A former student of mine and an accomplished athlete (and linguist) got it touch with me yesterday via Twitter as ask me what I thought about Varsity Monitor, an American service that “monitors the social media interaction of athletes for questionable conduct that could negatively affect their athletic availability, hurt their future career & sponsorship opportunities, and damage the brand of their team, league & institution.” Both he and I were appalled by the concept, but not really surprised.
Not really surprised because the approach taken by Varsity Monitor is similar to that seen in many schools up and down the country. Social media usage is a “problem” that must be dealt with. Schools often lack positive and organic policies governing, not just the abuse, as it is often solely the case, but the use of social media. Thus schools monitor social media but seldom teach children how to use them appropriately.
Both research and my own personal experience have shown me that students’ attitudes towards social media are overwhelmingly positive and that, when effectively utilised, social media allow our students to continue learning beyond the constraints of the school’s walls, expanding the learning environment to wherever the learner happens to be, acting as a bridge between school and home and between formal and informal learning.
The real problem schools face is that they are unable to model appropriate behaviour, so children only have each other as models. The reason why no appropriate models are available is because adults themselves are not very good role models in the use of social media. Adults partake in social media only sporadically or not at all. Or even worse, the very adults that children look up to as their role models are often just as likely to use social media as inappropriately as the children in their charge.
Most adults involved in education simply lack the experience and skills to be appropriate role models in the use of social media.
But social media is not going anywhere. It has come to form part of the very fabric of our society, a society where the weather man wants you to follow him on Twitter, the Queen wants you to like her on Facebook and where prospective employers look you up on the internet before they look at your CV.
This is why I would like to see a greater and more constructive involvement of schools in the digital lives of their students. A greater concerted effort to get it right. I would like to see schools that understand the inherent advantages of using social media and that educate children about the benefits as well as the dangers. I would like to see schools that prepare their pupils for life in the real world.
We can monitor all we like, but it is education that children really need.
Photo by Henning Mühlinghaus