Social Media Should Not Be Banned from Classrooms

Frank B. Withrow - The Dawn Patrol

When Alexander Graham Bell tried to market his new telephone in England, government ministers told him that England would never need telephones. They would always have a supply of messenger boys. When I grew up in the 1930s, a long distance telephone call was only used for a birth or death of a family member. In World War II, long distance phone calls were used by servicemen to contact loved ones back home.

Today I have a friend with cancer who is being treated by the National Institutes of Health. She has her own blog where she documents the progress of her treatment for family and friends. I live on the East Coast, and many of my family members live on the West Coast. With Facebook, I am more in touch with the family than ever before. Sometimes I get more information about purple hair and body piercing by the younger members than I want to know. So far I have not received an announcement of tattoos. I have not checked my email this morning.

Young people and adults have privately financed the personal and corporate infrastructure of iPhones, iPads and iPods that make this vast social network possible.

The challenge for teachers is how to use these new resources for learning. We must develop rules for usage, but social media should never be banned from the classroom.

I mentioned earlier the documentation of my friend with cancer. My niece and nephew had a deaf blind son nine months ago. They are documenting in a blog his growth and progress including videos of his development. They provide a guideline for development and pro and con issues with respect to cochlear implants that are shared with family and friends. The archived blog may also serve as a guide for other parents faced with similar challenges.

I am working on a NASA high school STEM project where students are using social media via iPhones and iPads to study and work in teams on establishing a Mars Habitat. They are working together to design a balloon to study the lower atmosphere of Mars.

We believe social media can be a powerful force for learning at any age. When email first began we had stories of teenagers engaged with senior scientists in discussing often-sophisticated scientific information.  The social media broke down the barriers of age.  Such exchanges opened up the wisdom of age to the young mind and the young minds often  gave a fresh insight to the senior scientist.

Social media can and will become a powerful learning tool.

3 Responses

  1. Hi Frank,


    I am working on a NASA high school STEM project where students are using social media via iPhones and iPads to study and work in teams on establishing a Mars Habitat. They are working together to design a balloon to study the lower atmosphere of Mars.

    This is very interesting, but which social media are the students using? Apple-spcific? NASA-specific? Generic (facebook, twitter etc)?
    The use of generic social media in school does entail legal issues for administrators. That’s one motivation behind “Google Apps for Education”, where the subscribing school has full control over what students and staff do with their Google Apps accounts, including viewing the content of e-mails they write and receive.

    This is rather antieducational, isn’t it? However, school administrators have to protect themselves against sueing-happy parents: remember Julie Amero’s case?

    Moreover, some lawyers are intuiting that bullying might be an interesting new niche. Several people who are active in bullying prevention received an e-mail from a Michigan law firm up to now specializing in “personal injury cases involving car accidents, truck accidents, motorcycle accidents, no-fault insurance, slip and fall injuries, wrongful death, medical malpractice, cerebral palsy, nursing home neglect, traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, food poisoning, lead poisoning, dog bite attacks, and all injury cases” . The e-mail suggested they add an “infographic” about bullying stats, linked to the law firm’s site, in their own site.

    So it’s not that simple, from a legal responsibility viewpoint, to integrate social media in teaching. Teachers and school administrators need guidance in identifying those that are safe, and there are some, fortunately. But there is no need to use unsafe or borderline ones in school: after all, schools did not integrate fixed phone in teaching either – fax yes, in some cases.

    Then re borderline cases like facebook: if schools force kids to use it in privacy-safe manner, with their profile viewable only to “friends”, and not to “friends of friends”, kids might well resent this as an unwelcome intrusion.

    • One thing that NASA has done is to create a way for teachers to use social media. You do myNASA and incorporate the media that you want from their sites. It is a great way to share resources.

  2. “Social media can take on many different forms, including Internet forums, weblogs, social blogs, microblogging, wikis, podcasts, photographs or pictures, video, rating and social bookmarking” (Wikipedia). Students are already participating in it. Trying to ban it from schools is like King Canute commanding the tide to stop rising.

    The task for schools is to figure out how to make SM educative and to teach responsible and safe usage. -Jim S

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