The Social Media Dilemma

7/1/2013 12:00:00 AM
For me, social media is learning media. My main use of tools like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest is to find and share resources on the topics about which I am most passionate. These resources have allowed me to interact and learn with people from all over the globe. The most significant example of this for me was my involvement with the start of the Connected Principals Blog thanks to connecting with George Couros, an administrator from Alberta, Canada. George came up with the idea of creating a space for administrators to share their learning, and after connecting the conversations with a Twitter hashtag (#cpchat), I instantly became part of a constantly expanding group of thoughtful school leaders. Frankly, I think that those who are adamant that these resources should not be utilized by learners do not understand them. Clay Shirky describes this phenomenon in his book Cognitive Surplus:

“When you see people acting in ways that you don’t understand, you may ask rhetorically, Why are they behaving that way? A better question is this: Is their behavior rewarding a desire for autonomy or competence? Is it rewarding their desire to feel connected or generous? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, you may have your explanation. If the answer to more than one of those questions is yes, then you probably do.”

With this in mind, it is imperative that any guidelines for social media use start with the positive presupposition that these resources add tremendous value for learners. We need to help policy makers see the positive outcomes that these tools can support and not just the worst case scenario. The only way to do this is to provide support for adults to learn how social media can add value to their lives while at the same time reinforcing the countless positive examples of their use that have enabled both individuals, and entire countries, to create a more promising future. So while there are huge ramifications that many colleges and employers are now asking applicants to sign a social media release in order to investigate the applicants social media accounts, schools need to step forward and support students in this area and not create policies that prohibit access for fear of the worst-case scenario.

Historically, it has been the role of schools to help students to start to build their resume and portfolio in order to market themselves to the college or employer of their choice. We need to embrace the fact that social media accounts are now part of that application package that we are responsible for guiding our students to create. My EdTechTeacher colleagues, Beth and Shawn, wrote a great post on this back in the fall titled From Smoke Signals To Tweets: How The Evolution Of Communication Is Changing Your Classroom. It is clear that there are a lot of variables here that need to be hashed out in regards to creating a comfort level for school communities to embrace the use of social media. I’ll address some of these specifics in my next post - Moving Beyond Banning.

cross-posted at www.patrickmlarkin.com

Patrick Larkin is the Assistant Superintendent for Learning of Burlington Public Schools in Burlington, MA and the former principal of Burlington High. He blogs about education at www.patrickmlarkin.com.

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