Stop the Social Media Arms Race in School

Julian Assange - former pupil of.....?
Julian Assange - former pupil of.....?

This week I have mostly been a field ethnographer.  Basically I have been talking to my kids and finding out what they do with social media in school.

This came about from Mondays post about the use of mobile phones in schools. I also read a post by William Stites about why we need social media in schools on edSocialMedia .  What prompted my field ethnography was the phrase,‘arms race’  …….”by blocking these sites and not embracing what they have to offer we are only creating an arms race with our students and missing out on using these tools to connect with and provide new learning opportunities for our students.” 

Preliminary report on my field ethnography week as follows:

Observation 1: Banning mobile devices is unenforceable.
This was a simple test.  I sent a few texts to one of my kids. I got responses very rapidly. I’m not sure if these coincided with break times, but it was a quicker way to get hold of him than via school reception. This isn’t the first time I’ve done this. In urgent
situations I always use this channel first.

I did ask a few questions on the mobile phone ban.  It seems that the approach to enforcement is extremely variable, to quote…..”some of the old fossils go mad about phones, but most teachers are  OK”

Observation 2: The kids will win the social media arms race.
My questioning was directed at Minecraft Boy. He knows a bit about the internet, and how to reskin minecraft , whatever that involves. Key findings:

  • Computers are very common in school (thank you Tesco School Computer vouchers).
  • Pupils  pretty much have free access for ‘school related’ things they need to do.
  • Any social media platform you can think about is blocked. Not just Facebook, Bebo, MySpace etc, this also includes anything that looks remotely like a blog or a forum.
  • BBC  i Player and all of YouTube are blocked yet they watch videos in class……….?
  • Twitter is also blocked, yet the school and individual departments tweet.  Errr……. who are they tweeting to?
  • Internet searches are banned for unknown reasons, including random pages on Wikipedia.
  • The kids have found multiple ways around the system. At a basic level this involves ‘tricking’ the filters to continue your search. For a history project on the Titanic all searches were being blocked (first three letters of the name apparently), so they used RMS Titanic. I have heard of other schools where kids routinely hack around the firewalls.
  • Despite the blocks, everyone participates in some sort of discussion forum or plays games on-line. Once the authorities have found the latest area of activity and blocked it, the crowd just moves on to a new one. The whole cycle just moves on, an ‘arms race’ or what!?

William Stites makes the point in this post that “technology is ahead of the laws and ethics… the world of technology is changing quicker than we can keep up…… Content filters, policies and guideline aren’t the final answer. If we are to have our students become true citizens we need to it though teaching.”

One final comment from Minecraft Boy. “They would be better off allowing us to
use this stuff and learning about it. There are 100’s of us working on this stuff every day. A few geeks in the Council IT department will never stop it. One of us might be the next Julian Assange or some
mega hacker……..”

So, what’s the PONT.

  1. Mobile phone bans in schools are unenforceable.
  2. Banning access to social media is an arms race that is unwinnable.
  3. We would be better off engaging pupils with social media and mobile technology, exploiting the learning opportunities and teaching Digital Citizenship .

Image source:

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

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