Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Unblocking Social Networking Sites


In Why Facebook is Unblocked at ISB from The Thinking Stick, Jeff Utecht shares an email from his department sent to a parent who was concerned about Facebook being unblocked at his school. Near the end of the email, it states,

“These sites have emerged as social areas that form a major significant part of many of our student’s lives. This socialization is near as important to this generation as face to face time with their friends and they maintain friendships beyond ISB to include international students from schools around the world. At this point we feel that by simply blocking these sites, we as a school would be missing an opportunity to educate students about how to use them appropriately…If students cannot manage their time on computers productively at school, then they would certainly not be able to at home. Blocking access has not proven to be effective in teaching students to use a tool effectively and wisely.”

I think part of the desire to block is fear of the unknown. When rock and roll first hit the scene, parents around the world were horrified and wanted this new type of music banned and hidden from their children. I’m sure that when the first automobile hit the roads, there was fear of how this newfangled thing would affect our lives. I believe as more and more parents become comfortable with social networking sites, they will less stressed about their children using them. Of course, as a parent, I would require that my child becomes my “friend” and I would have the password to my child’s account. If for any reason this password gets changed or if I’m blocked, I would delete the account and keep my child from using this until he/she matured more. But that is just what I would do.

I also understand the need to protect our children but by acting out of fear and ignorance is not the best way to protect our children. When we teach our children to read, there is a chance that they will read some inappropriate materials. So in our desire to protect, do we just not let our children learn to read or do we let them learn to read but only material we hand pick for them? When our children learn to drive, there is a chance that they may drive to an inappropriate place. There is a chance that they may get in an accident, get car jacked, or even pick up a hitchhiker. Do we not teach our children to drive, or only let them go places if we are with them?

When I was growing up, my parents did not allow me to date until my senior year of high school. I did not have a lot of social skills when dealing with the opposite sex. My only date happened to be my prom date and it wasn’t the highlight of my dating career. When I went on to college (800 miles away from my parents), I went boy crazy. I went out with some horrible boys as well as some nice boys. The problem was that I didn’t have any guidance from my parents to help me figure out which ones were which. At one point, I had a boy who became very possessive and started to stalk me but I didn’t know how to deal with it and I wish I had dated more when I was at home with my parents. Eventually my friends were the ones I turned to and they helped me get out of a bad situation. By the time I had children, I knew that I wanted them to have some social experiences while they lived at home and I could help guide them. I didn’t want them to make the same mistakes that I did.

I think it is so important to teach our students to become independent and learn the skills necessary to be become this way. Yet, we need to teach them how to use these skills wisely. We need to introduce them to the negatives as well as the positives. We need to teach them how to handle the tough situations they may find themselves. If we can help them while they are in a safe atmosphere, they will be able to transfer this knowledge when they are on their own. Let’s face it, these students are going to get on social networking sites whether we like it or not, so shouldn’t we give them some information on how to use it appropriately?

How do you feel about this? Do you think students should have access to social networking sites at school and why?

Original image: 'chapter 8 - community building through social networking'
http://www.flickr.com/photos/80994469@N00/2584489931 by: David King


luckeyfrog said...

Teaching proper use of social networking sites, I agree with. But it wasn't that long since I was in high school. Imagine taking a class to the computer lab to do research or to learn computer skills and trying to keep them from being on Facebook at inappropriate times. Availability to these sites from student logins, anyway, is ridiculously unreasonable for instruction.

Mr. M (Mandoske) said...

I thought your blog on this issue was very thoughtful, and bravo for those schools that allow Facebook into the school. The problem would be to monitor when it is appropriate for students to be able to use the networking service? Certainly during computer labs when work needs to be done it needs to be monitored and prohibited. Perhaps certain computers could be set up to access Facebook, and have in place those blocks that would prohibit questionable language to be filtered. I hate censorship but I feel that children need to be protected from it in a school environment.

Hillary said...

I have been trying to convince my district to unblock a host of sites so that we can use them within a classroom context, including Ning, YouTube, even email. The thing is that the kids know how to get around the blocks. They know the staging ISPs, and the web sites they can springboard off of to get to the sites they want...they know more than the tech admins for the district! I think you're lucky to have a district/school who is responsive to what the kids are doing and need.