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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Network News: The Implications of a New Report on Teens and Social Media

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger

The Pew Internet and American Life Project always provides a wealth of resources for those of us interested in how technology affects our personal and family lives and our work. Every month or so, the project releases a research report focusing on one broad topic. These are interesting and valuable reports as we continue our quest toward harnessing the true power of technology in the classroom.

The latest report, "Teens and Social Media," is one of the most informative yet. Here are a few highlights:

  • Teenagers continue to create more and more of the content on the Web. Now, 64 percent of surveyed teens create content, compared with 57 percent in 2004.
  • More than one-third of teenage girls are blogging, and about one out of four adolescent boys are.
  • The content these teens are creating and uploading is certainly not just stored online. It's put there for a reason: socializing. Nearly 90 percent of the teens that post photos online say that those images receive comments.
  • About 80 percent of students who share photos online restrict access to those photos at least some of the time.
  • Even with all the technological ways to socialize, teens still cite traditional face-to-face and phone communication as the most frequent ways for talking with friends outside school.

Questions that I wonder about and that I think need to be discussed in education circles include the following:

  • How much of that content is created in schools?
  • Are we keying into these digital minds and taking educational advantage of these young content creators?
  • What kinds of discussions, on subjects such as copyrights, safety, purpose, and so on, do teens take part in while creating and uploading content?

The report provides some outstanding discussion points for writing grants, considering policy, and informing board members and legislators about the continued need to use technology in a positive way at school. Be sure to read the full report. Do you have any thoughts on these findings?

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger
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Comments (14)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Chris ONeal's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Josh - outstanding points. Jamie provided great thoughts below as well. Districts and schools have a legal liability to provide a safe learning environment for students. The lines have always been a little blurry about that when it comes to school-related issues that happen after 3:00 - dances, football games, etc. But, with technology, the issues are even harder to keep tabs on. Most districts have AUPs (Acceptable Use Policies) that clearly spell out use of the Internet and related technologies.

Just to clarify, what I think is probably even more important than the mechanics of the actual tools themselves are the skills involved in using those tools. YouTube, for example, is very popular and very powerful. I think part of the power of a tool like YouTube is teaching students how to interact online, and the dynamics behind the anonymous social commentary that happens at a place like youtube. My daughter's school blocks YouTube, and I'm fine with that. What we try to work on though are the positive aspects - so they do a lot of video design, they share their work only internally on an "intranet." What I think happens is that by having open, frank discussions about these tools, students become better at handling online issues. I don't at all suggest opening up MySpace in schools, but I do think it's critical that we teach the skills that are inherent in social networking - posting, publishing, commenting, creating, co-editing, as well as dealing with the potential negatives - in order to make our students better Internet contributors.

I feel for you. I've been the only male teacher in an elementary school also. I also wonder about some of the students I know are not having positive productive conversations about their online lives when they're outside school! Hopefully those that are will tip the scales in our favor as they progress...

Hopefully my reply wasn't too long. Do let us know if you have specific questions, or need sample AUPs.

Chris O'Neal

Josh's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Great points Jamie & Chris. I would love to get a couple AUPs. Jamie- We do have some rough guidelines in place that haven't been revisited in a while. I don't disagree with them, but we probably need to sit down and take a glance. Our district has been slow with tech integration, but we are taking great strides this year and will probably really be sprouting next year, so I don't want to leave this part out. I think Chris made a great point about, even if you don't put it on the "Internet," the process is what's more important.

Trish Llaguno's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a graduate student at Walden University, and as part of our work this week we were asked to access these blogs and comment on some things that we saw posted.

Even though I consider myself a very internet savvy person, I had never considered educational blogging as a way to improve myself professionally, or as a way to keep up with the latest news.

I think that we need to find a way to harness the positive aspects that the internet has, and what it can offer. for example, a counselor can use it to help students that feel isolated to connect with other kids that are going through the same issues, or they could use it as a tool to help bullies to see what their actions do to other kids by allowing them to read blogs of students who have been bullied. You can use the internet to direct students to educational websites or professional websites of professions that students are interested in so that they can see what the ideas are of their potential colleagues, and they can therefore see if it really is a field they can tap into.

