Monday, October 7, 2013

Tiptoeing through Social Media

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Utilizing social networks (or social media) has been a bit of a struggle for me - both personally and professionally. I was not drawn to social media. So, initially, when sites like Facebook were banned in our school district, it did not cause much of a concern for me. However, over the past few years I have started to get my toes a little wet in social media. I have yet to create a Facebook account, but I have dabbled a bit in Twitter and have been quite surprised with the results.

Regardless of my small efforts to engage in social media, I have been troubled with what I see as a lack of a concentrated effort to prepare our students not just for "life," but also their digital life. I have started to make some attempts to discuss what it means to be a digital citizen and allow my students to explore issues such as Internet privacy, safety, cyber-bullying, and how young people use social media and mobile devices.

But when it comes to full immersion in social media... it is still only the toes that are wet.

The article "Ning on Education: Can non-commercial, education-based social networking sites really address the privacy and safety concerns of educators?" (Holcomb, Brady, & Smith, 2010), addresses the bans on social networks in schools and how these bans are in reaction to privacy and safety concerns. I was particularly surprised to learn about areas in the United States that are moving to enact legislation "to completely ban or significantly restrict assess" to social networks.

I guess maybe it is hard to get more than your toes wet when the word from the top is to avoid social media. Yet the irony is that while teachers can try to fool themselves that they are avoiding and banning the use of social media in their classrooms, most students, particularly older ones, are bypassing all the secured network protocols with their mobile devices.

Ning, as indicated in the article, can provide "the educational benefits of using social networking technologies while simultaneously minimizing existing concerns relating to the protection of student privacy and safety commonly associated with commercially-based SNSs."  While the debate over using social media in the classroom will continue, Ning offers a middle-ground, recognizing the benefits of using social media in the classroom while also adhering to existing policies and restrictions. And for teachers like me, who still only have their toes wet in social media, it may be the best place to start when planning and implementing online social networking in the classroom.

The video "Social Networking: An Evolution in Communication Media" describes the Internet as a "communication medium" and one primary trait of that medium is social networking. The video argues that if we teach students how to use the Internet, then we have to address how to participate on the Internet, such as publishing, blogging, podcasting, and networking.

I agree with the video's message. The video challenges us to consider why we are not using social media in the classroom and how we are shortchanging out students. As indicated in the article on Ning, one benefit of social media is "the ability to provide a forum to 'communicate with other cohorts' (and) 'collaborate with colleagues in distant areas.'" I have witnessed students connecting with others through their course blogs, and it is a great experience for them. I imagine social media platforms are even more powerful when it comes to creating these types of connections.

One issue I do have, however,  is with comment moderation. Currently, some of the students' video work is posted to our online student newspaper's YouTube account. I have always turned the comment feature off, because I am troubled by a lot of the comments that are left on videos. Even the video discussed in this post, that is on YouTube, has some very negative and offensive comments from other users. Yet at the same time, I wonder if my students are also not missing out on possible constructive criticism and positive feedback. If anyone has any thoughts on this issue, I would appreciate any feedback.

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