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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Social Networks: Are They a Valuable Educational Tool?

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger

We've all been hearing the hoopla over social networks -- MySpace, Friendster, Facebook, and so on. Students are online sharing some great things: poetry, original artwork, blogs, stories, journals, and more. Some of them are sharing things that aren't so great, such as personal information, and are toying around with the semi-anonymity of the Internet and not making the best judgments about social conduct online.

The social networks are hugely popular for ages 16-35 (and those below and above as well). MySpace claims sixty-one million registered users; that's a lot of socializing going on. So, what's all the fuss about?

I've been spending some time in high schools lately, chatting with kids about what they do online, what they're finding, what draws them online, and so on. (One ninth-grade girl said, "There's not really an avenue at school for me to publish and share work, and I really love writing." That struck a chord with me -- no place at school to share one's love of writing?) In most cases, being the digitally wired people they are, the social-network sites are just a twenty-first-century place for them to hang out. Many students I spoke with are well aware of the potentially seedier side of socializing online, and most appear to be savvy in navigating those waters.

There's a push now, however, to use federal policy to step in and help protect students from social-networking sites by banning access to them in schools and libraries that receive federal funding. New legislation, the Defeating Online Predators Act, would do just that if passed. (Download a PDF version of the proposed legislation.)

I'd be curious to hear from readers:

  • Do you see these online social sites as having educational value?
  • Do you allow/use them with students?
  • What are your thoughts on the proposed federal legislation banning access to them in schools?

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger
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