Most schools ban Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and other social networking sites from school computers. The logic behind this ban is twofold. First, is the belief that students are less likely to be distracted when the school computers don’t give them access to their favorite websites. Second, administrators, teachers, and parents all fear the negative consequences that can result from social networking.
Friending the wrong person can have disastrous effects, and tales of bullying, murder, suicide, and kidnapping resound in adults’ collective ears. Still, social networking is an essential part of most young adults’ lives, and banning all social networking from schools drives a wedge between teens and educators.
Now, a movement is afoot to create student-friendly social networking sites, which would be limited to education and bound to particular districts or schools. These sites would give students the chance to communicate with peers in person and via the computer, in a setting not unlike an online school. Yet the most desirable aspect of school-friendly social networks may be that they would allow students to work together in a productive manner, while providing adults with the peace of mind sites like Facebook simply cannot offer.
According to 2010 survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 73 percent of teens ages 12 to 17, and 72 percent of young adults ages 18 to 29 use social networking sites. What this means is that social networks are now the go-to communication media for teens and young adults. Thus, when schools completely eliminate social networking access from their computers, it actually isolates the majority of their student body and reinforces the notion that schools simply don’t “get them.”
An article on CNET News discusses the rise of the school social network, a novel approach that lets kids and adults meet half way on the new frontier of social networking and microblogging. The idea that all social networking is bad simply because some sites are inappropriate is akin to banning all books because some contain information not appropriate for school-age children. Allowing students to access educationally relevant material on the Internet is not a new idea, and schools lag behind when they ban social media on the premise that none of it is educationally relevant. Following the president’s Twitter messages is certainly relevant in a social studies class, and reading up on the online Facebook reports from a soldier in the field can give students a unique perspective on world affairs. The list of educational opportunities related to social networking is actually quite vast, but because schools ban social networks, students miss out.
Some educators have gotten fed up with the lack of social networking in schools. One group of teachers has even worked to create a school-friendly social networking site of their own, The Flat Classroom Project, which is designed to help eliminate the concerns voiced by adults over the risks of social networks invading the classroom. Here, students can network, collaborate on projects, and develop new perspectives in learning, all while working in a safe environment.
School Center, an Edline solution firm, is also in the process of developing a social network that can be managed at the district level. In fact, the site has already been launched in the Harrison School District in Missouri. The creation of the site was spurred by the need to enhance efficiency and encourage district-wide collaboration through social networking in the area. The result was an interactive communications hub that allowed for collaboration and communication in a safe and secure environment. Now, School Center is taking this model to the next level and expanding their services to create secure communication hubs that serve students and teachers alike. Thus, students are slowly being brought into a school version of the social networking era.
It’s absurd to think that all social networking is bad, or that it should all be banned from schools. Rather, educators need to start considering how social networking can be used to benefit their students and begin developing goals that will enable students to remain in an educationally relevant and secure environment. A school social network is one solution that marries the aspects of social network that kids enjoy with the educational relevance that teachers crave, and with current web development, it’s fast becoming a reality.
This article was written by Lindsay Wright, a guest author for Edudemic.