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Guest Blog: Making the Case for Social Media in Education

Steve Johnson

Technology Facilitator, Writer
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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'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!

Comments (87)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

ZachBirnski's picture
I'm a guy.

"By blocking social media use, we are depriving our students of a huge opportunity to allow them to learn in connected ways" Thinking back only a couple days ago, my PreCalc teacher recently disclosed her own personal opinion on the topic of interactive collaboration: she expressed that, when she enters a teacher-oriented workshop, she's overwhelmed with anticipation about the fresh, new light that her previous held knowledge would be seen under by others; the focus of these workshops is not to instruct a whole new curriculum, but to introduce others to the thinking processes of different people - a process that they may've never fathomed if kept in seclusion. When people work together, previously-closed doors are immediately thrown open and explored; the same can be said with the collaboration of social media. People around the world are bound to view current concepts in a spectrum of ways - history has revealed just that. The outlets for such thoughts are undoubtedly obvious: Facebook, YouTube, MySpace etc. with new mediums appears almost overnight. Blocking student access to such sites only holds back the creative and collaboritive facets of a young person's mind, rather than embrace it, and the above article reflects my thoughts.

Social media is life, as the above article states, and there's no way to escape it. Nowadays, it's infused in the very fibres of society. As years pass, it'll only deepen its influence in our lives. This being said, the teaching generation should pose itself above the curve while sooner advancing their young pupils' minds.

Matt Hirst's picture

Social networking, such as facebook, have grown rapidly in popularity over the past ten years. Not just kids but many adults now have a facebook wgere they interact in a new way with their friends and family. I believe these sites are great and fun but they should not be used in the workplace or schools. Too many times have i put off homework to go on facebook and that has hindered my grades in the long run. In school, students do the same thing if they have access to these websites. Schools should block these websites because it does hinder many students work. By giving access to these wesites schools are just giving students new excuses to procrastinate.

matt mcclernand's picture

I am already a firm believer in allowing students to have access to sites in school. Students are given various freedoms and there is no reason why we shouldnt be allowed access to visit the sites we choose. I completely agree with Bill's first point. We are taught about sex ed and about drugs because our Parents and teachers want us to make moral decisions when they aren't allowed. The same should go for accessing the media. Parents and teachers should allow the access yet strongly urge the students tom be mature and responsible. Many youths are also very unaware that colleges and businesses view our facebooks and myspaces, so it is crucial to avoid putting anything on them that can portray ourselves in a negative way.

Jarred Gettes's picture

I believe that having computers/technology is a very important element in schools because the world is now evolving off of technology. The more one knows about computeers and other forms of technology, the better off the will be when entering life after highschool. With knowledge of this, people can be better prepared. Social networking is a great way to expand the mind of technology users, but some people do use it for inappropriate actions. This is why such things as facebook, myspace should be filtered, and other actions should be taken to prevent these inappropriate actions.

Steve Johnson's picture
Steve Johnson
Technology Facilitator, Writer

I was shocked to check back on this post and see all of the great input, especially from student perspectives. It really is fascinating to read!

I hope other educators read these comments and take note. The very fact that so many students equate social media use as goofing off is really eye opening. That shows right there that we as educators have failed to incorporate social media effectively (of course, how can we if it's always blocked).

Social media is absolutely an educational tool- it's communication. Not only communication, but THE form of communication our society has shifted to. Everything on the planet has educational value- it just takes imagination to discover it and determination to utilize it. Social Media is no different.

Part of the problem is that to so many people, Facebook is "goofing off". The best way to shift the view on social media is to use it in meaningful ways, instead of just putting hits out on Mafia Wars or taking a million dumb quizzes. =). If educators start using it as part of the communication process and part of the learning process, maybe some of these thoughts will shift and more people can understand the real power of communication and collaboration through social media.

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing @Edutopia, edcamp organizer

Hi all,

I've really enjoyed all of your comments on this post. I recently had a conversation with one of my good friends. His 14 year-old son is at a 1-1 laptop school that has built-in filters on each laptop. Turns out, every student in the school knows how to use tunnel sites to get around every filter that obstructs their path. My son's friend even found a way to make himself an admin so he can add programs as he wishes.

Is this good or bad? Well, at this point, I think it clearly makes the case that we should really focus on training our students on digital citizenship and safety. They're going to use social networks whether we like it or not -- should we prepare them by arming them with safe best practices or act like our filters and policies are really stopping them from using the sites?

I welcome everyone's comments/reactions :)

Betty Ray's picture
Betty Ray
Director of Programming and Innovation

Great discussion - I wonder if anyone could give an example of a way one might use social media in the classroom as a communications/learning tool. I have no doubt that it's a fantastic tool, but I think it might be interesting for some of us who haven't envisioned it yet to get a sense for what that application might look like.

Donna Usher's picture

I am a high school photography teacher currently taking a technology and education course and I am exploring internet access, media awareness and communication.

What do you do to model social networking for your students? Do you allow cell phones in your class? And if so, how do you integrate this technology into teaching and learning. How do you monitor what students access? How do we lead when the students are more tech savvy then teachers?

Carol Baldwin's picture
Carol Baldwin
author of "Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Grades 4-8"

Very interesting and thought provoking discussion. I think I'll have to go blog about this discussion!

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing @Edutopia, edcamp organizer

Interesting article in the NY Times on how University students are using social media in the classroom.

"For example, New York University is one of many institutions using Blackboard, a Web site that facilitates the sharing of material and the exchange of ideas. Other examples of technology entering the classroom at that university include guest speakers weighing in via Skype, library workers providing support via instant messaging, and students accessing library resources from off-campus.

"Access to 24/7 online research resources makes it possible for students who work full time to have the virtual library on their schedule," said Marjorie Kalter, a professor at New York University's integrated marketing master's program. "And faculty also find these services helpful."

In Britain, several institutions, including University College London and the London School of Economics, are using Moodle -- the Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment -- a free, open-source, e-learning platform that describes itself as a course management system or virtual learning environment. Now claiming more than 33 million users following more than three million courses in 207 countries, Moodle was conceived in the late 1990s by an Australian academic, Martin Dougiamas, to help educators create online courses.

University College London was also one of the first British universities, along with The Open University, to sign a partnership with iTunes U in 2008. Introduced in 2007 in the United States with the participation of 16 schools, iTunes U took the Apple music service and converted it into a store for free lecture and podcast materials. Participants now include more than 600 institutions -- among them Oxford, Cambridge and Yale Universities -- in 18 countries."

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