Today I participated in a webinar with Will Richardson, a veteran teacher of 22 years who is quite popular for his presentations on blogging (started in 2001), his use of wiki's, and more for the classroom. He's even written a great book on the topics.
He just mentioned that MY SPACE is the most popular site on the Internet today, exceeding the number of hits that Yahoo receives. This should be a huge concern for us in one way, but it is also a great opening for a lesson that needs to be taught. Since we all know the concern that My Space has raised in the classroom, let's not re-visit it. Instead I'd like to share another concern.
As educators, we know that such social networking sites are out there and being used by students, not always for good. We've heard the horror stories and read the news stories. Most schools block My Space now so students cannot access the site. However, I would take it one step further.
When you block or ban something, it just drives the desire for that item even more. Look through history to find other banned items, like the prohibition. Instead of just blocking such social networking sites, I believe parents and teachers alike need to teach the "e-responsibility" and "e-safety" that goes along with such sites. Share with them how the world perceives them when they post images, talk trash, or more on such sites. Right now they don't think you're on the site, and so they feel free to explore dangerous possibilities, thinking they are safe. I would even host a parent night to educate the parents on such sites. Bartow Middle School in Polk County recently had a great night with an FBI agent who did just this. Very extensive, well received, and a much needed workshop.
Next, exploit these sites for our purposes. Either use them to connect with the students, share homework, or for other creative purposes. You don't have to use My Space, there are other great sites out there. Another tool similiar to My Space is Facebook. A great community of teachers has their own facebook. An open source social networking site similar to My Space that you can host on your own servers and have full control over is Elgg. My old district used a program called eChalk and many of the teachers made use of the discussion boards. Discussion boards and Wikis are also a great tool, but we'll talk about those in another post.
With tools that help you create communities, whether for social networking or educational purposes, I feel that the most important thing we need to teach is the respect of the technology.