by Keighty Kay
Paper discussing the pros and cons of allowing and using MySpace in the classroom.
Technology in Education:
The Pros and Cons of Web-Based Socialization
ETC 567: Technology, Society, and Education
Professor Laura Sujo de Montes, Ph.D.
June 25, 2007
Foundations of Technology in Education
The idea that technology has a vital role in the classroom is not a new one. Different types of technology have been integrated into school curricula since chalk first took to slate. “The challenge to educators to embrace technology is almost as old as the inventions themselves” (Cambre & Hawkes, 2004, p. 3).
As educational theories have evolved, technology has evolved with them. According to Cambre & Hawkes, “Early accounts of technology use in schools describe enterprising teachers literally putting out fires in lantern-slide and motion-picture projectors” (2004, p. 4). This, in turn, paved the way for the first arguments about why technology should not be used in teaching. Not to be dissuaded, the teachers adapted, developed new resources, and—despite the fears of many—started what might be considered a coup in the realm of educational technology. The teachers’ “creativity and interest led, not to their extinction as teachers, but to an extension of their role and eventually to the birth of a new field; quietly instructional technologists came into being” (Cambre & Hawkes, 2004, p. 4).
Throughout the history of education, technology integration has been met with high praise, and similar dissatisfaction—each milestone presenting a novelty coupled with a roadblock. “Because of that, it is incumbent upon educators, in their adoption of technology, to do so intelligently and with reflection” (Cambre & Hawkes, 2004, p. 11).
Current Issues in Educational Technology
With that in mind, one of the biggest challenges facing teachers today is how to effectively integrate technology in the classroom. With limited school budgets and untrained faculty, the manifestation of a fluid union between technology and education seems far from being realized.
Wood, et al (2005) explain how current technology integration in many classrooms has been met with some scrutiny:
Technology changes rapidly, particularly with respect to Internet and web-based applications. Prior experience and success with this innovation are necessary for teachers to develop a sense of self-efficacy and a feeling of mastery before they are comfortable integrating this technology within their teaching (Eastin & La Rose, 2000). Teachers face challenges in keeping current, let alone ahead, in their planning. The rapidity of change and the flexibility needed to plan around such a dynamic system increase workload, vigilance and frustration to a level not experienced in other lesson preparations (p. 202).
This concern is not limited to the use of educationally-intended technology, but extends into the realm of the social world-view.
“There is a widely shared concern that the implementation of technology into teaching and learning practices has not succeeded as well as expected. The use of educational technology is still at a comparatively low level” (Ilomäki, et al., 2006, p. 249).
If there is a concern that teachers are technophobes when it comes to using the technology designed for them to use in the classroom, there is a whole other issue that is created when looking at using the internet—more specifically, social networking tools--as a possible venue for learning.
Technology and Society: MySpace
In addition to tools that have been designed for classroom use, technology has opened doors for students that have caused great controversy. The incredible popularity of social networking websites sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and Friendster have prompted difficult issues for teachers, parents and school systems. The focus in this section of the paper will be on the social networking site, MySpace, and how debates have been sparked about its academic validity.
From a student standpoint, a site such as MySpace could be very appealing. The site provides—free of charge—a place for people to post anything a student might want. Blogs, pictures, surveys, music, and videos (to name a few) are all examples of what can individualize a students’ MySpace profile.
From a teaching standpoint, the free and interactive blog tool on the account could be used for class writing assignments and peer assessment. If nothing else, a blog might provide a creative outlet for a student who would otherwise not be writing anything at all.
“If MySpace…[is] commanding enough student attention to bog university networks and monopolize a significant portion of undergraduate social life then it behooves educators to understand how such sites operate, the ways in which our students operate on the sites, and how their interactions and relationships with the sites can be incorporated into our teaching” (Brown & Donohue, 2007).
From a constructivist standpoint, it could be argued that MySpace provides a truly open forum for students to express ideas and share knowledge. There is also a feeling of accessibility and informality that is appealing to an otherwise generally introverted generation.
Bortree’s research focuses on how females use blogs as a means of self-expression and that online communities allow girls to be more outgoing than they might otherwise be in the classroom. “Weblogs help build intimacy in friendships by allowing the girls to communicate what they don’t want to say. One girl said, ‘it makes it easier to communicate. We would probably not discuss our problems as much if we didn’t blog’” (2005, p. 28). In a classroom environment, especially one comprised of very self-conscious students, a place like MySpace allows them to show another side of themselves that they might otherwise not share. They might also feel more comfortable freely expressing opinions and ideas in this type of environment.
