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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

Cathy Puett Miller's picture

I apply the same approach to allowing access to technology as I do to books, a very liberal one thanks to my library science training from years ago. No matter how hard we try, we cannot protect our children from the negative things in the world. But we can equip them to deal responsibly with them. Whether we're talking exploring controversial topics in print books or driving into the world, wide web, the very best think we can do to protect our children is to teach them to think! We can model strongly for them early on, explore books and technology with them, point out falsehoods and manipulation and then feel confident than when they reach the age where they WILL explore those things independently, we have equipped them.

Critical thinking, discerning abilities, a little education on the "hype of advertising" which is really how many people lure children in on the virtual world, are skills that will equip our children to be responsible and safe, when we are with them and when we are not.

Darcy Whyte's picture
Darcy Whyte
Model Aviation and Creative Problem Solving

[quote]One of our local universities boasted they were one of the first "laptop universities", I see on the news just last week that many univerities are now banning laptop computers in the classroom. It seems instead of taking notes, students were on FB and online games. When the students are working in an office environment the same temptations will be there, I am not sure taking laptops away in college is the answer either.[/quote]

Bill, I totally agree. If some kids are abusing their time that's their own problem. They should not get rid of such a good tool in the class room because of a few kids.

Also, this may be an indicator that the ordinary university lectures are boring and probably getting obsolete to some extent. It's a shame that instead of improving interactivity, they try to ban it.

I'm glad I'm out of skool.

antpallante's picture

Although i agree with our school blocking social medias such as facebook, twitter, and myspace; However, I strongly disagree with blocking such medias as youtube and social forums. The reason i stated this is because people can abuse the privilege of having such medias of facebook, twitter, and myspace available to them. Kids can share answers and discuss things of the academic field related to the classes they are in. However, I strongly disagree with blocking social medias such as youtube and forums because they can be useful tools in the process of learning and teaching. Our world is changing, so its time to change our methods of teaching the kids of today's world. Youtube is very valuable to evolving teaching methods, since youtube contains millions and millions of useful documentaries and stories. Whether your in a theology class or a math class, you can use youtube as a tool to helping a student understand something more or elaborate on a certain discussion in class.

Jeison Barbosa's picture
Jeison Barbosa
I'm a student at Father Judge taking the programming in Java course

In my opinion, social networking sites should remain blocked in schools. Even though it is understandable that schools would want to be able to control what students post or how they use social media, it is just not likely. Schools were instituted to educate and social media buffers that education. More times than not networking sites such as facebook or twitter are a distraction in the work environment. Schools should be able to take on the responsibility of educating students on the dangers there are on the web, but not necessarily mandate what they should use social media for. Blocking social media sites at schools is beneficiary to their authority and to the whole educational process.

John Herbut's picture

I personally agree that Social Medium Networks should NOT be blocked, even if they are blocked students still find a way around the restriction. Instead of prohibiting the use of such websites like Facebook and Twitter, why not use them and benefit from them? Such a website has done just that, combining social networking with education; this website is known as ning. I have recently just started using ning in my theology class and it seems highly beneficial. It combines social activity with edcuation. As Steve Johnson said, "Connected, community based learning is important," technology is becoming a requirement for society, More and more facets of life are being used digitally and by schools restricting the students from learning how to PROPERLY use technology, said schools are only depriving their students. So, instead of banning social networking sites, why not exploit them and use to the benefit school, education and society!

Chris Dempsey's picture

People continue the say the bad effects that social sites such as facebook or myspace in schools. They ban those sites, which we can still manage to go on, because they think that it will destract us from doing our work. So if a person is willing to go on a social networking site instead of doing work, why wouldn't they just play an online game, so why ban it? You can't talk about your work on an online game, but you can on social networking sites. It may be true that it can be destracting, but its similar to the fact that instead of copying notes you may be doodling in your copybook, or maybe doing another class's homework. Most of us all have phones or ipods are other accesories that can access these websites anyways, so why ban them. You should embrace sites likethis and maybe create groups or pages of your class that can be used for discussing topics, homework ect... The main reason to not do this is cyberbullying, but its not like it doesn't go on inside or outside of school personally. So instead of banning these sites for the possibility of cyberbullying, just regulate the use of it during a class when you are in a computer lab or library.

Bruce Stover's picture

As a student, I find spending my extra time in class as a chance to check my Facebook and play games. I find that beating "the system" is fun and when I find a way to get into the desired, blocked sites I feel accomplished and that I actually did do something productive. Students will always find a way around filters and bans and it would be simpler just to lift the filters. When students see that they have complete access to their social sites they may spend less time networking and more time doing their actual work. Also, if a student doesn't do their work and spends all their class time on social networks, who are they really hurting? Themselves. If a student feels that tweeting or chatting is more important than doing school work, then let them go. They willbe the only one to blame when they get their report card. Once, students get into high school they should stop be treating like children but rather young adults. Students are responsible for their own work and should be able to know hopw to use their time wisely.

Robert Clark's picture

People today do not seem to realize that many students will find out ways to go to the Social Media sites and that blocking can not be inforced. This is just a waste of time and resources.Instead teachers should teach students when it is apporiate to do certain things and not to be on a site when the teacher is teaching. Many people do not seem to realize that even keeping your childern away from those sites can not help and the will just do it anyway. So parents need to watch there kids online for safety purposes and also need to teach them what and what not to do.

Matthew Babnew's picture
Matthew Babnew
I'm a student at Father Judge taking the introduction to programming course

It is true that the use of social media sites like Facebook, Youtube, etc. are becomming extremely popular, but that doesn't mean that schools should encourage them. As a student with homework and other responsibilities, facebook only provides a distraction from my school work. With the growing popularity of educational social web sites like wiki pages and the ning, promoting the use of uneducational sites like Facebook doesn't make sense. On these educational sites it is possible for the students activity to be watched for safety. It is also true that the majority of students can get on the banned sites anyway, but I still feel that school districts should do their best to prevent the use of these sites in school by their students. I don't think that allowing the use of these sites in school is the solution; I think that other types of educational socail networking sites should be implicated and used among students, teachers, administrators, etc.

john breslin's picture

I don't agree that all bans should just be taken down from school internet use. But that does not mean that I feel that social networking sites need to be banned. Instead of just blocking the students access to certain sites we aren't learning how to properly use the internet, we just learn what our school doesn't want us viewing or doing on the internet. Schools should take a bigger role in educating their students in how to use the internet properly and constructively and than allow them to use it freely so they can learn through experience what is okay and what is not. Schools need to recognize that the vast majority of their students are using the internet for many things, including social networking and it is their responsibility, along with the students parents, to make sure the students are educated and using the internet right.

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