Friday, 28 March 2008

Eleven GOOD Reasons not to ban social networking sites

I went to Lewisham yesterday and talked to Primary ICT co-ordinators about New Literacies, Social networking and the future ... I had enjoyed the weekend preparing for it ... putting together a list of sites and examples of wikis, blogs, and so on. The conference participants were really welcoming, enthusiastic and fab. I really enjoyed talking with them.

I gave examples of:

  1. - photosharing;
  2. Bubbleshare; - photosharing where you can add speechbubbles etc
  3. Voicethreads; - photosharing and you can add sound and text;
  4. Evoca; - podcasting;
  5. 21 Classes blogging software;
  6. Blogger - blogging software;
  7. You Tube - video sharing;
  8. Making the News - podcasting and more;
  9. Radiowaves - podcasting and more;

Well all seemed OK and at the break people talked to me about how they were going to try some of these ideas. Am excited at the thought that a few said they were interested in doing the online MA in New Literacies at Sheffield.

Then came the presentation from Kent Local Authority who talked about how they had totally banned all social-networking sites in every school in their region. (And Lest we forget ... Kent still has grammar schools and wotnot). They had distributed more than 100 thousand leaflets to parents which includes information on discouraging use of chat-rooms and social networking sites. The leaflets promoted the use of pcs for educational purposes only and suggested also that young people should not ever use computers unsupervised. Here is an example poster.
I feel OK about most of this but am unhappy about only going to websites that the teacher has set out or to never use chat is not really responsible in my view. We have to teach students how to independently research in a safe way.

This is the policy document.... here. Again a lot of good stuff but some areas where I think that they have used a hammer to crack a nut and I do hate the idea of banning things. (We once burnt books you know.)

This is all on the same day that the much awaited report from Dr Tanya Byron brought some similar approaches - with children constructed as totally manipulable, passive, uneducable dupes. The Guardian reports:

Byron, who shot to fame with the BBC series Little Angels, was asked by the prime minister, Gordon Brown, last year to complete the study. She will say the pace of the online revolution has left parents as "the internet immigrants" and children as "the internet natives", often causing worries for parents struggling to stay in touch with technology.

There is a funny thing going on here, with on the one hand children as expert in technology, but unable to make any kind of moral choice. Also I am not keen on the terms native or immigrant; they have negative connotations at the best of times and undermine the complexity of what it might mean to be competent. Education is what is needed for everyone, including parents. We need to run classes for them too. Classes where their kids show them things and we show them things and we all learn from each other. I definitely think we need digital literacy researchers involved in future research in this area, not just psychologists who see children in quite strange ways sometimes!! (Dr Tanya is the one who suggests that to teach kids to behave you can sit them on their own in a room - I am just not into this kind of punishment malarky I have always believed in talking to kids in a reasonable way at every stage.)

So without spending my whole day on this blog rant I want to identify reasons why I think Social networking sites should NOT be banned from schools:

  1. Social Networking is here to stay. People will use them even if they are banned in school. Children therefore need to be taught how to use them safely.
  2. Students use social networking out of school, - so do many parents and this number will increase. We will (continue to) alienate learners if we ban what they value.
  3. Some children do not have access to the Internet out of school. Schools are places where we should try to balance out inequalities and provide equal access. Children (and adults) increasingly use the sites to continue social activities begun elsewhere (and vice versa).
  4. Students can be shown the value of citizenship journalism and the need for other voices than those officially constructed by mainstream media. This is an important social literacy practice for citizenship education.
  5. In a classroom context students can be shown how to enjoy, control and be wary of the power (their own and that of others) in online text production and consumption.
  6. If teachers use SNW sites in school, they can talk with students an ongoing basis, without using scare tactics, about how to stay safe online.
  7. Students can be taught to read online texts critically and discern 'hidden messages' - for we know that some insidious sites, such as Nazi sites, KKK sites appear innocuous at first. If we ban all sites like this, they will only read them unsupervised.
  8. The nature of literacy is changing; to ignore social networking sites is to exclude a whole area of literacy practice from the educational domain - thus making the school curriculum a dinosaur. Multimodal texts are easy to produce using social networking software.
  9. There are excellent educational benefits in using social networking software - even when it is not used to actually network with others - such as using Voicethreads and embedding work into a blog.
  10. Social networking software is changing all the time and thus brings constant fresh and exciting FREE material into the curriculum.
  11. Children are motivated by using such software - especially boys.
Let's hear from the kids: Top Ten Reasons to Use Blogs in the classroom

There is a need to treat kids as responsible people and to show them things carefully. Not ban things as you will never be able to keep it all out. So you need to teach them to protect themselves and to ENJOY what there is online and not pretend that the Internet and pcs are only there fore boring educational sensible things.

And that's all I've got to say about that really. Apart from that the slideshow for the conference is here:


Karl said...

Well, I know nothing about teaching but I think your first reason should be enough to persuade anyone that banning isn't the answer. And, even though I know nothing, I'm going to say that this article seems very well considered and rounded. More than can be said for Kent's blunt instrument approach. Very interesting Doctor.

DrJoolz said...

Thanks K this is reassuring. I sometimes think I am on my own in spouting the need to educate about all this stuff.
The Kent people were quite scary to me.

Mary Plain said...

thanks for this DrJoolz. as ever you said what I wanted to say! I am doing a talk in a few days about the so-called digital divide, Web2, social networking so this is going to be SOOO helpful.

Sheila Webber said...

I suppose one key part of the brochure is "However, schools should be aware that a disclaimer is not sufficient to protect a school from a claim of personal injury and the school needs to ensure that all reasonable actions have been taken and measures put in place to protect users." i.e. they feel they need to cover themselves in case parents sue them. This certainly doesn't seem the way to help young people become information literate - and using computers just for education is dull! I mean, not that education can't be enjoyable, but .....

Dan said...

I feel slightly late in responding to this... but I'm going to reply anyway.

I feel constantly frustrated by the attitudes of the YHGfL and their blacklists of website. Every social networking website is blocked by the YHGfL, which makes using them in the classroom impossible. They also block YouTube, which constantly frustrates me. A few weeks ago I was trying to do a speaking & listening piece with Y10 based around Room 101. Not as many students had seen the show as I had anticipated. The simplest thing to do would have been to pop on youtube and share some examples with the class. I'd be able to do this in Barnsley, and Derbyshire, but I can't in Sheffield.

A student pipes up with "use a proxy sir, then you can get around it!". I'm lucky enough to be ICT-literate to be able to use a proxy, but we are banned from doing so by SMT in school. Instead I had to go home, download the video, stick it on my USB which runs Portable Apps, with Portable VLC and show it to the class the week later.

All the students are capable of getting around the YHGfL proxy server through their own proxy servers. They can all get on the social networking websites, youtube, and some of the more unsavoury elements of the web. Yet those who want to use it for legitimate education reasons aren't allowed to.

Instead of blocking websites, we should be educating students how to use these website safely. By blocking them we simply provide them with a challenge!