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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

briankelly818's picture

As said in the article, many school districts are banning or have already banned social and gaming websites and yet students are finding ways past the filter to visit these sites. As student in a catholic high school, I feel that not being able to visit these websites while in school is as much an evil as some people believe is a distraction. Social networking sites allow me to stay connected to my peers especially when I'm involved in group projects. You may be asking yourself "Can't you substitute this with email?" My answer is no because it is on these sites that you are able to chat live with your fellow group members as well as post things to add to the project.

When seen as an in-class distraction, I think the burden lies on the teacher as much as it does on the student. The teacher should first be vigilant and knowledgable of what thier students are doing in computer class, and if the student is doing an undesirable action, the student should be punished.

Brian McAdams's picture
Brian McAdams
comment on an article

The mentioning a social networks being used in the luring and arresting of sex offenders reminded me of a documentary that came out several years ago called "2057." In the episode "The City" it described how the use of technology and information would shape the city of the future. A major component of the city of the future was the police force, described by the head researcher for the series, theoretical physicist Michio Kaku. In this he stated that the police force of the future would be a cyberforce. It would moniter the vast amount of information and track possible worms, viruses, identity-theft organizations, and drug trafficing. Using the high tech equipment they would find and kill the virus or worm, then track it back to the source and arrest those responisible.

Where im going with this is that we are already doing this today, and with more police officers of the internet generation joining the force and rising through the ranks, the police force will become infinitly more effecient in doing their jobs.

Francis Bovio's picture

Although the author of the article makes several good points advocating social media in schools, I believe that it should not be in schools because this should be something that people should do on their own time. It should not be taught in schools because it would take away from other important aspects of learning, like math and reading. Today, people are relying too heavily on technology as an alternative to actual human interaction. Even though technology is advancing rapidly and will be even more important in the future, I do not believe that social media should have any part in a student's education, even if it lets them express themselves more openly and freely than they normally would. It should be a parent's responsibility, not the school's, to educate their children in the field of technology.

Ed's picture

I strongly agree with this article because the world we live in now is not the same as it was 50 years ago. The world is becoming one of technology. Each and every day, somebody out there is inventing some kind of modern day, technologically advanced piece of equipment. For example, if you buy a computer today, 2 weeks from now it will be obsolete and they will come out with something newer and better to replace it. Look how far cell phones have come. Before, you could only make calls. Now, you can surf the web using wifi! So, as you can tell, we are continuely advancing whether people like it or not, and with new technology, there must be teaching on how to properly utilize it. You can not simply ban the use of it; you must teach how to use it and not abuse it. So overall, I think that this was a very well written, persusive article on why social networking should not be banned.

Shawn w's picture

Get home, get changed, get food, get on facebook. Is the daily ritual for most children, teenagers, college students, and even adults today. Personally I feel that social networks, although they help us keep in touch with more people more easily than ever before, are destroying the ability to socialize in person. Some people sit by their computers instead of going outside or going out at night. I believe that is as much a hinder in the long run as it is in the short run. I think it is a good idea that schools block facebook and twitter and so on and so forth. As a tenager, I feel I spend too much time on these sites already. Time could be much better spent doing something productive rather than checking what everyone is eating for lunch or watching on tv. With that being said, I feel that the wikis that teachers are creating for their classes are extremely benifical because they use this ever growing outlet as tool for learning. On these wikis, students are forced to discuss matters of real importnace as apposed to nonscence about their favorite celebrity. As for the cyberbullying, it's going to happen anyway! Whether kids are in school or at home or wherever, blocking it in school is not going to stop it all together. And within five minutes of creating new blocking systems, we find a way around them. It's not hard especially whn most students know their way around a computer better than the teachers or administrators that put up these cyber walls. Ultimately, facebook is out there. It's going to be used with or without scholastic concent, but if a new spin could be put on it like these wikis, it's a good tool to use.

Conor Brophy's picture

I think many social networking sites are blocked in educational settings due to the original animosity of the internet. In the early days of the internet, people could do almost anything they wanted. They hid behind pseudonyms and fake names and acted above the law. Be it IRC chats or website forums, there were no real consequences for insulting or slandering others. The "original cyber bullies" had nothing to fear, there was nothing in place to regulate their actions; it was similar to the days of the Old West. Today, however, every social networking site requires a valid email and if you plan on interacting with your friends, you need to have your name displayed for them to see. If a threat is made today, it is instantly obvious who made it and action can be taken to correct the problem. With the growing ease of rectifying most minor problems on social networking sites, I don't understand why they are blocked in schools. In this day and age people can easily circumvent any website block. Anyone with a smart phone and a computer with a wireless adapter can set the phone up to broadcast their own WiFi signal and with a few clicks, be on any website out there. In the long run, I think that the blocking of social media websites is a fruitless and time consuming task; there will always be one way around a block. Educators need to understand that even if they firmly believe social networking sites hinder their students ability to do their work, aside from completely eliminating computers in school, there is no way to stop students from getting on them.

