socialchildren asked: What do you think is the best way to deal with the increasing number of under 13s using social networks like Facebook?
I think you have to acknowledge the interest and work with it. If we know these things do a great job of engaging students, why would we not tap into that to get them more engaged in school and excited about learning?
I don’t think we want to encourage young kids to lie about their age to meet the Facebook terms of service, however. At home, I suggest parents create a “family” account on Facebook that they can use together (where mom or dad is in charge and the kids participate with supervision.) This creates natural opportunities for parents to talk with their kids about safe and appropriate behavior online while still allowing kids to explore and develop their social networking skills. Then, once the child is old enough, if he or she has shown responsibility in using the family account, he or she can get their own account.
I also think it’s worthwhile for schools to explore using one or more of the social networking tools specifically designed with younger students in mind (e.g. Schoology, edmodo, etc.), although you definitely don’t get the “whole wide world” as you would on a non-controlled site. Having “class” accounts on Facebook and Twitter (run by the teacher), however, could be incredibly useful, both for keeping parents more informed and involved and for connecting students with appropriate outside experts, mentors, pen pals, etc. while motivating students by showcasing some of their work and activities for a wider and more authentic audience.
Finally, don’t overlook the potential of wikis and social bookmarking tools. There’s more to the social Web than Facebook. Wikispaces, PBWorks, and Google Apps for Education offer nifty tools customized for educators for facilitating collaborative projects. Diigo, a social bookmarking platform (like Delicious on steroids), also offers a tool that allows teachers to set up accounts for all of his or her students without disclosing their personal info (a must for CIPA compliance) which is fantastic for doing things like organizing online reading groups or book clubs, setting up collaborative research projects, etc. Diigo also has it’s own pretty useful set of social features baked in, including “Easy Blogs,” groups, follows, lists, and so on.