Using Networks for More Than a Single Click

By Dan Donahoo
You’ve probably seen a tweet or post appear in your feed from a teacher requesting that you, “Please retweet this so my students can see how quickly things can spread on the Internet." Somewhere, a clever teacher thought this would be a useful way to help students consider what and how they share through social media. It is, indeed, a quick way to get the elementary point across that networks are, by their nature, very challenging things to control.

This technique has since been used by teachers over and over and over, all using the simple single click nature — the path of least resistance when it comes to demonstrating how social media works. Yet, the message they are conveying is different to the one they think they are making. That point: don’t take your social network for granted.

This example represents the challenges that education and learning face in the current age of viral communication. The problem is between our Ken Robinson videos and our photos from teachers’ doors with witty sticky notes, we have lost sense of how the internet works. Social media offers channels to engage with others in new and different ways. We are being offered access to the combined “wisdom of the room,” where the room spans the entire globe (on the right day, when the winds are blowing in the right direction). Teachers should be asking themselves, how can we best prepare students to walk into this room and have a conversation? How can we teach them that it is more than just getting a click, a forward, and escalating the numbers of friends, followers, or widgets?

A few times, I’ve tried to engage the twitter accounts that have asked me to retweet. The attempts I made to start a conversation with the teacher or their class has been met with silence, and it is disappointing. These unsuccessful efforts have shown me that instead of teaching our students the depth and potential of the Internet, many of us are still padding in the shallows and not looking far beneath the surface.

If I was back in the classroom, I’d be using this phenomena to discuss copyright and the attribution of ideas. To explore whether it is right to use someone else’s teaching methods before asking them first, or at least engaging them in a conversation about the context in which they undertook this exercise and what came next. There are many teachers out there using social media in interesting and dynamic ways: class twitter accounts, using Facebook to manage class projects, inviting people to “come into their class” via Skype or Google Hangout. Rather than just borrowing their ideas, we need to engage them in deeper conversation — maybe turning an initial 140 character greeting into an email discussion and meeting in real life.

There are ideas that I’ve suggested to those who request to “Please share/retweet this so my students can see how quickly things can spread on the Internet” activity has been to:

  • Use Twitter to ask your followers to retweet their "best practices of digital citizenship" to students. For example: "I want my students to become good digital citizens, pls tweet us with ideas about how you do that."
  • Invite some of the tweeters students find most interesting to have a Skype chat with the class. Get students to deconstruct YouTube comment threads in English and ask them to create five personal rules for Snapchat use.
  • Ask students if it’s okay to use someone else's idea that was discovered on social media, and lead them in a discussion about copyright, open content, and Creative Commons.


Social media is about so much more than viral content. When using social media as an educational tool, educators need to think beyond a simple click and explore the depths of digital citizenship, rights to intellectual property, and risk management. Teaching and learning is about finding out how deep you can go. Get diving.

About Daniel Donahoo 
Daniel Donahoo is a researcher and author interested in childhood learning and development, as well as technology and emerging literacies. He has published two books, Idolising Children and Adproofing Your Kids. Daniel is currently the Director of Project Synthesis where he works with education and community organisations to support digital capacity, inclusion, and research. He is a contributor to Wired's and collaborates on digital projects like In B Flat 2.0. He tweets @ddonahoo and can be found at The NMC first came to know Daniel through his NMC Horizon Report coverage in the Huffington Post.


Thumbnail CC BY-SA 2.0 by Ken Lee; 1st image CC BY 2.0 by ; 2nd image CC BY-SA 2.0 by; 3rd image CC BY 2.0 by marek.sotak

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