Lazy blogger alert: I posted this on the agency blog.
Adults make rules for kids all the time. It’s their job, after all, to protect children and to help them to grow and to succeed.
But sometimes those rules can get in the way. And, according to the National School Boards Association (NSBA), the 92 percent of school districts across the country that have policies creating barriers against Internet use during the school day may be doing just that — getting in the way.
(Disclosure: I don’t have children and I love social media. But I do have a background in media literacy education. I hope that counts toward something.)
The NSBA recently completed a study of nine- to seventeen-year olds and their use of social media as well as the role of social media in education. What did they discover?
No shock here, but kids are heavy users of social media.
- 96 percent of students with online access use social media, with 81 percent doing so within the past three months.
The thing is, many of them are using social media for educational reasons.
- 50 percent of students use social media to talk about schoolwork; and
- 59 percent use social media to talk about education-related topics like college or college planning, politics, news, careers or jobs, ideas and religion or morals.
And most schools are requiring the use of the Internet to complete assignments.
- 96 percent of school districts have teachers who assign projects that require the Internet;
- 95 percent have teachers who use web sites to communicate assignments and other course-related information;
- Nearly 50 percent have international pen pal programs and online partnerships with other schools;
- 35 percent have student blog programs; and
- 22 percent use wikis for school projects.
But they are also making rules that restrict Internet use during the school day.
- 92 percent of school districts require parents and students to sign an Internet use policy;
- 98 percent of school districts use software to block access to inappropriate sites;
- 84 percent prohibit online chat and 81 percent prohibit instant messaging;
- 62 percent prohibit commenting on message board and blogs and 60 percent prohibit email; and
- 52 percent prohibit the use of social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook.
While these rules are only applicable during the school day, their mere existence is sending a (wrong) message to parents — and to students. Participating in social media has limited educational value.
Meanwhile — and despite the hype perpetuated by the media — students and parents report few problems with students’ social media use.
- 20 percent of students have seen inappropriate pictures on social networking sites (likely to have been posted by their own peers);
- 18 percent have seen inappropriate language (again, likely coming from their own peers and nothing more than they hear on the playground or the bus – or at home);
- 7 percent of students have had someone ask them about their personal identity or have experienced cyber bullying;
- 4 percent have had conversations that have made them feel uncomfortable;
- 3 percent have had strangers approach them repeatedly; and
- 2 percent said that they a stranger tried to meet them in person, with .08 percent actually agreeing to do so.
What was most interesting about the study was its discussion of students the NSBA labels the “noncomformists.” These students are heavy users of social media and they break the rules that school districts have for Internet use. They use inappropriate language, post inappropriate pictures, share personal information with strangers and, while online, often pretend to be someone they are not.
But these same students know about new sites and technology before their peers do, communicate more frequently with their parents and demonstrate greater proficiency with “21st century skills”: communication, technological, creativity, collaboration and leadership.
Meanwhile, their graders hover in the B’s and C’s, which the NSBA suggests has less to do with their capabilities and intelligence and more to do with the schools’ lack of effort to engage them in innovative and creative ways.
What does the NSBA recommend?
- Educators and administrators should take the time to educate themselves by spending time using social media. Don’t believe the hype. Experience it.
- Put social media to use for staff communication and professional development – give your staff the chance to use social media in a productive way.
- Begin to experiment more with using social media for educational purposes.
- Develop policies that will help to ensure more equitable access to social media among your students.
- Pay attention to the “nonconformists” and develop more innovative ways to engage them.
- Reexamine restrictive Internet use policies.
- Work with social media companies to identify opportunities to increase the educational value of their technology.
What would I add to that list? Why not actively engage those nonconforming students in developing ways to engage their nonconformist peers — as well as other students? Take advantage of their leadership capabilities and their knowledge of social media and give them a good reason to get excited to come to school and a chance to do well.
Do you have anything to add to the list?
(By the way, the study was funded by three organizations with an economic interest in encouraging students’ — and schools’ — use of the Internet: Microsoft, News Corporation and Verizon.)
Speaking of economic interest . . . while I was writing this post, there was an ad for the cable industry’s online safety campaign, Point Smart Click Safe. While most messages about online safety lean toward overemphasizing the boogie man in the closet, the message from the ad was that parents should simply spend more time learning about what their kids are doing online. In the ad, the dad had been reading his daughter’s blog and was able to speak more fluently about her interests.
“You might even like it,” the ad says.