Just as more students are becoming adept at using social networking tools for school and in their personal lives, a majority of school administrators are debating the role of the popular Web tools for learning and are working to control or limit their use in classrooms, according to a survey by the Consortium for School Networking.
While most administrators agree that so-called Web 2.0 applications like the collaborative wiki pages, media-sharing sites, and virtual learning environments have educational value, they are somewhat hesitant to expand their use in schools.
“Districts institute formal policies mainly in areas that surface as problems,” the report says. Some tools, according to respondents, are seen simply as time-wasters or distractions, and increase the potential that students will access inappropriate materials or distribute personal information.
Seven in 10 school districts, for example, prohibit students from accessing social networking and chat rooms in school, but allow blogging, file sharing, interactive games, and online forums as part of lessons. Curriculum directors and administrators in urban districts were the most likely to support less-restrictive policies.
As the pace of technology integration in schools quickens, and more and more educators see the practical benefits many tech tools have for student learning, administrators are working to recast their policies, according to the survey. But many educators are concerned about safety and appropriate use of devices during school time.
More than half of the 1,200 superintendents, technology directors, and curriculum directors surveyed said that collaborative Web tools have had a positive impact on students’ school work. And nearly two thirds reported that use of Web technologies had helped students take control of their learning.
“School districts are only now developing new policies and practices regarding Web 2.0,” the report states. “Most are exploring the potential of Web 2.0 as they seek to build student awareness, keep students safe, and develop a sense of responsibility and rights related to Internet use among students, staff, and community.”
Even so, most students face restrictions on technology usage in school that contradict their growing reliance on personal devices for communication, collaboration, and information-gathering, according to another recent report.
In the latest survey from the Speak Up National Research Project, for example, students said they were using personal technology tools more readily to study subject matter, collaborate with classmates, and complete assignments than they were several years ago, but they are generally asked to “power down” at school and abandon the electronic resources they rely on for learning outside of class. ( “Students See Schools Inhibiting Their Use of New Technologies,” March 23, 2009)
Ramping up technology use in effective ways will require improving teachers’ capacity to teach with new tools, the COSN survey found. More than 95 percent of district administrators in the survey agreed that teaching with Web 2.0 tools will require a new kind of professional development for teachers. At this point, a majority of administrators reported, Web-based networking tools are not a prominent part of the school curriculum.
A version of this article appeared in the May 13, 2009 edition of Education Week as Administrators See Potential But Limmit Use of Web 2.0 Tools