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Where Social Media Meets the Classroom
When an adolescent accesses social
media without guidance, it's like encountering a hand-grenade. Sean Smith, a
social media expert and former member of the Canadian military uses hyperbole
to emphasize the inherent dangers that children face online. "He or she
will eventually pull the pin, let go of the spoon and wait to see what happens,"
he says. That is why Smith insists on teaching proper online etiquette and
greater awareness about the perils of social media in the classroom.
Smith, who has 20 years of IT and social media experience, lectures at schools about cyber bullying and social media smarts in British Columbia. He does not agree with the long-held belief of many educators that social media is a distraction and is destroying students' potential to interact on a personal level. While many schools want to deny access to social media altogether, Smith believes that such an approach throws the baby out with the bathwater.
Smith would like to break the cycle that revolves around occurrences of cyber-bullying that cause nightmare scenarios in schools. Instead of the occasional guest speaker who will come to a school, after the fact, to sort through the mess, he would like the education system to integrate social media awareness into the classroom full time, ensuring that students remain vigilant about personal privacy and the dangers of digital communication. "I believe that such an approach will help adolescents to leave a more responsible digital footprint that won't undermine their opportunities later in life," he says.
Many school boards discuss social media in the classroom in their mission statements and define appropriate behavior and use of digital technologies, but do not spell out how social media awareness will be implemented in the classroom. Smith notes that many schools have similar rules of conduct, leaving it up to the teacher's discretion to handle the topic. But one of the pitfalls is that many teachers are uncomfortable with social media as it relates to their own personal privacy and professionalism. "So they are eager to stay clear of the subject,” explains Smith.
Organizations such as the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) note that educators willing to embrace social media in the classroom must walk a fine line. The Federation acknowledges both the potential exciting teaching options that social media provides and its potential to blur professional boundaries and expose teachers to a number of risks.
Valerie Letellier, who teaches level six at St-Barthélemy in Montreal, acknowledges how technology is changing the face of the classroom. “With children now walking around with smartphones and tablets, there is no doubt that they are accessing social media,” she says.
Letellier explains that her school has no formal policy on social media. “It's much like sex education in the classroom. It is really up to the teacher and how comfortable they are introducing the subject to their students," says Letellier. Though she tries to integrate discussions about social media, Letellier is still concerned. “I worry that many children in my class, who are just 11 and 12 years old, are already using sites like Instagram. I don't think they understand the perils. So, I try to enlighten them about the dangers of cyber-bullying and speaking to strangers online.”
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