Should Schools Teach Social Media Skills?

| December 4, 2013 | 41 Comments
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By Aarti Shahani

Taking selfies at funerals. Tagging pictures of teens drinking alcohol at parties. Kids (and adults for that matter) post a lot of silly stuff online — and although most of it is chatter, some of what might seem harmless leads to tragic consequences. But is it the job of schools to teach kids the dos and don’ts of social media?

At Lincoln High School in San Francisco’s Sunset district, counselor Ian Enriquez teaches students three very big words: “Disinhibition, reputation, anonymity.”

Enriquez is using a curriculum created by the non-profit Common Sense Media, a media watchdog group for parents that also offers resources for teachers. Schools in nearby Santa Clara county have adopted this curriculum into a semester-long course for all middle and high school students. Enriquez, who’s doing just a one-day workshop, jokes that despite the title, “It’s not common sense.”

“You want the kids in the homerooms to start thinking about what it means to be disinhibited,” he says. Disinhibition, for those who might not know, means acting impulsively, without showing due restraint, in a way that’s aggressive or plays up another personality trait. The teenagers get it right away.

“Would you say that your friends act differently online than they do in person?” Enriquez asks.

“Yeah, and they look different!” responds sophomore Megan McKay.

“It would be very difficult for schools trying to keep up with Instagram, Facebook, all of the apps that exist out there that are essentially market driven.”

Like many schools throughout the country, Bay Area schools hold workshops on cyberbullying, but don’t have uniform practices for teaching social media etiquette beyond that. While teachers use platforms like Facebook as a tool to engage students in learning, ongoing instruction on digital citizenship itself is the exception, not the rule.

Enriquez, who counsels students on health, racism, homophobia, and other topics that aren’t purely academic, believes the district should institute a mandatory social media curriculum. Enriquez says cyberbullying and viral rumors have been a problem ever since kids posted on that once-popular site MySpace. “When I started at this high school 10 years ago, almost every school fight I was aware of occurred because of something that happened in the virtual world.”

NOT A PRIORITY

Dennis Kelly, president of the United Educators of San Francisco, the local teachers union, says teachers are already drowning in work — especially now with Common Core. While social media is important, Kelly says, so are other things. “All students should learn to swim, but should it be school’s responsibility to teach them swimming?”

Back in the 1980s and ’90s, schools introduced sex education into the classroom, in response to the AIDS epidemic. But social media is not a scientific, biological reality — it’s a business, and Kelly says it’s not the job of public schools to dedicate scarce teaching resources, especially when that business might not be here for long. “It would be very difficult for schools trying to keep up with Instagram, Facebook, all of the apps that exist out there that are essentially market driven.”

But others believe that’s not necessarily the case. Michelle Finneran Dennedy, the Chief Privacy Officer at McAfee, an Internet security company, says that while apps come and go, social media is here to stay.

“We want PTAs to own this. We would love to see the unions start to train teachers on this,” she says.

Dennedy, who teaches social media etiquette through McAfee’s program to students around the world, says even when kids love to share, they don’t want a permanent digital trail of every phase of their private life. They want to know “you’re allowed to be that rough-and-tumble girl that turns into a prom queen. And I think it’s important for us, as the technical world in particular, to allow them to have that human exploration without exploiting it.”

As to the argument that Facebook restricts its platform to kids at least 13 years old and has resources for educators (as do Instagram and Twitter), Dennedy points out younger kids slip in anyway, and the educators who get involved are a self-selecting few. She says schools can play a critical role in teaching online etiquette to students, and can give feedback to companies that are building this new virtual reality.

“I don’t think it’s easy,” she says. “I feel for educators, and I do think it’s a public-private partnership.”

CROSSING THE LINE

The students at Lincoln High School don’t have a definitive take. Enriquez has them debate a hypothetical situation: Say Matt’s parents are fighting and he stays over his buddy Jeff’s house. Jeff gets tired of hosting him, so he Tweets or posts on Facebook: “Someone else take Matt? His parents are fighting.”

Junior Eric Lamp says that violates trust. “I would get rid of the post. I don’t want people to get hurt,” he says.

But if you’re Matt, you can’t get rid of the post. Jeff, the publisher, has to do it.

How does that make Lamp feel? He shrugs his shoulders. “I feel kind of helpless. You have no power over your confidential information.”

But Lamp says he’s not sure it’s serious enough to get a teacher involved.

Parents, teachers, students, weigh in: Should schools be responsible for teaching dos and don’ts of social media? Take our poll at KQED’s education blog: Facebook.com/mindshift.kqed

Listen to the full California Report story here:

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  • Jennifer Carey

    Absolutely! Teaching social media skills is now akin to teaching/guiding research, engagement, and behavior. The internet is both dangerous and powerful. We cannot tell students to “not use it” or “be careful” and then turn our backs. Likewise, we need to reach out and help parents to more effectively guide their child’s behavior.

