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The positive benefits of the accumulation of ideas and projects in whatever format--Pinterest, Edmodo, Sharemylesson--do matter to teaching. Perhaps, though, these deserve a different category or title? We can opt to interact or not. We can offer and take with or without any socialization. There is minimal pressure to perform or to reciprocate. Don't teachers have enough pressures already? These networks matter because they are there when we need them, but they don't require anything from us. The greater our library of resources, the more likely we are to reach more students. That matters.
Maybe the question would work better as "Why do social networks matter to teachers and learners?" because the heart of social networking is the "social" part. Do my teacher group forum discussions (Facebook, LinkedIn) matter to my teaching? They really matter more to me as a person. I either get support for my ideas, which reinforces my current thinking or others oppose my ideas, which helps me reflect on the validity of my current thinking. In that I may arrive at a more definitive conclusion or a more powerful understanding, these asynchronous social networks do matter.
Twitter chats or Google Hangouts, in their synchronous functioning are not unlike just getting together in a F2F group after school or a "teacher happy hour". In either of these networks, one can observe as a spectator or engage to the degree he/she chooses. The choice of anonymity is again helpful because sometimes, social pressures weigh in. Likewise, for the more extroverted folks, this is an opportunity to feel connected. In that the choice of participation style exists, here, these networks do matter.
Finally, what really seems to stand out to me is the joy of finding like-minded educators and thinkers (ASCD, Edutopia). I used to get very tired of that solitary feeling that I was "the only one" who wanted to do this or that or think this or that. Social networking allows us to find a "family" of sorts. In his book, Illusions, Richard Bach put it best:
"The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other's life. Rarely
do members of one family grow up under the same roof.”
While I've certainly found a few like-minded teachers in my organizational settings, finding a host of them, a gaggle, cluster, gang or family of them, helps me to keep focused on my goal. They, either as role-models or in direct confrontation, don't let me fall. Whether they realize it or not, the knowledge that they are there, that they exist, matters greatly.
In my relatively cold online world, I find a warm sense of belonging. I don't see how that could NOT matter.