03/01/2009

Getting Students to Tap into Their Social Networks in a Fun and Interactive Way

By Madelaine Currelly

Most job seekers do not have the natural networking skills needed to move them from unemployment to employment. Most people have been taught about the hidden job market and the importance of infiltrating that market, but not how to infiltrate the hidden market. Learning the art of networking in a fun and interactive way is one way to accomplish this goal. Educators and career counselors are always searching for tools that will teach the skill of networking in an engaging and entertaining manner.  Students can be taught networking skill especially when games are utilized. The Game of Networking can be used to teach the art of networking to students.

Students can practice social networking with an interactive board game designed to illustrate the process of networking and provide a playing field to practice this important skill. By simulating real-life experiences, the game demonstrates the skills and techniques essential to increasing social capital - all in a direct, highly effective manner. And the students like it too!

Improving Access and Utilization of Social Resources

Social capital is an indispensable resource. No matter what your goals are, every network you belong to - your family, your friends, your school, your community - contains innumerable resources to help students on their academic and career path. The trick is to identify what these resources are and to learn how to use them - a process made clear and comprehensive by the Game of Networking. Networking is an intuitive skill, more an art than a science - learning it requires firsthand experience and practice. This is exactly what the Game of Networking provides. By simulating the steps integral to the networking process, the game allows students to practice networking in a low-pressure setting while internalizing the relevant skills and knowledge. 

Social Networking Game

The game is based on the concept that we all have relationships that are separated by degrees, and in those relationships are embedded social resources. The better you are at making contacts and uncovering resources, the easier it will be to achieve your goals. Counselors and/or teachers can utilize the board game after they talk to students about the hidden job market and the importance of connecting with as many people as they can. Many times this becomes a cumbersome discussion, as the students are unable to grasp some of the concepts and the process for making these connections. However, after initiating some group activities on the merits of tapping into networks for social resources, games can be introduced to serve as a simulated networked environment. Students are assigned goals with tasks and then are required to seek out the resource cards that will help them accomplish those tasks. Additionally, it requires that they follow a process of connecting with other players to obtain the resource cards. This will help to link the concepts that were discussed previously to actually conducting some networking through the game. At the same time it allows teachers and/or counselors to provide feedback on how the students are doing in a constructive way.

Not all of us are good networkers and practicing networking is a real challenge. To combat this, the Game of Networking is an attempt to mirror real life in a fun, relaxed setting, allowing players to gain firsthand experience in a stress-free environment. The game is simple: each player is assigned a goal, and the first player to achieve this goal wins. Of course, networking is a game of strategy - each goal rests on top of a web of associated tasks. Players move through a step-by-step process, making connections, determining which resources are useful to their purposes and negotiating the exchange of these resources with one another. Since resources are not simply there for the taking, cooperation is key - players give and take, maintaining their social networks through mutually beneficial relationships. Throughout the game, a facilitator helps each player reflect on their moves and relate the steps they have taken to real-life experiences.

Opportunity to Practice Social Networking

When students play the game they don't realize they are actually practicing networking. Instead they see first hand the power of social capital and how it helps to accomplish goals in a fun and interactive way. More importantly they get to see what a goal is, the associated tasks and how resources from the network (other players' resource cards) can help accomplish them. The connection between setting a goal and getting other people to help became quite clear after one student played the game she exclaimed,  "I guess what we need to do if we want to get others to help us is set goals." "If I set a goal and let people know, then there's a chance they might be able to help me," said another student.

Networking is often a much more difficult task then most people think. Networking to most of us does not come naturally so we really have to work at it. The problem is that there are few opportunities to practice and get feedback at the same time. That is where the board game helps fill that gap. On the flip side, the game requires that students follow a process and sometimes the process takes time to explain. Like anything, if you learn what is involved you are more likely to improve. Time spent on getting students to understand the process once the game has finished is important if true learning is to occur. After the game has completed a debriefing occurs and covers key learning issues such as:

  • How difficult was it to negotiate resource cards from other players?
  • Was it more efficient to get resource cards from other players or from landing on ‘pick up card' spaces?
  • How did the goals help you to organize your collection of resource cards?
  • What was the most difficult part of the game?
  • How could setting goals in real life help you to identify resources? Network?

The Game of Networking is ideal for those who are working to build and develop their careers - a great resource for high schools, colleges, universities, employment programs and corporations. The Game of Networking is the perfect way to prepare students for success. It helps to sharpen their social, strategic and negotiation skills and students can learn the art of networking - as simple as rolling the dice!


 

Madelaine Currelly is currently the CEO of the Community Training and Development Centre (CTDC) a not for profit, affiliated with the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board (KPRDSB). The CTDC also manages the Community Employment Resource Centres, and the Learning Circle Child Development Centre.

In the past several years, Madelaine has developed and implemented new initiatives in employment readiness, social intelligence skills development, and parenting programs.  The participants of these programs have largely been Social Services, Ontario Works recipients.  Madelaine has also worked with KPRDSB on designing the Hip Hop for Fun and Health, activity program for elementary children.

Madelaine is the author of   "Song of the Soul" a book of children's social development activities for use by parents and caregivers.  She also co-authored "Movability" a book of physical activities for pre-school children. She can be reached at madelaine_currelly@kprdsb.ca

 


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