  • Theresa Shafer

    We definitely need to be teaching social media skills. They line up nicely with lessons on empathy, privacy, career, public speaking and writing skills. It doesn’t have to be an “in addition to” for teachers, it can be incorporated into or replace things they are already doing.

  • http://www.einsteinssecret.net/ Deborah Owen

    I am currently teaching social media skills to a group of 12th grade business students. I believe that students use social media platforms for their own purposes, but they don’t know how to use them well (as you articulate in the article). On the other hand, they do need to know how to use them, so I am teaching them from a business perspective. As part of this project, I am interviewing social media experts on my blog. I invite you to check out the interviews with such online gurus as Chris Brogan, Pat Flynn, Hiten Shah, and more to come! http://www.einsteinssecret.net/social-media-expert-interviews/

  • Robert W

    Actually, it’s the law and has been since 2008. The
    Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act, Pub. L. No. 110-385,
    Title II, 122 Stat 4096 (2008) requires “The education of students regarding
    appropriate online behavior including interacting with other individuals on
    social networking websites and in chat rooms, and regarding cyberbullying
    awareness and response.”

  • Jasmine Peyton

    I think school teacher should be increasing skill for social media because this skill very helpful in future for students. dissertation proposal by dissertationpalace.co.uk

  • Mike Davis SLO

    I think it would be best that a “Specialist” in the field of social media (SM) should teach the basics of SM etiquette. Teachers do have WAY to much stuff to teach our kids (I have an 11yo girl) as it is. I think the FB’s and Instagrams of the world could offer they’re staff to do the education for some tax breaks.

    • ottonomy

      Have you heard “social media experts” talk? #SocMed. Such a sales and marketing orientation among people who would claim that title.

      They would not be recognized as someone who can connect with how teens want to use online tools. I’d prefer a connectivist approach, opening conversation spaces to young people and helping them find good perspectives on these topics rather than bringing in “experts” to lecture them.

      • Michelle R.

        Imo this would fall squarely within the school librarians’ purvey with other information literacy skills education.

        • ottonomy

          Unfortunately librarians don’t have quite enough contact with young students I think, but I agree with you about their position in these learning networks. It could be strengthened. I’ll be presenting at #onw14 in February to encourage librarians to keep participating in supporting this learning and credentialing achievement with #openbadges.

  • JS Heade

    There seems to be some confusion here – IMO the question is really about social etiquette, not merely the phenomena of online social media presence, and yes there should be an emphasis on both hard and soft skills associated with core curriculum in public school. And why stop at social media literacy? The US is the only educated country in the world without media literacy curriculum in public education.

  • Sarah

    Like many other problems with education in the U.S., the lack of
    knowledge about social etiquetten online is a symptom of a larger
    problem that JS Heade mentioned – students lack any understanding about
    basic social etiquette in general. While schools definitely have a role
    to play in enforcing social etiquette skills (both when it comes to the
    internet and the actual human, physical world), I am not convinced that
    schools are the only or the best place to teach those skills. I’ve
    been a high school social science teacher for 7 years now, and each year
    our responsibilities and challenges have increased, sometimes
    exponentially. It’s becoming impossible to focus on any one goal and do
    it well, because we are responsible for so much now. The problem is
    that everything we’re trying to “fix” really is important, but we can’t
    be the only ones to teach these skills. It’s not an exaggeration to say
    I could work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the calendar
    year and still not teach everything that should be taught to students
    these days. It feels like it’s time for a larger conversation about
    what we as a society expect from public education, and then
    re-prioritize everything that we teach based on that conversation.

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  • Marcia Weeden

    Having worked in IT and knowing the speed at which technology changes, I know that teachers and parents would all have trouble keeping up with changes and risks associated with social media. It isn’t just legitimate businesses that make the changes; there are also those who don’t care about the law and will exploit the technology for personal gain or to cause harm. They have no regard for others. Communities, states, (whatever the appropriate geographical area) really should have at least one person dedicated to keeping up on changes and negative/adverse uses and impacts of social media. These technical savvy people should then rotate through schools to keep parents, students, and teachers informed the safety issues that social media bring with them. It is naïve to believe that teachers can do this for the students or in lieu of the parents.

