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Social networking tools appear poised to enter the schoolsystem. It's a breakthrough long overdue.
INDICATIONS FROM the recent Technology+ Learning Conference in Nashville,TN, are that social networking may finallybe creeping into schools.
One sign of the advance of social networking tools is that software publishers are now incorporating them into their existing applications. At the T+L show, Hotmath revealed that it is adding a chat function to its program whereby students can ask fellow students questions about a particular problem they're working on. EPals has also expanded its offerings to include a number of social networking technologies.
My response to this? It's about time!
I have argued often in this space that we must bring into the schools the technologies students like and use outside school, the same ones that enable the kinds of 21st-century skills they need in today's workforce—communication, collaboration, problem solving, etc.
In August, Grunwald Associates, in cooperation with the National School Boards Association, released a study on online social networking that shows the gulf between where students are and where districts are. The survey found that students spend almost as much time using social networking services and browsing websites as they do watching TV. Ninety-six percent of students with online access have used social networking technologies, such as chatting and blogging, and visited online communities, such as Facebook and MySpace.
More fascinating to me is what the students actually are doing online: creating content. Twenty-one percent say they post comments on message boards every day, up from 7 percent just five years ago. Twelve percent say they upload music or podcasts they created at least weekly; 9 percent say they upload self-made videos. Thirty percent have their own blogs.
Meanwhile, more than 90 percent of school districts report that some of their teachers assign homework requiring internet use to complete and some use web pages to communicate assignments, curriculum content, and other information. Yet, except for some "officially sanctioned, educationally packaged social networking," such as student websites and online pen pal programs, districts enforce a virtual blockade on social networking tools. Eighty-four percent have rules against online chatting, 81 percent against instant messaging, and 62 percent against bulletin boards or blogs.
This clash of rules and practice seems the result of discordant concerns about safety. "Students and parents report fewer recent or current problems, such as cyberstalking, cyberbullying, and unwelcome personal encounters, than school fears and policies seem to imply," says the report, which goes on to offer some tips for districts, including considering using social networking for staff communications and professional development.
This is just one of several wise suggestions from two organizations with significant influence. I hope they are heeded—and implemented.
-Geoffrey H. Fletcher, Editorial director
This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2007 issue of THE Journal.