson29 I’d also note that you should read EVERYTHING, I track all of my contacts, their personal blogs, etc. so we’re in constant contact
smheadhunter Networking doesn’t just get you a job – it gives you a network to make your next job successful

As shown in these answers, networking IS a skill and needs to be taught as such. Other terms that are thrown about in education are netiquette and digital citizenship, but too often these are focused on online safety, which although a concern, isn’t the same as purposeful networking.

One of the issues facing educators who are trying to bring about the use of these tools and tackle the issue of purposeful networking in the classroom, is that most educators are not in a field that is making use of these tools. Many educators have not had careers outside of the classroom. Those educators who have had other careers are most likely unaware of these changes that have been occurring in the use of technology in the business world if they haven’t worked outside of the classroom in the past five years or made a concerted effort to stay connected. Additionally, the education profession historically has been a profession of “isolationism” despite recent efforts to establish Professional Learning Communities within schools. Developing a system-wide understanding of the need for the use of these tools is challenging, but essential if we hope to prepare our students with the skills they need to communicate, connect, and collaborate effectively and professionally in this increasingly connected world. Networking is extremely powerful for connecting educators and students to professionals outside of education – the challenge in education today is breaking down barriers and allowing students and teachers access to the sites and time in the school day and curriculum.

Potential solutions for overcoming these barriers include everything from teacher externships in fields related to their content areas, systemic change in practice at all levels of the system to include the use of Web 2.0 and social networking tools, and integration of 21st Century literacies/tools across the curriculum. At this time, educators should make efforts to connect with fields related to content areas, whether in their own communities or globally. Networking tools give great opportunities for this. Just one example of this is the ability to connect with professionals in various fields through twitter, which has been an invaluable tool for seeing new trends in the business field. It would be equally beneficial for educators in all content areas. Networking, whether physically or online, is essential for staying current in the world for which we are preparing our students.

How do you reach beyond your profession to stay connected?

What are your solutions for breaking down the barriers to allow purposeful networking to become a part of mainstream education?

Edited with more input:

lisarokusek @kolson29 great post on networking – along with purposeful I would add mindful….it implies a plan, respect, and presence in the present (added 8:45 a.m. 3/28/08)

Edited to include additional resources:

Google Generation is a myth, says new research” – JISC (added 9:00 pm 3/28/08)
Fact or Fiction? You Tell Me!” – Sue Waters (added 9:00 pm 3/28/08)
Digital Natives or simply Digital Dilettantes” -  John Larkin (added 9:00 pm 3/28/08)

10 Responses to “Purposeful Networking”

  1. Kate and Stephanie, you really put a lot of work into this post and it shows. I hadn’t considered social networks from this perspective, having had some years to work on my own purposeful networking skills I see applications for those skills in the Web2.0 tools.

    I agree that education needs to teach socialization. It happens naturally at school, when you get the mass of kids into one location they have to learn how to interact.
    But translating that to an online context is much more difficult.

    And yet, there are some indications that kids really are understanding how to connect online. Or, for the generation after the Net Gen, they aren’t seeing the clear lines that separate online and offline interactions.
    http://www.annhandley.com/2008/03/16/what-is-a-friend/

    So, when those trends combine, how does traditional education incorporate the children’s online communities in a way that validates their relationships without disrupting their education?

    I know I’ve just opened the question wider than providing any answers. Hope you don’t mind. :)

  2. indigo196 says:

    Very solid post. It is interesting to see that your survey and the information from your conversation with Aaron indicate that our young students are not really ‘digital natives’. I have often thought the term digital native was tossed around by people who wanted an excuse for the lack of their own knowledge regarding technology; it would allow them to remain ignorant by making two assumptions:

    1. Technology was just for young people
    2. Young people get all the technology education they need without getting it at school.

    It is time for education (the institution) to realize that they failed my generation (I am 40+) and they are failing this one as well… and the attempts they are making now amount to little more than creating the environment that was needed in the 80s and 90s.

  3. durff says:

    Thank you for referencing me! I was just discussing the use of a chat room for networking with middle schoolers. This topic intrigues me!!

  4. Aaron Strout says:

    Kate/Stephanie – great post. Really meaty with great information. It was great being able to spend a little bit of time talking F2F about this topic.

    Best,
    Aaron (@astrout)

  5. This is an excellent summary of the current state of affairs. I was just in a meeting with a college dean who noted that while students may have great abilities to surf and text, they interact with information at a very shallow level.

