There has been a lot of excitement about bringing social networking tools into the classroom in recent years. These technologies have been touted as ways to encourage students to collaborate and communicate -- both with teachers and with one another. It's a way for students who might feel too shy to speak up in class to actually get to fully participate in class discussions. These tools also offer an important way to bridge school and home, particularly if students (and in some cases, their parents) can log in at any time to monitor school activities.
But is there a way to take what we've seen with educational social networking and extend that community into a life-long relationship with a school? That's the hope, in part, of a new education startup called Alumn.us that is tackling an important, but largely unrecognized problem faced by many schools: there is no alumni network. There is no connection to a school once you've graduated.
Sure, you might be able to find the folks you went to school with on Facebook now. Indeed, there have been suggestions that Facebook will soon replace the traditional ways by which we connect with the people we went to school and graduate with.
But those Facebook connections -- as interesting as though they might be -- really do not fulfill the same sort of role of an alumni network. Connecting alumni from the same graduating class is only part of the picture; connecting alumni with other alumni and with students currently enrolled is still important.
Also important: getting alumni to donate back to their school. This is something that universities have long excelled at doing. People do tend to donate money back to their "alma mater." But "alma mater" means "university." Not "high school." And certainly not "elementary school."