“As children spend time engaging with digital cultures, they learn how to be proficient in these domains 'informally' and that in addition to this proficiency, they build up a substantial amount of knowledge about these media and experiences; however, this knowledge only exists informally - as a sort of latency (Buckingham & Sefton-Green, 1994). We examined how this presumed reservoir of informal knowledge might be accessed and whether it could be transformed by being applied in production-based situations” (Willett, 2007).
At this point, too little seems to be known about the long-term benefits and potential for using this type of tool in a learning environment. It is also a fairly difficult forum to regulate. As a result, MySpace has endured a high volume of criticism from teachers, administration, parents, and ISPs alike.
The overwhelming case against MySpace in the classroom is that it is highly unregulated and there is virtually no security for who can post and who can view information on the site. The other major issue of concern to adults is that students are prone to putting far too much information out on the internet about themselves—thus making students targets for online predators. Teachers and parents worry that students will become victimized by having too much personal information available to the public.
“I think one of the biggest concerns is kids putting out personal information about themselves: saying where they go to school, listing activities, maybe even posting their actual picture, which would make them very vunerable to online predators, and people who—basically--do not have their best interests at heart” (Grant, June 21, 2006), said Brittany Rosenburg, 8th grade history teacher. In the podcast, Rosenburg also claims that the way in which the world works right now is not conducive to students being able to have a safe, online environment in which to post pictures and stay in touch with friends.
In another podcast, the ISP director for nearly all Oklahoma’s school districts is vehemently against students having access at all. “Myspace.com is a pretty rough place for K-12 to be. We currently block MySpace.com in all 77 of our school districts…much of it is certainly not suitable for K-12” (Grant, June 3, 2007). When asked if blocking the site was an issue, he explained that implementation and doing the police work for schools can sometimes be difficult. He admitted that it’s very difficult to enforce the blocking of the sites because the URLs are so easily moved around. There is very little the government can do (or has done) to enforce zoning on something as intangible as electronic media.
However, in 2006, legislation was introduced in the U.S. Congress “To amend the Communications Act of 1934 to require recipients of universal service support for schools and libraries to protect minors from commercial social networking websites and chat rooms” (Fitzptrick, 2006). Jenkins explains that, “In theory, the bill would allow schools to disable these filters for use in educationally specified contexts, yet in practice, most schools will simply lock down their computers and walk away. Teachers who wanted to exploit the educational benefits of these tools would face increased scrutiny and pressure to discontinue these practices” (2006).
The criticism is not limited only to student abuse. Teachers have been accused of taking advantage of the open forum to make inappropriate comments. In a recent case, a suburban Washington D. C. elementary teacher made comments that were deemed unprofessional while blogging on MySpace.
Many educators now have personal blogs, and it’s certainly not unheard of for them to use them to complain about education politices, sometimes using blunt language. Generally, though, these blogs are maintained as either independent sites, or with 3rd party blog hosting companies like Blogger or Typepad, which don’t have specific connections with education or young people (Carvin, 2007).
This and other stories are in no short supply. Teachers are at risk for speaking freely or for affording students the same access. MySpace has become so stigmatized that many schools forbid teachers from even having profiles.
In other situations, students have used MySpace as a venue for libel against teachers or administration. A few months ago, Eric Trosh, a principal from Hickory High School in Pennsylvania, filed litigation against students who defamed him in December of 2005. Students had posted a fake MySpace profile. “All of the posts were mean-spirited; they accused Trosch of using steroids, marijuana, and alcohol; suggested that he had sex with students; and said that his interests included ‘Transgender, Appreciators of Alcoholic Beverages.’”(Anderson, 2007).
This use of online space has put many teachers and administrators at odds with students over their ability to access and obtain MySpace accounts—in and outside of school.
“Universities have also expressed concerns with MySpace, though these concerns generally focus on issues of access, classroom interference, and representation, not necessarily safety” (Brown & Donohue, 2007).
“Popular discourse that positions children and young people as being at risk from the dangers of digital technology implies that technology needs to be carefully taught and controlled, as children and young people are unable to learn the correct and safe way to use digital technology on their own” (Willett, 2007). Whether or not this is the case, without the opportunity to discover the internet through experiential learning in a controlled environment, students will be subject to confronting the world of online socializing in some venue or another.
Because the community is built on common activity, learning involves relationships, the construction of an identity in relation to the community and the development of particular practices (shared ways of doing things). Using the term 'legitimate peripheral participation', Lave and Wenger (1991) examine ways learners join a community of practice on the periphery and gradually move towards the centre of the community as they become involved in the practices of that community. This concept has been applied to the learning digital technology and cultures in spaces such as social networking sites, as young people immerse themselves in the language, skills and discourses of communities online (Davies, 2006; Leander & Frank, 2006 as cited by Willet, 2007).
