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Education today/Steve Patchin

Social media a powerful tool for communicating and learning

February 28, 2012
The Daily Mining Gazette

Advancements in technology allow students to access the Internet from where ever they are. This easy access has led students to embrace social media sites like Facebook, changing the way a generation communicates and learns. Recent surveys conducted by Nielsen, Pew, Project Tomorrow, Kaplan, International Data Corporation, MSNBC and the National School Board Association have provided a clear view of K-12 students interests and aptitudes regarding the role of social media in their lives.

Children from age 2 to 11 consist of 16 million (or 9.5 percent) of those active online. Of students age 12-17 that use the Internet (identified as "wired"), 73 percent use social networking sites. Americans that "surf" the web spend 25 percent of their time on social networking sites or blogs. Forty-three percent of students in grades 9-12 stated that social networking is their primary way of communicating their friends online, a rate that is increasing.

So how do students want to learn? Of students surveyed in grades 6-12, 63 percent stated they would like online textbooks that allow them to communicate with classmates. Students regularly gather reference information online with 62 percent stating they get news about current events and politics online. Seventeen percent explore the Internet to learn about hard-to-discuss topics like drugs.

How can social media help in schools communication efforts with students and parents? Thirty-three percent of students would like schools to provide electronic communication mediums to communicate with their teachers. More than 50 percent of parents admit to using social media to communicate. Yet many schools are banning use of mobile devices in schools, though studies show that 63 percent of students use them anyway.

Students use social media without considering who else has access to the content. When posting communications and profiles on the Internet, they rarely consider the consequences of what they post. This can lead them into situations that could damage their academic and career options. Of the 500 top colleges in the nation, 10 percent of admissions officers stated they used social networking profiles in their decision process to admit students. Eighty percent of colleges are also using Facebook to recruit students. Surveys show that more than half of employers screen applicant's social media profiles and activity when making decisions on whether to hire them.

Schools are struggling on how to address the use of social media in schools. On February 2, the Rapid City (S.D.) Area School Board proposed a policy prohibiting staff members from "friend-ing" students on social websites like Facebook. The proposal also prohibits teachers and coaches from sending individual texts or emails to students, allowing this type of communication only to be done to groups of students and having an administrator copied on it. School staff has objected to the policy, stating it will hinder their efforts to engage their students.

It has been predicted that mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets will surpass wired computers as the most used technology to access the Internet by the year 2015. Social media provides a wonderful opportunity to engage students in the world of high technology in which they operate. Schools will need to establish functional and student friendly guidelines regarding the use of social media in the classroom soon to ensure this mode of communication is used safely and effectively.

Editor's note: Steve Patchin is the director of the Center for Pre-College Outreach at Michigan Technological University.



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