Danah Boyd: Relationships and Network Building

Boyd defines 21st century learning as making sense of the networks of public life. She points out that the most valuable thing gained from America’s top higher ed institutions isn’t the degree or the knowledge, but the relationships and networks students have made in their time there. She argues that building lifelong learners means “helping people recognize how important it is that they continuously surround themselves by people that they can learn from...[and] connect to new people on a regular basis.” She fears that social media makes it too easy for young people to sequester themselves into a narrow focus of like-minded people.

Photo credit: http://edudemic.com/2012/11/teach-students-about-social-media/

Photo credit: http://edudemic.com/2012/11/teach-students-about-social-media/

While I agree with this goal, I would argue that surrounding oneself with like-minded people is an important part of development that shouldn’t be cut out. Solidifying one’s own identity requires finding role models and others who reflect your values so you can live them and engage in them. As educators, we can help young people take their smaller circle for identity negotiation and widen it to open the way for brave, new intellectual pursuits. The question is how can we do this best?

How can we facilitate the building of social networks? How do we support natural relationship building and encourage the expansion of this comfort zone? How do we reward and document this form of growth and development?