Today, Dayton, Ohio banned teachers from befriending students on Facebook and from using non-district approved media to communicate with students. So out goes texting, chatting, and one would assume any sort of discourse on real-world blogs or websites.
This is regressive, misguided, and harmful to children.
Whenever you see a measure like this come into effect, you’ll see some quotes about how teachers aren’t supposed to be friends with students. I partially agree with this, and on the whole don’t recommend teachers befriending current students on Facebook. But using social media like texting, chatting, and discussion forums isn’t about “befriending” students. It’s about bringing engaging communicative tools into the classroom to enhance learning. Used well, social media is all about teaching and learning and has nothing to do with simply “being friends with students.”
Assuming that social media is only about friendship shows a complete misunderstanding of social media. I would bet the individuals promoting these measures don’t text, don’t use Facebook, don’t understand that Twitter is more than saying “I’m walking my dog in the park,” and don’t participate in online discussions. They have no idea how the world around them is evolving and how effective use of social media is a skill that kids need to learn. They’ve never considered that the appropriate use of social media can transform a classroom, can connect students to the world around them in truly meaningful learning experiences—in ways that students can see everywhere except in school, where they are asked to power down, put cell phones away, and break out a pencil and paper.
This August, I had the opportunity to participate in a Mobile Learning Institute at the Smithsonian. All week long we used Twitter, an online community, email, and texting to coordinate activities that required us as students to use social media to engage with the world around us to make learning more meaningful. With social media you can connect with experts and other students around the world. With social media, you can give students a chance to create a product for a real world audience. With social media you create relevance, engagement, and interest. You can see kids come to life because you’re finally not asking them to do some stupid packet for an audience of one.
When you ban teachers from using social media you take all this potential away and condemn teachers to teaching with one hand tied behind their backs. You can’t have it both ways, though. You can’t ask teachers to teach 21st century skills if you take all the 21st century tools away from them.
The other aspect of this issue is that kids need responsible adults to help them navigate the world of social media, to learn how to communicate effectively on it, and to learn how to manage their time on it. It is too large a part of society already to ignore it, it’s not going away, and banning social media from schools is the single best way to insure that kids will learn how to use it unsafely and inappropriately. Many of the social media stories we see today that arise from inappropriate use of social media arise not from the fact that adults were involved, but because not enough responsible adults were involved.
So good luck, Dayton, Ohio. While you’re banning social media—which in essence is simply a form of communication—why stop there? Why not ban telephone calls and email as well? When you really come down to it, what’s the difference between a phone call and a chat conversation? Why not simply restrict students to communicating with teachers via snail mail? That’ll solve all your social media problems.