Pete Bell gives his view.
Teachers think social networkers get poor grades
According to a recent (Nov-10) BBC report one in four teachers in the UK say children with the poorest grades are those who do the most online social networking and two-thirds of teachers questioned said homework was poor as it was being rushed so children could chat online. The report also indicated that 58% of teachers believe that spelling was suffering in the digital age.
Is social networking a waste of time?
So what does this mean? Are ‘low-achieving’ children opting out of education, ‘wasting their time’ on social networking sites (SNS)? Is the ‘average’ child being distracted because the curriculum is not engaging enough for them, especially as it has to compete with a multitude of new and exciting distractions elsewhere? This came to mind when I read the article, but then, so did “Oh no! Not this old chestnut, again!”… so I decided to investigate the claims made as a result of the survey.
How do teachers know which students use social networking sites?
First off then… How do teachers know? I don’t believe that teachers (myself included) are in any position to comment on how much (or little) time their students spend using SNS, or other ‘distracters’. Therefore, I am not sure their opinion really provides much in the way of reliability.
I don’t believe that teachers are in any position to comment on how much time their students spend using social networking sites
Is social networking really the cause of rushed homework?
Secondly, even if they do know that their children with the poorest grades do the most social networking, have they established that it is the online social networking that is causing the poor grades, or that homework is poor because children are rushing off to communicate with friends? To help look at that, I’ll point you to a group of people who (perhaps) spend a proportionately large amount of time interacting with social networking technology. I call them my PLN (personal learning network). I have been blown away by their endeavours to provide children with opportunities to use social networking technology in their education, encouraging the development of skills in research, collaboration, cooperation, literacy, numeracy, geography, history, art and design to name but a few and that is just Y6 students. So, your children “do the most social networking” will it cause them to have poor grades? I don’t think so. Indeed, if you look at this JCAL study, you will read about students’ increasing engagement as well as a .5 increase in their GPA! Then there is the statement from Tanya Byron in SecEd:
“Students that show e-maturity can show an increase in two grades. That’s the difference between having a C or an A. But it is not only in outcomes, using technology can help inspire students creatively.”
The issue is behavioural, not technological
What causes poor grades is a young person’s decision to use the technology inappropriately. Once again (and I say this a lot!) the issue is a behavioural, not technological. I am completely unwilling to accept that the use of these technologies is any different than going out to play sport or meeting up with mates to hang out, or watching TV. You can do all these things appropriately and lead a balanced enriched life as a result. As Ralph Schroeder is quoted as saying ”The web presents novel ethical dilemmas, not ethical novelty.”
21st century learners adapting to 19th century educational ideologies.
I will not attempt to discuss these ethical dilemmas, nor the resulting behaviour of young people online. However, it is something that naturally follows on from my previous point and so, instead I would recommend this article in the NY Times which addresses the challenges faced by children learning in a digital age and they go waybeyond the perceived notion that interaction with digital technology affects their spelling! I believe the article highlights the phenomenal way that children are adapting to the multiple stimuli around them. They are 21st century learners adapting to 19th century educational ideologies.
The research was conducted by a company motivated to find these results
However, it is not the opinions of teachers that raised the biggest concern with this article. Far more so was the way in which the foundation research was conducted. The report states that the survey was commissioned by JCA, (a company which provides school trips) and quotes a JCA spokeswoman,Janie Burt:
“Rather than relying on life experiences, educational travel and face to face interaction with others, children are becoming obsessed with social networking and this is shaping their attitudes instead”.
Once again, JCA provide school trips. I am sure they are unhappy that school trips are competing with other experiences. But, “obsessed”?
After gathering some feedback from colleagues, I learnt that Onepoll was used to conduct the survey. Onepoll pays respondents to take part in surveys and asks questions such as: “Which household object would you not want to live without at Christmas?” Possible responses included:
TV, Christmas Tree, Dining Room Table, Sofa, PVR (e.g. Sky+), Bed
Based on some people’s responses, it would be easy to conclude (quite wrongly) that people would prefer to have a TV rather than a bed over Christmas. The possible future ‘deductions’ that could be made are endless. This is the ‘Research says’, ‘9 out of 10 cats’ culture of the tabloid press and I am very disappointed to see it used in this context. As for social networking “shaping their attitudes”, the devolution of power from a centrally controlled and edited news source to a free and collaborative public body of knowledge may be seen by some as a good thing, especially if we are otherwise forced to rely on articles like this for information!
Do you believe that social networking leads to poorer grades?
Is social networking a waste of students’ time?
How can social networking be used to improve performance?