Teacher, Leave that Social Network Alone?

While reading danah boyd’s post, “some thoughts on technophilia”, I felt mixed emotions.  I wholeheartedly agree with her assertion that there are no digital natives; boyd points out, “Just because many of today’s youth are growing up in a society dripping with technology does not mean that they inherently know how to use it. They don’t”;  just because they may have grown up around digital media doesn’t mean all students have an intuitive knowledge of it.   In addition, more students than you might suspect have little or no access to technology in their homes.

However, boyd then shifts the conversation to the use of social networking tools/social media with students for educational purposes.  These statements stopped me cold:

Putting Facebook or MySpace into the classroom can create a severe cognitive collision as teens try to work out the shift in contexts. Most problematically, when teens are forced to navigate Friending in an educational setting, painful dramas occur because who you’re polite to in school may be very different than who you socialize with at home. Using technology that ruptures social norms in the classroom can be socially and educationally harmful.

These statements, especially “Using technology that ruptures social norms in the classroom can be socially and educationally harmful”, are troubling to me.  I am not sure how offering students the opportunity to use social networking as a learning tool can be harmful. I personally think it is more harmful to NOT provide students the opportunity to see how they can use social media and social networking to collaborate with others, to create a personal learning network, and to learn how to harness these tools for learning.  In addition, how are students to learn how to negotiate private and public/professional worlds if they are not taught?  Are they to just be left alone to figure it out themselves when they graduate from college or go into the workworld?    If learning is social, then it seems only logical to tap into the power of social worlds for knowledge building.

In addition, teens may be eager to explore the use of social worlds as part of a larger “ecosystem of learning.” My Media 21 students participated in this anonymous poll this week:

While this is admittedly a small polling group, it does reflect an interest in at least trying a tool like Facebook as a means for information and knowledge sharing for class projects.

boyd also has this to say about social networking:

Along the same lines, keep in mind that the technology that you adore may hold no interest for your students. They don’t use del.icio.us or Second Life or Ning or Twitter as a part of their everyday practices. And the ways that they use Facebook and MySpace and YouTube are quite different than the ways in which you do.

Perhaps the reason students don’t use these tools as part of their daily practice is because they have never heard of the tools or because they have never the had the opportunity to fully explore how these social media tools can be used.   In our exploration of social media during the first three weeks of Media 21, my 10th grade students have expressed that they had no idea about these tools, or if they had heard of them, they didn’t realize how they could use these social media tools for learning.   Now they are intrigued and want to know more about ways they could use these tools to enhance their learning experiences.

In addition, many teens may not be aware of these tools because school filtering policies block their access to these learning tools; in addition, students’ opportunities to discover and use these tools have been limited because many teachers are just now discovering ways to integrate these tools into classroom life.  At the beginning of this week, one of my students posed this question:  “” I wonder why I have not heard about or used some of these Learning 2.0 tools before now?”

Our AASL Standards for 21 st Century Learners (American Association of School Librarians) call upon librarians to teach students ““Use social networks and information tools to gather and share information” (Skill 4.1.7).  How are we to teach students the information gathering and sharing power of tools like delicious or a Ning if we they aren’t at least given the opportunity to try them or participate in these networks in an educational setting where they can receive guidance and and advice on utilizing these networks from experienced others?  How are we to create connected students if we don’t integrate social media and social networking as elements of learning networks and as tools for discourse in our learning communities with our students?

I believe there is another digital divide building in addition to the one of access to technology that boyd discusses:  it is the digital divide of those who are and those who are not being taught how to harness the power of social networking to enhance their knowledge whether it be for personal or school based information seeking needs.    I feel a responsibility to expose my students to the learning potential that lies within the tools; at the end of the day, they can ultimately choose which tools work for them.

In a few weeks, my students will be sharing what they have to say about this issue.  Until then, what do you all think?  I welcome your constructive feedback and ideas!

Research to Challenge Our Assumptions About Teens, Media, Social Media, and Digital Divides

If you work with teens (or tweens) on a daily basis as I do, then you will want to read two important documents that came my way via Google Reader and my personal learning network.

