Saturday, 19 November 2011

Social Media in Schools

Use of Social Media in Schools
At the Cilip Umbrella conference in June I attended the session on young people’s access to social media. The presentation was from Emma Hadfield, the Learning Resources Manager at Thomas Rotherham College, a sixth form college in South Yorkshire. Headed “Young people’s access (or not) to social media in school or college libraries” Emma took us through the well-known statistics for social media use by 4-18 year olds. She has been conducting some research into the use or otherwise of social network sites in schools, from the point of view of the staff and students. The figures are from my notes taken in the session.
A major part of the lives of this age group centres around social media sites, so how can this be harnessed positively? It is often frowned upon in schools and in the survey 82% of schools asked restricted access to social sites such as facebook, 40% restricted you tube and 24% restricted Flickr. So there is quite a debate about the tension between leisure and learning. When asked why they restricted use 54 sited concerns about safety, 49 felt it was not educational, 71 that it causes disruption and 17 had a bandwidth issue.
 Students Use of Social Media
Most students use some form of social media, usually facebook. When asked what they used it for most used it for communicating with their friends. Some used it for study help and collaboration on work. You tube was cited as mainly being a source of entertainment but was also used as a study aid. Unsurprisingly the students questioned objected to having their access to these sites restricted and felt it was useful as a research and collaboration tool for their schoolwork as well as a source of entertainment.
Student safety
Does the restriction of access to these sites actually make students any safer or does it actually increase their vulnerability? There is an argument that without proper guidance and instruction in a relatively safe environment, students will not learn to identify and avoid risks they will encounter when using the internet in an uncontrolled environment. Also the small number of students who do not have access to the internet outside school have no way of learning the skills of managing social sites which will be vital to them in later life.
E-safety policies
There seemed to be little consistency about e-safety policies and it was not always imbedded in the curriculum. Where they existed the policies seemed to be developed by the senior management team in consultation with the computer managers. Library staff were rarely involved as were students themselves.
Educational Use
Chatting or collaborative learning? There is a fine line but it is undeniable that the use of social sites can help build team work and communication. Development of blogging skills is an enjoyable way of finding self-expression in writing. Media students can use sites to show each other their work and get feedback. There are a host of potential uses for social media which could be exploited by a creative IT savy teacher, especially as more schools get involved in VLE.
It is necessary to show students the positive uses they can make of these sites for research.
Emma’s main conclusions were that there should be a three step programme for releasing restrictions on social media use.
1-Staff Training – to increase knowledge among staff of its positive potential 
2- Regular and embedded E-safety training for staff and students
3 – Once 1 and 2 have been put into practise restrictions on the use of social media could be relaxed to allow a freer use of social media.
My feelings are that the social media has taken off and is running, leaving most of the adult population panting along behind, trying to keep up. The important thing is not to stifle the creative and social potential of this new world.

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