The education listservs have been all abuzz lately regarding the “student blog” menace. Most of the attention has focused on mySpace, a service that allows students to build online web pages including photos, blogs, comments, and links to friends’ pages. Opinions about student use of the site ranges from strong concerns about unhealthy student behavior to a new format for old adolescent playground behavior.
One must be sure not to confuse serious blogs with social network blog features. Many students run serious, “adult-style” blogs at conventional blogging sites such as Blogger. In contrast, the blog component in mySpace is dramatically underused, as students spend most of their time chatting and posting photos rather than writing lengthy blog posts.
I wonder why adults get so nervous about unmoderated online spaces without consideration of the many other unsupervised spaces within which students operate. Free time at school, private time at home, sports, clubs, and social events on weekends all provide many opportunities for adolescents to get into trouble in the absence of adults. Teens learn by making mistakes. Though we should not encourage them to make the worst of mistakes, control or preaching are not viable alternatives.
Schools tend to react to social networks in two ways. In some cases, the online world intrudes on school life, when a student or parent brings an online site to the school’s attention, especially if the content slanders a student, teacher, or school administration. In other cases, motivated individuals within the school choose to introduce education programs about social networks before something bad happens on a large scale. Programs described on education listservs tend to address both students and parents. Either scenario leads to small-scale or schoolwide conversations about social networking and its impact on children.
Whose space is it, exactly? Adults tend to feel that all social network content is public, since it can be freely accessed by anyone. High school students are growing increasingly aware of broader social contexts, although some are further along than others. This may help explain why some students knowingly publish photos, full names, and school affiliations on public web sites without giving much concern to privacy. Have many parents viewed their children’s mySpace sites and had meaningful conversations about them? Would students consider this an invasion of their private social space? I would love to know.