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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!

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

James Granja's picture

I believe social media should be allowed in schools. It has become a part of a lot of people's lives now. If they say it is to prevent cyberbullying then they are wrong because if someone is going to bully someone over the internet then this could be done right when they get home. Social media is good to keep in touch and should not be banned on computers at school. I do believe that social media should be presented as a positive thing because if you embrace it then people may not be as inclined to bully or use social media in negative ways. Many people communicate over social media sites and that is always a good thing. Cell phones should still be banned from being in a student's pocket because that is a distraction but on a computer there are already sites which you can be distracted so why not make it a positive one like a social network. I believe this will be a good thing to lift the ban on these types of websites.

Tyler Cameron's picture

As a teenager, my life consists of various aspects of the internet, especially social networking sites, e.g. Facebook. We rely on facebook, amongst other sites, to stay connected with people we see everyday, people who live halfway across the country, people we don't know, and people we call family.

However, for various reasons, the school board has blocked these specific sites from use on the school computers. Many of the students are irritated and angered by this, but for the sole reason that they enjoy going on these sites. I agree that they should not be blocked, but for other reasons.

Social networking sites do not just have to be used for status updates, friend requests, wall posts, and poke wars. They can be used in education as well. With the ability to access these sites, teachers can incorporate such sites into their class curriculum. Students would be able to do assignments, comment on each others assignments, etcetera while using something they enjoy. They wouldn't even know they were doing work, right?

As well, there are various ways to maneuver around said restrictions and bans. Students frequently bypass these restrictions via codes and secret websites. So if they are getting to the sites anyway, what's the point of going through the trouble of blocking them?

I believe the restrictions should be lifted. Schools should embrace the new waves of technology and social interaction via the internet, and incorporate them into the daily schoolday.

connor thompson's picture

before i even started reading the article about social networking in schools i had my mind set that it should be blocked and theres no way around that. However, after reading this article and the valied points of Mr. johnson i have completly changed my outlook on the situation and believe the bans should be uplifted. The entire paragraph about the "first impression" that is now bein made by most students over the internet was a key idea in my change in beliefs. I am (and have been aware for a long time) aware of the fact that our facebooks and other social pages are being looked at by employers and any1 else looking to invest their time in me, but i still do not bother changing my actions while on these sites. If, our school were to lift the bans on most websites it would alow for a growth by the people who use them. We can be tought to use them properly to benifit ourselves in the future. and also a few commenters had valid points that students wouldn't get much work done in school because they would use faceboook all the time. However, over time the students will come to learn that this procrastination doesnt help them and they will change their habits, which will lead to less time on facebook and more time getting their work done

Ryan DiMarino's picture

Banning social networking sites in schools is counter-productive. As these sites become more and more involved in students' lives, banning them goes against the will of the average student. It's common knowledge that every filter can and will be bypassed, and creating them instills a rebellious nature within users of these sites.

Because our society is rapidly approaching one in which everyday life is dominated by social networking, why not harness that movement's progression and incorporate classwork into it. Such an idea is developing, and will be more commonplace as time goes on.

Filtering these sites is like trying to push a boulder up a mountain. It's difficult, ineffective, and in the end, it won't work.

Patrick Baranowski's picture

Even though Roberto Somers makes a very valid point by pointing out that social networking sites are the fist thing on students minds when they get home, ignoring their homework, but it is all too occasional that there are the disputes that cause a "ruckus" in our school life. By allowing social netwrking in school I believe that that the disputes that come from facebook posts will drastically decrease, due to the fact that there will be a larger presence of adult supervision. By allowing social networking in schools, is giving school faculty an open invitation to see what is going on in their lives. It will also help students learn the correct way to benefit from these social networking sites instead of abusing their freedom. I would not mind either way though because I have had a facebook for 6 months and have only made 2 posts.

adam leszczynski's picture

There no restrictions to the usage of certain sites in school because of how dependent everyone is with technology.
-"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?"
I agree totally agree with this because students have access to what they want regardless if the administration bans it. If kids now have ways around the system, with the advancement of wifi in the future, blocking sites would just be pointless. People all around the world count on social media and there is no way of stopping it anywhere. It allows people to learn knew things and meet new people. There arent too many downsides to it. So everall i think that all blocks should be pulled.

