School helps its students practice social networking

By Anne Collier

Because we all learn by practicing and to get its middle schoolers ready for adult life in a digitally enhanced networked world, The School at Columbia University created The Social Network. “It’s basically the pre-kindergarten version of Facebook,” Forbes reports. There’s also The Tube for sharing videos and The Gallery for photos. All of it is archived at the end of the year so that – with school-based social networking, anyway – students don’t end up with permanent digital footprints, and in 6th grade, when they start using the tool, they’re carefully initiated in the conditions of social-media environments. The School’s director of digital communications, Don Buckley, told Forbes that The School wants the kids to learn about “the quandaries of digital life” in the safety of a “walled garden” (hear, hear! I hope other schools will follow suit and this will snowball). Buckley’s clearly influenced by what social media researcher danah boyd wrote about the “invisible audiences,” “persistence,” and replicability of social media because he told Forbes these are the conditions explained to students. “The school’s technology integrator, Karen Blumberg, works closely with students and addresses ‘drama’ when it inevitably arises,” Forbes reports, adding that “having their social network in-house makes it easier for school administrators to see and confront situations unfolding online.” This is only logical!

About 2.5 years ago, I wrote about how school enriched my media use for me (back then, it was mostly just books). I wrote that our children now need school’s help in increasing the value of their social-media use as much as print, film, etc. I was thinking in terms of both enrichment and relevance for students, but The School at Columbia University is illustrating how much more school-based social media bring to students than even enrichment and relevance. They increase students’ safety, media literacy, and civic engagement by teaching, modeling, and giving them chances to practice safe, constructive, purposeful use of social media. Let’s replicate that! [See also this about why (digital) citizenship needs to be a verb.]

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