By Harrison Howe
If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em
You can place a block of cheese in the middle of a maze and a mouse will eventually make its way to the food. Similarly, schools can block Facebook and other social networking sites, but kids will always find access. One middle school student in New Jersey told his father it was 'pretty easy' to get around blocked sites in his school. Massachusetts middle school student Emilie MacDonald told The New York Times in September 2011: 'Banning Facebook is pointless. Banning it only puts a challenge in kids' minds.'
According to a 2009 survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 93% of teens (aged 12-17) use the Internet, and 73% of those use an online social media site. So this goes to show you: Facebook is here to stay, both in and outside the classroom. And if it is, schools should redirect the energy trying to block it toward finding ways to integrate it into the learning spectrum.
Many teachers, including those in Missouri where a new law restricts teachers from friending students on Facebook, state that they use social media sites to provide support and communicate with students as well as for educational opportunities. A ban, they fear, will deprive kids of innovative ways to learn, ways that are quickly becoming the wave of the future.
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Engaging Students to Learn
The meeting of social media and learning is not new; many colleges, for instance, utilize Facebook, MySpace and other networking sites to allow students and professors to interact. The same can be done for elementary, middle and high schools. In fact, in some cases social networking sites designed to be used in the classroom have been and continue to be developed (the Flat Classroom Project and School Center are two such sites).
Used properly, Facebook and other social networking sites can be great learning tools. They can be used to enhance classroom discussions, support dialogue between students who might be working on a project together, or put students in touch with individuals or groups of interest or relevance. Some also feel that, rather than a ban, allowing access to social media at school can give kids an atmosphere where they can be supervised and taught to use the sites safely.
Most importantly: students learn best when they are engaged, and technology is what engages students in the modern era. Consider that iPads are replacing textbooks and even video games are being used to teach students certain subjects. Despite what some may believe, social media are not a distraction when it comes to education; in fact, in some ways not having it could be more of a distraction.
Learn more about how social media sites can have a positive impact in learning environments.