Recently, The Huffington Post featured an article entitled “Educators Debate The Merits of Technology and Social Networking in Classrooms,” which explores the recent phenomena of schools and teachers adopting social media practices as methods of teaching.
Social networking can be dangerous for children and young teens unfamiliar with the rules and norms of online social behavior. But, as it turns out, there are many educational benefits to using it in the classroom. A 2008 study conducted by the University of Minnesota on student social media use, found that students learn technological skills, creativity, being open to new views, and communication skills. Christine Greenhow, a researcher at UM, says: “What we found was that students using social networking sites are actually practicing the kinds of 21st-century skills we want them to develop to be successful today.”
Moreover, a Mashable article on “The Case For Social Media in Schools” argues that engaged kids just learn better. The article relates a number of anecdotes from teachers that have incorporated social media learning into their respective curriculums, including Matt Hardy in Minnesota that began using blogs in his classroom in 2007. “Students aren’t just writing on a piece of paper that gets handed to the teacher and maybe a smiley face or some comments get put on it. Blogging was a way to get students into that mode where, ‘Hey, I’m writing this not just for an assignment, not just for a teacher, but my friend will see it and maybe even other people [will] stumble across it.’”
Another study, attempting to measure the effects of microblogging (Twitter) on learning, separated students that were given assignments that incorporated Twitter, while others did them without. The study found that “In addition to showing more than twice the improvement in engagement than the control group, the students who used Twitter also achieved on average a .5 increase in their overall GPA for the semester.”
But while social media can be a great way to expand kids’ communicative abilities, some educators remain skeptical. That’s why social networks have stepped up their games: Facebook, the largest social networking site in the world, has partnered with the National PTA to provide a program to “reduce cyberbullying and advance Internet safety and security.” And Myspace created a safety task force, released strategies for online safety, and collaborated with the Attorney General on “key principles of social networking sites.”
There lies a happy medium between letting kids explore–and engage in their education–through social media, and protecting them from possible harm. Software like ZoneAlarm’s SocialGuard can help parents monitor their child’s online social behavior–while giving them the space they need.