The single biggest obstacle educators and administrators need to overcome in order to embrace social media in the classroom is fear. They’re afraid of (often) mistaken information about viruses, predators, and productivity vacuums and just say, “no.” The more patient, curious, and technologically inclined work through the prejudices and realize not only are the negatives perceived less threatening than they thought, but the world of possibilities is vast and uncharted.
That world of possibilities is what you might be keeping our students from. Do you really want that hanging on your conscience?
Okay, so let’s address, not complain about, the fears.
Facebook Causes Viruses
If your information technology people tell you this, fire them now. They’re incompetent. Or lazy. Or both. Facebook hasn’t yet caused a single virus to be unleashed on anyone’s computer. People clicking links and downloading attachments from messages cause viruses. Educators need only know that education is the key to a virus-free computer and network.
The problem is that your IT folks aren’t educators. It’s often not in their per view to teach people how to use their computers more efficiently, though many enterprising ones certainly assume that duty. (Thankfully!) Leaning on them for technical expertise, but taking the initiative to develop instructions and training on how to safely use computers, social networks, email and even mobile technologies opens the doors those technologies can unlock for your staff, teachers, and students.
Social Media Is Full of Predators
According to SafeKids.com, and advocacy website for child safety, “Every peer-reviewed study conducted by the Crimes Against Children Research Center and other scholarly organizations, as well as the report of Internet Safety Technical Task Force, has concluded that the rise of online predators is greatly exaggerated.” In January of 2009, an analysis of teen victims of sexual abuse in Pennsylvania found that only eight involved victims with whom the Internet was used to form the relationship. That’s 8 out of 9,934 children abused in the state that year. This isn’t to say the risk is not there, but take pause for a moment and look at the solutions consistently offered by government organizations, law enforcement and children’s safety organizations in dealing with predators online. They’re all focused on what? Education!
Talk to your kids about predators, monitor their online activity, don’t talk to strangers … The solution is never about limitation, it’s about education. And that’s what we’re supposed to be good at.
And for many social networking sites, there’s an age limit (normally 13-years-old). Anyone underage shouldn’t be on them in the first place, at school or not. But for those who are of age, let’s embrace the fact that 59% of students using social networking sites report doing so to discuss educational topics including college and career planning, 50% use the to talk about school assignments and the general use of social networking sites improves reading, writing, conflict resolution and expression issues with teenagers. All that according to a 2007 study by the National School Boards Association.
If you still think social media is full of predators, then keep this in mind: There are statistically a higher percentage of predators at the mall.
Social Media Causes Productivity Issues
If you encourage students to log on to Facebook and play Farmville, you’ll fulfill your prophecy here. But if you direct them, or even if you don’t directly influence why they might use social media but expect them to do the same amount of work as if they didn’t have access, you’d be surprised with the results.
A 2009 University of Melbourne study, the first of its kind to my knowledge, compared a company’s level of productivity when workers could leisurely browse the Internet, versus when the Internet was restricted. If found the free to browse version was 9% more productive. And that’s without guiding employees to leverage their social connections, blogs, and websites to be more productive, to learn, and to engage, around work-related topics online. Imagine how much more productive they could have been had they been instructed to leverage the web for all its information and resource?
I like to think of the web like a comprehensive library. There’s lots to learn there, lots of great information, some information that I don’t care for, but the possibilities are endless. However, they are only endless if we are allowed to take part in them in the first place.
Embrace the Here and Now
Hiding behind excuses like these only hurts your students. They could be missing out on the latest and greatest content being shared online in the world of chemistry. They could be left out of Facebook group discussion on history or art. They could be limited to your out-dated text books when a blog updated daily is right at their fingertips online.
We can only teach if we first learn. Educators have got to embrace technology — and how to deal with the good and bad it brings — or our students will continue to be left out of possibilities. And that is inexcusable.