Should schools block social networks/communication tools or utlize them?

While most educators recognize that social networks/communication via technology are used by many students, I suspect most of us underestimate their utilization. A new study finds their use more widespread that we may realize:

eSchool News online – Online social networks hold promise for learning

October 1, 2007—Creating content and connecting with their peers online is nearly ubiquitous for students ages 9 to 17 who have internet access, a new survey reveals: Only one in 20 teens and “tweens” surveyed said they have not used social-networking technologies such as chatting, text-messaging, blogging, or visiting online communities such as Facebook, MySpace, and Webkinz. What’s more, students report that one of the most common topics of conversation on the social-networking scene is education–suggesting that schools have a huge, but largely untapped, opportunity to harness these technologies in support of student learning. Released Aug. 14 by the National School Boards Association (NSBA) and Grunwald Associates LLC, the survey shows that 96 percent of students with online access use social-networking technologies. Nearly 60 percent of these students report discussing education-related topics online, such as college or college planning, learning outside of school, and careers. And half of online students say they talk specifically about schoolwork. “There is no doubt that these online teen hangouts are having a huge influence on how kids today are creatively thinking and behaving,” said Anne L. Bryant, NSBA’s executive director. “The challenge for school boards and educators is that they have to keep pace with how students are using these tools in positive ways and consider how they might incorporate this technology into the school setting.”

Educators tend to overlook the educational pluses for using these kinds of technology. Because they can be difficult to “control” it is easier to simply ban them, and many schools have:

Students also say they are spending nearly as much time using social-networking services and web sites as they spend watching television. Among teens who use social-networking sites, that amounts to about nine hours a week online, compared with 10 hours a week watching TV. Yet, most K-12 school systems have stringent rules against nearly all forms of online social networking during the school day, according to the survey–even though students and parents report few problem behaviors online. More than eight in 10 districts have rules against online chatting and instant messaging in school, the survey suggests, and more than six in 10 have rules against participating in blogs. Sixty percent also prohibit students from sending and receiving eMail while in school, and 52 percent ban the use of social-networking sites on campus. In light of the survey’s findings, school leaders should consider reexamining their policies and explore ways they could use social networking for educational purposes, its authors say. “Schools that incorporate social-networking tools in education can help engage kids and move them toward the center of the learning process,” said Peter Grunwald of Grunwald Associates.

Educators should engage in more dialog weighing the educational positives aspects of these tools against the negatives and find ways to reduce the negatives. Where should this dialog occur? At a state level? Possibly, but school districts need to formalize the how/where/who process for these types of discussions to develop.

Most schools have processes for reviewing only hardware, software, and textbooks to be purchased, but educators must move beyond those older models. Without formally addressing web-based services and communication as an educational tool (not just the technical review), implementation of these technologies will occur haphazardly because the path of least effort/resistance is to just block them. We cannot continue to distance ourselves from the “real” world of students by continually blocking technology that has such educational

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  1. I believe that schools must start talking about how to utilize social networks/communication tools. Students are going to use them at home regardless of what we do at school. There are many ways educators can use these tools to create real life exciting projects/activities for students. Why not take advantage of all the educational uses these new tools can provide us?

  2. Students are using them, so if we as educators are not teaching them how to use them responsibly, who will. Most parents have neither the time or knowledge to accomodate this. However, many teachers don’t know enough about the tools available either. Teacher education must happen first. Or… schools could just put their heads in the sand and hope this all goes away. Most of the inservice we get is useless, and geared toward the NCLB dilemma. I believe social networking tools could encourage students to read and write more. Isn’t that what it’s all about???

  3. Schools need to begin using them as educational resources. It’s as obvious to me as the nose on my face. However, speaking from a teacher’s perspective….I DON’T KNOW HOW? I want to use technology. I want to keep up with technology. I want my students to know how to use technology for educational purposes. Nevertheless, I am a digital immigrant along with approximately 75% (my own guess) of my colleagues and I need training and I need time to learn and adapt. It seems to me that the only reason schools block them (social networks/communication tools) is because teachers don’t know how to utilize them. Train us or public schools will never keep.

  4. Certainly a paradigm shift is occuring and the struggle is that the average teacher is developed in their discipline but lack the skills continuing to change with technologies and its potential uses in education. We as educators need to consider all of technologies’ roles in our curriclum as to which teaching and learning strategies will best serve students and let’s not forget NCLB and making certain that we are teaching to the standards, but how do we incorporate these technologies while maintaining our educational needs. Students are more adaptable than most teachers resulting in the hold up of technology use being with the teacher more than student skills.

  5. I too am a digital immigrant but I also realize what an important means of communicating the web is. Teaching students the importance and appropriateness of using this tool is very important in providing them with a way to reach out to others while being able to screen the negative communication from the positive. My mission would be to keep students savy and give them connections that are relevant to education in the classroom. They need to be educated regarding professionalism when using this tool in order to be taken seriously. This is a huge responsibility and I think most students will be up to and appreciate the challenge of the task.

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