Social Networking in Schools

Back in August, the National School Boards Association concluded that social networking isn’t so bad after all. The study that they commissioned found a significant disparity between the things students are doing online, the things schools are allowing, and the risks associated with participation in online social networks. The materials from an August 14 news briefing are also available online, and were used for the graph displayed below.

Creating & Connecting cover from NSBAThe study consisted of three surveys: a survey of 1,277 nine- to 17-year old students, a survey of 1,039 parents, and a survey of 250 school district leaders who make decisions on Internet policy. Here’s some of what they found:

How Much

  • Students responding to the survey reported that they spend an average of nine hours per week on social networking, compared to 10 hours per week spent watching TV.
  • 96% of students with online access (hereafter referred to as “students”) have used social networking tools. 71% use these tools at least weekly.
  • 60% of students using social networking tools talk about education topics, including the 50% who specifically discuss schoolwork.

Creating and Connecting

  • 41% of students post messages or comments at least once per week. In 2002, it was 17%.
  • 12% upload music or podcasts that they have created themselves at least once per week.
  • 10% upload videos of their own creation at least once per week. 22% have uploaded a video of their own creation at some point.
  • 22% share photos or artwork that they have created themselves at least once per week.
  • 25% update their personal web sites or online profiles at least weekly. In 2002, less than 12% had their own web sites.
  • 30% have their own blogs. In 2002, it was less than 1%.


Nonconformists are students who break the “rules” of online safety and appropriate behavior. Sometimes, this amounts to using inappropriate language or posting of inappropriate pictures. It may also include pretending to be someone they’re not or sharing personal information online. Twenty-two percent of students are classified as nonconformists. Here’s what we know about them:

  • They’re MUCH heavier users of social networking tools. They use ALL of them more frequently than their rule-following counterparts.
  • They tend to break school rules to use social networking tools at school.
  • They prefer new media (online, video games, handhelds) to old (TV, DVD, radio).
  • They learn about new technologies online rather than from parents or teachers.
  • They communicate MORE with their parents than nonconformists, in every way except in person.
  • Their 21st century skills of communication, creativity, collaboration, leadership, and technical proficiency are extraordinary.
  • Their grades are lower than their peers, typically in the B-C range.

School Rules

Social Networking Activies — small versionWhile students are regularly engaging in social networking activities outside school, they have to unplug when they come to school. Here are some details:

  • 98% of schools use software to block access to inappropriate sites. This isn’t a big surprise, since it’s required to be eligible for e-rate funding. BBHCSD is definitely one of them.
  • 84% of schools prohibit online chatting, and 81% ban instant messaging. While we don’t specifically ban these, many are blocked by the Internet filter.
  • 62% of schools do not allow students to participate in bulletin boards or blogs. Again, we don’t have specific rules against the technology, but in practice many of the sites are blocked.
  • 60% of schools deny access to email for students. We’re one of them, mostly because we’re liable for the contents of students’ inboxes, and we have no control over the email they receive.
  • 52% of schools specifically prohibit access to social networking sites at school. We’re not one of them.


Schools typically deny access to electronic resources to alleviate the threat of liability. We don’t want our students accessing inappropriate materials. We don’t want them participating in unsafe behavior online. We don’t want the school district’s technology resources used for nonacademic purposes. Here’s what the students and their parents reported about these issues:

  • 20% of students have seen inappropriate pictures on social networking sites within the last three months.
  • 18% of students have seen inappropriate language on social networking sites.
  • 7% of students reported that someone has asked them for personal information on a social networking site. 3% of students reported that they’ve given out email addresses or other personal information to students. 52% of schools reported that this is a significant problem.
  • 7% of students also reported that they have experienced cyberbullying.
  • 4% of students have had conversations on social networking sites that have made them uncomfortable.
  • 3% of students report that unwelcome strangers have tried repeatedly to communicate with them online.
  • 2% say a stranger they met online tried to meet them in person.
  • 0.08% of students report that they’ve actually met someone in person from an online encounter without their parents’ permission. In a district our size, with 1,442 students aged nine or older, that would be one student.

NSBA Recommendations

The report recognizes that communities trust the schools to protect students during the school day, and this protection should include online activity. Schools should proceed cautiously, creating policies that protect this trust while still meeting the needs of our students. At the same time, communities expect the schools to take advantage of new technology to the extent that it can reasonably be used to improve education. To find the balance, the report recommends that schools do the following:

  • Use social networking tools themselves, and form their own opinions about them. Too frequently, we focus on negative examples and media-hyped anecdotes intended to scare.
  • Use social networking tools for staff professional development and collaboration. Teachers and administrators are less intimidated by technologies they use, and they can better see the educational possibilities.
  • Experiment with structured social networking. Set up systems for homework help or collaborative projects. These tools appeal to students who are not ordinarily engaged in the classroom.
  • Ensure equitable access. Students don’t ALL have broadband Internet at home. While most can get online outside of school if they really have to, it’s much more difficult for some than for others. With the immediacy of social networking, the have-nots are going to lose out.
  • Embrace the nonconformists. These students are technology leaders, even if they’re disillusioned with the traditional school structure. By reaching out to them, schools can learn more about new trends that are coming, and gain a little credibility with the student community at the same time.
  • Re-evaluate the policies. While it’s important to protect students, most Internet Safety Policies were written at a time when the web wasn’t so interactive. Are we doing too much filtering?

Where Do We Start?

Well, I’m starting with a blog post. 🙂 This is going to be followed by a district tech team discussion later this week. From there, we’ll probably start taking a look at our policies, and making sure that they’re continuing to meet our needs. I’m not saying we’ll be recommending changes. But we should be sure we’re still happy with our rules, and change them if needed.

The other thing we’re continuing to do is use the “walled garden” approach. Our students can use Moodle, for example, to participate in an online community. Because only our students are allowed in, it’s safer environment, and it’s allowed at school. As an extension of the classroom, we can enforce school rules in ways that we couldn’t if kids had off-site blogs.

The use of these tools with teachers is also important. We need to get more teachers blogging, and more of them blogging about teaching and learning. We need to have more of them participating in online professional development. We have to get more of them plugged in to the online communities. This is a slow process, but we do have a start.

The other thing we can do is start a conversation here. Feel free to throw in your thoughts.

3 thoughts on “Social Networking in Schools

  1. Thanks for the summary and your thoughts. Good post. I found these stats very interesting:

    # Their 21st century skills of communication, creativity, collaboration, leadership, and technical proficiency are extraordinary.
    # Their grades are lower than their peers, typically in the B-C range.

    Do these stats indicate that the push for technology use in education has failed, or that schools are not using the correct technology to engage these “super user” noncomformists?

    I’m looking forward to your follow-up posts.

  2. That caught my eye too. It may be a learning syles kind of thing — some kids don’t participate in a room full of their peers, but do better in an online environment when everyone’s not looking at them. They don’t have to think on their feet. They can reflect on what they have to say, and do it.

    But I think the bigger issue is that we’re not engaging them. It’s really had to see the relevance of a lot of the things we teach in high school. To pick on math, foe example, I have a minor in it. I took 35 hours of undergrad math. But 99% of the time, I have no use for anything beyond algebra 1. The other 1% of the time, I’m using statistics to make up numbers like these. Why do we have high school kids taking calculus?

    “If you’re a carpenter and you’re cutting roof rafters, you need to know the angle to cut them. You can use trigonometry to figure that out.” But a carpenter will just use a framing square. He doesn’t care what the angle is.

    The point (there’s one in here somewhere) is that kids don’t see that there’s much connection between what they’re learning in school and what they need to know for their future. And I think they have a point.

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