Why are we arguing that social networking does not have a negative effect on school & learning?

**originally published on 2010-11-20 09:10:44**

Here’s the article from the BBC for context:
Social networking ‘damaging school work’ say teachers

In reading through my twitter feed, I read many educators who seem angry about this article by the BBC. Some say kids have always wanted to connect with each other, this is no different. Others say to stop blaming the tools.

It seems that every time someone mentions social networking as having potentially negative effects on learning there is an uproar – “stop blaming the tools that you don’t understand!” Why is it such a bad thing to point the finger at social networking tools?

The big gun as of late is, without a doubt, facebook. I know some students (and adults) who are ALWAYS connected to facebook. Always. I have a friend (in his late 30s) who wakes up when his blackberry goes off in the middle of the night with a facebook notification. Old students of mine do the same. In theory, it should be a great way to connect with others in our social networks. I used it to connect with students when I was teaching upper grades. It has become much more than simply a way to connect with one’s network though.

Facebook is cluttered with advertisement. It is designed to keep its users on as long as possible, with its newsfeed that updates at alarming rates so that we can be sure not to miss anything! with it’s friend suggestions, it’s old picture reminders, it’s game notifications – “Jack just scored 86 000 000 in bubble smash, can you beat his score?”… And that is not counting the actual advertisements in the sidebar that are geared to your recent google searches. Ever since I became pregnant I am seeing advertisements in the right sidebar with a pregnancy theme, or those ads that use your friends to help catch your eye – “Jack is a fan of blablabla”.

Social networking, at least on facebook, has become so much more than that. It is a tangled web of advertising destined to keep us tethered to the network. OF COURSE it can get in the way of learning. Why is this being argued against?

One of the biggest concerns of Attachment Theorists is when children attach themselves to their peers instead of a caring, concerned adult in such a way that the peer set becomes the moral compass instead of the adult. Social networks facilitate peer attachment in ways that just aren’t possible without them. Children (I’m thinking middle/high schoolers but it does happen at the elementary level as well) can be ‘friends’ online without actually being friends in person, or they can lurk other people’s profiles without being part of their circle (unless the profile is set to private, which I don’t see much of with the younger set). By spending so much time online attachments can happen that are completely artificial. Sure this can happen without facebook, but it is exponentially greater with it.

I use social networks. There are times when I waste too much time on them. But I know that I am wasting time. I don’t allow them to interrupt my sleep. I don’t identify my ‘real world’, tangible relationships with those I barely communicate with online. When I need to get work done I stay away from them (unless I need to procrastinate) because I know that some are designed to keep me tethered to the web.

But children who are increasingly identifying their networks with their facebook network don’t. Why should they? They are too often targeted by telephone companies advertising the latest phones to keep you connected.

Have you read Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart?

The most slicing satire in this novel, however, is reserved for the technologized culture of everyday urban life; Shteyngart is the Joseph Heller of the information age. His characters carry networked devices called äppäräti wherever they go, emitting (willingly or not) such data as their cholesterol and stress levels, credit rankings, self-esteem and relationship history, as well as their off-the-cuff evaluations of friends and strangers. “Learn to rate everyone around you,” a co-worker admonishes Lenny: The instantaneously broadcasted metrics include such categories as Personality, Sustainability and F***ability. When a friend suggests that they “FAC” while hanging out in a bar, clueless Lenny has to be told that this acronym means “‘Form A Community’ … It’s, like, a way to judge people. And let them judge you.” (Lenny, by the way, comes in last place among 40 in the category of “Male Hotness.”) Laura Miller of Salon.com

Perhaps if learning were somehow completely embedded in social networking it would be less negatively affected. Then again, perhaps more. I don’t know. But I do know that we should not be arguing that it does not have negative effects on learning and school.


  • Tracy says:

    Comment from Laura:

    The social aspect, including what Angela mentions about pot stirring, is the most disconcerting aspect of social networking’s effect on the young ones. Being technology natives, this is the only way of social functioning that they know. There is no just closing their FB accounts, no separation of FB “friends” and childhood friends.

    Then again, I often look at the kid trying to text in class and flash back to passing notes. The only difference is that they can be texting someone at a different school, in a different state, or, heck, often as not, their parents! The temptation could be greater because of that, but if it’s because they’d rather be doing something else, well, that’s as old as school itself.

  • Tracy says:

    Comment from Angela Stockman

    Hi Tracy–
    I would appreciate a deeper dialogue around this, and I admire your courage here. You have me thinking about something that often crosses my mind: using these tools in ways that are healthy requires some level of balance between mind/body/spirit. Perhaps that sounds a bit more new age than some might be comfortable with, but I think that these skills are critical to good use. Who is teaching kids about this?

    What I do notice is that social networking tools reach far into our homes and consume a tremendous amount emotional energy and time. Most well-connected adults I know admit that attempting to balance connectivity with face-to-face interaction is a struggle…and they aren’t dealing with the intense social dynamics that are characteristic of adolescent life. For instance, it used to be that when social drama fired up at school, kids could find solace at home and experience a bit of a cooling-off period where they were away from the tension. The boundaries are less clear now, and opportunities to stir the pot are even greater.

    All learning is social, I know. I think we can find plenty of examples of where social networking tools have generated solid learning experiences. But this isn’t the whole story (or perhaps, even the most common one). It’s hard to find conversations like these inside of my network though, and when I start them, most people disengage pretty quickly. Why do you think this is the case?

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