One of the most powerful reasons to permit the use of social media and mobile devices in the classroom is to provide an opportunity for students to learn about their use in a supervised environment that emphasizes the development of attitudes and skills that will help keep them safe outside of school.
In December 2011, a nation-wide group of educational groups, starting with the Consortium for School Networking, sat down to examine social media use by K-12 students. Their report, which just came out, acknowledges that personal technology is in schools, and some schools encourage the presence of smart phones because they can’t afford to provide devices to everyone. It also lists several problems raised by such technology: sexting, cyberharrassment, oversharing of information, and general poor decision-making. “Many of the problems raised by these new technologies – from bullying to engaging in risky behavior – are not new to the public discourse, but are merely being delivered in different media,” the report cautions.
So what should be done? The report gives four straightforward suggestions:
- don’t automatically ban Web 2.0 resources
- revise Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs) for schools and districts towards responsible-use policies
- educate students about appropriate and safe social media use
- give teachers the professional development they need to use and teach the use of Web 2.0
After this, the report include succinct “real-world snapshots” of programs that are working with social media instead of banning it outright. I like the program at New Canaan Public Schools in Connecticut. They start with Internet safety education in second grade. Older students use Google Docs and Google Earth in their classwork. One teacher is quoted as saying, “Every time they [students] get ready to post something online…we talk about what they’re sharing and what permissions they’re going to include.” Even teachers are collaborating online, and parents “are delighted and relieved that we are taking their kids to these sites and teaching them the responsible, ethical, safe, and legal way to use them.”
School is a place for education. Why shouldn’t Web 2.0 be part of the curriculum, especially since we keep hearing that online is the wave of the 21st century? As someone parenting five children, I encourage schools to really look at what they are banning–what educational opportunities are getting shut down and is there a really good reason, aside from fear of the unknown?