Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Why Social Media Curriculum is Critical in Schools - 140 Character Conference

badge5I am presenting at The 140 Characters Conference in New York City on April 20th. This event is the largest worldwide gathering of people interested in the effects of the real-time Internet on business, education, and “we” the people. Some of the other speakers include Ann Curry, NBC News (@AnnCurry), Chris Lehmann, Principal of the Science Leadership Academy, (@chrislehmann), Donny Deustch (@Donny_Deutsch), Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump), and MC Hammer (@MCHammer).

I will be a part of the Twitter and Education panel and joined by @mbteach, @kjarret, @shellterrell with @parentella moderating. Specifically I'll be discussing:

1) Teaching Kids how to manage their Digital Footprint
2) Why social media curriculum is critical in schools
3) Technology usage to enhance collaboration and development

In anticipation of the conference I'm writing about each topic. You can read what I wrote about Teaching Kids to Manage their Digital Footprint here. For this post I am addressing:

Why Social Media Curriculum is Critical in Schools

Students Using Social NetworksUnfortunately, too many of the places where students go online to interact with one another have policy-imposed walls between teacher and student. Not only have many schools enacted policies restricting teacher/student interaction, because most schools have banned most sites students use to communicate they do their best to prevent students from using these tools to communicate in an educational setting. It is unfortunate that in the 21st century many schools have deemed adolescent socialization among each other or with their teachers as inappropriate. This is the pervasive outlook despite the fact that educators are fully aware that 1) A healthy part of adolescent development includes socialization and 2) Research from those like the National School Board Association indicate that most students use social media to discuss educational topics and other studies (like this one from the CCSE) indicate students who are using social media to discuss schoolwork perform better. Across the nation, most schools have banned students from accessing authentic communication hardware or software, positioning school as a place where socialization is kept to a minimum, learning is teacher directed, and conversations are teacher, rather than student, driven and/or maintained. This of course does little to prepare students from effectively navigating the online environments they have access to and should be prepared to navigate outside of school. Looking the other way however is not addressing the purple elephant in the room. The social media curriculum is occurring with or without involvement of adults. The huge disconnect from the world outside of schools and requirement imposed on students to power down upon entry into school has left many students literally bored out of their minds, and we've conveniently labeled many such students who thrive on communication, stimulation, multi-tasking and action, as afflicted attention deficet hyperactivity disorder. Interestingly these same students have no problem focusing or giving attention when empowered to do so in their own worlds and environments.

Schools that have taken the "don't ask, don't tell" approach to the social media curriculum are neglectfully choosing to look the other way as students communicate, collaborate, and connect in worlds devoid of adults. The result can be that just as in the real world, without any adult supervision, students could be at risk and are existing without models for appropriate behavior. Additionally if educators refuse or are prevented from becoming a part of these online places they are not speaking the language or joining in the real-world environments of their 21st century students. That said, I don't believe there should be an actual "social media curriculum" but rather social media must be integrated into the curriculum. Additionally, we need another name for these environments. Yes they can be social, but they are often more than primarily social environments. They are connecting, networking, and learning environments where students have conversations and explore passions, talents, and ideas. I've helped numerous teachers begin their own online learning communities with students and the results are dramatic. Work is published to a broader community. Students can easily see one another's work, rate and comment on it. They feel like their teacher's are finally interested in speaking there language. Teachers are amazed at the resulting conversations, ideas, and voices shared that would never have emerged had it not been for the integration of social media. With personal bio pages, students learn more about their classmates or schoolmates, or districtmates, or globemates...depending on the type of network set up. The students become the masters of their learning and conversations, and are able to do so in an environment that is safe and with the gentle guidance and facilitation of educators. Additionally the educator can set up roles for students who can be empowered to lead and monitor various groups and/or conversations. The lessons learned from the safe, online school environment can easily be transferred to what the students are doing online in their own spaces.

The other important piece to this equation is educating parents, guardians, families. They can also be invited to these online learning spaces. Additionally, caregivers must be taught how to engage in the online learning environments in which their children participate. It is unacceptable for caregivers to allow students to participate in these environments without supervision. Just as care givers would not let their children into real-world environments without a responsible adult present, they should not let their children exist in online worlds withouth them. But the adults need some support in how to do this and really what is and what is not acceptable behavior online. The best people to teach this...their kids and adults can help students organize at-school professional development for parents. It's a win-win and learning experience for all parties involved. Together students, care givers and teachers can have meaningful conversations about what is appropriate, acceptable, questionable or embarrassing.

