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Guest Blog: Making the Case for Social Media in Education

| Steve Johnson

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!

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Laptop University

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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.

Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing @Edutopia, edcamp organizer

Catching Criminals on Facebook

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Jacinda - I totally agree! Doing a bit of digging online, police officers actually are using social media as a crime-fighting tool and it's becoming very common to do this! I also agree with your point on putting the spotlight on the positive effects of social media but we need to make sure to not lose sight of making sure education happens early with our children on the web.

Quote:

It is sad but this sort of thing happens with or without the web. Just remember that each and every story is broadcast through out the whole world. It is the culture of fear.

Maybe we should talk about how many criminals have been caught by police using social media. I've heard of many stories where the police lured sex offenders to a house and arrested them. Let's scare the bad guys instead!

Exploring frontiers of teaching, jazz, yoga, Macs, film

Why Not Use the Social Network That's Already in Your Classroom?

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Watch a typical whole group discussion in the classroom and you'll most likely see a "hub / spokes" flow of information. Teacher to student A and back to teacher. Teacher to student B and back to teacher. So it goes as the "bluebirds" get to show how smart they are.

Over time, students learn that their comments are of provisional value until "approved" by the teacher. That's because in this style of discussion the teacher is most likely searching for specific replies - sort of playing "guess what I'm thinking" with the "best" students in the class.

Students tend not to listen to each other and only focus on what the teacher says or validates - "will that be up on a test?" When students are put in small group discussion, they rapidly get off subject. With no teacher to validate their comments, they naturally gravitate to other subjects where peer comments are valued - "what are you doing this weekend?" Often teachers then conclude that small group discussion doesn't work.

In my workshops I train teachers in discussion techniques that foster student reflection and interaction. The strategies are focused on getting the teacher out of the role of information gatekeeper and encouraging student-centered dialogue.

For more on this subject and an interesting video see my post "Engage Student Discussion: Use the Social Network in Your Classroom"

Ouch

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@RStevens: I sit here with FB open while I should be working. (I'm at home, not at school). That really hits home. Such a huge time sink for me.

Yes...and no...

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As a teacher of technology, I understand the importance of teaching students to use those things available to them throughout the curriculum. My last two school years have started with social networking sites being unblocked. And, both times, within 4 weeks, I had to block the sites because students were simply not doing their work. While I understand that it is important to teach responsible use of technology, when students fail to actually follow prescribed protocols and procedures and find themselves "networking" rather than actually doing their work, it only makes sense to remove the distraction. If I spent my entire work day on Facebook rather than doing my job, I would be fired. Since we can't specifically fire students in the public schools, we must do the next best thing...take away their toys.

It will not be possible to properly implement the use of social network technologies in the classroom until the students no longer see them as toys instead of tools. Unfortunately, there are too few authority figures (parents, teachers, administrators) who use the tools effectively themselves, thus perpetuating the issue. When a "rogue" teacher tries something new in order to take full advantage of the technology available, there is little to no support.

In general, we live in a time where permissiveness with our children and fear of lawsuits has led educators to being no more than underpaid caretakers who might happen to pass along something useful on a game show. As a whole, the profession has forgotten what we are trained to do. We must ask ourselves one important question:

Did I teach my students what to think or did I teach them how to think?

Not just the web.

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It is sad but this sort of thing happens with or without the web. Just remember that each and every story is broadcast through out the whole world. It is the culture of fear.

Maybe we should talk about how many criminals have been caught by police using social media. I've heard of many stories where the police lured sex offenders to a house and arrested them. Let's scare the bad guys instead!

Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing @Edutopia, edcamp organizer

Why Teaching Digital Citizenship is So Important

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If you're still not convinced that we need to teach digital smarts to our children, here's a story from the UK on Facebook, that was in the news thsi week due to the conviction of the murderer.

A 17 year-old girl was lured and killed by a 35 year-old sex offender who posed as a 17 year-old. Facebook is now under fire for not adding a panic button, which offers internet safety advice, to its site.

This story illustrates just how important it is to educate children who partake in social networking sites. When something as serious as this occurs, the blaming game ensues. Who's primary responsibility do you think is it to teach internet safety?

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