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The genie is definitely out of the bottle when we look at Social Media. Of course there are many who fail to recognize this, and continue to believe that somehow, someone must approve the use of social Media in order for it to be acceptable in our education system. The glaring problem with that is the lack of understanding on the part of many of those education policy makers to really understand what Social Media is. Many, in their arguments against social media, talk about its limits of 140 characters and the controversy of privacy settings. They fail to recognize that they are only considering Twitter and Facebook as Social Media. They seem to suggest that, whatever perceived problems they see in Twitter or Facebook, also apply to all forms of Social Media.

Here according to Merriam-Webster is the definition of Social Mediaforms of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos)This goes way beyond Twitter and Facebook. This lack of understanding on the part of some, may be a divide or a gap, and it is very evident with the policy-makers in education. It is not a generational gap, but a learning gap. Age has nothing to do with it, since Social Media is effectively used by young and old alike.

Whenever someone says to me that Twitter is too limited because of the 140 character limits on tweets I quite often, in my mind at least, tag them as a non-user or at best a limited user of Twitter. If they used Twitter they would understand that although the tweets are limited to 140 characters, there is no limit on the number of tweets. Therefore, we often engage in discussions without the verbosity that has long been attributed to face to face discussions of education. The result of many of the twitter discussions often result in reflective blog posts another huge component of Social Media.

The argument of privacy settings needing to be a concern in using Facebook is also an indication of a lack of understanding. Today, the digital footprint we hear so much about begins very early in life for our children. Proud parents-to-be are placing fetus-photo albums on the internet every day. Toddlers are highlighted and identified on the internet, as the actual child sits on the laps of their parents as the entry of this information is being made. That same toddler interacts on Webkinz, or Penguin World, both huge Social Media sites for kids under 10. The take away here is that adults view this as technology to be learned. Kids don’t see it as technology; it has always been there for them; It is not new technology to them.

The idea that some policy-maker in education gets to decide whether or not Social Media should be part of the arsenal of learning tools used by educators comes a little late. Kids use Social Media in their everyday lives. Of course without the guidance of educators to use it critically, responsibly, collaboratively and creatively, kids might just be knowledgeable about sexting. That is our fault. Bad things can happen on the internet. It is a powerful tool. It is better to educate kids and use this tool for learning than to leave kids to their own devices to explore these tools on their own without guidance from those who should know better.

Of course the divide between those who are not Social Media aware and those who live in the world of Social Media continues to widen. There are some arrogant educational policy-makers who believe that they have the power to determine what is, and what is not used as a tool for learning. They think that they should take whatever time is needed to research and collect data before they can approve Social Media for educational consumption. The arguments continue today. No doubt one or two of those people may comment here, since I think only a few read education blogs.  Hoping that I will not be sent to Cliché’ Rehab (it has been suggested) That Train Has Left The Station. It is now time for educators to do the tough thing and play catch-up. Whether or not Social Media is an educator’s thing or not, it does not matter; Educators exist to teach. Social Media is what kids today are using to socially learn regardless of whether or not schools ban it. If kids are using it despite adult educators who oppose it, don’t we as educators have a responsibility to teach them how to use it responsibly and intelligently?

Social Media has had a huge impact on the world. It is part of the new technology to the older generations. It is not technology to our children; it is what they consider part of their world. They don’t have to learn it because they live it. We as educators need to make it part of our lives as well, if we want our children to learn how best to use it. The genie jumped out of the bottle, and onto a horse that went to the station, boarded a train that travelled to the dock, to board the boat that left the dock. No way is that genie going back in the bottle.

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Comment by Colleen DiBuono on November 6, 2011 at 6:20pm

I agree that it should not be the role of policy-makers to determine what tools teachers use in order to teach our students; however, technology is constantly changing and I have been able to find social media sites to use with my students that look and feel like Facebook and other popular social media sites. Currently students in my classroom are enjoying using edmodo, which has an interface that looks just like FB and my students are enjoying writing about things we are learning in our classroom!

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