Recently, I’ve had teachers ask me questions about teaching using social networking sites like Ning and Grou.ps, and I’ve noticed a trend. They like what social networking sites seem to make possible and they want to use technology to increase student engagement, but they’ve expressed concern over the fact that the sites have a lot of bells and whistles. I think they’re concerned that students will confuse the educational sites with the social sites they use outside the classroom.
I understand this concern because I am well aware that students behave inappropriately on sites like Myspace and Facebook, but if you decide to use a site like Schoology or Edmodo (which are cool–don’t get me wrong) because you don’t want to use something that looks too much like Facebook, then aren’t you kind of defeating the purpose? Aren’t you missing out on opportunities to teach appropriate use of social media? If you want to have students create Facebook-like profile pages for characters in a novel you’re studying, but you don’t want to use a site that mimics what Facebook can do because it doesn’t look “educational” … then why bother? If the goal is to increase student engagement then you should use a tool that’s … well … engaging. Shouldn’t you?
Now, I’m not saying Edmodo and Schoology are not engaging. They are. I’ve used Edmodo and my students have thought it was cool. I’ve checked out Schoology and it looks pretty useful too, but you need to really think about what you’re trying to achieve and then choose the best tool for that task.
I’ve had teachers tell me before that they tried blogging with their students but they weren’t really into it. When they tell me what tools they’re using for blogging, then I get it. The tools are boring. Yawn…. Appearance matters, okay?
I think some of the concern comes from teachers worrying that other teachers, administrators, or parents might not think that students are learning when using a site that looks too “social”. My response? Invite those teachers, administrators, and parents to join your site. People fear what they don’t understand (duh), so let them in.
And who says education can’t be fun? Bring on the bells and whistles, I say.
And you thought they were just checking out inappropriate pictures of each other on Facebook.
A new study out of the US shows that all that time kids spend on social networking sites is actually helping them learn. The study’s researcher says, “spending time online is essential for young people to pick up the social and technical skills they need to be competent citizens in the digital age.”
The way that teens socialize and learn from each other online raises questions and possiblities about the way in which we teach.
Some of the key findings in the study are:
There is a generation gap in how youth and adults view the value of online activity.
Adults tend to be in the dark about what youth are doing online, and often view online activity as risky or an unproductive distraction.
Youth understand the social value of online activity and are generally highly motivated to participate.
Youth are navigating complex social and technical worlds by participating online.
Young people are learning basic social and technical skills that they need to fully participate in contemporary society.
The social worlds that youth are negotiating have new kinds of dynamics, as online socializing is permanent, public, involves managing elaborate networks of friends and acquaintances, and is always on.
Young people are motivated to learn from their peers online.
The Internet provides new kinds of public spaces for youth to interact and receive feedback from one another.
Young people respect each other’s authority online and are more motivated to learn from each other than from adults.
Most youth are not taking full advantage of the learning opportunities of the Internet.
Most youth use the Internet socially, but other learning opportunities exist.
Youth can connect with people in different locations and of different ages who share their interests, making it possible to pursue interests that might not be popular or valued with their local peer groups.
“Geeked-out” learning opportunities are abundant – subjects like astronomy, creative writing, and foreign languages.
I don’t think anyone would be surprised to learn that teens prefer learning from each other. Maybe we should be looking for ways to use this to our benefit rather than search for ways to block sites from our school networks.