As long as our schools remain committed to the view that social media is a disruptive force that needs to be controlled and monitored they are failing their students. Using discipline to regulate student social media activities without first delivering purposeful education only perpetuates the prevailing negative view of social media.
Much of the digital citizenship education offered by schools starts from this negative bent. Mantras of "be nice online" and "only post items your grandmother would approve" provide guidance on what not to post to eliminate the negative outcomes. This has had a chilling effect on how students view social media. This chilling effect is often compounded by bringing in local police to address students on the dangers of social media. Using the tenets of social media's permanence and discoverability as a warning to students, the message is based on mitigating risks rather than exploiting opportunities. Without a higher calling for social media, most students have heeded this advice and moved their social media activities to Snapchat, After School, Whisper, Tumblr, Yik Yak, Ask.fm and other social media platforms that falsely promise our teens disappearance, privacy and anonymity. The end result of this migration is a noticeable void of content on platforms where people will expect to find student content.
Social media now plays a role in the due diligence validation for college admissions, athletic and academic scholarships, employment and other matters where scrutiny of a person’s character and credentials come under consideration. Social media is disrupting many long standing processes and our schools need to properly prepare their students for this upheaval by delivering pragmatic and productive social media education.
To elevate social media's place in today’s educational environment, we first need to come to terms with recognizing how essential social media skills have become for most professional and academic pursuits. Declarations from the Coalition of Access, Affordability and Success and Harvard’s Turning the Tide report call for a dramatic change to the way students are assessed for admission to our most prominent colleges and universities. Social media provides a direct and accessible window to a student’s accomplishments, community engagement, academic skills and activities. If we take a step back to reflect, we would see that legacy methods of student scrutiny such as standardized test scores, college essays, resumes, cover letters and other traditional metrics have lost their essential purpose in the social world.
Colleges and employers are using social media to assess the character of their candidates, making sure these people will contribute to their culture and community in a positive way. Employers are increasingly turning to the proactive use of social media to identify and recruit qualified candidates. According to Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, “the extent to which individuals have established a strong and compelling online presence is having an impact on who gets the interview and job.”
A digital portfolio of student work product is much more demonstrative of a student’s capabilities than a standardized test. A series of blog posts is much more demonstrative of a student’s writing ability and thought processes than a college essay. Social media posts showing commitment to a club, cause or an activity conveys a student's actual level of engagement in ways that listing those activities on a paper resume simply cannot.
What these trends show is that social media is much more than a nuisance that needs to be regulated. Schools can no longer manage social media activities out of ignorance. Administrators, counselors and faculty must come to terms with social media as the important developmental and communication platform it has become. Students need to be taught how the broadcast social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Google+ play an integral role in their overall development and preparation for college and career pursuits. Students must be taught the fundamentals of these platforms: how to establish their digital identities; how to purposefully build an authentic and reflective social media presence; how to engage in social conversations; and how to network in the digital world.
Social media is the new student permanent record and will be the primary means by which they are scrutinized and their credibility assessed. If educators fail to recognize this trend, we will be failing our students.