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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Guest Blog: Making the Case for Social Media in Education

Steve Johnson

Technology Facilitator, Writer

During the time it takes me to write this intro (approx. one minute), 42,000 people will update their Facebook status, 36,000 tweets will be sent, and fifteen hours of video will be uploaded to YouTube.

Undoubtedly, the world as we know it is quickly becoming wired through social media. Our guest blogger, Steve Johnson (@edtechsteve) sheds some light on the current state of social media in schools and even provides some handy talking points to make the case to lift internet filters within schools.

--Betty Ray, Community Manager (@EdutopiaBetty) and Elana Leoni, Social Media Marketing Coordinator (@elanaleoni)


The 3/9/10 #edchat discussion was another example of the most scrolling fun you can have in an hour on the Internet. The topic this time was "How can social media create real change in education?"

Right away, folks got busy reframing the question in more "real" terms:

@blairteach: Question might be better to say, "How IS social media creating real change in education?"

@dtitle: better topic... how will education keep up with social media and not be left in the dust

@unklar: I don't see any change at all at my school since the district is trying its best to block any and all social media

These additions brought to light the fact that we are struggling once again in education to keep up with the pace of a drastically changing society. Outside of schools, social media outlets are THE way that people now communicate, young and old alike (stop sending me chickens in Farmville, Mom!). The fact that we as educators even have to have discussions on whether or not social media is good for schools is sad. Social media just IS.....it's life.

Despite this, inside the vast majority of our school walls, social media tools are blocked and filtered. Why? In #edchat, the general consensus for the answer to this question revolved around fear - fear of cyberbullying and inappropriate use by students. Many blamed the media for blowing the negative out of proportion. In light of these fears, @benpaddlejones summed up exactly where we need to shift in the coming years:

We need to stop talking cyberbullying and start talking cybercitizenship. Flip to the positive.

He's absolutely correct. Our focus in schools needs to shift towards responsible, positive use of social media. The giant elephant darting about in the shadows needs to be drug into the light. In a world where this type of communication is king amongst our students, we need to stop ignoring and blocking and start embracing and amplifying.

When the filters come down, will there be problems? Will there be inappropriate use by students and staff? Absolutely! As a parent of two young girls, I understand the fear that this type of shift can create. But my response is that I would MUCH rather have these mistakes happen transparently where learning can take place. Every mistake and misstep in social media is a brilliant learning opportunity for all involved. I'd much rather these mistakes occur in the open and with the support structure of caring adults, rather than in the pockets or bedrooms our students are currently making them.

So we have this institution that has permeated society but is still blocked by your school. How can you make the case for the filters to be lifted? Here are some points you might make to bolster your case:

  • It is quickly becoming our duty as educators in the 21st century to guide our students towards responsible use of social media. We teach sex ed, we teach healthy living, we teach about drugs, we teach character ed., and on and on. We do these things each and every day, yet we are ignoring the aspect of our students' lives that is larger than all of these things (and completely interconnected with them as well). It is our duty to our students to start modeling responsible use of social media and encouraging them to follow our lead. We can no longer afford the veil.
  • Social Media use is becoming our new first impression. In June 2009, a Harris Interactive Poll found that 45% of employers researched social networking sites of prospective employees. This was more than double the percentage of employers stating they did this type of research in June 2008 (22%). What this means is simple - when our students start looking for jobs or applying for college, their use of social media is going to be studied. We must act now to ensure our students are portraying their skills and creativity in a positive way so that they can separate themselves from the pack and create opportunities for themselves that they may otherwise be shut out from.
  • Connected, community based learning is important. By blocking social media use, we are depriving our students of a huge opportunity to allow them to learn in connected ways. Society is moving toward a model of shared knowledge building, where people from all over the world can interact, question, reflect, and reshape thinking in meaningful ways. #edchat itself is a perfect example of this very phenomenon. Blocking our students off from this opportunity is a mistake.
  • In five years, the filters will be gone whether you like it or not. The expansion of wifi networks linked directly into smart phones that are being carried by students each and every day is inevitable. They will have an unfiltered access point in their pocket, whether we want them to or not. Wouldn't it make sense to be proactive? Wouldn't it make sense to guide our students towards responsible, productive use?

It is my hope that when the filters come down, transparent use will allow everyone in the school system - students, teachers, parents, admin - to grow and utilize social media in responsible, productive ways. Let's stop holding sparsely attended workshops about internet safety and start modeling the process of unlocking the power these highly relevant tools hold for both ourselves and our students!

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