on facebook, myspace, and school …

A very vigorous discussion about My Space and Facebook in schools has been going on, on a listserv to which I belong.  People seem to fall into two camps:

  • Let 'em use it!!!  If your library doesn't have a My Space or Facebook page, you're a dinosaur and probably drive a steam powered car to work.
  • It's evil!!!  If you're going to let kids look at either site, you may as well bring out some mattresses and let them have sex in the reading room.

Geez, people!!!  You all need to listen to me, because I've been on a jury for five days and it has made me all logical and smart.  Here's my response to one person's post:

Paula's point about lack of educational use for My Space or Facebook is well taken as I have not yet, personally, seen or heard of any examples of educational uses of either.  I had some teachers interested in trying to use social networking to do a project, but we could not find a social networking platform that met our Administration's comfort level for privacy, etc.  so the project went in another direction. 

That being said, however, I also cannot agree with some educators' knee jerk responses to the MySpace/Facebook issue that effectively amount to pretending that social networking doesn't exist. Banishing social networking from the kingdom doesn't mean that students aren't accessing and using them and unless we ask we won’t ever know what kids are ACTUALLY doing with them.  It is very much an emerging technology.  In the book Wikinomics, Don Tapscott gives numerous examples of ways that corporations from Boeing to BMW to Geek Squad, are BEGINNING to use collaborative computing and communication platforms to change the way that they do what their work.  As educators we need to understand that our students are doing the same kinds of things. Believe me, I AM NOT one of those people who immediately wants to go set up my library’s Facebook profile, but I AM saying that we need to make a serious effort to understand HOW kids are using technology so we know what policies will be right for our institutions.

I know, for example, that even though we provide school e-mail accounts, that students in our school are, indeed, organizing themselves into study groups for courses that they set up themselves in Face Book.  I don't know numbers or percentages, but students I've asked confirm that, that is indeed happening.  For many (but by no means all) Facebook is their online communication medium of choice. 

In the interest of full disclosure, we banned access to Facebook and MySpace in our library very early on a few years ago as kids DID spend unreasonable amounts of time surfing profiles so there might be very legitimate reasons to block access to Facebook and My Space.  I just don’t want to see us chuck the baby out with the bathwater and just because blocking access was right two years ago, doesn’t mean that blocking them now is still the right thing to do.  Indeed, if we revisit our policy and decide that blocking is still right, that won't mean that blocking will be right two years from now.  The technology is emergent and changing so I think that it only makes sense that our policies are the same. 

Personally, I also worry that students are woefully informed about privacy. I have found that some of my middle schoolers have some very wrong perceptions about Facebook networks which makes them very ill prepared to make good privacy choices.  Perhaps there is NOTHING wrong with Facebook Beacon, but I have serious reservations that a majority of my kids know enough to make that determination for themselves well.  If I choose to ignore the existence of social networks, I see very few other people on campus who are well equipped to educate them.  If anything, I’d like every other adult on campus to be able to talk to kids about this issue and the way that I see it, FINDING a way to use social networking in school might be the best way to make that dialog happen.

Just my 150 cents.

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