I very much look forward to discussing this on the Twitter and Education panel and I hope to see other innovative educators at the conference as well. If you are thinking about attending #140conf NYC, now would be a great time to secure your seat. With the “early bird” ticket costing only US$ 100 for the two day event or $60 for one day. You can register NOW to guarantee youself access to the event. “Early Bird” registration ends on March 6th. The format at the #140conf events is unique. Individual talks are 5 and 10 minutes, keynotes are 15 and 20 minutes and panel discussions are no more than 20 minutes. During the course of the two days more than 140 people will share the stage at the 92nd Street Y in about 70 sessions. To get a feel of the energy you may experience in April, click here to review the videos from the 2009 #140conf NYC. The take aways from this event will provide the attending delegates knowledge, perspectives and insights to the next wave of effects twitter and the real-time internet will have on business and education in 2010 and beyond.


  1. Thank you for this post. As a part of a very small social media team for an e-learning company, we are trying to develop a social media strategy and community for our students/families and schools in completely uncharted territory and it definitely has many of the challenges you point out above.

  2. This article is a lot of pop culture inspired nonsense that is not guided by evidence provided by peer reviewed scientific research. It's simply a sad extension of the faulty parenting model of giving kids what they want to keep them compliant. Twitter and Facebook serve no purpose but to create more internet addicts and waste even more time in people's lives.
    Learning should neither be teacher driven nor student driven -- it should be COLLABORATIVELY driven with equal input from teachers and students. We should be finding ways to tear kids away from their computers instead of encouraging more use. I guess you haven't learned that in the United States, the child obesity rate is now at 1 out of 3 kids? Guess how that happened? You people and your internet obsessed culture that's in league with Madison Avenue and corporate America wishing to corrupt another generation with their materialist and consumerist values.

    Technology is fine, but it shouldn't be the primary focus. Teachers that push all these latest silly gadgets from Apple are acting as corporate shills. This whole tech movement is motivated by one thing-- PROFIT.

    Why can't you people see that? Have your brainwaves been flattened that much that you can no longer think critically or skeptically about what's going on?

  3. By the way, if you want to be truly innovative, why not rely on the very first computer, the only one with a heart and soul ... the HUMAN MIND?

    Use your imagination and creativity with the mind nature gave you! If you need gadgets to do that for you, then you don't belong in the teaching profession, I'm sorry to say.

  4. I love that MC Hammer was there. He's everywhere I go.

  5. Right, Ivanka Trump and MC Hammer, two people I automatically think of when considering what's best for education. Please, when will this society stop investing so much attention on the celebrity culture?

  6. Hello Ms. Nielsen. My name is Tiffany Lindell Karamovic. I am taking a college class entitled EDM310 for Dr. Strange at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, AL. One of my assignments was to visit your blog. I will be following your blog and keeping up with your ideas. I am glad he assigned me to your blog. I read your post and was very interested. The class that I am taking is actually about technology in education. I agree with you. I am also a sixth grade teacher her in Mobile. I know that at my school students are blocked or restricted on many sites. Students are not able to access these learning communities and technologies. I don't agree with some of these comments to your post. Technology is our future. No, I don't think that technology should be the primary focus, but times have changed. Teachers direct class and students use pencil and paper to regurgitate what they have learned. I can see how students in this time and age would get bored with that, day in and day out. Parents also play a huge role in this online learning experience. If parents are aware of this online learning community, they can be shown how to monitor their children and help them. I really enjoyed your ideas. It sounds as though you are excited to present at the Conference in April. My blog for our class is here! I will be posting a blog post to my blog about my visits to your blog on or before March 21. I am anxious to follow up. Our class blog!

  7. I appreciate the line, "I don't believe there should be an actual 'social media curriculum' but rather social media must be integrated into the curriculum."
    It seems as though there is a perceived split between education and technology, yet really they should be being used to compliment each other as you propose.

    That being said, having seen social media been put into the classroom, have you found a way to practically implement these techniques without further encroaching on teachers' work/life balance?