  • Claire Woerner

    As someone who worked with youth and actually actively taught my students (at youth group) how to deal constructively with hurtful comments, bullying and harassment on social media, and heard the horror stories first hand. And I’ve also heard the drama of the embarrassing pictures and posts, and people outing each other on various things. These kids have no example of how to grow up gracefully on social media because some of their parents didn’t get the internet until college. They need someone to say things like “maybe you should think about things before you post; take a minute to read before you press the button” or “saying something to someone on facebook or twitter has the same emotional effect as saying it to their face”. It’s surprising how unreal things on the internet seem to them; they have even less of a sense of cause and effect online than in the concrete world. They need someone to tell them that. If the object of schools is to produce successful members of society (which is what it should be) then they need to be taught. We teach other computer skills like typing and how to use the internet for research; why don’t we teach them how to be good citizens of their cyber world?

  • Michelle R.

    Districts that receive e-rate funds are required to teach social media skills. So the question for many schools is not if they should, but how they are complying.

  • Jeffrey A Koontz

    This is a parents responsibility, I am sure if teachers are interested in this topic or see a chance to incorporate it in teachable moments where appropriate they can and will do so. But in no way is it their “responsibility to do so.

  • Maree McKenzie

    Schools have long been used as a vehicle to model and even force societal changes through things like school lunch programs, vaccination requirements, and, to use a personal example, I remember a campaign my elementary school held when I was a child to increase seat belt usage. Unfortunately there has been a trend of increasingly relying on schools to teach concepts that parents really should be handling, but don’t have the skills to do so – and here I’m thinking of the early childhood education of Smart Start all the way up through financial management concepts. It’s like we’re trying to use schools, instead of teaching only academics, to also address the gaps in knowledge of parents by *taking over* the education of their children rather than increasing parents’ abilities to teach their own children. Unfortunately this means that kids may receive little reinforcement at home of what’s being taught at school, no matter what the subject.

    As technology becomes cheaper and more accessible to families in all socioeconomic strata, the digital divide is going to change from focus on access to focus on use and behavior – a point Dr. Richard Halverson of the University of Wisconsin at Madison makes quite well in this YouTube video created as part of a Video Games and Learning MOOC offered through Coursera: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2LnT6v0lrQ

    Are there social organizations out there that can partner with schools – for example, to use school sites as a place to offer classes and workshops to teach parents and families as a whole to model and use better digital etiquette, safety and privacy skills, and to really harness the collaborative power of social media instead of using it to just leech content, watch obnoxious videos, and spread gossip? And what motivation can we give to families to participate, especially as parents of those families will increasingly be part of the generation who sees nothing wrong with the “bad” digital etiquette skills they’ve developed as they have grown up?

  • deadguylurking

    It seems like every day we decide to add one more “mission” to our schools increasing to-do list. To accomplish everything we expect from schools, we would need to make every school into a boarding school so parents can avoid ALL responsibilities.

  • citizenw

    It takes a village…

  • Maureen

    I am a teacher and I feel this is very important to teach. Not only are kids using social media on a daily basis, but there is a generation of kids that will not know what life without it. If we do not begin to educate students in digital literacy, I feel we are doing them a disservice.

  • Emily Timblin

    I think this is very important! I teach English at a community college and I include it in my curriculum. A lot of my students have never given social media a second thought… and they are adults. This is a newer form of communication and we are all learning the best ways to present ourselves through trial and error. Hopefully, we can start eliminating some of those errors.

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  • James Tyler

    I don’t know if they should teach the in’s and out’s of social media, but at the very least, they should instruct on how to interact with customers.

  • Stacy Brunner

    I think it’s all our responsibilities: parents, educators, youth ministry leaders. This has been a topic with my first grader already. The teacher provided each student in the class with a login to an educational math site. The first thing my son did was tell someone his password. Luckily I’ve been able to intercede and educate him as we go along. If a six year old can remember a password and log into an internet site, he should also be taught a few things about the internet… especially where his identity and personal security are involved. I’ve already caught glimpses of his perception that who he is “in the game world” doesn’t have to match who he is in the real world. This will definitely be something I monitor as his use of digital media increases.

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  • Cornerstone Reputation

    Yes! It is vitally important to educate teens about their online footprints. We believe that it is necessary to teach teens about negative online behaviors and their natural consequences, and schools do play a role in this education. We also believe that in order to truly change the culture of online behavior into a force for good, it is equally important to emphasize all of the positive ways social media can highlight a teen’s strengths and interests. Starting to build this online resume at an early age can be a powerful tool when it comes to college admissions, future employment, and even relationships!

  • http://www.drupal-website-developer.com/ Ayesha

    There might be several advantages in educating students on social media skills, but it surely plays bigger threat, by providing students with an open platform. This can be used for good as well as for breading bad thoughts, isn’t it?

    Ayesha
    http://school.greengurukul.com

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