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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

Jonathan Rodriguez's picture

I agree with Mr. Johnson, students have all kind of access to internet whether parents try to stop them or not. If i was paying for my children to go to school, yes i would be mad to hear that they are checking email the whole class, but at the same time internet opens so many doors. Now there are classes that use only labtops and online textbooks with there students. For my dad's job, they have yearly review classes where employees all over the country take online classes while a teacher in Texas answers any question through instant message and recieves homework through email. The only thing that teachers can really do is give the students the trust to work hard and teach them proper edicate and skill building habits such as all the amazing things you can do with power point and photoshop. Concerning Facebook directly, the original purpose was for a classroom setting, let it be for the classroom. And if teachers must, keep on top of cyber bullying and stuff, but give the kids the respect and show them that you are there as not only a 7 hour a day teacher but also someone you can email about homework or even become friends with your student and show them that teachers can be cool and are there to help the students succeed in life rather then make them miserable while in school.

Colin Sulpizio's picture

I personally think that banning the social networks is wrong. It is true that no matter if you block the social networks in school or not, cyberbullying will continue because people use the internet everyday at home, with no restrictions. Therefore, the "fear" reason for banning the networks can ultimately be elmininated. I honestly see no problem with allowing social networks in schools, that is of course that they are used when a lesson is not being taught. Holding, or at least trying to hold everyone in the school, including teachers, to only knowledge-benefiting websites is unfair. Through experience, I have even had some teachers use youtube to help teach a lesson but it is a hassle for them to even be able to access it because of the restrictions. Also, students should be able to participate in social networking in their leisure time if they have a free period.

Ryan Cassedy's picture

I feel some filters should remain in place. The filters schools use today block everything its doesnt matter if it is something negative or positive. They just don't block Facebook or Myspace but everything even if its a topic that is being researched for a school project. If students can be trusted to use social networking sites properly and at the right times, and teachers can regulate this, then I feel most of the restrictions on our school's computers can be lifted without much, if any, negitive results. Students will always find ways around filters therefore schools should embrace and use social media to their own advatage.

Robert Crossley's picture

Social media is an evergrowing trend in our society. Whether it be facebook, twitter, skypre, or myspace, people everywhere are using social media. The filters in schools are pointless. I am a junior in high school and i can assure you they do not work. Last year i simply used the proxy websit apliterature.info and was able to acess any internet website. My school has since discovered this site. I now just have another means of getting through the block and if the school figures that out someone somewhere will find a new way of getting through the block.

That being said, it is extremely pointless for their to be filters.Using social media in the classroom can be benefical in several ways. For example it would be an easy way for a teacher to get a message to almost every student. This is just one of the many ways of using facebook and other tools for the classroom.

Fran Mackin's picture

i feel that it is more important to teach the students and kids of the world how to use the internet more respocnsibly then just block everything. like he said " It is quickly becoming our duty as educators in the 21st century to guide our students towards responsible use of social media." if parents and teachers make it an obligation to teach the students about the internet and what to look out for and the correct way to use it then it will help to stop these problems. it wsa also said that every kid will have connection to unblocked internet eventually through there phones, "In five years, the filters will be gone whether you like it or not." so the only solution is to help educate the kids today so in the future they make the right choices on the internet. so to finish, the blocked programs should stop and more teaching should happen, its the only way to solve the problem.

jmckinstry11's picture

I believe that depending on how the schools choose to use their technology they should lift the ban on certain sites. For one there are some sites that are extremely productive when it comes to school work. Some sites now actually aloow students from around the country to log on and "Chat" with teachers and educators from all over and recieve study tips or a study partner on a specific subject.
As for social networking sites, I'm not entirely sold that these sites can be productive. Yes modern day employers MAY look you up on Facebook or Myspace, but as long as there aren't any incriminating photos, are extremely abusive comments, the potential employee is not eliminated from contention. And you may ask "Is that fair to do? Judge somebody on a networking site?" Sure it is! especially if you have and of the examples previously mentioned.
My position in general would be to filter through sites and block accordingly. As for social networking sites, whose main goal is to simply talk to other people, they should be left banned. Networking sites with the intention of bringing those involved with education such as this one, should not only be left unbanned, but be glorified in the classroom.

MattMicko's picture

I don't think as a student that the filters should be lifted totally, because we need to make restirctions on the sites kids can go on. But with the topic of lifting the ban on social media sites I beleive that they should in fact be lifted. Teaching kids how to use Facebook and twitter correctly is a key to the future.
Ed said "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."
What will stop this growth of companies using this resource to find out more about their employees? Nothing is the answer. We see companies embracing social media, in order to find the best possible employee, or a College researching a student, whose is up for the final spot. If that child abused his facebook, and a college sees this, that student could possibily not get accepted to the school for that said reason.
Schools are suppose to guide children to make a better future for themsevles, and the future is social media, so why not teach them better ways to use it. Schools must embrace facebook, twitter, and other social networking sites into projects, classwork, and homework, in order to help students, not just for now but for the rest of their lives.

BOJoeKO1122's picture

I think that the fact that taking away/blocking social networkingsites in schools are a bit unreasonable. In my opinion, students shouldn't even think of going on these sites because of the work that they have that is presented in front of them. If they wish to go on them, then so be it; however, it will come back to bite them. Besides, your in school for only 6-7 hours a day; people have plenty of time to go on these sites during their own time.
The idea of teaching about social networking at schools really isn't a bad idea. Like the speaker said, they teach classes on everything thatis happening in the world and in our lives today; so why not include one little thing. A class such as this will really help people to protect their secret information, even though this information should not even be put on these sites in the first place.
In the speakers bullet points, I agree with the facts about having people learn in new ways by socializing and by the filters being non-existant because they show how affective these sites can be if we use them to the proper use. However, the fact that he said people will be using people's accounts as first impressions for job appplications is uterly stupid. I believe that people's social life should not even be remotely related to jobs. An employer should be judged by whatever he/she has put on that application, not on what they do with their life. Besides, most people would probably act differently at a job than they would in their regular daily activites. Overall, social networking is a great oppertunity for people to see how the world is getting more educated and wiser by reffering to these sites, and how they can be improved to be the future basis of things to come.

Jay Roberts's picture

Banning sites all together? I don't believe that is the way to stop students from going on sites they want to. As stated in the paragraph, we should embrace it rather than condemn it. For every site that is blocked by administrators, kids will always try to find a way around it. As it turns out, they always do. I do believe there should be some banning of certain sites but not every single site not related to education. That is what the web is for, to have fun. It can be a place of work and it is an important tool because of that but that doesn't mean a little game here and there hurts. Everyone loves some form of entertainment and these additional sites to stem our need for entertainment are just enough. School administrators must realize this if they plan to accept and deny certain websites. I agree with the fact that when kids surf the web and do the stuff they do on it they increase their social media experience. In a world becoming completely involved in technology that seems like an important tool. Overall, what I'm trying to say is that you will never be able to completely ban all websites. Blocking some that are completely irrelevant to learning is necessary but not all. Again I agree with the statements of the paragraph, teach internet safety. Don't try to completely block it, try to embrace so everyone can experience and learn from the wonder of the technology of today.

Michael Haldis's picture

I believe that social networking sites should be allowed in our schools because there is no harm that can come from them that can't come from other places such as student's homes. I think that social networking is a great thing that allows me to contact my friends, along with help me with complete my homework. Social networking sites such as Facebook should be considered valueble because of all the information and good things you can access from the luxury of your home or school.

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