Facebook - To block or not to block - that is the question

Guest post by by  | Cross posted at The Way I See It

I have had numerous conversations recently with teachers and administrators (building and district level), as well as community and school board members, concerning student-use of Facebook during school.

The conversations have ranged from productive to contentious; from philosophical to policy-laden; and, from reaffirming to thought-provoking.

One thing the conversations have always been is necessary.

A little background.

We are in our first year of a 1:1 implementation with Google Chromebooks in grades 9-12. We have phased in our 1:1. The first year (thanks to an opportunity from Google) we tested 500 Google Cr-48s in some high school classrooms. Then, last November, we placed a cart of Chromebooks in each language arts and social studies classroom in our high schools. This all led to handing out a Chromebook to each high school student just a few weeks ago.

One additional important piece of information - we have always blocked Facebook for students in our schools.

But, as the new school year began, we started using a new web filter and we didn't block Facebook.

So...guess how long it took to get feedback on Facebook being open for students? You got it - no time at all.

I also have to mention that I have been a proponent (possibly our district's loudest proponent) of leaving Facebook - along with other social networking sites - open for our staff and students.

Here is some of the feedback I have heard:
  • Students are on Facebook 'all the time.'
  • Students are distracted in class.
  • This was not the intended use of the devices we handed out to students.
  • The students 'won't get off Facebook.'
  • Facebook has no place in schools.
I am certainly of the thinking that it is our responsibility as educators to teach more than content. Of course, that has always been the case in schools. But it seems that schools have decided en masse to pass on responsible online behavior solely to the world outside of school.

In a 2010 eSchool News article - "November to Educators: Let students use online social tools" - Alan November was quoted saying something that has stuck with me ever since. He said that if educators don't teach students how to appropriately use these tools, they are 'shirking' a key responsibility.

More recently, Lisa Nielsen wrote in a the Journal article titled '7 Myths About BYOD Debunked':
"Instead of banning and blocking, schools need to work with students to create responsible digital citizens and have necessary consequences in place when there are violations, just as is the case in real life. When we address the problem, rather than blame the tools, we move toward creating responsible students."
I spent an entire day talking to 7th grade students about Facebook, and why Facebook (among other sites) is typically blocked at schools. My takeaway from those conversations is that students, for the most part, understand the reasons why schools block social media sites. They understand what it would take to make sure these sites stay open in schools. They understand it takes responsible use.

My overwhelming feeling was that they want us to teach them responsible use.

I know there are real challenges to leaving Facebook open. I also know there are real solutions.

Facebook, and other sites, become much less distracting in classrooms that have clear expectations, routines and procedures. And, more importantly, in classrooms where students are able to engage in authentic learning opportunities.

The amazing thing is when students are engaged in those kinds of learning opportunities, tools like Facebook become even more important. Students are able to learn real things, create real things and share real things.

I was amazed at how many of the 7th graders I had the opportunity to talk to had Facebook friends who live outside the United States. We talked about how cool it might be to discuss the book they are reading with their 'friends' in Russia (one of the countries a student mentioned).

That's the power. That's why we need to teach responsible use. That's why we need to educate ourselves.

That's why these conversations are so important.
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