The Case For Social Media in Schools

September 30, 2010 Comments Off

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A year after seventh grade teacher Elizabeth Delmatoff started a pilot social media program in her Portland, Oregon classroom, 20% of students school-wide were completing extra assignments for no credit, grades had gone up more than 50%, and chronic absenteeism was reduced by more than a third. For the first time in its history, the school met its adequate yearly progress goal for absenteeism.

At a time when many teachers are made wary by reports of predators and bullies online, social media in the classroom is not the most popular proposition. Teachers like Delmatoff, however, are embracing it rather than banning it. They argue that the educational benefits of social media far outweigh the risks, and they worry that schools are missing out on an opportunity to incorporate learning tools the students already know how to use.

What started as a Facebook-like forum where Delmatoff posted assignments has grown into a social media component for almost every subject. Here are the reasons why she and other proponents of educational social media think more schools should do the same.


1. Social Media is Not Going Away


In the early 1990s, the Internet was the topic of a similar debate in schools. Karl Meinhardt was working as a school computer services manager at the time.

‘There was this thing called the Internet starting to show up that was getting a lot of hype, and the school administration was adamantly against allowing access,’ he says. ‘The big fear was pornography and predators, some of the same stuff that’s there today. And yet…can you imagine a school not connected to the Internet now? ‘

Meinhardt helped develop the Portland social media pilot program after Delmatoff saw his weekly technology segment on the local news and called to ask for his advice. In his opinion, social media, like the Internet, will be a part of our world for a long time. It’s better to teach it than to fight it.

Almost three-fourths of 7th through 12th graders have at least one social media profile, according to a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The survey group used social sites more than they played games or watched videos online.

When schools have tried to ban social media, now an integral part of a young person’s life, they’ve had negative results. Schools in Britain that tried to ‘lock down’ their Internet access, for instance, found that ‘as well as taking up time and detracting from learning, it did not encourage the pupils to take responsibility for their actions.’

‘Don’t fight a losing battle,’ says Delmatoff. ‘We’re going to get there anyway, so it’s better to be on the cutting edge, and be moving with the kids, rather than moving against them…Should they be texting their friends during a lecture? Of course not. They shouldn’t be playing cards in a lecture, they shouldn’t be taking a nap during a lecture. But should they learn how to use media for good? Absolutely.’


2. When Kids Are Engaged, They Learn Better


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Matt Hardy, a 3rd and 4th grade teacher in Minnesota, describes the ‘giddy’ response he gets from students when he introduces blogs. He started using blogs in his classroom in 2007 as a way to motivate students to write.

‘Students aren’t just writing on a piece of paper that gets handed to the teacher and maybe a smiley face or some comments get put on it,’ he says. ‘Blogging was a way to get students into that mode where, ‘Hey, I’m writing this not just for an assignment, not just for a teacher, but my friend will see it and maybe even other people [will] stumble across it.’ So there’s power in that.’

Delmatoff says that at first her students were worried they would get in trouble for playing because they actually enjoyed doing activities like writing a blog.

‘But writing a blog, that’s not playing, that’s hard work,’ she says. ‘Karl and I started thinking we were really on to something if kids were thinking that their hard academic work was too much fun.’

Her students started getting into school early to use the computer for the social media program, and the overall quality of their work increased. Although Delmatoff is adamant that there’s no way to pin her class’s increased academic success specifically to the pilot program, it’s hard to say that it didn’t play a part in the more than 50% grade increase.


3. Safe Social Media Tools Are Available — And They’re Free


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When Hardy started using blogs to teach, he developed his own platform to avoid some of the dangers associated with social media use and children. His platform allowed him to monitor and approve everything the children were posting online, and it didn’t expose his students to advertising that might be inappropriate. He later developed a similar web-based tool that all teachers could use called kidblog.org. The concept caught on so quickly that his server crashed in September when the school year started.

Many mainstream social media sites like Facebook and MySpace are blocked in schools that receive federal funding because of the Children’s Internet Protection Act, which states that these schools can’t expose their students to potential harm on the Internet.

Kidblog.org is one of many free tools that allow teachers to control an online environment while still benefiting from social media. Delmatoff managed her social media class without a budget by using free tools like Edmodo and Edublogs.


4. Replace Online Procrastination with Social Education


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Between 2004 and 2009, the amount of time that kids between the ages of 2 and 11 spent online increased by 63%, according to a Nielson study. And there’s no reason, Meinhardt argues, that schools shouldn’t compete with other social media sites for part of this time.

He helped Delmatoff create a forum where she would post an extra assignment students could complete after school every day. One day she had students comment on one of President Obama’s speeches; another day she had them make two-minute videos of something on their walk home that was a bad example of sustainability. These assignments had no credit attached to them. ‘It didn’t get you an A, it didn’t get you a cookie. It didn’t get you anything except something to do and something to talk about with other students.’

About 100 students participated. Through polls taken before and after the program, Meinhardt determined that students spent between four to five fewer hours per week on Facebook and MySpace when the extra assignments had been implemented.

‘They were just as happy to do work rather than talk trash,’ Delmatoff says. ‘All they wanted was to be with their friends.’


5. Social Media Encourages Collaboration Instead of Cliques


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Traditional education tactics often involve teacher-given lectures, students with their eyes on their own papers, and not talking to your neighbor.

‘When you get in the business world,’ Meinhardt says, ‘All of [a] sudden it’s like, ‘OK, work with this group of people.’ It’s collaborative immediately. And we come unprepared to collaborate on projects.’

