Social Networking & Education

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During the past few days I have been reading lots about the National School Boards Association’s recommendations for using social networking technology (chatting, texting, blogging, and visiting online communities like MySpace and Facebook) in education. For example, there are some great thoughts from bloggers here, here, and here. I am purposely not mentioning their names so that you will go and check them out. 😀

As a junior high teacher who uses technology with his students and has regular conversations with his class about their personal technology use I have to cheer many of their recommendations. It is about time we caught up with reality.

However, I can already imagine some groaning and complaining when I share these findings with my educator friends, coworkers, and family members. For some reason MySpace and other social networking sites, along with social networking technology like texting and blogging, have become four letter words for many educators. I even know a few teachers who have their own MySpace and Facebook profiles, but they are afraid to admit this in front of other teachers. It is like they are participating in some sort of secret cult. I think this it-will-go-away-if-I-ignore-it mentality is very dangerous. Obviously, not all of the Internet and social networking sites and technology are safe for students or educationally appropriate. However, if you simply ask a room full junior high or high school students, “Who has a MySpace or Facebook profile?” Nearly every arm will be raised. “Who has sent at least one text message during school hours?” “Who has used YouTube or Flickr?” Most of the same arms will still be in the air. Isn’t that reason enough for educators to better understand this phenomenon and not treat it like some sort of plague?

From my own discovery I have found that most of my students have SNS profiles on MySpace and they are learning from each other as to how to behave in this medium (scary). The majority of the students keep their profiles private or limited and use them only to talk to friends (they site fear of strangers as the reason for doing this – smart!). My students report that many of their online conversations revolve around school gossip. Some of their conversations have educational value, covering topics such as homework help and assignment reminders. What I find fascinating is that many of my students report that many of their conversations center around helping each other use the Internet to create content. For example, they will teach each other how to edit and upload videos, add music and images to their profile pages, and how to reach certain levels on video games. Sometimes this knowledge even makes it into our classroom. Wouldn’t it be nice if they were independently learning the content standards in the same manner?

Two years ago my district started using Moodle with our students. The main purpose of using Moodle was to create a course management system that would provide a way for students to access content outside of school. Nearly every student at our three middle schools has at some point downloaded notes, taken a online quiz, and created a technology-related project. Last year I had students begging me to post online practice tests before the real in-class test and one teacher actually had to close down his “Are Viruses Alive or Not?” discussion board so that his students would go to bed one evening.

Moodle also has some SNS-like components. We have allowed our students to have some limited editing capabilities so that they can customize their profile page and they have the ability to message each other. These two things alone were a little scary to me at first. Junior high students with this much access? Yikes! What if someone put up an inappropriate picture on their profile or sent a inappropriate message to another student? Of course, both of these things have happened. However, what I now realize is that Moodle provides teachers an opportunity to teach students appropriate online behavior.

even as NSBA mentions these are skills our students will need to be successful in the future.

“Moreover, social networking is increasingly used as a communications and collaboration tool of choice in business and higher education. As such, it would be wise for schools, whose responsibility it is to prepare students to transition to adult life with the skills they need to succeed in both arenas, to reckon with it.”

Now does this mean that all of my students have given up MySpace and switched to Moodle? Haha…no. In reality I think many of them are using both and sharing ideas they’ve learned between the two sites. A few cherubs even had to be reminded that the main intent for Moodle is school work and there are assignments there for them to complete. Last year we coined the phrase, “If you have time for MySpace…you have time for Moodle.”

In the end this was probably my favorite recommendation for educators from NSBA.

“Many adults, including school board members, are like fish out of water when it comes to this new online lifestyle. It’s important for policymakers to see and try out the kinds of creative communications tools that students are using – so that their perceptions and decisions about the tools are based on real experiences.”

So, as many of us a preparing to meet our new flock of students in the next few weeks take a moment to read through NSBA’s report and find a way to get to know how your new students behave online. It could be as simple as a short class discussion, but I will guarantee you will gain a ton of knowledge and your students will appreciate your attempt to understand them better.

Joe

Photo: Made with Sign Generator at RedKid.net. Its proof you shouldn’t believe everything you see on the Internet. However, the students in our classes will be educators one day. Perhaps I am just predicting the future? :-)

Quotes: National School Boards Association, “Creating & Connecting Research and Guidelines on Online Social and Educational Networking” Retrieved August 10, 2007 from http://files.nsba.org/creatingandconnecting.pdf

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