  8. After teaching for only five years, I have already seen a remarkable progression into the new breakthroughs in social networking and communicative resources that we as well as students can use. Of course, an overwhelming use of these new age tools can lead to much physical inactivity. I believe this is where your idea about collaborative thinking comes in to play. Teachers must continuously emphasis the appropriate use of these resources. Communication tools such as blogs can actually be very useful in the classroom. Students can communicate with each other over the internet regarding academic inquiries. For example, I have opened a blog and discussion forum for the students to utilize if they feel the need to ask for assistance or for clarification on a certain aspect of subject matter. Overexposure to Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter may be unhealthy and perhaps dangerous to young people. However, if social communication similar to these resources, such as e-mail, chat, blogging, instant messaging, and several others can be implemented in an educational context, there are many possibilities to what we can accomplish. I believe there is a beneficial reason why we have been given the talents to create technological resources such as these.

  9. Tiffany: One of the biggest fallacies of the post-modern age is find and cause or concept and attach either the term "the future" or "the 21st century" to it. Do you know why? Because this is the salespeak of Madison Avenue that pushes pop culture, the very culture that has a negative influence on the way too many Americans behave and think. I don't under understand why so many people assign so much significance to a calendar that originated so haphazardly to begin with so many centuries ago. We reach a certain number on the calendar and suddenly people feel compelled to act. Dates 1746, 1960, or 2010 are really meaningless coordinates on a planet that's billions of years old. You really need to start apart from all of this and look at it with a very cynical view, because a lot of well-meaning teachers are being sold a bill of goods. I feel safe to stand apart from it because I didn't grow up with gadgets in my lap. My parents didn't overindulge or look at other people to find cues as to how to live, think, or speak. That's exactly how my wife and I raise our kids and we're both teachers. We know they don't need twitter, facebook, iFad devices, etc, because we teach them the difference between needs and wants. Too many Americans today don't know the difference, which is why so many people are in trouble financially.

    If you use a computer, a smartboard, and access some websites, that's a good start for most kids.

    Remember, adults aren't obligated to give kids everything they want.

    Besides, what makes education fun is a compelling as well as entertaining teacher who puts on a performance everyday. Too many teachers are going "over-tech" to compensate their their bland and dull personalities.

    That's why we need more ARTISTS in the teaching profession.

    If you want to read some views about the teaching profession you won't really read anywhere else, read my blog. I guarantee it will open your eyes to a whole different reality that isn't influenced by pop culture trends.

  10. Tiffany, I could not help but notice your comments about parental involvement in social online learning experiences. This is entirely critical for the students overall safety and good nature of learning. I think this proves that parents should always be monitoring student activity on the interent, regardless of what tool or site they may be using. For example, I have recently started few extra curricular clubs this year--one is about woodworking and other is about fishing. Students as well as adults have encouraged me to use Facebook to start a "fan base" and also utilize as a great tool for comments and feedback. I think I am going to use it under the condition that parents stay informed with the online activity that is occurring. I really prefer students to know the dangers and why it is important to be safe on the internet.

  11. I actually enjoyed this post. It shows how important schools need to have social media into their curriculum. I wish social media was in my high school curriculum. I think I would have learn better. Suddenly, I believe that if students get involve in the media world, they can learn so much than they know now. I have just started getting into the media world with Dr. Strange's EDM 310 class at University of South Alabama and I am learning a lot than I expected. I am learning about how technology can be useful for educational purposes. Great Post. Thank you for the point.

  12. Thanks for the post. I think you did a great job at explaining how social media can help students learn, communicate and perform better in the classroom through social media sites. Also, having teachers be apart of the online community for these students is highly beneficial. However, like you said there is a certain boundary that can be crossed if we are not careful. Adults/caregivers/guardians should be actively involved in their students online community. Unfortunately we must watch out for kids that will fall from the point of "schooling through social media" and present their classmates with inappropriate things through social media outlets.

    I also wrote one on the same topic, check it out, let me know what you think. http://ow.ly/1h99x

  13. Excellent article. As a recent M.A. graduate in communication and media studies, I am working on trying to understand social media and its impact on society. Historically new technology, when introduced into mainstream culture, has always been met with fear and mistrust. Radio, television and even the VCR were met with the same dystopian ideals. Social media is just another example of history repeating. What we have to realize is that if we can learn how this technology can inhance our lives. This can only be done by embracing it rather than resisting it.

