The Economist's January 2008 "Oxford 2.0"-style debate considered the proposition Social networking technologies will bring large [positive] changes to educational methods, in and out of the classroom, with the additional gloss

Social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook have now become a ubiquitous part of many students’ lives. The value of social networking has been defined, in one sense, as the collective power of community to help inform perspectives that would not be unilaterally formed – e.g. the best thinking comes from many not one. Others argue that significant time spent on social networking platforms actually distracts students from their studies. So a question emerges, could the introduction of social networking tools be useful in a formal classroom setting? Additionally, is the concept of social networking a progressive, but legitimate, form of student-to-student and student-to-teacher collaboration?"

The Economist closed down comments on its site in January 28, but the discussion continues.

The Debate proper[]

The "Debate Hall"[]

During the debate, the summary page was described as "Debate Hall".

Speakers and Moderator[]

Biographies and links to their statements are available from the summary page.

The opening 'pro' argument was written using Twitter; some of the tweets are available here.

Guest participants[]

Several guest participants were invited to make statements. During the debate, only the most recent post was available from the debate hall; in his Winner announcement, the Moderator pointed to the (non-anonymous registration required) Facebook group as the only currently-available links of information.

All four guests took positions in favor of the proposition.


Commenting and voting in the debate required registration with an email account. Comments did not allow formatting or linking, there was no RSS access, and there is no search facility.


After initially running 70/30 in favor of the proposition, the final results were 63/37 in favor.

The blogosphere[]

The speaker for the proposition supplemented his official statement with posts on his blog (opening, rebuttal, final). Both he and the opposition speaker commented in several other blog threads.

danah boyd's contributions were noteworthy enough to be mentioned the moderator's closing statements. Let's define our terms highlighted that neither of the speakers had defined "social networking technologies".

Vicki A. Davis It is about Educational Networking NOT Social Networking influenced the choice of Educational networking as a top-level heading on this wiki.

There were quite a few other discussions in the blogosphere. The listing on Tales from the Net is somewhat out of date but appears to be the best one out there for now. (Note from Jon, author of that page as well as creator of this: I'll be moving the links over as I get time.)

On social network sites[]

The I'm following The Economist Debate Series has a complete list of the statements and a discussion forum, although there was virtually no actual discussion there during the debate. There are currently only 100 members, in contrast with the existing SIR - I am rather fond of your publication The Economist with over 15,000. The Facebook group lists somebody from SparkPR as a "creator", and two of the four admins are from SparkPR; presumably SparkPR is working with The Economist on this project.

A discussion on involving roughly a half-dozen people and surfaced two topics that hadn't come up elsewhere: a reference to the Sakai project, and an observation that more pervasive availability of social networking systems could make it easier to sell drugs in schools.

A discussion in a MySpace teachers' group similarly led to a topic that had been overlooked: the risks that adding a student as a "friend" on MySpace could be seen as improper behavior by a teacher.

Ongoing discussions[]

Discussion on several topics has continued after the formal debate was closed down.

In the blogosphere[]

  • Let’s define our terms on danah boyd’s apophenia is discussing semantics: just what do we mean by “social networking technologies”? Social networks - the definition thing on Martin Weller's the Ed Techie suggests that "this getting bogged down in definition is a habit that bedevils academic discourse to the point where we spend all our time debating what it is we will be debating".
  • The speaker for the proposition's The finale covers his perspectives on the digital divide, bans on Blogger in schools, feelings that practitioners were marginalized, and speculations on why the voting swung against the pro side, and more.
  • eLearn's 2008 predictions and my response discusses marginalization of practitioners
  • On “The Twitterialization” of Blogging, Networks, Etc. on weblogg-ed is another example of a meme that came up several times in the debate: fears that new technology will interfere with critical thinking

On social networking sites[]


Assessment as a learning experience[]

The speaker for the proposition spoke of the value of assessment for learning, in which of learning in the classroom is built around peer support, self-questioning, self-assessment and peer-assessment, with teacher as guide.

(Please put any assessments of the debate from this perspective here!)


This page is a good start!

What else?

Related work and references[]