Friday, March 18, 2011

The Social Media Irony in Education

Today I am attending the CUE Conference in Palm Springs. This is my second year attending CUE and I continue to be impressed with the energy, knowledge and curiosity of the fabulous presenters.

Here's an ironic observation I made today.  Most of the educational technology conferences I attend are geared towards higher education.  At those conferences, just like here at CUE, the sessions frequently showcase ways to use social media in support of learning.  But when I listen to the comments made by K12 teachers and compare them to comments made at higher ed conferences by college professors, I notice a very interesting difference. 

K12 teachers voice frustration over their inability to have students participate in or with social media sites (Flickr, YouTube, Facebook, etc.) because they're blocked by their institution.  In essence, the "openness" of the online environment is viewed as "dangerous" to students so the sites are blocked.  In contrast, college professors commonly say, "I can't/won't use that because it's too open" referring to concerns over violating student privacy. 

The point here is that K12 teachers are advocating for the need to use social media tools in support of learning -- in an open environment -- because it's the only way we can begin to educate our students how to communicate and socialize online (sort of an important skill in 21st century life).   Today's opening keynote featured a teacher from Australia who noted his country's open policy around using social media in schools and said, "Shutting students out would be just silly."  And, on the flip side, we have college educators voicing concerns about using social media for learning because of the risks of violating student privacy (FERPA).  So, let me get this straight.  Those who are unable to use it, want to and those who are able to use it, don't want to use it.  Hmm. Sounds like we have something to talk through. 

I'd love to hear from some of you who have social media use policies in place at your institutions (k12 or higher ed) or may be working on one.  Please share!  Help us all learn together.


Colin Madland said...

A year ago, I was a high school teacher battling with firewalls and software filters. I had a couple students who set up proxy servers at home so that they could access facebook at school. Most of the time, I forwarded the URLs to the networkk administrator so he could block them...but there were a few that I didn't report....

Now I am in Higher ed trying to convince faculty to use some of these I guess that is one more confirmation for you.

Unknown said...

Interesting stuff, thanks for sharing, Colin. I'm curious to know, what was it that caused you to change your attitude towards social media? Was it just the age of your students? Or something deeper?

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

I did my masters thesis on using social sites in higher ed and K-12. I am a high school teacher and have found that some students in high school are very hesitant to allow a classroom atmosphere into their social world. They don't mind receiving reminders about work to be done or maybe extra credit opportunities via social media, but they don't want to mix the two, to much. I teach a class on media literacy too and most students are very receptive towards the idea of being a responsible digital citizen within the social media realm. I think that is what is more important at the middle school and high school age is to teach them how to properly use this medium. Then higher ed will be more apt to integrate it into their courses and then maybe they would not have to worry too much about FERPA and other issues holding them back. Any teacher or professor that truly wants to effectively use social media can find a good way to do it.

Unknown said...

I fully support your idea and think that makes terrific sense. Thanks for your comment!

Thomas Ho said...

Your observation is SO TRUE...and so sad!

Now semi-retired, while I was still a college professor, I got much more motivation to use technology for teaching and learning from observing K-12 teachers rather than my fellow faculty. That's one of the reasons why I am NO longer in higher education because no one was willing "to buy what I had to sell" :-(

I am "moving on" and looking forward to helping next fall!

You can read about my experiments at and see some of my experiments at