Less than a decade ago, “friend” was strictly a noun and tweeting was something better left to the birds. Today, social media websites like Facebook and Twitter have dramatically changed the way we communicate and learn. While there is much to be excited about, there is also cause for concern when it comes to younger learners. In a world where technology is gaining traction in schools all around the world, what role should social media play—or not play—in students’ education?
“Parents worry about what’s age-appropriate, what should be kept private, and exposure to cyberbullying, among many other issues,” writes Tina Barseghian in a MindShift blog post about children and media. We’ve all heard the heart-wrenching news stories of adolescents being bullied online by their peers, sometimes with tragic results.
Middle school principal Anthony Orsini is aware of a growing sense of “angst” in his own school. “Stranger danger is unbelievably minute compared to the social and emotional damage they receive from each other every day,” he says.
Others take a different perspective, choosing to approach the use of social media as a learning opportunity. “Schools aren’t teaching kids to be digitally responsible,” says high school principal Eric Sheninger in the same blog post by Barseghian. “We can’t fault kids for doing something wrong on Facebook or Twitter because we’re not teaching them. We need to have digital citizenship curriculum in schools.”
After all, there are many positive examples of schools using social media to enhance students’ learning experiences. An article from Edudemic features ten such schools whose social media activity ranges from tweeting videos of student performances for parents to see, to posting updates about homework assignments, to having students use cell phones to answer quizzes in class.
Still, the uncertainty remains: How should students be using social media in school, if at all? How old should a child be before he or she engages in social media? And what does it mean to be a digital citizen?