Category Archives: Social Media

The Benefits of Social Media

An article on Mashable titled, “Facebook Makes You Smarter, While Twitter Makes You Dumber” caught my eye a couple of years back. Dr. Tracey Alloway of Stirling University was quoted as saying, “On Twitter you receive an endless stream of information, but it’s also very succinct. You don’t have to process that information. Your attention span is being reduced and you’re not engaging your brain and improving nerve connections.” Alloway studied youth and their use of Facebook and found that the social network platform actually increased their working memory and improved IQ scores. The study fascinated me. So, I hopped on a plane and went to visit her. Here is a video clip from the interview with Alloway talking about the benefits of engaging in online social networks.

The original news story on Dr. Alloway’s study from the UK Telgraph also mentions that excessive texting is associated with lower IQ scores.

danah boyd and Social Media in the Classroom

Social Media in the classroom has become a hot issue in education. I’ve talked to several teachers who want to create opportunities for students to communicate using the same technological platforms teens have already grown accustomed to. I interviewed Microsoft Social Media Researcher and Harvard Fellow, danah boyd about how teens connect using social media and asked her to suggest some tips for teachers wanting to use these platforms. I also spoke with Educational Researcher Dr. Tracey Alloway from Stirling University in Scotland about the benefits of social media in Education including the building of working memory.

Interview with danah boyd


Interview with Dr. Tracey Alloway


Paper on Participatory Cultures
Download here

Social Media Advisory is not a Policy

The Ontario College of Teachers’ release this week of a Social Media advisory takes education into the 21st century by acknowledging that teachers and students are using the medium. Unfortunately, headlines like “Teachers banned from friending students on Facebook” and online rants about teachers with pedophilia-like tendencies show several members of the media and public have misinterpreted the advisory. Advisory is “advice”, not a rule handed down through a policy. Why is this distinction important? Because it helps us define purpose. The advice outlined in the document is meant to protect teachers from potential legal ramifications that can take place through misinterpretations of text communications. It also serves as a reminder for teachers to continue to follow, as we have always followed, The Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession and Ethical Standards for the Teaching Profession. Although, this reminder should really go without saying. Teachers have always understood that their lives are predominantly public and they must act accordingly. Online social media is much like being in public coffee shops and malls and should be an easy transition for teachers.


The advisory is directed towards teachers as its audience. Unfortunately, some members of the public and media looking in, took it upon themselves to “read between the lines”, believing the advice to teachers was laced with a hidden message warning the public to protect themselves from the misguided and predatory intentions of teachers who troll the online world. However, to be fair, the OCT writers didn’t do much to steer public opinion away from the negativity, especially by including phrases like “cellphones are the gateway to child pornography”. Such a bad call on the part of the writers. Inciting fear is a great way to get people to sit up and take notice but it does little to foster public trust in teachers. It also does little to encourage teachers who currently sit on the fence with technology to use social media in the classroom.


Parents already trust teachers with their children every day in the classroom. So, why is it that when the classroom goes online, some members of the public think teachers’ ethics change and the relationships are negatively affected? Do they really think that the technology dictates our behaviour? The public needs to give teachers more credit.


There are 60-thousand teachers in Ontario and only a few, very rare cases of teachers communicating inappropriately with students on-line. In fact, social media actually works completely against this. It encourages people to behave the same way online as they do in person by predominantly taking place in a public space. In these spaces, everyone knows that your words can and will be passed on through the community circle. That’s actually its purpose and so it serves as one of the most transparent communication platforms between teachers and students. Even private messaging doesn’t necessarily present a problem. It is just like the private conferences we’ve always had with students needing guidance on school-work and not wanting to be subjected to the scrutiny of their peers. There are many times when students are too embarrassed to ask for clarification or admit they need extra help in front of their peers.


Outlining your expectations in advance with students and discussing digital citizenship and privacy in class brings everyone in line with the appropriate use for social media in the classroom. Following this practice and modeling appropriate behaviour can only help students. And if anything inappropriate should surface, there is a textual record or paper trail.

(photo courtesy of Author: Beto Steimber, Wikimedia Commons)

The Importance of Teaching Digital Citizenship

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory / Stock Photos

The story out of Vancouver this week about visuals of the gang rape of a teen-aged girl being passed around Facebook and cell phones was so horrifyingly sad. The speed of transfer of information can seriously amplify situations when teens are not taught digital rights and responsibilities. We have to remember that it’s not the technology that’s the problem, it’s the use of the technology. The user’s values dictate the way a medium is used. This is why we need adults to be present in teen social space as guides. We can do this partly through the implementation of a mandatory digital citizenship and literacy course in all our schools. Teens need adults who are available to them and can be trusted to act on their behalf.

I do not advocate for complete invasion of teen social space, but we need to have a presence. This is a very delicate balance since teens need some of their own private space to practice socializing within youth circles and for finding their identities. If they feel adults are encroaching too far into this territory, they will look for alternate spaces to keep adults out. That’s what made texting among youth popular in the first place.

The lack of empathy and humanity these youth showed is heart-breaking. The keen interest and voyeurism displayed over such a violent act -alarming. We have to ask ourselves what society will look like in the future if we fail to find the delicate balance of adult presence in teens’ online and linked worlds.

Opening up Facebook to Education

FindYourSearch / Stock Photos

I wasn’t surprised at the negative comments that appeared in the story write-up about the Waterloo Region Public school board planning to open its firewall to Facebook this September. Any time anything “new” is explored in education, wide-spread skepticism and reservation become rampant. I do find it hard to believe that not one student The Record spoke with felt that Facebook should be openly welcome in the schools. Or, maybe students weren’t asked about the potential benefits at all. Certainly, the experts in social media were not consulted.

I just returned this week from Scotland where I interviewed Dr. Tracey Alloway of Stirling University about using Facebook as a learning tool. Alloway has completed extensive research in the area and is currently meeting with her research team to write up and publish the results of her findings. What she told me was that social media, particularly Facebook, builds and exercises working memory –an important part of processing and managing incoming information. She likens working memory to a series of post-it notes that are sorted and pieced together to develop comprehension of a greater concept. Her studies also showed that using Facebook can actually increase the IQs of teens, improve multi-tasking skills, and raise Oxytocin levels –a chemical in the brain that helps us feel pleasure and fight depression.

While it is likely that students will continue to use Facebook to socialize, the novelty will wear off and with some guidance, they will find academically productive uses for the social media tool as well. Cyberbullying will become much less of a concern as teachers and parents become a guiding presence. Study groups, peer tutoring, and career networks will continue to develop as learning continues during and after school hours. With some lessons in digital literacy and digital citizenship, students will have a safe and empowering forum in which to communicate in the anytime, anyplace world they have created for themselves.