The first resource, courtesy of Helen Blowers’ blog, has just been released from Nielsen and is entitled “How Teens Use Media”.  While there are many surprising findings in this study, the study also includes data that has implications for us as librarians who work with young adults:

  • Social networks play an increasingly important role (about half of
    U.S. teens use Facebook) and now many teens access the Web over their phones (37% in the U.S).  How are we using social networks and which social networks are we using to reach out to teens?  How can we work with our school/district administrators and our vendors to develop applications that will help push our library resources to teens via their mobile phones?
  • YouTube is their most popular source for online videos, yet it is still blocked in the majority of school districts.  What if we had freedom to allow our students to experience the educational and engaging videos available through YouTube during the school day?  I become frustrated when students can’t access that great news video from the Associated Press because the YouTube channel is blocked.  As we have a growing body of terrific resources, including Library of Congress, Smithsonian, and federal government agencies as well as educational materials via YouTube.edu and CitizenTube, we need to be able to provide our students access to these videos without having to get special passwords or permission.  In addition, unlimited access to YouTube would bolster our efforts to create library YouTube channels for book videos, tutorials, and screencasts.
  • According to this study, “Sixty-seven percent of teen social
    networkers say they update their page at least once a week. And teens look to their social networks for much more than gossip and photo-sharing: to teens, social networks are a key source of information
    and advice in a critical developmental period: 57% of teen social networkers said they looked to their online social network for advice, making them 63% more likely to do this than the typical social networker.”  This finding has significant implications for the importance of teaching students how to use social networks responsibly and ethically.  Teens need instruction on the concept of digital footprints and information evaluation, skills that are even more important in light of this finding.
  • 83% of the teens in the survey use their mobile phones for text messaging.  I need to be able to use my OPAC to send overdue notices or library announcements via a text message.   Right now, privacy policies adopted by many school districts impede our ability to do just this, or student information management systems are not designed to provide timely yet secure email/mobile phone information about our patrons.  The study notes, “As teens around the world continue to
    adopt mobile phones, mobile media and messaging, marketers will be paying attention.”  Does this  include library service vendors and those who make acceptable use policy decisions?

The second reading I encourage you to ponder is “The Not-So-Hidden-Politics of Class Online” by noted researcher danah boyd.   I follow danah boyd on Twitter and via her blog; I  have been fascinated by her work since discovering her about six months ago; this particular document came to my attention thanks to fabulous librarian Jessamyn West.  This document, her  notes/talking points  for an actual talk she just gave on June 30, explores the socioeconomic divide of users in social networks; in this talk, she focuses specifically on Facebook and MySpace.

Like Ms. West, I was struck by these statements from danah boyd:

For decades, we’ve assumed that inequality in relation to technology has everything to do with “access” and that if we fix the access problem, all will be fine. This is the grand narrative of concepts like the “digital divide.” Yet, increasingly, we’re seeing people with similar levels of access engage in fundamentally different ways. And we’re seeing a social media landscape where participation “choice” leads to a digital reproduction of social divisions. This is most salient in the States which is intentionally the focus of my talk here today.

There is nothing I can say here that will substitute for your taking 10-15 minutes or so to read this significant work.    As our nation grapples with the divide that still exists between ethnic and socioecnomic groups and the ramifications of that divide, so too does it play out in social worlds.   boyd obeserves:

In many ways, the Internet is providing a next generation public sphere. Unfortunately, it’s also bringing with it next generation divides. The public sphere was never accessible to everyone. There’s a reason than the scholar Habermas talked about it as the bourgeois public sphere. The public sphere was historically the domain of educated, wealthy, white, straight men. The digital public sphere may make certain aspects of public life more accessible to some, but this is not a given. And if the ways in which we construct the digital public sphere reinforce the divisions that we’ve been trying to break down, we’ve got a problem.

What does this mean to use as librarians?  Obviously, we want to teach students digital ethics as they use social networks and to use information to make decisions based on facts, not stereotypes or misinformation.  On a larger scale, though, boyd is urging us to look at social media (and I think to help our students as well) to examine the use of social media with a critical eye.

Her findings also have implications for the way we use social media to reach out to our students and parents.

So as we think about creating public spaces, what’s the meeting point for our conversations? Is it MySpace or Facebook? Twitter or IRC? What you choose matters. Where you and your colleagues hang out matters. The “voices” of the Internet that you get are biased by the people who are in the places that you hang out. But do you know this? Do you account for it? Are you working to represent all people or just the people that you can see and hear? When you’re trying to reach out to people, are you trying to reach out to all people or just the people in the environments that you understand? Are you embracing difference or are you only taking into account that with which you are comfortable?

These two readings are reminders that we need to think critically about how we are using social media and to be more aware of whom we may be including or excluding with the use of that social media.  This is the digital divide you may not realize exists, but it is just as important as the divide of equitable access.

I urge all of you who are educators or school librarians to take some time to read these two reports ; I would love to hear your thoughts and reflections on these readings!

YALSA Announces 2009 Great Graphic Novels for Teens!

We know our students are always great a great resource for knowing the latest and greatest in the world of graphic novels, but if you are looking for recommendations from your fellow librarians, then take a look at the new 2009 Great Graphic Novels for Teens list from YALSA!