Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Is MySpace a Train Wreck?

(Podcast Version)

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.


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posted by Art @ 9:03 AM   12 comments


At 11:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hint xenga does not exist. xanga! is how you spell it.

At 2:57 PM, Blogger Art said...

LOL - Thanks, Katherine!

At 11:40 AM, Blogger Lisa said...

I am facinated by the lesson plan concepts you suggest and I would love to get in touch with the teacher using CSS on MySpace. Can you offer me any help?

At 12:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see your point, but I still wouldn't use MySpace as a blogging tool in the classroom. I think it's okay to use it to teach about self disclosure, but I see no reason to go there to blog when there are other blog sites available and plenty (word press comes to mind) that allow you to learn about CSS and to create blogs in less seedy environments. I also dont' think that MySpace has to be universally condemned. Why reinforce the branding of MySpace? Educate them about good online practices, get them blogging journalistically or whatever. I don't think MySpace needs be the Kleenex of the blog world.

At 8:48 AM, Blogger Art said...

Hi Audry,

I agree 100% with everything you said. Personally I feel comfortable enough to use MySpace itself as a tool in the classroom to teach about the complexities and dangers of social networking. However, I do agree that it is not the place to be blogging. There are much safer and more powerful tools for that purpose. My point is that blocking, filtering, and punishing often results in a school that feels they are doing what they need to be doing and nothing else gets done to make the kids safe.

I visited your blog and was impressed with your magazine unit. My daughter was the art director for a major sports magazine that markets who's demographics is high schools. You unit is a perfect vehicle for promoting online safety. Think about the possibilities of SNW (Social Networking World), a magazine that covers all aspects of social networking, what's hot, what's not, what's good, what's bad, etc.

No only is a good idea for a project, it could be a viable real-life project.

Oh, one more thing... I've already had one productive talk with the president of one of the social networking sites about the possibility of a social network site just for schools.

Best Regards,


At 4:08 PM, Blogger Technology Junky said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 4:11 PM, Blogger Technology Junky said...

I wrote an interesting article regarding the merits of myspace for educating youth. You folks may find my perspective interesting in relation to this article.

At 5:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm affraid to say I found this article laughable. Myspace was created to keep away adults, to be exclusive of teachers and structured learning, we all know the safety risks with the site but at least you know enough about it to warn your children. If you keep trying to invade the community the teens have created you will simply drive them to take a different course, one in which no adults can participate, in which no parents no the risks or can protect their children.
Not everything is about education, myspace is about imagination, artistry and keeping incontact with friends as well as meeting people with similar interests to you. Leave education in the classroom and with the parents!

At 8:51 AM, Blogger Art said...

Katherine, I'd like to make a couple of points. First of all, MySpace was actually intended for kids. It was a site for independent musicians over 18 to network. Obviously, that has changed.

Beyond that, I still stand behind my contention that education should embrace social networks. The provide the kids with the tools they will need for the 21st century. At the time MySpace was actually the best place to do this. Regardless of the media portrayal, it was the safest and most secure social network.

My suggestion would in no way drive kids away from MySpace. I suggest setting up a closed community using the privacy settings. Other kids would have no idea it or teachers even exist at the site.

Since the writing of my original entry, things have changed considerably. There are now social networks such as Imbee which cater to education and would make much better environments than MySpace. Had they been around then, I would have suggested them instead of MySpace.

Thanks for your comment.


At 9:00 AM, Blogger Art said...

Corrections to my last comment...
1) I addressed it to Katherine, but it should have been to Anonymous.

2) I made a typo that should have said, "MySpace was actually NOT intended for kids."

At 2:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope i did not offend you.
I'm glad that you agree there are better methods and yes it does change swiftly, perhaps at the time this article was written it was that there were no other sites that would be more suitable.
I think that education should "embrace social networks" as you put it but think that places where this is the direct intention such as "imbee" that you mention are the places to do it.

At 3:10 PM, Blogger Art said...

I appreciate your concern about me possibly being offended, but rest assured that I was not, nor will I ever be offended by anyone honestly disagreeing with me. Expressing differences of opinions are the way we learn and grow. My email tagline say, "I am perfectly capable of learning from my mistakes. I will surely learn a great deal today." Thanks for your comments!


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