541 – Social Networking and the Walled Garden

The concept of walled gardens is not unique to the Internet and can be extended to include many examples through history where rules are made to protect us from ourselves. Censorship, in the guise of protection, is evident throughout history when governments or religious organizations have controlled the flow of information or eliminated the expression of perceived subversive ideas, usually with the intent of suppressing dissent.

Opponents for a free and open Internet in schools would argue that the potential is too great  for students misusing the capabilities of the web, inadvertently exposing themselves to victimization from Internet predators, or simply viewing inappropriate material. I would agree that the potential is there, however the question is, does this negative potential outweigh the potential impact for learning? In my opinion the potential benefit of an open and freely accessible Internet is greater than the risks. Students must be educated on Internet safety; they must be made aware of the dangers, how to protect themselves, and careful, age appropriate monitoring of their online behavior should be in place. Given these circumstances students can safely harness the potential of the web for learning.

One of the most common areas of restriction in “walled gardens” is social networks. Through the media, the public has been inundated with stories of situations where young people and adults have been exploited by cyber criminals found in social media websites such as Facebook, or Twitter. There is no doubt that these situations occur and sometimes with terrible consequences, however it all once again comes down to education and supervision. Restricting student access to social media in school translates, in the minds of students, to another example of how school life is not a reflection of real life. Using social media to connect students “both face to face and virtually, from a variety of backgrounds to work together to solve a common problem” (Cofino, 2009) has global impact, builds empathy, and creates cultural awareness that could not be achieved any other way.

As Jose Picardo states in an article titled: Microblogging: making the case for social networking in education, “More and more people, not just our students, are becoming aware of the power of belonging to a network: each individual member contributes a small part, so that the resulting body of knowledge is much greater than that which any individual member could have amassed on their own. This is why the social internet has become so successful: groups of people have clumped together forming networks, generally because of some sort of affinity or shared interest, and have started communicating and passing on information that matters to them” (Picardo, 2010). Blocking students from this type of opportunity in schools, when it is readily available everywhere else, seems counterproductive.

Schools should reflect the world we live in today. And we live in a social world. We need to teach students how to be effective collaborators in that world, how to interact with people around them, how to be engaged, informed twenty-first-century citizens. (Smith, 2007)

Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. H. (2010). Integrating educational technology into teaching. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Smith, Fran. (2007) Edutopia.org. How to Use Social Networking Technology for Learning. Retreived March 6, 2012 from: http://www.edutopia.org/how-use-social-networking-technology

Cofino, Kim. (2009) Always Learning. How to Connect Your Students Globally. Retrieved March 6, 2012 from: http://kimcofino.com/blog/2009/10/04/how-to-connect-your-students-globally/

Picardo, Jose.(2010) Technology and Education Box of Tricks. Microblogging: Making the Case for Social Networking in Education. Retrieved March 6, 2012 from: http://www.boxoftricks.net/2010/02/microblogging-making-the-case-for-social-networking-in-education/