Larry's picture

The invention of the telephone, a commonplace everyone takes for granted today, revolutionized the world and the way people communicate. Now the same thing is happening with social networking, and for the majority of a person's professional life, it is frowned upon. As stated in this article, whether officials like it or not, try to block social networks or not, sooner than they think, students, employers, and anyone who wants to, will have access to these sites whenever and wherever they want, so why not embrace it and stop being ignorant about the vastly, and quickly changing way of life. The possibilities of possibly implenting these sites into education opens a whole new set of doors for teaching that have been previously left shut. Kids will be kids though, some inappropriate things may happen while on these websites, but this is no different than some inappapriate things that may happen while in the classroom or at the work place, and should be dealt with in the same manner. I agree that there should be a time and place for people to be using these social networking sites, but the fact of the matter is that people's lives are becoming these sites, so why not embrace the oppurtunity to possibly make something good out of what many people see as nothing but a huge distraction to people's lives.

Master Debater's picture
Master Debater
I am thou master debater, thou shall not be no master debaters besides me.

In my opinion, social media tools should not be blocked nor filtered since they provide such a great advantage for students, teachers and parents to connect. Including these useful tools within all different types of schools, everyone will have an easier and more efficient opporitunity to share ideas, ask questions and reflect with one another. I believe that we must acknowledge the benefits and advantages of incorporating these tools in our schools, instead of placing our worry in the inappropriate problems and disadvantages of including these tools. These tools will allow individuals from all across the world to educate one another on diverse topics that he or she might not be familiar with or might not understand. Through including these social media tools in schools, many people will be tempted to negatively use these opporitunites through acts of either cyberbullying or visiting immoral sites. However, we shouldn't let these problems halt us from bringing these connective opporitunies into our schools since these problems occur in our societies and schools whether we like it or not.

Brendan Nahill's picture

I feel in school that all types of interactive websites such as facebook and tweeter should be blocked. I feel this way because these websites distract the student from doing any actually real work. If a student really needs work that he missed he can simply just email one of his classmates afterschool for the assignment. Facebook and Tweeter are not necessities for the classroom, they are only sources of distraction for the student, teacher, and modern technological worker. Facebook does not have any educational information that can help a student write a book report or compile a biography, rather it is just a way for people to connect. Facebook is not helping the student or worker get their work done, yet just prolonging it.

James Edmund Long I's picture
James Edmund Long I
Computers, computers, computers!

Before I read the comments and the blog, I found that I did believe in the rule that social networking sites should be banned from schools simply because of the negatives that have been brought about on the news or maybe the type of negatives on which administration of school districts focus. An example of this can be found above in the blog where cyberbulling and inappropriate use of the websites are employed on these websites. However, I never did consider the positives that these social networking sites could bring about for modern teaching methods. With such an extreme relevance in society today, a website like Facebook becomes a daily routine, possibly for several hours for some people. I find that when I do spend several hours on facebook, I neglect homework almost entirely, and spend the time talking to friends about my social life. Although, there are a few occasions where I will be studying with my friends through a message in order to prepare for a test the next day. This is a positive, but does not outnumber the times I am on Facebook just for fun.
In the Harris poll that was given in 2008 and 2009, the fact that the number of employers that refer to social networking sites as a part of the evaluation of possible employers displays the relevance of this in modern times. I completely agree that students nowadays must be prepared with the proper tools and techniques to effectively use these websites. If we would be taught these ways, such job opportunities would become easier to obtain. However, as a student, I cannot immediately foresee the ways in which Facebook can be used to help us in the classroom. Also, with the attitudes of some of the students who can disregard their education, I believe it would be very difficult to get them to focus of the positive communal learning these sites could maybe offer, as opposed to the negatives of bullying and self-satisfaction during what they might refer to as free time when really they should be participating in class. Therefore, I still can believe that social sites should still be banned in school districts for the time being, that is, until a proven effective method can be employed for all students to use these sites to help their education.

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