Without much question, the subject is still surrounded by quite a bit of controversy. With pressure on all sides, administrators are feeling the burn. “Schools are uncertain what level of responsibility they should have over what their students do online – some are worried about what they are doing on library computers and others seek to extend their supervision into what teens are doing on their own time and off school grounds” (Jenkins, 2006). When it comes down to it, it’s a matter of how much a school is willing to risk using a site that has dubious intentions, and focus its applicability to something relatively benign.
“Suppose, for the sake of argument, that MySpace critics are correct and that MySpace is, in fact, exposing large numbers of teens to high-risk situations, then shouldn't the role of educational institutions be to help those teens understand those risks and develop strategies for dealing with them?” (Jenkins, 2006).
With the development of technology integration in the classroom, there are always challenges. Many technological advancements have been welcome changes in schools, but some aspects of being “hooked-up” have created controversy and legal concerns.
With the introduction of MySpace and its increasing popularity among students, many teachers, parents, administrators and law-enforcement officials saw the potential for danger and predatory activity. While this seems to be a prevailing criticism of MySpace in schools, the site has also allowed for student social interaction on a new level, and—in some cases—may be a way for students to have a creative and social outlet and community.
“The research in this area often celebrates online learning and collaboration” says Willett on the potential of sites such as MySpace for community learning. “However, one might want to ask about power relations which are enacted in these environments, how relations of inequity are being rehearsed rather than challenged, and what happens when a member of the community does not want to take on the identity on offer or wants to challenge the practices of the community. Again, further research into the social contexts of the learning environment is required” (2007, p.179).
The future holds many possibilities for how students may choose to socially interact. In the past, new boundaries were crossed with the invention of telegraphs, telephones, and television. The introduction of these communication tools allowed people to network and relay information in ways they previous generations may have found dangerous, threatening or even irrelevant.
These same questions linger today, and are posed by newer and newer generations of skeptics and critics.
“We believe familiarizing oneself with the sites and with the genre-specific kind of writing and description that occurs there is the first step to effectively introducing MySpace in the classroom” (Brown & Donohue, 2007).
And like any other new or potential teaching tool, MySpace and its ilk will have to pass the tests of efficacy and time.
Anderson, N. (2007, April 10). MySpace prank gone bad leads to misuse of school resources, multiple lawsuits. Ars Technica. Retrieved June 24, 2007, from http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20070410-myspace-prank-gone-bad-leads-to-mi...
Bortree, D. S. (2005). Presentation of self on the web: an ethnographic study of teenage girls’ weblogs. Education, Communication & Information, 5(1), 25-39.
Brown, J. J. & Donohue, L. (2007, Spring). In between lauding and deriding: a pedagogical review of MySpace. Currents in Electronic Literacy. Retrieved June 25, 2007, from http://currents.cwrl.utexas.edu/spring2007/brown_and_donohue.
Cambre, M., & Hawkes, M. (2004). Toys, tools and teachers: the challenges of technology. Lanham, MD: ScarecrowEducation.
Carvin, A. (2007, June 12). How not to use MySpace in the classroom [blog]. Learning.Now. Retrieved June 18, 2007, from http://www.pbs.org/teachers/learning.now/.
Fitzpatrick, Rep. M. [sponsor] (2006, May 9). Bill HR 5319 IH, the "Deleting Online Predators Act of 2006" Tech Law Journal. Retrieved June 23, 2007, from http://www.techlawjournal.com/cong109/bills/house/hr5319/hr5319ih.asp.
Grant, M. [host] (2006, June 21). The web and the classroom: a teacher's view on MySpace.com and how to best protect children from online threats [podcast], Current Perspectives on MySpace.com and Our Schools. Retrieved June 20, 2007, from http://www.podcast.net/show/55818.
Grant, M. [host] (2006, June 3). To block or not to block?: an educational ISP’s challenge with protecting students from MySpace.com risks/Internet filtering in schools: staying one step ahead of the kids [podcast]. Current Perspectives on MySpace.com and Our Schools. Retrieved June 20, 2007, from http://www.podcast.net/show/55818.
Ilomäki, L., Lakkala, M., & Paavola, S. (2006). Case studies of learning objects used in school settings. Learning, Media, & Technology, 31(3), 249-267.
Jenkins, H. (2006, May 30). Discussion: MySpace and deleting online predators act (DOPA) [blog]. Retrieved June 22, 2007, from http://web.mit.edu/cms/People/henry3/myspaceissues.htm.
Willett, R. (2007). Technology, pedagogy and digital production: a case study of children learning new media skills. Learning, Media and Technology, 32(2), 167-181.
Wood, E., Mueller, J., Willoughby, T., Specht, J., & Deyoung, T. (2005). Teachers’ perceptions: barriers and supports to using technology in the classroom. Education, Communication & Information. 5(2). 183-206.