Why Schools Should Learn To Use Online Services Like Facebook & YouTube Rather Than Banning Them

It’s no secret that we live in a world of moral panics — where new technologies are feared by those who don’t understand them, often leading to regulations that block their potential. For years now, a number of politicians have sought laws to ban social networks in schools, assuming that they are either bad or simply inappropriate for schools. While those laws have yet to pass, many schools already do ban access to social networks and other sites. I’ve never quite understood how this makes sense. Rather than training students to use those sites properly, now they’re seen as forbidden — which only makes them more attractive to students, while making it even clearer that students won’t be prepared to handle those sites properly. On top of that, as more powerful mobile phones become popular, students will easily bypass the school’s own network and access those sites on their own — and there will be nothing the schools can do about it.

So it’s nice to see a sensible opinion piece in Slate arguing that rather than ban or block social online services like Facebook and YouTube, schools should be embracing them and looking for ways to incorporate them into the learning process. There are a variety of strong arguments for why this makes sense, but two that stick out:

  1. Students already like using these sites quite a bit. Using those sites to make other things more relevant and interesting seems like a good way to reach kids in a manner that they understand, and which doesn’t feel quite as much like “education,” but more like something fun that they want to do.
  2. Using these kinds of free tools may be cheaper, easier and much more effective than a number of the super expensive e-learning tools out there, which would require a steep learning curve anyway. But incorporating lesson plans and info and assignments into the tools that students already use would be both cheaper and more likely to actually be used.

Of course, some will decry that these sites are automatically bad for kids — or that it makes no sense to waste time on such issues. But the fact is kids are going to use these sites no matter what. Ignoring that doesn’t change that. Banning the sites doesn’t change that. It just makes the activity more underground without any oversight or reasonable lessons. But incorporating the technology into the educational efforts could actually get a lot more attention. Yes, some of the examples in the Slate article seem pretty lame (and would be seen as such by the kids), but if done right, it really could add a lot more value to students’ educations.

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