However, on the other hand, I think that it is important to make sure that we engage students in life outside the computer as well, because it is very easy for students to be so "connected" that they become disconnected with real life.

Lisa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Oh that is a good point, I never thought of whether or not the school would be held responsible for teaching students how to be internet savvy. I have used more internet blogging and uploading of YouTube in my undergraduate work, however, I could see where a student might find or post something inappropriate.

I am a first year teacher and am learning things daily about how to better run my classroom. How do you use technology in your classroom to avoid such problems?

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My district does not allow access to pages like MySpace and Facebook. Unfortunately, the high school students are very smart and have found ways around the blocks in place. Students live for the communication and socialization they find in these sites. It is interesting because the parents sign an AUP at the beginning of the school year and we have parents who get upset because we do not allow access to these kinds of sites. They feel that since taxpayers buy the equipment, they should be able to use them in any way they see fit.

My school district also recently announced that teachers were NOT to have MySpace or Facebook accounts. They had done some searches and were coming up with pages posted by educators that showed them in personal settings. They had pictures of themselves drinking alcohol or dressed very scantily. I have to wonder what these teachers were thinking! It is unfortunate that something that could be quite useful and practical for people to communicate can be brought down so easily. It is also unfortunate that these "professionals" can behave so unprofessionally! If teachers are posting such pictures, don't you think that students are going to do the same?

Justin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

One way that I have found that students bypass filters is through the use of a flash memory stick. Students load Firefox or a similar bypassing browser on the memory stick and load the browser via the memory stick to the district computer. One way for teachers to get around this is to constantly monitor students on computers. It is a no brainer that students will do what they please if they know that the teacher is surfing the internet and not progress monitoring the activity at hand. Also, unsupervised computer labs are a cyber bullying playground. If teachers do not supervise their students, they will take advantage of the situation. If the students know that their teacher checks on them all the time and that their teacher has the technological skills to see if they have uploaded or downloaded images, they'll stay on task more often.

Michelle D's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

At my school we are having a problem with students and teachers accessing inappropriate sites. They are trying to increase firewalls, but many people now how to get around them. I feel that students at school need constant monitoring while on computers.

We also had an issue with teachers having myspace accounts. I just don't understand how an educator could be so unprofessional to display pictures of themselves drinking and partying.

Chris O'Neal's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I feel like the bigger discussion of teacher judgment calls is a whole topic unto itself! While I don't disagree at all that there are inappropriate things happening on myspace/facebook, etc., my bigger concern is if all we do is block these sites, and never have discussions about them, then what's going to change?

Students get into fights at football games, and some of them even sneak alcohol into post football game parties. But, do we block football games? Nope. We try to teach them appropriate behavior, we enforce consequences for them when they violate rules, etc. But, we don't hide them under the rug and try to stop children from playing football. We teach them the correct way to play the game, strategies for not getting hurt, and the rules of the road.

I guess my point is yes, there are bad things happening on myspace, there are teachers who get carried away with those sites, and students who do the same. We deal with teachers in a different way - we expect them to have better judgment, or we react accordingly when they don't. But, in the case of students, how will they learn what's appropriate and what's not if we don't have those discussions with them, and we simply set up roadblocks, etc.? I don't at all suggest unblocking myspace/facebook in a school at this point. That might be disastrous. But, even more disastrous is an educational system that doesn't acknowledge some of the important skills being used inside these sites.

It's a tough place to be for all of us in education these days. I just hope we're trying to pull out the positive, and use it to our advantage.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that we should utilze the internet as much as possible; however, I have a problem with how many of my students are obsessed with a personal website(actually my daughter is one of them). Instead of reading a book, talking with family or friends, or outside taking a walk, these young adults are incessently retouching their myspace or facebook. The focus of today's future is on themselves; not the issues of the time. What is going to happen when they grow up? Are they still going to be so self-centered? I am a bit concerned.

Jennifer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As an educator in the middleschool it is a constant struggle to balance integrating technology with education. What is the right balance? Can I use students interest in blogging, texting, and journaling on myspace and facebook as a way to spark their interest in language arts? Can they see the relationship between them? How do we keep them technologically savvy yet safe? I believe that it is up to us to provide a good model and show them how technology can help them in their education and their professional lives. I think that we also need to stress the social implications of what they are putting out in cyberspace.

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