Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Should Students Be Able to Use Social Media in High School?

I just received an email from a high school student who was asking about my stance on filtering the Web in a school. She was taking a Law class in her school and they were researching what educators in the field said about which sites should be accessible and which should be blocked.  I have included my response below. You will notice that I have left it anonymous but I thought that it contained some interesting points:

Question: What are your thoughts about students using social networking sites on the new one-on-one laptops

Dear Student;

I am honored that you are interested in my opinion on this topic.

As frustrating as this may sound, my answer is "It all depends."

Providing one computer for each student is not about technology.  It is about providing students with individual tools that will allow them to take responsibility for their education. This means that you will have the ability to access the almost unlimited amount of information available on the web.  It also means that you must act responsibly in what you use and how you use it.

I am not a fan of blocking online sites. This reduces your access to the many resources that you may use for your studies.  However, if you have open access to these sites you must use them in a mature and responsible manner.

It is something like teaching a child about crossing the street.  You can't teach her to look both ways before crossing unless you allow her to cross it. We can't teach students about how to be safe and sane on the Web unless we provide them access.

This does not mean that you have free reign of Facebook or Twitter or YouTube. If you are Facebooking your friends in class when you should be using it to search for pertinent information, you should be disciplined for your actions as you would for any misbehavior in class.  These punishments should be identified beforehand so that both the teachers and students know what to do.

I would strongly suggest that you and your teachers read From Fear to Facebook.   It is 120-page book by a principal who was hired in Cupertino to convert their school to a 1-to-1 school. It is a wonderful narrative that explains how student, parents, teachers and administrators shaped the rules of the school. It costs $10 for a Kindle and you can get it immediately. It's twice the price for paperback. http://tinyurl.com/78sj48o    I use it in my technology coordinator class.

I hope that this has been useful. To summarize, I don't believe in filtering content unless necessary. If it turns out that the students can't responsibly use some resources like Facebook, it should be removed. You responsibilities as a student increase as your access to technology and online resources increase. If you do not act responsibly, then appropriate disciplinary actions should be taken.

Good luck and keep me posted of your success.

Leigh Zeitz
Associate Professor.
Coordinator of Instructional Technology division
University of Northern Iowa

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