As students become more technologically savvy, the more they want to communicate via social networking. Social networking for students has become an integral part of their daily lives. Whether it is Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter or Instagram, students want to share aspects of life with others quickly and publicly. Roblyer & Doering (2014) state that social networking is a distraction and often increases cyberbullying. However, students have a lot to learn from using social networking if teachers use it as an educational tool and resource.
Many schools have acceptable use policies that will discourage cyberbullying and even the use of social networking on the school campus. Some schools have sites such as Facebook blocked on school networks but this doesn’t eliminate the usage of these social networking sites outside of the school boundaries. Many students still also have personal devices (ie: cell phones) which they can access the social networking sites on campus. So is it really the best solution to ban them?
Perhaps the better method of dealing with the risks of online social networking is educating our students on how to be positive digital citizens and leaders. One of the things teachers can do is educator students with a proactive stance. By teaching students how to create strong passwords, not to share passwords and report to adults when someone they don’t know contacts them or someone is acting inappropriately online. Students need to understand how digital literacy is applicable to them and use online etiquette when communicating with others.
In addition, students need to be educated about how to deal with cyberbullying. Thus, they need to learn how to become more resilient and act responsibly. Again, by taking a proactive approach to this issue, students will have the required skills and strategies to help them successfully navigate a situation when an issue does arise.
As a teacher, I also feel it is important to model appropriate online behaviour. This past year, we used Edmodo which mimics Facebook for students in a more private setting. The students learnt about creating online profiles that were appropriate for their grandmas to see and learnt how to communicate effectively and appropriately with others online. Google Classroom can be used in a similar fashion. My students know that I have a Twitter account and that I use it for a specific purpose - education. This social media network to me isn’t for my friends and family. We talk about setting clear boundaries of who you will ‘friend’ and who you will not. In addition, I have had a weekly Gmail Home Writing programme for the last two years with my Year 5 students. This has helped them grow in their understanding of proper email etiquette and online communication. These skills can be transferred to other areas of online communication as well.
There are a number of great resources to help educate students as digital citizens:
Common Sense Media
Ribble (2009) outlines the nine elements of being a digital citizen. If teachers adequately taught the necessary skills to be a good digital citizen, it is the hope that there would be a decrease in cyberbullying.
We will never be able to stop our students from participating in online social networking sites. However, it is our job to educate them so they may make choices they can be proud of and communicate in a safe manner with others.
Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. H. (2014). Integrating educational technology into teaching [Sixth Edition].
Ribble, M. (2009). Passport to digital citizenship: journey toward appropriate technology use at school and at home. Leading and Learning with Technology, 36(4), p. 14-17.