Here Comes the Future: Teaching Social Media

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“Here Comes the Future: Teaching Social Media” is a guest post by Dustin Verburg. I added the image and text decoration like bold, italics, paragraphs, citations and lists.

I recently read an article about a lawmaker in Trenton, NJ who wants to start teaching social media in middle schools. Schools are no stranger to social media—most middle and high schools have strict policies set in place that monitor and regulate how both students and faculty utilize their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Policy, however, is not the same thing as education. It’s not even close.

Even when students are banned from using social media sites on school computers, there’s relatively little an institution can do to prevent those kids from logging into their Facebook accounts via smartphones and other mobile devices.

Social media is a huge part of their lives, a huge part of our lives and a huge part of the Internet’s infrastructure—we owe it to these students to teach them good social media practices because they’re the future architects of the internet.

 

Permanently Plugged In

We’re all basically cyborgs. Like something out of a cyberpunk novel, we’re all on our phones, tablets and laptops so much that they’re basically a part of us. Kids are no exception—they’ve had this stuff for as long as they can remember. Figuring out how to use social media responsibly has to be difficult for kids and teenagers because there’s not a lot of history to look back on.

In case I’d had a smartphone and social media accounts when I was a kid I would have been a terror because I would have had no one to learn from.

So, really, kids have to figure out how to

  1. avoid bullies
  2. engage their friends
  3. enjoy themselves
  4. not piss off their parents

all at the same time. We’re too quick to judge them and too slow to understand what they’re going through. They have a constant stream of social interaction pouring into one or more devices that are essentially part of them and they have to determine what to do with all of it.

It doesn’t just affect youths right now—these kids are the people that will be shaping the internet in five or ten years.

They’re not “annoying teenagers” who are abusing technology, they’re future online innovators and small business owners. We need to teach them, not judge them.

It’s best to lead by example. In a piece in The Guardian earlier this year, Dr. Abhay Adhikari wrote, “… through our actions and engagement with social media and the internet, we can condition students’ attitude and shape a very positive relationship with a medium that is ubiquitous and is increasingly prevalent in every aspect of our lives.”

 

Policy vs. Education

Many schools have stringent policies in place to make sure their employees use social media properly, especially in relation to students. While making rules about student/teacher interaction and social media accounts isn’t easy, rules are much easier than having an actual discussion. Screaming “No Facebook!” or “No Twitter!” at a student is like screaming “Stay out of that dumpster!” at a black bear. It’s pointless.

I don’t want to start a morality debate here, but I liken it to sex education. Saying “don’t do it” is going to result in a lot more mistakes than actually teaching students about real risks and how to deal with them in a positive way.

Kids need to know about the real dangers involved in social media (invasion of privacy, fraud, stalking, bullying, posting material that might damage their future careers, etc.) and they need to learn it from an expert. If schools in Trenton start actually teaching social media classes, it’s imperative that they get someone who actually knows what’s going on—an out-of-touch 50 year old is probably not as good of a choice as a recent college graduate.

There are other risks involved with schools outright banning or limiting exposure to social media as well.

Social media is vital to the future of the internet, which is an important platform for future creative thinkers and technological innovators. If a school ignores teaching social media, it’s largely ignoring the future. In a CNN.com article from July of this year, author Steven Nicholls wrote, “… that would mean that as technology grows, schools are forbidden to grow with it, and that would somewhat be of a contradiction to what a school is supposed to be in the first place.”

 

Teacher/Student Relationship

Even in progressively-minded schools, the social media relationship between teachers and students is difficult. A few of my friends who taught classes while getting their Masters degrees told me horror stories about students finding them on Facebook and Twitter. Unfortunately, a teacher setting her profile to “private” or stating up front that she won’t accept friend requests from students isn’t the end of the story.

When we’re talking about actually teaching social media, instructors not only need to teach by example—they need to learn from their students.

These kids are slugging through the social media trenches in ways we can’t even fathom, so we need to actually listen when they tell us what’s going on. Social media is constantly evolving, so it makes natural sense that a social media teacher needs to keep an open mind for new ideas.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that students aren’t dumb, and they are aware of consequences. They’ve seen the damage that improper social media usage can do to professionals and other students alike. There will always be kids that don’t care about consequences, but by and large they want to stay out of trouble and express themselves.

That’s the other important thing here: social media is a huge outlet for kids to express their thoughts and feelings. There will be a few swear words and insults. There will be some regrettable Tweets and Facebook posts, but mistakes are part of the learning process. A few F-Words aren’t the end of the world.

Social media is a huge part of our lives and there’s no turning back.

Despite what the naysayers tell us, we can’t just ban the younger generation from their phones and computers because we don’t understand (or don’t want to understand) what’s going on. They’re growing up in an age where people are bound to technology like never before, and we can’t change that—so we need to embrace it in a positive way.

Education is the foundation of a brighter tomorrow, and if we want to support future innovators, creative thinkers and business owners we need to teach them about social media—we can’t shelter them from it.

There are both dangers and benefits that come along with students using social media, and a good education is the only way to help them make the right choices and contribute to a healthy internet.

 

Dustin Verburg is a writer and musician based in Boise, ID. He writes about good blogging practices, white hat SEO and internet ethics. He writes for Page One Power, a relevancy first link building services company.

 

 

* Creative Commons image by Javier Roche