After an excellent session with parents about cyberbullying and an equally excellent session with our staff discussing the Frontline documentary Growing Up Online, I’ve been thinking a lot about responsibility. As in:

  • Whose responsibility is it to teach students about the dangers of social networking (not only physical danger from online predators, but the danger of getting college applications rejected or the danger of getting kicked out of school)?
  • Whose responsibility is it to help parents stay informed about these new methods of communication?
  • Whose responsibility is it to ensure that students learn how to have successful, productive, and educational online experiences?

I’ve been noticing that many teachers are happy to be ignorant of what goes on online – that “out of sight, out of mind” mentality – which really worries me. I mentioned to Miguel in a twitter a few weeks ago that some really appalling student behavior has been going on for quite a while now, which actually made a little bit relieved to see that cell phone scandal hit the press in the US. On one hand, I can understand just how damaging that kind of press can be to a school trying to implement progressive learning practices, but on the other hand, aren’t these things we need to be talking about? Aren’t these issues that parents need to know about? And aren’t these issues that students should be learning how to stay away from?

I wonder how many schools are talking about this as a whole? Justin, Dennis and I were just discussing how great it would be to watch Growing Up Online as a whole faculty and then have some smaller break-out sessions to discuss what we saw. How many teachers are going to say: “our kids aren’t doing that kind of stuff!” And how many are going to say “that’s a parenting issue, not a school issue”? How many are going to say: “I need to embed authentic learning experiences into my curriculum which help students build their understanding about online safety and appropriate behavior”?

If learning has become increasingly social, and networked learning is on the horizon as the future of education, as so clearly described in the recent Educase article: Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0:

The most profound impact of the Internet, an impact that has yet to be fully realized, is its ability to support and expand the various aspects of social learning. What do we mean by “social learning”? Perhaps the simplest way to explain this concept is to note that social learning is based on the premise that our understanding of content is socially constructed through conversations about that content and through grounded interactions, especially with others, around problems or actions. The focus is not so much on what we are learning but on how we are learning….

This perspective shifts the focus of our attention from the content of a subject to the learning activities and human interactions around which that content is situated.

Then we need to be aware, actively involved, and responsible for teaching students and parents how to participate in these new communities – even if so much of their activity online has been for purely social purposes until now. Isn’t it our job to teach them how to take this social environment and use it for educational purposes? When I think about how powerful my PLN has been for my learning, I can’t imagine not including those experiences in my teaching. This is truly the Future of Learning in a Networked World, isn’t it?

At the beginning of this school year, when I was still adjusting to life in elementary school, I remember realizing just how lucky I am to have switched to elementary. This is the time when I can really make a difference. Students are excited about learning, they haven’t developed many bad habits, they still adore their teachers, they still enjoy having their parents watch over them while they play online, and they are still open to asking questions and discussing the possible outcomes. It is so essential to reach our students before they begin to pull away, to become more independent, to become more reluctant to share all aspects of their lives with the adults around them, in essence, to become teenagers.

This week I worked with a grade 3 class on our BlogPals project. We are using this project to develop our reading and writing skills – through the lens of connecting with others, creating a social learning environment. We are taking the time to teach them about online safety and appropriate behavior, and our third graders are responding with energy, excitement, enthusiasm, inquiry and understanding. This is the time to start developing appropriate behaviors, and I believe it’s our responsibility to teach them.

What do you think?

Tags: Tags: responsibility, onlinesafety, socialnetworking, growinguponline, frontline, pbs, educase, mindsonfire, social, learning, parents, elementary, 21stcentury, globalcollaborations, internationalschool, flatclassroom, collaborations, blogging, grade3, blogpals, flnw08

19 thoughts on “Social Networking and Responsibility

  1. I have even heard of some people not getting a job because of information they put on Facebook. If we are going to push social networking then I think we need to inform the students of all the possibilties we can think of. Great post!

  2. I am about to present to our juniors and seniors on this very topic. And the Minds on Fire article was sent to me the other day via another link–so timely. I hope my preso will be more of a conversation, but the students don’t see their social network as a learning network yet. Or the idea that everything they post is connected and following them. My job is to do present this not with fear but with info. And you are right–starting with the younger students is the key.

  3. Kim,

    It is our responsibility. We could sit back and say “I don’t understand it, I don’t want to change my pedagogy, I am fine doing things the way I’ve always done them, and it IS the parent’s role here.” However, I wonder if on some level that approach shouldn’t be considered malpractice.

    I come to this place and time in education from years in enterprise (professional life) and parenting (children who are almost 18 and 15). Though I was passionately engaged in education as my children matriculated through public elementary and now private middle and upper school, it wasn’t until (1) I saw a teacher in a 5th grade classroom over the course of 2 years develop a student-centered, project-based, inquiry-driven model; (2) I followed his work and his learning at Harvard in ed tech and the implications for “web 2.0” to lever that kind of learning; and (3) led a group of six K-12 independent schools–as a parent/business exec mind you–through a 1 year study of the emerging Read/Write web and the implications for education, that I really began to understand the responsibility schools and educators have to MODEL this emerging world and our participation in it–and to facilitate classrooms where the students experience it (aren’t “taught” it).

