This past week I read a blog post about teacher’s unions in Ohio asking teachers not to participate in social networking because they did not want them fraternizing with students online. This, coupled with criticism of the recent National School Boards Association report (L.A. Times, reg. required) on social networking from The Campaign For A Commercial-Free Childhood, makes me want to say, “Stop the insanity.” You can read my post when the report came out here. Not that I support commercialism in schools — I absolutely do not. In fact I encourage parents and teachers to help teens become marketing literate and critical of the ad messages that appear on these sites. But I don’t think that report was pushing an openness to social media in schools as a way to welcome brands into the classroom. If anything it was simply countering the onslaught of negative media coverage and well-meaning internet safety lectures that have teachers and parents running for the hills (and blocking everything) while teens and tweens continue to run to the “Virtual Hills.”
If teachers are not encouraged to use social networking sites both personally and discuss social networking in class, they will be completely left behind. Students will also continue to suffer from having no adults teaching them how to use these sites appropriately. I’m not talking about how to just be safe by not sharing your home address. I’m talking about ethics, information literacy and an ongoing discussion of the new and complex socialization happening online. Teachers and students don’t have to use MySpace or Facebook at school – although I strongly believe they should be accessible in all public libraries. I also think teachers need to be able to selectively unblock MySpace, YouTube and any other site that may have something educational to share with the class – A song on MySpace, a video on YouTube, etc.
If teachers want to use social networking educationally, they could research “white label” social networks that can be customized for use at school and that would be limited to students in a particular class. If they are interested in blogging they could check out companies like Gaggle that offer solutions for educators.
I also think teachers can create two profiles on sites like MySpace or Facebook — one that is private, just for their personal friends and one that is a “teacher page,” i.e. Mrs. Doe’s Math Class profile, where she can post info for her students. You just need to warn the students that if they become friends with your teacher page, and you see something in one of their profiles that’s inappropriate (i.e. drinking, drug use, etc.), you have to report it. Let’s stop reacting and begin engaging with students around the tools that are transforming the way we all communicate.