November to educators: Let students use online social tools

Members of the audience in this give-and-take session seemed intrigued by what November was saying, although they noted that many school leaders block students’ access to online social tools because schools are responsible for what goes on in the classroom. If a student misuses a social tool such as YouTube, and the press hears about it, the resulting publicity could ruin a school leader’s career.

November responded: “You’re blocking access to YouTube because it’s bad—but have you taught your students to use it correctly?”

If you teach every student how to use YouTube for lifelong learning, showing students how to find valuable educational information that is also appropriate for the classroom, then you’re giving them invaluable life skills, he said. If you don’t, then by default students will use YouTube only for entertainment purposes.

By blocking access to social tools in the classroom, and not teaching students what constitutes socially and ethically responsible behavior online, schools are shirking a key responsibility, November said. He added: “Facebook might be blocked in your schools, but kids are still going to go home and use it.”

A Lightspeed executive suggested another solution for school leaders to consider: Monitor, rather than block, students’ use of online social tools.

Lightspeed’s software can block access to certain web sites, but it also captures and reports on students’ online behavior. The company executive suggested that educators apply a different set of rules for different types of web sites: Block access to sites that have no educational value whatsoever, but take advantage of monitoring and reporting tools to keep students in line when they use sites that have some educational value but also inappropriate content or uses.

Making students aware that their online behavior is being recorded, and that they will be held responsible for this behavior, can discourage students from using social tools inappropriately, the executive said. He likened this approach to the discipline used in classrooms every day.

“Johnny can’t say the ‘F’ word in the back of the class,” he said. “Well, he can—there’s now way to physically stop him—but he knows he’s going to get punished if he does.”

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Dennis Pierce

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