This article from District Administration reports that most school leaders who have used social networks agree they have great potential to help motivate and engage students, enhance professional development, and expand access to quality resources, experts, and mentors.
We think this is good news, but wonder this: If students, school leaders, and even Uncle Sam all think social networking tools belong in K-12 education, why has their adoption in schools lagged behind the rest of the culture?
What do you think the biggest obstacles are, and what can be done to remove them?
Among students surveyed in a National School Boards Association study, 96 percent of those with online access reported using social networking, and half said they use it to discuss schoolwork. Despite this prevalence in everyday life, schools have been hesitant to adopt social networking as an education tool.
Survey research confirms, however, that interest in harnessing social networking for educational purposes is high. As reported in School Principals and Social Networking in Education: Practices, Policies and Realities in 2010, a national survey of 1,200 principals, teachers and librarians found that most agreed that social networking sites can help educators share information and resources, create professional learning communities and improve schoolwide communications with students and staff. Those who had used social networks were more positive about potential benefits than those who had not. In an online discussion with 12 of the principals surveyed, most said, “social networking and online collaboration tools would make a substantive change in students’ educational experience.” They said these tools could improve student motivation and engagement, help students develop a more social/collaborative view of learning and create a connection to real-life learning.
Social networking could become a vital part of the education environment if implemented effectively. In a 2008 study of high school students in the Midwest, researcher Christine Greenhow discovered that social networking expanded the students’ abilities to perform work by “actually practicing the kinds of 21st-century skills we want them to develop to be successful today.”
While some informal surveys suggest that students who spend the most time social networking have lower grades, causation has been difficult to establish. Meanwhile, a 2009 study by the British Council counters that students in the United Kingdom tend to learn more effectively in a social setting and recommends that teachers do three things to capitalize on this finding:
• Determine which social networking sites students like to use.
• Make students aware of free learning opportunities available via social networking sites like Second Life and Facebook.
• Show students how to set up their own blogs using free sites like WordPress.
The authors of a MacArthur Foundation white paper observe that social networking is most effective when educators can “link learners with others who might share their interests or … encourage students to publish works … [for] a larger audience.” The technology offers unique opportunities for collaboration not only among teachers and students but also scientists, business leaders, artists and others from around the world. Social networking can be used to improve team-building skills or to create communities of students, teachers and/or others to discuss a specific subject—much the same way that people get together on Facebook to discuss stamp collecting or a musician.
Read more at www.districtadministration.com
In the meantime, the U.S. Department of Education’s National Education Technology Plan 2010 calls for “revolutionary transformation rather than evolutionary tinkering.” The plan encourages all states and districts to experiment with social networks and other Web 2.0 technologies “both within and across education institutions” to expand collaborative learning opportunities for students and to create communities of practice among K12 teachers.