Friday, December 14, 2007

Social Networking - Is there a place in school?

Written for our school district newsletter, 12/15/7

The National School Boards Association released a report this past summer urging schools to re-examine policies regarding social networking. The media, for the most part, has portrayed these tools as dangerous and unsafe for kids. Statistics however, do not support this perception. There are dangers, but they may not be as prominent as many of us think.

Recently, Auburn Enlarged City School District has been engaged in conversations regarding social networking tools and whether or not there is a place for them in our schools. The technology planning team has been discussing the pros and cons to allowing students to access tools such as email, instant messaging, and other tools that, although relatively new to most adults, are central to how our students communicate.

After initial discussions, the technology planning team felt it needed a student perspective and conducted a panel interview of students from Auburn High School. Our goal was to learn what students how our students were using social networks. Five students were asked a series of questions on social networking using video conferencing tools connecting the High School to the Harriet Tubman Administration Building where the Technology Planning Team meets.

Some of the responses from our students came as a surprise to the group. We found our students had anywhere from 60 to 600 contacts on their “friends” lists. They are spending upwards of two hours a day communicating using these tools. More importantly, students said they would like to be able to contact teachers using these tools.

Cyberbullying and harassment online are serious concerns of social networking tools. Students responded to these concerns, telling the group of the precautions they take to protect their online identities. They keep their profiles hidden and are very cautious with personal information. These are skills they have learned on their own. They deny access to anyone who is not on their contact lists and delete those they no longer wish to communicate with.

The NSBA Report suggests students may learn online safety lessons better while they are actually using these tools. Most of these tools are currently blocked in our schools and teachers know little about them. The report asks schools to consider using social networks for staff communication and professional development. Increasing teachers’ comfort level and understanding of these types of tools will help them to understand the educational possibilities associated with these tools.

No, AECSD is not allowing access to MySpace just yet. The district is exploring the tools that our current generation students are using and looking at how we may use them to an educational advantage while keeping our students safe and teaching them to keep themselves safe outside of school. We will continue to explore these tools, pilot small projects, and re-examine our policies in order to use the best tools we can to prepare our students to live and learn in the 21st Century.

1 comment:

Scott said...

Hey Teach,

Your very concise and simply stated post is an important one for those of us who, according to one of my NECC workshop participants (commenting on a blog post of mine after the workshop last summer--and none too positively) "have drunk the kool-aid" and are convinced that our schools need to better reflect the culture of the students they intend (or is that "pre"tend?) to teach. I'm looking very carefully over these winter holidays at ways I can do better with my K-4 instruction, and I hope that others take your words to heart as well.

Your comment that your panel of students "have learned these skills themselves" is telling. Read Vicki Davis at coolcatteacher blog this week to get a notion of just how bittersweet that kool-aid is.

See you at ISTE Island!