Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Social Networking & Schools

A cautionary message to School Zone schools from VEN (SZ educational governance group) about the use of social networking sites by young people and why they are blocked in our schools (though schools have the autonomy to unblock any sites and some are). Having highlighted the negatives which are well publicised in the media VEN asks:

"Young people are though using the medium to communicate - a lot. Harnessing the powerful opportunity that social networking sites provide is a real challenge for educators....We are interested in hearing positive ways that social networking sites have been used by schools for educational purposes, and would like to share these."

Lots of examples at http://nzedublogs.wikispaces.com/ Please list your school blogs, podcasts, flickr site... if not already listed.

Schools might find it worthwhile working through this 'educational scenario' as they decide how or even if they will open up social networking sites http://www.stratford-primary.school.nz/home/rachelj/web2/index.html

Allowing our students to engage collaboratively with others online raises issues of ethical, safe and responsible use. There have been stories sensationalised in the media of cyber bullying, inappropriate pictures and personal information published on student sites. People can behave in disinhibiting ways online, saying and doing things they would never do in a face to face situation. (Butterfield, 2005) (Chisholm & Fenaughty, 2006) This can have long lasting consequences as their ‘digital footprint’ may not be so easily edited or erased and could attract unwelcome attention or repercussions. For this reason many schools have blocked social networking sites through their Internet Management Systems. In effect this is a ‘head in the sand’ reaction. Young people are using Web 2.0 tools anyway and in growing numbers. 55% of US teens use social networks (Warlick, 2007); and 52% of all blogs are created and maintained by 13 – 19 year olds (Twist in De Craene, 2006). “Values and ethics are vital. You cannot control whether students CAN do these things. They can. You CAN control what you teach students! … Schools who ignore technology and ignore instilling values in their students could be reaping the negative consequences.” (Davis, 2007) Students need role models of what it means to be a responsible digital citizen. Teachers could do this by becoming involved in social networks and communities of practise thus also giving them a better understanding of what it means to be a networked learner. (Hargreaves in Lee & Berry, 2006) Schools should update their Acceptable Use policies to include the use of social networking and it should cover students use (relevant to school) outside of the ‘school gates’. Monitoring student use (as opposed to blocking) is important. There are many blog and wiki sites available that require log-on authorisation and comment verification allowing teachers to monitor and screen their students’ interactions. This may be a good safety net as students learn to walk safely and wisely in the wider networked world.” For the full paper click here.

Web 2.0 is the buzzword - it will be the walk & talk of Learning at School. TUANZ07 keynote speakers are edublog celebrities also so there will be no escaping the Web 2.0 bandwagon when it comes to town. In our enthusiasm for hooking in to the Connected World (& i am pretty enthusiastic myself) lets also not forget to be critical of the issues involved and how can we address them in our schools.
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