Thursday, March 13, 2014

Socializing or Social Media

I recently had the pleasure of meeting with committee members in my district to discuss technology related policy. In this meeting we made strides toward refining the policy our Board sets forth to guide students, staff, and district administration. The policies on the books currently explicitly prohibit social media:

"Student use of district computers to access social networking sites is prohibited. To the extent 
possible, the Superintendent or designee shall block access to such sites on district computers 
with Internet access"

I have my qualms about other parts of the policy, but this particular section is one I feel is met with the greatest confusion. Even proponents of digital citizenship education in the curriculum are not convinced that social media is a legitimate focus for teachers, curriculum, and district policy.

Top 10 reasons we shouldn't teach social media in the classroom:

  1. It's really just socializing (in digital form). 
    • Yes, yes it is. But this isn't a negative, but a positive. Some learners are not going to raise their hands, give oral reports, or read aloud. Allowing them to engage in another venue increases the performance and potential for the whole class. 
  2. We have failing schools and high drop out rates, focus on the standards!
    • This reason is precisely why we need social media in the classroom. Disengaged students with no creative outlets are more likely to become disinterested and apathetic toward school. Creating a diverse learning environment is imposible if we never turn our attention to what is outside of the four classroom walls. Social media is just the beginning of course, social learning, blended learning, and asynchronous learning are the future of "school."
  3. Major media is biased and false information proliferates the web. 
    • This is a valid argument and one all educators should worry about. Social media, digital resources, and web research should never take the place of primary source documentation. As a former government teacher who used CNN and cable television in the classroom, I am acutely aware of the weaknesses of major media for education. Political spin, falsification of information, and fear mongering are not appropriate for the classroom. These are not reasons to avoid the topic, however, only to embrace it! Teaching students to evaluate multiple sources 
  4. Social media, not Educational media!
    • This statement is more a misunderstanding of the purpose based on semantics and a shallow understanding of the topic. Educational media should inundate our classrooms, that is for certain, but this has little to do with Social Media. In fact much of social media's proposed use in the classroom will include educational media (YouTube, Blogs, etc). 
  5. With bullying and cyberbullying center-stage in the country, it's just too dangerous.
    • Stories pervade the national headlines about suicide, depression, and real-world violence based on online activities. Bullying is basically the unwelcome controlling of others (click for official definition). Cyberbullying, which is now front and center on the collective mind of America, is bullying that uses electronics or the internet. Cell phones, browsers, apps, or any interface can be used to bully others and social media is just one avenue for such. Burying your head in the sand will not make the problem go away though. The best way to combat bullying and cyberbullying is to empower and enable students to speak out and report instances of such (through, I don't know, social media, maybe).  
  6. "This is just a fad, like MySpace or something."
    • I don't have much of a response to this statement, but if you are still jamming on your cassette player and making calls on a rotary phone, yes, this internet thing is just a fad. Seriously, though, the connectedness to our devices is now inextricable. Normal human interactions now include texting, emailing, sharing, tagging, and photo/video documentation. Our vernacular includes "Google it" and phones tell us time more than watches... this is not a fad, it's a revolution. 
  7. Maybe we need to get back to the basics: Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. 
    • Who says reading has to be on print media? Why not ebooks, websites, or other digital formats? Is blogging not writing? I say the integration of technology is the key to effective instruction of the basics. Is social media the "end-all-be-all" for each of these three area? Most certainly not. It could be integral, though.  
  8. This is one more thing teachers and administration will be tasked with and evaluated on...
    • Another extremely valid argument. Surveys show many teachers fear that parents will be constantly checking up on them or blur the lines between their personal and professional lives. This is a valid concern and privacy will need to be protected regardless of the circumstances. I cannot imagine what a Superintendent's concerns in this arena could be. I imagine the blow-back from misrepresented comments, the power of sharing unpopular opinions, or the newly invented expectation for monthly, weekly, (gasp) daily updates... All this is not a reason not to try it though. If there is a clamor from stakeholders for more information or more communication in a different format, why not listen? This is the way we communicate now. Tweets, blogs, and multimedia are the new letters home, phone calls to parents, and PSAs. 
  9. Don't kids naturally understand it anyway?! Why teach it?!
    • I admit, I have been taught a thing or two over the years by someone half my age. Functional understanding does not equal awareness, though. As an educator I know the power of less-than-professional Facebook pictures, something a 12 year old may not fully grasp. I also understand the predatory nature of criminals online, the permanence of every text, email, and Snapchat.  Though used extensively by youngsters, the cognizance of social media's power and longevity escapes them. This simply must be taught. 
  10. There simply are not resources to support these endeavors. 
    • I would be willing to bet the costs of not educating our youth will greatly outweigh the potential costs of adding social media education to existing curricula. Other than societal cost (monetarily speaking), what value can you put on a lost opportunity due to pictures or activities from 10-20 years ago for your student in the future? What is the value of a little girl's ill-planned pic to a now-ex-boyfriend once it is posted to the web? 
I leave you with some parting thoughts: 
The question is not "Should I have an online presence?" but "What is my online presence and who will control it?" If you don't have a Facebook, will someone else create one for you (story)? 
What are your thoughts?