The study, Creating and Connecting, which surveyed 1,277 students finds that:
- 96% of students reports using social networking sites such as MySpace or Facebook
- 20% say they have seen inappropriate pictures on the sites
- 18% have seen inappropriate language
- 7% say strangers have asked for personal information
- 3% have been repeatedly contacted by strangers trying to communicate with them
- 7% have experienced cyberbullying
- 4% have had conversations that made them uncomfortable
- 2% say a stranger tried to arrange a meeting offline
- .08% have actually met someone from an online encounter without their parents' permission
The study concludes that "School district leaders seem to believe that negative experiences with social networking are more common than students and parents report. More than half of districts (52%) say that students providing personal information online is a 'significant problem,' yet only 3% of students say they've ever given out their email addresses or IM screen names."
Of most interest, the study also reports
- 59% of students talk about education-related topics such as college planning, careers , political ideas
- 50% talk specifically about schoolwork
The study wisely advised schools, "whose responsibility is to prepare students to transition to adult life with the skills they need to succeed in [business and higher education], to reckon with it" and "strike the appropriate balance between protecting their students and providing a 21st century education."
They also recommend districts
- Consider using social networking sites for staff communication and professional development
- Find ways to harness the educational value of social networking
- Ensure equitable access
- Reexamine social networking policies
- Encourage social networking companies to increase educational value
While one needs to be slightly skeptical of a study partially funded by Microsoft and Verizon, here, at last, is a pro-social networking study district administrators may listen to. As Media Specialists responsible for preparing students to survive and flourish in a digital information world, we need to be strong vocal advocates for teaching responsible use of technology as an alternative to outright banning.