    In that one year study parents were “reacting” to the Dateline pieces…the fear factor was high. But as we began to show them how the tools work, had students demonstrating how Facebook (and MySpace) work and how to “be safe”, and then as we’ve begun to evolve classroom practice (lower and middle schools), I sensed the “angst” somewhat dissipating. Isn’t it a wonder what knowledge can do?

    Sure, it would be great if parents took more responsibility for teaching their children how to navigate this highway. But, they can’t teach what they don’t know, what they don’t own. You mention your own PLN–my “parent” friends have no comprehension of what my PLN is and really looks like. And so many teachers don’t either. Last weekend I took a teacher with me to EduCon, and all of a sudden the light bulbs went off for her. We came home with her energized beyond measure because she “saw” what education can be (SLA); what networked learning can offer (thank you to great workshop leaders); and she began to develop her own network (thanks Twitterverse).

    I’ll say it again: it is our responsibility to lead our students (and their parents as partners in their education) to navigate the new landscape. The playing field has changed. As Konrad Glogowski showed us last weekend there is this “third place”.

    So glad you are “starting early.” Those kids are lucky to have you!

  4. Pat,

    Absolutely! On that note, I’ve also heard stories of people getting fired for things they write on their blogs as well. It’s so important to learn good habits early – so that they become a natural part of your online behaviors, not something you have to force yourself to remember.


    You’re so right – they really don’t understand the connectedness of their social networking. And I think they don’t like to think that adults could be watching. Maybe they feel that it’s their place and should be hidden from adult eyes.

    It might be powerful to tell them stories of students who were denied college admission because of their Facebook profiles, or stories of students who got kicked out of high school because of their online activity. It’s happening all over the place.


    Reading your comment was like reading a conversation I could have with any one of my colleagues. You hit on so many important points: making these experiences real by actually seeing the power and potential of authentic learning, being a part of a PLN for your own learning, and opening your eyes and mind to the possibilities that surround us.

    It’s so important that we continue to spread this message to our colleagues, administration and parents – just like you did with the colleague you brought to EduCon. One person at a time, slowly but surely, we will change the landscape of 21st century education.

  5. Okay. I really need to just start handing you a portion of my salary. So many of my teaching ideas and tech work that I do as a coordinator are being influenced by your blog. Just contacted our librarian re: ordering the DVD.

    Thanks for being so good at both the big picture and the details.

  6. Laurawd,

    Yes, I follow you on Twitter! I’m really enjoying working with the teachers on the PLP Ning – lots of great discussion there. And, you are part of the conversation already!


    And I would have to give that portion (plus some of my salary) right back for all the help you give me on a daily basis!

  7. Hi there. I feel that it is important to acknowledge the impact of the internet on our students. Not only are we being “unproactive” when it comes to the learning environment, and the students we help, when we do not acknowledge what our students are exposed to, but we are also doing ourselves a disservice by remaining ignorant to the pull of the world on the people and children we work with. So it is crucial to maintain “open peripherals” in this regard. This, in my mind, should not be a chore! If we are teaching, it is because we care about our students. Therefore, caring about them means understanding what influences them, and being honest about these influences. In all, well said. I echo your feelings.

  8. Oh, I reversed my posts. My name is Sarah Ferguson. I am an education student at the university of Regina, Canada, in the final year of my degree. One of our assignments is to comment on the flat classroom project. I have picked your class page to comment on, as well as your articles. You can find my blog about education at

  9. Sarah,

    Thanks for your thoughtful and detailed comment! You are lucky to have such a forward-thinking professor and such engaging assignments! Thanks for sharing your blog here as well!

  10. Very important stuff…
    I had the students in my graduate class watch “Growing up Online” and it was a real wake-up call for them. Even though they are in their early to mid twenties, they still seem quite sheltered from these realities. I think your idea of using it as part of faculty development is wonderful. We are in the midst of a huge cultural shift and we need to educate ourselves and help educate ALL other stakeholders as to these new realities, potential benefits, dangers, rules & etiquette, … and to be present in the lives of our kids and students. We cannot simply plead ignorance, disinterest, or resistance and let them to figure all of this out on their own. There is just too much as stake.
    Thanks for the great post!

  11. Stephen,

    Yes! A cultural shift is exactly what it is. And, what I find especially interesting, is that because it’s related to technology people tend to shy away as if they couldn’t possibly understand all this “tech stuff.” But, in reality it’s the same lessons that parents (and teachers) have always taught their kids – just in a new environment.

  12. I’d be interested to know what types of things should I teach my third graders about safe blogging. Is there a website or a resource that you can point me to that would give me an idea of how to introduce blogging etiquette and safety. Thanks for any assistance in this direction.

  13. I definitely believe it is the responsibility of the parent to learn the dangers, and teach them to their kids. In my opinion, it should not be the responsibility of the teacher. Too many parents are pushing off their responsbilities onto teachers.

    1. Well, I think the responsibility is for both parents and teachers. The most important part is that we are teaching the same kinds of skills and behaviors and giving the same message to students. Often, that’s hard to achieve because parents and teachers may have different views of how technology should be used. This has been a great area of positive growth in our Parent Coffee Mornings over the last three years – educating parents, has definitely helped with consistency and educating our students.

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