Facebook. Twitter. YouTube. Blogs. Let’s unblock them all

Facebook. Twitter. YouTube. Blogs. Let's unblock them all

Social media has great potential for use in the classroom and beyond. Internet blocks in schools can block those opportunities. (Wikimedia Commons / Paola Peralta)

Today is an exciting day. I host my first Mystery Skype with my class and another class in Saskatchewan, Canada.

My students and I are prepared and excited. Mystery Skypes are fun activities that have great benefits if teachers would give them a try.

There was only one hitch: Skype was blocked by my school corporation’s Internet firewall.

Skype. The portal that can connect my classroom through video to anywhere in the world.

The reason: instant messaging, according to the blocked website category. A student might find Skype, and that student might use it as an instant messenger, and that student might get distracted from classwork.

Thankfully, I have flexible technology staff that want to empower teachers to use technology in transformative ways and Skype was unblocked in the course of a day.

There’s so much fear of social media in schools because of how students might use it.

I’m afraid of what might become of my students if they don’t learn how to harness the raw power of social media like Twitter, of blogging, of promoting through YouTube.

Instead of shielding them from what they might do with it, I’d rather show them the might — the power — of social media.

Social media: part of life

Let’s face it: social media isn’t going away. It is an integral part of so many people’s day-to-day lives. According to Digital Insights, more than 1 billion people have Facebook accounts, and almost a quarter of them check it more than five times a day.

And social media isn’t just for play. Ask companies like Coca-Cola and Samsung and Hilton. They and hundreds — probably thousands — of other companies employ corporate social strategists. 

What our students don’t need from us is more restrictions on Internet usage.

What they do need is access to the powerful resources available today.

And what they really need is guidance on how to use them effectively and responsibly.

“But what if … ?”

Open social media policies often elicit “what if” questions like these:

“What if we open up social media and students are on it all the time?”

We rely on the same techniques that prevent students from negative behavior and encourage to more positive ones.

Supervision and interest: keep an eye on what they’re doing and take interest in it. Circulate around the room. Ask them what they’re finding as they work. There’s a great free tool called LanSchool Lite that allows teachers to monitor what’s on student computer screens. I use it pretty regularly.

“What if we lose our E-Rate funding?”

You won’t. The Children’s Internet Protection Act requires safeguards from inappropriate content for children. It allows for schools opening access to sites they deem appropriate in their professional judgment. The federal Department of Education’s Director of Educational Technology, Karen Cator, said in this interview that “if a filtering system isn’t intelligent enough to sort sites out, then the teacher is the next best one to do so.”

“What if students run into creepy people on social media?”

There are certain things teachers can do to help students avoid these types of encounters (see: How to Use Twitter in Your Teaching Practice by KQED).

Reality is that students are going to have to interact with people they don’t know online throughout their lives — and much more often than their parents or teachers ever did. (Will Richardson explained this well in a podcast interview he did with me.)

We have two options here. We can act like social media doesn’t exist and shut it out of schools. (Even though students will find a way to use it.)

Or we can embrace it. Utilize it in class. Show students the power of it and how it can be harnessed for education.

(For notifications of new Ditch That Textbook content and helpful links, “like” Ditch That Textbook on Facebook and follow @jmattmiller on Twitter!)

Matt is scheduled to present at the following conferences this school year:

Interested in having Matt present at your event or school? Contact him by e-mail!

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4 thoughts on “Facebook. Twitter. YouTube. Blogs. Let’s unblock them all

  1. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post!

    Matt you make so many great points in this post. Students (and teachers) need to be empowered and in both cases they need to learn and be taught how to use these powerful tools!