Is MySpace a Train Wreck?
In a recent discussion on one of the major Ed Tech mailing lists, the discussion of the educational merits of MySpace came up. Someone said, “I wish someone would tell me what kind of educational uses there could possibly be for a train wreck like MySpace.
To me this comment as both surprising and expected. It was expected because the train wreck view of MySpace is common with people who don’t understand the concept of social networking and the importance of it to the Net generation. It was surprising in that previous lengthy discussions on this list and others have made it clear that MySpace is not the problem. It is the behavior of the users that is the problem.
Their behavior is to be expected. Before MySpace was in the news, millions of teen had already populated MySpace and were interacting there in a society they had created. For all effective purposes, there were no adults around to model, mentor, or supervise their activities.
If you don’t have a good picture of what transpires under those conditions, I suggest that you go back and reread Lord of the Flies. Attacking MySpace, is like finding Piggy and friends on the island and then destroying the island because of what it has done to the children.
We have found the lost children of MySpace and we as teachers have a unique opportunity to provide guidance to students in the proper use of blogging and social networking in their world. We can work with them in THEIR~world, a world that is important to them and if we do it well, what we teach will stick, because it is relevant and real.
Who should do it and what they should do is a matter of comfort with technology and curricular needs. We are all familiar with the technology gap that exists between our generation and the Net generation. The greater the gap between teacher and student, the less advisable might be to use MySpace for an educational activity, assuming you had a valid one.
Any valid use of technology in education is one which is curricular driven and can’t be done better or easier using some other vehicle. I would NEVER use MySpace to do something I could do elsewhere better. As far as what a valid activity might be, that’s difficult to say for someone else, because it depends on their curriculum, but for me it’s simple.
The problem at social networking sites is that kids are doing dumb things! They are behaving badly! They are engaging in risky behavior! They are being kids! Does it not make sense to use the social networking sites in a way that might modify that behavior in a positive way?
How about modeling alternative ways of social networking? I avoid the phrase “right ways”, because the way you network is to some extent dictated by the environment in which we are networking. In the case of social network sites, we have as much to learn about networking in a teen world and we have to teach.
Personally, I would start with general classroom discussion of the social networking problem. Begin talking to the kids. You might learn a lot. Then, under my supervision the students would set up accounts and register as being between 14 and 16 so that the automatic privacy restrictions kick in. I would put other safeguards and guidelines in place.
We now have a closed community of friends, our own mini-MySpace. The kids can teach me and I can teach them. What we do in that community is a question of curriculum… what class.., what need... whatever...
For example, if I were to write a book on web design and lay out, I would want examples of poor design. I could work for weeks to create examples of bad design, but why do that? With little or no effort students have created visual effects and web pages that curdle milk if it was placed in front of the screen.
Megan, one teacher on the list hit upon a use that goes directly to the heart of one of MySpaces biggest attraction, the ability to personalize their profiles with HTML. She’s a technology teacher who takes her classes to MySpace and shows them how to use Cascading Style Sheets and MySpaces page design environment to create orderly well constructed pages that allow students to express themselves in more powerful ways than before.
Jennifer’s students were complaining of people stealing poems and things they had created on MySpace. She turned that into a lesson on copyright and intellectual property.
So what else? Hmmm… How about having lessons on responsible blogging? Show them that blogging is more than telling about their likes and dislikes. It is a journalistic tool that can be used to change the world! Now let’s add peer support. Now let’s add collaboration and communication between other classes in the same school, or other classes in other schools. Now let’s add (your works here)… The possibilities may not be endless, but they certainly are numerous.
The kids need us, but we need them more. We need them because they are the future, but more importantly, we need them to teach us about their online world. We teachers must be as much of a student as we are teachers. We are partners in education and need to recognize and value what they can teach us. If not, they will not recognize or value what we try to teach them.