  14. "Radio, television and even the VCR were met with the same dystopian ideals."

    Media is the plural form of medium, "Know Your Media."

    Social media are not a singular technology, like radio, TV, or even the computer. Social media are to computers what reality TV programs are to the television medium ... trivial, disposable, and like a high calorie zero-nutrition fast food meal (makes you feel good for the moment)

    I can think of more credible and meaningful ways to apply computer tech that has no connection to pop culture.

    When twitter elevates itself above the puerile retro-adolescent "I had sugar pops for breakfast, how AWESOME!" level of exchange then perhaps I will take it seriously.

  15. I think you raise some great points. My feeling is that the world is changing. Society is using the power of the Internet to make quicker business decisions, to keep people in touch with each other, and to stay informed through many different sources of news. Education needs to reflect what is happening in our society and I believe that educators need to take the lead in preparing students for this world. I think that it is a great idea to use tools that students are comfortable with, and use them productively to help them learn.

  16. "Education needs to reflect what is happening in our society"

    If so, then education is doomed. Society is presently driven by the worst human impulses ... the Peter Pan syndrome, instant gratification, consumerism, materialism, corporatism, and obsession with celebrity and pop culture. Anything superficial is accepted as the norm. How many kids could tell you the names of American Idol contestants before the names of the Senators representing their respective states? How many kids could successfully recite even five parts of the Bill of Rights? Not enough. Forgive me if I have high expectations, but a major problem is that mediocrity has become too acceptable in our present society.

    Is that what we should be reflecting?

  17. Thanks for the post, I'll be referencing this within our own organization.

    I work with Social Media Club on their education initiative, SMCEDU. It's a national effort to unite educators, students, and professionals to advance social media in higher education. After speaking with several educators and communications professionals, I agree that a single social media curriculum isn't necessary, but an integration into existing coursework would be not only beneficial for all disciplines, but for some studies, absolutely critical.

    @marksrightbrain: While I agree that education should be a collaborative effort, I can't agree with all your opinions.

    First, the idea of what social media is has been incorrectly limited to Facebook and Twitter. Social media existed long before the Internet. The Web has allowed for greater and faster communication and participation, but the methods to achieve this level of connectivity extend beyond the two most popular tools to do so. There are lessons to be learned here, and attaching the stigmata of consumerism and mediocrity to the ways young people use technology seems to have brought you to a very cynical position. What's needed isn't less technology, what's needed is a better understanding of how to use it for greater goals -- namely, learning.

    While there certainly exists an obesity problem among youth in this country, the sole (or even primary) reason for this is not attributed to computer use.

    Technolgy should NOT be the primary focus in education. As Chris Lehmann said at this year's #140 conference, "Technology in the classroom should be like oxygen: ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible." I agree with you: let's not focus so much on technology. But let's not push it to the side, let's use it to make education better.

    To say that teachers are pushing tech products as a result of mindlessly following corporate advertising is missing out on quite a bit.

    I don't think anyone is discounting the power of the mind. Social media and technology allow for more minds to connect.

  18. Yong C. Lee: I have justification to be cynical and suspicious, especially when I know that the whole Silicon Valley/telecommunications/Madison Avenue/pop culture juggernaut and its multi-billion dollar enterprise to shape and influence American attitudes is what drives Web 2.0.

    Do a google search on "computers + obesity" and you'll find some interesting information about how technology can promote a more sedentary, and therefore, unhealthy lifestyle among children. Yes, diet is another factor, that's true, part of this troubling "fast and easy" obsession that's another pox on American society.

    Of course, when multi-billions are at stake, unpleasantries are swept under the rug and people like Andrew Keen are disparaged for their views.

    I have been as well, especially in the company of tech vendor reps and some veteran teachers unwilling to accept their age gracefully.

    Like Keen, I am concerned with how enabling more content providers feeds the inner narcissist and the need for instant gratification.

    I agree that kids need to be taught correctly, but how will that be done when so many teachers are just as gadget obsessed as the kids and can't seem to stand above it all objectively. I read so many teachers blather on about the newest fad from Apple and they sound like kids on Christmas morning. That's not good, in my estimation.

  19. In implementing the use of social media for schools, staffs should take the responsibility to teach, guide and inform student everything about social media.