Social Networking in the Schools
Vanessa Van Petten, a teenager and author of a popular parenting book written from the teen’s perspective, explains in a YouTube video why she uses she uses social networking sites:
Teenagers participate in social networking sites for a variety of reasons. It is a way to keep in contact with friends, to exchange pictures or to engage in a wide range of other social activities. The Pew Internet & American Life Project estimates that approximately 65% of US teenagers are participating in social networks. MySpace has approximately 124 million monthly visitors and Facebook has 276 million visitors a month.
Concerns that schools and parents seem to have about social networking is that students will engage in inappropriate behavior or that social networking sites are dangerous. All of the popular sites attempt to stop inappropriate behavior, but they cannot guarantee complete safety. Recently there have been a couple of sensational cases about predators on the social networks. Because of such cases and because the schools apparently do not value the work students do on social networks, the response of the schools has been to block the social networking sites from students in schools. Thus, students go to these sites outside of school time or secretly on hand held devices during school hours. Most students go to the sites without the advice or oversight of the teachers.
If the purpose of education is to produce citizens as argued by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1930, shouldn’t we address issues in society that are central to the activities of our children? Nancy Willard cites three concerns about teens
being involved in social networking sites:
- the sites are attracting many teens, some of whom are not making good choices.
- many parents are not paying attention to what their children are posting on the sites.
- sexual predators — and likely other dangerous strangers — are attracted to places where teens are not making good choices and adults are not paying attention.
In the Tech Wag blog on Social Networking in the Schools, the author wonders why schools do not use the social networking sites to connect to the students. With approximately 65 percent of our students using social networking sites, communicating to our students and educating them about the use of social networks seems like a given. The federal government has even gotten into the fray. In 2006 the US House passed a bill to restrict schools from using social network ing sites. Actually, a recent study shows that social networking sites are safer than chat room and instant messaging.
So the question becomes, what should schools do about social networking. At a minimum, schools can develop their own social networking sites by using such software as Elgg. While this social networking solution is an excellent solution for younger children who obviously should not be on public social networking sites with adults, it does not address the issues of high school students who need to learn about all of the issues of more popular social networking sites. If schools are to do their jobs, students need the guidance of a teacher as opposed to leaving the exploration of social networking without adult guidance.
Certainly teachers can address some of the issues that students may engage in such as cyber-bullying or disclosing inappropriate information or associating with inappropriate communities. Teachers currently advise students about this information in a non-cyber environment. Why do we deny teachers the ability to educate students about problems they will encounter in a cyber environment? We cannot shield our students from social networking by denying students access in schools to these sites.
The questions become:
- how do we get schools to recognize the need to educate students about social networking,
- should schools continue to block social networking sites,
- and how do we educate teachers about social networking sites?
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