Social Media and “Walled Gardens”

For this week’s entry, I used Voicethread. Here is the link to my VoiceThread, and here is the link to the YouTube version.

Below is a transcript of the VoiceThread:

Social Media and Walled Gardens

An analysis of how schools could be using social media

By Kjersti Withers

My school district automatically blocks all popular social networking sites and most blogging sites. Many school districts across the US are taking this approach to social media, but should they? According to Webopedia, this is called a walled garden. “A walled garden refers to a browsing environment that controls the information and Web sites the user is able to access.” Why are so many schools placing students inside a walled garden? Is this kind of protection really necessary? Or is it preventing students from learning to harness the power of social media?

An infographic compiled by Edudemic shows that 81% of children age 12-17 use social media. This number exceeds the 72% of all Internet users who use social media (Lepi, 2014). Our students are using social media; it is a phenomenon that is not going away. Instead of blocking social media at our schools, we should harness its power to connect students to ideas and to teach collaboration. The New York City Department of Education, the largest school district in the United States, has done just that. They have prepared an 8 page guideline for students about how to use social media, and have outlined for educators how to use social media professionally with both students and parents. The introduction to the Student Social Media Guidelines states, “Part of being a successful citizen is understanding that social media and digital communications are essential parts of our world today. It is important to recognize that access to information can result in tremendous advantages, but it can also create new responsibilities of which students should be aware.” (2014, Fall. pg. 2). By choosing to embrace social media technology, the New York City schools are guiding students to create a positive online presence that will aid them in college admissions and job seeking.

Schools around the world are utilizing social media to engage their students in the subject matter and to encourage shy teens to speak up. Simon McKenzie, a teacher at Aquinas College, a Catholic school on the Gold Coast of Australia, saw this happen when he used Twitter with his students. “He encouraged his students of ancient history to tweet questions or comments while watching a film clip and ran the Twitter feed on a projector” (Topsfield, 2012). McKenzie reported that students began to interact with one another, and that students who were “very knowledgeable but a little shy” participated in the debate, something that they would not have done if the debate had been oral.

Social media allows students many opportunities to learn from and interact with people all over the world. Skype in the Classroom gives classes the opportunity to Skype with an author, listen to guest speakers from around the world, or interact with another class and guess where that class is located. It also allows classes to discuss topics with another class somewhere else in the world. All of these activities could enrich students learning and pique their interests.

Rather than wall our students in to protect them, we should be embracing the opportunities that social media affords us to enrich our students through interactions with other people. While my school blocks Facebook, Twitter, and other popular social media sites, it does not block education-based social media. I could have my students interact through Edmodo, for instance, or I could use Skype with my entire class. My students could also benefit from maintaining a class blog or Twitter account.




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