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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