sing your life
 

Dear Mr. Orsini:

When I first read this article about you, a New Jersey principal who sent out an email urging parents to ban all social media access from their children, I was aghast. I have been tossing your email in my head for the past couple of days, thinking about the pros and cons of social media in the hands of our youth. As an educator who's taught at the middle school level for several years, as well as being a journalist in three different mediums, I feel my background knowledge sustains my belief that your request is doing our youth and parents a disservice.

This specific quote upsets me to the core:
There is absolutely no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site!

Of course there are, Mr. Orsini! Here are just a few articles explaining why some of the most popular social networking platforms are important in today's educational settings:

Twitter:
NYC’s 140 Character Conference Explores Twitter in the Classroom
Twitter for Learning – 55 Great Articles : eLearning Technology
Twitter in the classroom: 10 useful resources
Twitter in the Classroom: Studies Find Increased Student Engagement

Facebook:
25 Facebook Apps That Are Perfect for Online Education
100 Ways You Should Be Using Facebook in Your Classroom
Facebook Strategies For The Classroom

YouTube:
How to Use YouTube in the Classroom
Using YouTube in the ESL Classroom
A
llowing Safe Access to YouTube in the Classroom

Social Networking in general:
How to Use Social-Networking Technology for Learning
Social networking in the classroom?!

Wikis, Blogs and Social Networking in the Classroom
How to Use Social Networking Technology for Learning


Another part of your email hit me like a ton of bricks:
Some people advocate that the parents and the school should teach responsible social networking to students because these sites are part of the world in which we live. I disagree, it is not worth the risk to your child to allow them the independence at this age to manage these sites on their own, not because they are not good kids or responsible, but because you cannot control the poor actions of anonymous others. 

I'm not sure I understand how not teaching children or students about something that is a part of their world can lead them toward being more responsible, safe, or respectful. Instead of sharing ideas, role-playing situations, and engaging in deep discussions, do you really believe it would be better to act like the social networking gestapo? How could parents have open and honest discussions about anything with their children after your suggested reaction?

If I were to continue using your logic, I would also say parents should ban many books, most television and radio programming, and pretty much everything on the Internet. The basic message says, "Parents, there are bad people outside, so don't allow your children to go out there, not because you can't trust your children, but because you can't control anyone else." Parents never know when someone else will try to influence their children, but, according to you, it's better to just cut off all ties to the real world than try to teach children how to deal with real-world situations.

Maybe you have not had positive experiences with social media, Mr. Orsini, and therefore have decided to severe it completely instead of using other methods of fighting cyber-bullying, immaturity, and illegal Internet use. Here are a few suggestions that I feel would work better than an all-out social networking ban:

1. An Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), either school or district-wide, should be shared with all staff, parents, and students at the beginning of the school year, as well as throughout the year.

2. Teach media literacy either in all subjects or as a core subject. This Edutopia article explains how to use media literacy to foster critical thinking, which might be beneficial to your students beyond just the standard "because I said so" expression.

3. Update your pedagogy, whether through college classes or online webinars, of how to help students and parents progress with 21st century technology, instead of fighting it.

4. Give parents tools for all that you ask them to do, even the items you listed in your email. Many parents may not know how to log onto Facebook, search Internet history, or  set parental controls on tech gadgets. Show them how to not only access their children's information, but how to speak to their children about such issues. Hold parenting classes for media and communication.

5. Last, yet certainly not least, remember why you became an educator. You are part of your students' lives for a short amount of time. How (not only what) you teach them now will affect them for the rest of their lives.

 
George Lucas' Edutopia Foundation made a video that is completely biased towards arts-infused, challenge-based learning in today's classroom, and I love every minute of it. I don't see how any progressive educator could ignore such a strong argument for media literacy. Sad part is, larger class sizes, fewer resource dollars, and higher standardized testing stakes do not mean progressive educators will be able to actually teach anything not on the state tests, especially media literacy.

Even sadder still, students with little or no practice in higher-level thinking skills about media will most likely never receive any education at home. Otherwise, if the parents of those students had any idea what "predatory lending practices" were, we might not be in the economic situation we are currently in.

We're not at a complete loss, though. States like New Mexico, where poverty levels are some of the highest in the entire country, have begun to teach media literacy in public schools. Come on, California legislators! Media literacy isn't an elective in life-- it's mandatory for being able to live in American society.
 