    But these new tools enable a very deep engagement with people as well as content. An example was given of a history instructor in the US covering the Revolutionary War, who Skyped into the classroom of a colleague in the UK, allowing the students to debate the war from – literally – both sides of the Atlantic.

    In order for students to see these tools as more than playthings, they need to see that use modeled. Getting teachers up to speed on this new world is crucial, but just as important is to find those students who are already going more than a layer down, incent them to go even deeper, and then reward the heck out of that behavior.

  6. edtechworkshop says:

    Very thought-provoking post. How do I reach beyond my profession to stay connected? Truthfully, this is counter to the ideas you present (which I completely agree with), but I spend so much time online and on the computer within my profession (education) that I try to make my beyond the profession connections in the offline world. I read books, talk to people, and stuff like that, which connects me with my body, the world around me and others who are in my community but have diverse interests. It is almost like existing in two worlds.
    I have been an educator for over 15 years but only recently started a blog, and I have found that blogging has been the key to becoming (or trying to become) part of a network of educators that I barely knew existed.
    As for solutions to breaking down the barriers….I think it is happening slowly but surely every day. And, of course, the network of the teachers is key. As you know, I immediately went to the network the other day when I had a run-in of sorts with a parent. The network was there to provide support for me, and knowing I have this support helps me go forward in my little corner of the world to increase networking opportunities for my students.

  7. Marie says:

    I was actually thinking the other day, how did teachers connect before networking? They didn’t. Only with those teachers in their schools via the staffroom! I remember spending lunch-hours at Dymocks (bookstore) scouring for class resources as I was always on the lookout for interesting materials (rather than regurgitating the same material for each class as some teachers tended to do). Yes it has certainly opened up a whole world of support and connections that I now cannot imagine life without.

    Marie

  8. Sue Waters says:

    Hi Kate – thanks for linking to my post and thought you might like to read the comments in Darren’s post I’m Dissappointed in the Technology Skills of My Students. Most interesting was that I wrote a lengthy comment about digital natives, which took me so long to write that by the time it was posted others had written similar also stating fairly similar thoughts. This post is definitely worth a read — most importantly the comments left.

  9. John Larkin says:

    Hi Kate,

    Great post. I have saved it as a pdf so I can digest it all. Thanks for the link to my post about those little digital dilettantes!

    Remember, don’t work too hard Kate!

    Cheers, John

  10. Kate Olson says:

    @JohnJohansen you’ve brought up a really important issue, and I’m not sure of the solution yet. One thing we face in schools are very strong network filters that don’t allow access to many networking sites. This is the most basic hurdle to bridging the distance between play and productivity with technology. We aren’t able to model how to use technology appropriately/productively if we don’t have access. Thanks again for the great blogging post I referenced in this post!

    @indigo196 digital natives is just one of those terms that it’s really easy to throw around without truly thinking of what’s behind it. Labeling generations is tough at any time, and grouping that with a skill set so controversial as technology use just isn’t logical.

    @durff you provided such great food for thought that day on twitter about the ustream session – great stuff! I’m so happy I was able to stop in and learn from that forum – thanks for letting us all know about it.

    @Aaron – yet again, thanks for taking the time to talk to me, companies like Mzinga are really showing educators what skills our students will need to thrive in business!

    @Corrie – I love this! “In order for students to see these tools as more than playthings, they need to see that use modeled. Getting teachers up to speed on this new world is crucial, but just as important is to find those students who are already going more than a layer down, incent them to go even deeper, and then reward the heck out of that behavior.” So many students’ great work is often overlooked by labeling an entire generation – it IS very important to give incentives to those who go above and beyond and model the skills we’d like to see in all of our students. As for modeling by educators, that’s key – how will students know how to use these tools productively if they’re the only ones using them? Of course, in order to model, teachers would need access……….

    @edtechworkshop – I agree completely, the network of educators is amazing and I wouldn’t give mine up for anything! Stepping outside that to interact with other professionals from around the world is very interesting, though, and the “no borders” atmosphere is something that is unique to the online environment.

    @Marie – very true about teachers not networking, but it’s true about all professions. Time and location are always issues, which is what is so neat about the online environment. I don’t network at school because I never have time to leave my classroom!

    @Sue – loved your post and did read Darren’s post – looks like we’re all thinking the same thing!

    @JohnLarkin – you’re a constant inspiration, thanks for all the learning you’ve shared with me – as for working too hard, blogging isn’t work for me – it’s one of my favorite things to do :-)

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