Andrew Damiano's picture

I agree with this article because social media websites paly such a major part of people's daily lives that schools can not afford to simply ban these sites and ignore their positive benifits. If schools take away the ban on sites that their students use regularly then they can use this source of media to help educate and connect with their students.I think there should still be some restrictions as to what students can and cann't do on school computers, but not just a blatant disregard for how social media sites can help students by restricting them with a ban.

Kristopher Castro's picture

As this article states, social media is very important. As we progress with technology, social media is becoming an integral part of life for everyone. As the years pass, we've managed to go from using paper mail, to e-mail, and now many people are starting to use social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter to communicate quicker and easier with each other. As guest blogger Steve Johnson says, "social media just IS... it's life."

As social media is becoming more important to us, we think that it should be allowed in school. However, many schools choose to use filters that prevent certain sites from being accessed, and with good reason. As mentioned in the article, cyber bullying is a big issue. Another issue to look at is whether or not students will be using these networking sites productively. In our Programming in Java class, after we finish taking notes or working on our projects, we are allowed free time to do as we please. Many of us find our way onto Facebook, bypassing the filter set by the school. It's getting to the point where some of us are taking notes as quickly (and carelessly) as possible, just so that we can have our free time as quickly as possible. As commenter RStevens says, many students will become distracted with using their "toys" of social networking sites instead of doing their work, and in order to get students to concentrate on their work, a filter must be put up to keep them from playing with these "toys."

Social media could be very beneficial to education if, and only if, there were a way to incorporate it into teaching. Using the example given by Peter Pappas, a social networking site that allows a "hub/spokes" flow of information between students and teacher would be a great way of incorporating social media into classrooms.

I believe that these filters should still exist on certain sites that are known to be distracting to students. The only reason a social networking site should be allowed to be used in school is if it is actually beneficial to learning.

Damien Turchi's picture

Since the first schools in the United States were created they have been teaching the same basic things, and no matter where society took the population, schools changed very little to adapt. Despite now having courses in technology with computers, schools still mainly emphasis formal English skills and unapplied math concepts. Many more important subject that are applicable in the real world should be taught, and learning how to safely make use of social networking sites is very important to the real world. "...we are struggling once again in education to keep up with the pace of a drastically changing society..." is a complete truth, education must learn to keep up with society to ever be able to teach kids how to beome successful in life.
I personally believe the whole idea of social networking sites is ridiculous, because I do not care to know every aspect of everyone's daily life minute-to-minute. Unfortunately, we are now forced to live with these things, and can not keep pretending they do not exist. Since, "45% of employers researched social networking sites of prospective employees" we now need to become well adept to social networking not only to keep up with our friends but also to get the job we want. If what Steve Johnson says here is true it is soon going to become neccesary to be part of social networking, and to display you personality in the most positive way possible. Because of this, classes on social networking should be considered mandatory; however, it is difficult to change education in our country. If it was not difficult, students wouldbe learning important topics such as engineering, buisness, finance, auto repair, and basic house work as fundamental courses for everyone.

Joseph Lee's picture

Many schools are blocking social networking sites like Facebook. I think this is wrong simply because not every class has students sitting in front of a computer. In most cases, students are in a desk reading a textbook or writing notes. IF a student has a free period, it should be just that, "free." Students need time to do some "brainless activity" to give themselves a break.

"In June 2009, a Harris Interactive Poll found that 45% of employers researched social networking sites of prospective employees."
If employers are now checking Facebook to find out more about their employees, it could very well cost someone their job. Schools should teach what is and is not okay to put on social networking sites.

Education is about more than math, english, and science; it is about teaching students what they need to know in order to succeed in life, and knowing how to use social networking sites is now and will be in the future a necessary skill to have.

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