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For anyone who looks to the Internet for socializing, discussing personal and professional ideas, and building a network of real and virtual connections, there are plenty of sites to keep one engaged for hours a day. It's a fact: Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and Second Life, among other social media sites, suck the life out of life sometimes. Now, studies about the black hole of virtual socializing from OSU and UNH are sending educators, administrators, and even students mixed messages about the real-life implications of time spent in a virtual world.

So, does social media help or hurt students? Is social media a time suck, or is it the answer to collaboration and communication restrictions? It all depends on how students use social networking, and of course, on whom you ask.

Take, for example, this Edutopia poll, where readers were asked if they believed social media helped or hindered learning.  Several responses supported the view that technology is important in today's learning environments, yet the face-to-face experience of discussing and interacting with peers must not disappear just because technology has made communicating via phones and computers so easy.

The most difficult part of using social media may be the ability to stop and listen, then think, before responding. Twitter discussions may not be the best place to try and engage deep conversations. Just try to keep up during an #edchat session! Social media is, after all, self-centered and narcissistic, but that doesn't mean that education can't take advantage of bringing people (students, professors, professionals) together who want to talk about their experiences and opinions on a given subject matter. Social media goes hand-in-hand with education because education has a social core. For real-life learning to occur, social concepts of cooperation and compromise, as well as being able to express ideas and thoughts to a group of people, are required.

One crucial component of using social media in the classroom is to make sure the medium reflects the amount of depth that questions require. For example, use Twitter for quick, to the point answers, or wikis to examine longer questions with layers of opinions. Facebook and MySpace can be used for interactive conversations on specific interests or application-worthy discussions. YouTube can be used for video responses that illicit even shorter written responses as comments from viewers. Second Life and Flickr can be used for those students who need visual illustrations to accompany conversations.

Obviously, the uses of social media in educational conversations are boundless, but in the end, what really matters is not how much students say, but what they say using technology.
 
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For my first, and long-awaited *wink*, blog post on this site, I wanted to blather on about Google Wave. Yes, really.

As soon as I got my invite and watched the video (posted below,) I decided to investigate how GW could be used for educational purposes. Not that it would be available to educators or students for unlimited use any time soon, but what made me ponder such an out-of-reach option was the fact that I would love to use GW in an educational setting, whether I'm the instructor or the student. The following articles discuss how GW could eventually lead large groups of students, educators, and other entities such as universities, to make use of this real-time collaboration tool.

Educause, a leading non-profit supporting tech in higher ed says,
"Wave opens new avenues for critique of engineering projects, architectural designs, musical performance, or any discipline that benefits from peer or expert review. Instructors, using the playback function, could see how waves were built, step-by-step, and draw inferences about the thinking behind and evolution of student projects. Wave might also change how knowledge is created, stored, and shared. If adopted by professionals, it could provide an accessible way to model disciplinary thinking and processes with students."

e-School News, an online ed-tech magazine, states,
"Google's announcement has the education blogosphere buzzing with ideas about how this new application could possibly shake up the way educators approach teaching and collaboration."

Of course, not everyone is ready to jump on your Wave, Google. Chris Dannen gives five compelling reasons why GW could be your worst nightmare:

"Dislike long billowy emails? You'll despise the bizarre, choppy prolixity of long waves." Maybe. Give me a few months to try it out, and see how much playback I can stand for messages I might not care about.

I definitely agree with the fact that, after using GW, I am skeptical of how many Waves I will actually send, since I prefer to edit my messages after typing them. I noticed while Waving that I'm a little old school in that degree, but maybe that's our instant gratification culture knocking at my door while I hide out behind the couch. That, or my OCD.

I also agree with Dannen when he writes,
" 'Any participant can reply anywhere in the message, edit the content and add participants at any point in the process,' Google says. That'll make keeping track of participants a lot harder. Subtract the aforementioned opportunities to self-edit, and you have a social trainwreck ready and waiting."

All in all, GW looks promising in several arenas, such as email, real-time collaboration suites, social media, and PLNs.

PS- Wave to me! gothuskies@googlewave.com

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    cristina

    educator, student, yoga enthusiast, roller derby girl

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    The views expressed in this blog are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of my employers, colleagues, friends, family, or pets. Thanks for visiting!

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