Social media in schools more – yes!

More and more educators and administrators are bringing social media into schools’ regular curricula, a huge step forward for both education and youth online safety.


By Anne Collier

“Just a few years ago, social networking meant little more to educators than the headache of determining whether to penalize students for inappropriate activities captured on Facebook or MySpace. Now,” Education Week reports, “teachers and students have a vast array of social-networking sites and tools – from Ning to VoiceThread and Second Life – to draw on for such serious uses as professional development and project collaboration.” Educators are finding that social media are so compelling and second nature to students “that it just makes sense to engage them in this way.” For example, Education Week tells of the principal of a New Jersey High School who started by using Twitter to keep parents informed of developments at school, found students didn’t use it much, then set up a school Facebook page, which now has 1,100 fans.

In “Teach. Facebook. Now.,” educator Will Richardson writes, “From the ‘We Continue to Bury Our Heads in the Sand Department’ comes the question (once again) why are we blocking Facebook instead of teaching it? I mean really, if you’re on the board of ed, sitting in the superintendent’s chair, serving as principal, or even ‘just’ a parent, how can [leaving kids to figure out online reputation protection by themselves] not cause you to call a meeting and get Facebook into the curriculum?” He refers to “Facebook’s [need for] radical transparency: A rant,” by social media researcher danah boyd.

However, teaching with social media certainly has its hurdles. Unblocking social media has become a challenge in many US schools and districts. One teacher told Education Week that, to use some social sites and tools, teachers have to negotiate with the technology director, which can be a pretty involved process. Educators I know have told me that whole bureaucratic processes have grown up around “CIPA compliance,” CIPA (the Children’s Internet Protection Act) being the federal law that requires filtering at schools receiving federal connectivity subsidies. And many districts over-comply out of fears that unblocking social sites and services would increase cyberbullying (even though school-related online harassment and bullying can occur on or off school campuses and are related to peer groups and individual behavior, not Web sites). But in its just-released report to Congress, “Youth Safety on a Living Internet,” the Online Safety & Technology Working Group (OSTWG) recommended that social media be used in school. Why? Because that would mean that the guidance school has always applied to traditional media will increasingly be applied to students’ use of new media. So far, kids have been left to figure things out on their own on the social Web, but now the tide is turning. Social media in school also spells better, more long-term online safety because it develops the “filtering software” in students’ heads, the kind that goes with them wherever they go and usually improves with age.

Related links

* “Teaching in s socially networked classroom” at eSchoolNews
* “Teaching tools: Using online simulations and games” at Edutopia
* And here at NetFamilyNews, see this about that cognitive filter, this about the OSTWG report, and this about school & social media.

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