School Boards Say ‘Yes’ To Social Networking Technologies

I blogged about the first release of the Grunwald research (on Ypulse), which focused on how brands can using social networks to reach youth back in June. The National School Boards Association has released another slice of the study designed to focus on the educational potential of social networking technology. I now realize that part of the reason “96 percent of youth use social networking” sounded so high last time was because they define social networking as “chatting, text messaging, blogging, and visiting online communities such as Facebook, MySpace, and Webkinz.” It’s basically using the internet to connect with others in some way.

What continues to be most striking to me about all of this research is the gap between what teens and tweens are really doing online and the level of fear adults have around the perceived dangers (predators and cyberbullying). Granted the methodology in this research was to ask students if they had met a stranger in person or had been cyberbullied (without defining cyberbullying for them) in the last three months (vs. ever), which probably explains why the percentages are lower than other research – .08 percent said they met a stranger and 7 percent said they experienced cyberbullying.

The challenge for schools is how to leverage social networking technologies at school in ways that are educational, or how to create an educational context for students that is completely separate from the social context they have on sites like MySpace or Facebook, which are primarily about hanging out and socializing with friends. Right now, according to the report, most schools are filtering, blocking and/or banning:

– Nearly all (98 percent) districts use software to block access to inappropriate sites

– More than eight in 10 districts have rules against online chatting (84 percent) and instant messaging (81 percent) in school

– More than six in 10 districts (62 percent) have rules against participating in bulletin boards or blogs; six in 10 (60 percent) also prohibit sending and receiving e-mail in school

– More than half of all districts (52 percent) specifically prohibit any use of social networking sites in school

While students are actually using this technology for educational purposes outside of school.

– 96 percent of students with online access use social networking technologies, such as chatting, text messaging, blogging, and visiting online communities such as Facebook, MySpace, and Webkinz. Further, students report that one of the most common topics of conversation on the social networking scene is education

– Nearly 60 percent of online students report discussing education-related topics such as college or college planning, learning outside of school, and careers and 50 percent of online students say they talk specifically about schoolwork

In “Totally Wired,” I report on the challenges of the filter/block/ban approach. You end up filtering sites you actually need, teens can hack through blocks, and schools and libraries end up blocking or banning access to technologies low-income students may not be able to experience at home. Most importantly, you miss out on the opportunity to teach kids how to use the internet safely and responsibly as well as how to be media literate and information literate. I understand that it’s easier just to remove the temptation for teens to misuse this technology at school, and that educators are already swamped just trying to teach a core curriculum, meet standards and raise test scores. The reality is that by not engaging with students around these technologies, we are abandoning them to navigate the internet on their own with their peers instead of being trusted guides and mentors.

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