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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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From MySpace to My Job: Online Interaction Prepares Students for Employment

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger

Last year, I blogged a bit about social networking. I want to revisit the issue, since I continue to receive emails with questions about where to find safe alternatives to the mainstream sites, or teacher-oriented social networks, as well as invitations to come discuss the issue with school boards, and so on. I'll respond to some of that below.

First, a few updated statistics on the social-networking phenomenon. According to a recent Pew Internet study, about 55 percent of teens have online profiles on MySpace or Facebook, and that percentage continues to grow. Also according to Pew, "Two in five (42 percent) teens who use social-networking sites also say they blog. And, in keeping with the conversational nature of social media, social-networking teens are also interacting with others' blogs.

"Seven in ten (70 percent) social-networking teens report reading the blogs of others, and three in four (76 percent) social-networking teens have posted comments to a friend's blog on a social-networking site," the report added. So, why should educators care about social networking?

I visited a few high schools recently to chat informally with some teens. The handful I spoke with had nothing in their online presence I would consider inappropriate or alarming. I did find some music or video issues that either crossed the copyright line or teetered right on it, however, and we had some insightful discussions about that, of course.

There are also numerous reports around the world about some of the seedier, and sometimes dangerous, aspects of social networking. Although that issue does exist, I found a lot of original poetry and music and a wealth of creative writing and interacting. I also did a rundown of the skills I see in action on a site like Facebook, such as producing, collaborating, communicating, writing, creating, reading, decision making, social interacting, and countless technology skills.

Interestingly enough, a report entitled "Are They Really Ready to Work?" (released in October 2006 by the Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and the Society for Human Resource Management) suggests that some of these skills are growing in importance in the workforce, including capabilities in critical thinking, information technology, collaboration, creativity, and innovation. In my opinion, the abilities required in social networking and those needed in the "real world" outside school aren't that different.

I know many educators who are working hard to key into these skills, but in the context of an educational atmosphere. To me, that's an ideal approach -- use social-networking technology skills while addressing content and curricular standards.

How do you feel about social networking? Do you think of it as a skill-building resource for teens growing up in a world in which collaboration is becoming increasingly important? Please share your thoughts.

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger
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Jared Bradford's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Chris thanks for sharing this. I think policymakers need to hear this in a big way. We seem to have a fear of even talking about myspace. It's blocked, of course, but around our schools it's a curse word almost as you well know. Thanks for the help and information.

Crystal VanZile's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with Jared. People in power need to know what truly is going on. As far as being blocked, there are other sites and networks that many schools do not even know about and can be accessed by students. I was talking to my husband's younger siblings about this at one point. Their mom will not allow them to use MySpace so they have been using another site. I think that it is called WeeWorld. I am not sure what this site is like, but I do know that even the filters in the local elementary school do not block this social network. It seems as though, no matter how many times we crack down they will still find a way around the system.

Megan Thornton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Going off Crystal's comment, even though MySpace is blocked at the school where I work, students have still found a way around the block by using different proxy servers. Every time a proxy server is found and block, the students have already found a new one.
What would be ideal would be to find a way to include some of the social networking within the curriculum. I know teachers who use blogs and chat rooms as a means for discussing literature, but I wonder if there are any other ways we could use the technology at hand?

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