Social media as a teaching tool has a natural collaborative element. Students critique and comment on each other’s assignments, work in teams to create content, and can easily access each other and the teacher with questions or to start a discussion.

Taking some discussions online would also seem to be an opportunity for kids who are shy or who don’t usually interact with each other to learn more about each other. A study by the Lab for Social Computing at the Rochester Institute of Technology, however, found that this wasn’t the case. The study found that using educational social media tools in one of the Institute’s courses had no measurable impact on social connections.

Delmatoff argues that with her students, however, new connections were made. ‘If you’re shy or you’re not popular or any of those hideous things that we worry about in middle school — if you know the answers or have good insights or ask good questions, you’re going to be really valuable online.’ she says. ‘So I started to see some changes that way.’


6. Cell Phones Aren’t the Enemy


69% of American high schools have banned cell phones, according to figures compiled by CommonSense Media, a nonprofit group that studies children’s use of technology. Instead, Delmatoff’s school collected student’s cell phone numbers.

Delmatoff would send text messages to wake chronically absent kids up before school or send messages like, ‘I see you at the mini-mart’ when they were running late (there’s a mini-mart visible from the school). She called the program ‘Texts on Time,’ and it improved chronic absenteeism by about 35% without costing the school a dime.

‘The cell phone is a parent-sponsored, parent-funded communication channel, and schools need to wrap their mind around it to reach and engage the kids,’ Meinhardt says.

(Via Mashable!.)

On Social Networks, Most Still Just Like to Watch

September 28, 2010 Comments Off

Although the number of people worldwide who are using social networking services and engaging with social media continues to climb, the number who describe themselves as ‘creators’ of content — those who publish their own blogs, create and upload videos, and so on — is falling, according to new research from Forrester. The research firm found that the number of content creators either fell or stayed the same in most of the major markets it surveyed for its latest Consumer Technographics study, including North America, China and Europe.

Although the decline in the number of content creators isn’t dramatic — the percentage of users who fell into that category in the U.S. dropped to 23 percent in 2010 from 24 percent a year earlier — it is still a concern, said Forrester analyst Jacqueline Anderson. ‘A lack of growth in social creation translates into a lack of fresh ideas, content, and perspectives.’ According to Forrester’s survey, one-third of those who spend time online in the U.S. regularly watch user-generated videos on sites like YouTube, but only 10 percent of online users upload videos they’ve created to such sites. ‘The traits required to create social content are unique, and at this moment, the consumer market interested in these behaviors has plateaued,’ Anderson said.

Forrester’s research classifies social-network users into a number of categories — including Creators, Conversationalists, Critics, Collectors, Joiners and Spectators — based on their responses to survey questions about what they typically do on social networks and services.

While most countries and regions saw continued strong growth in the number of people who fall into the ‘joiner’ and ‘spectator’ categories, Japan was the only country that showed a rise in ‘creators,’ growing from 34 percent in 2009 to 36 percent in the past year. The number of people who joined social networks grew fairly strongly in Europe and in China, but not as strongly in North America — where social networking has already made strong gains in usage. In August, research from Nielsen showed that the amount of time U.S. Internet users spent on social networking had climbed by more than 40 percent.

The fact that the majority of social media and social networking users do not create content is not a surprise — for example, Harvard research has shown that 90 percent of the content on Twitter is created by 10 percent of the users, and similar percentages of observers vs. creators can be found on YouTube and other sites and services. Although the web and social networking allow anyone to become a content creator and publish whatever they wish, it seems that a majority of users are happy to consume what others create.

(Via GigaOM.)

Web Users Now Spend More Time on Facebook Than Google

September 10, 2010 Comments Off

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We already know that Facebook is the web’s biggest time sink. If you look at the average amount of time (according to Nielsen) users spend on the social network, Facebook is a clear winner over sites such as Google or Yahoo.

Now, according to comScore, Facebook is also first when it comes to the total amount of time users are spending on the site. In August, U.S. web users spent 41.1 million minutes on Facebook, which was about 9.9% of their entire web-surfing time in that month. In this same period, people spent 39.8 million minutes on all of Google’s sites, and those include another huge online timesink – YouTube.

comScore puts Yahoo in third place, with U.S. web users spending 37.7 million minutes on its sites, which was about 9.1% of their web surfing time in August.

The numbers are even more impressive when you consider that Facebook had just overtaken Yahoo in July, and in August last year U.S. web surfers had spent less than 5% of their online time on the social networking service.

Still, it hardly comes as a surprise: Facebook has been growing steadily in the last couple of years, and in July it announced it had over 500 million active users.

If Facebook keeps growing, a year from now Google may find itself far behind Facebook when it comes to web users’ minutes. But does Facebook have room for growth? Mark Zuckerberg predicts the site’s userbase might even reach one billion. The number doesn’t sound too far-fetched, given that Facebook still has room for international growth — for example in China and Russia.

Of course, comScore only counts users from the U.S., so the global picture is still blurry. But the facts show that Facebook users spend a huge amount of time on the site, and it’s a worrying stat for Google. Google’s many online properties (Gmail, Search and YouTube, to name a few) have vast influence and reach. But right now, without a large social networking property (Orkut doesn’t count as serious competition to Facebook anymore), Google will have a hard time snatching users’ time from Facebook’s hands.

(Via Mashable!.)



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