Young Adults and Social Media – a discussion?

I’m sure this will just be the first blog of many, following Friday’s ‘Teacher Training and Technologies’ conference at the University of Huddersfield.  My head has been spinning for days now with all that I more-or-less absorbed there; I was certainly inspired and I’m still figuring out what I learned.

What’s most present with me, though, is how much working with younger adults is given as a reason for limiting the use of social media in education.  I’ll be upfront here – I have no experience of teaching under-19s or parenting over-15s, so I’ve a four year experience gap which could account for the fact that I’ve never found any reason not to treat young people as equal thinkers, of one another and of me.  It seems to me that there could be something dangerously infantilising about the assumption that young adults need to be actively protected by their teachers, to the extent that activities that could potentially enhance their learning are denied to them without consultation.

Harsh?  Naive?  Maybe and I will prepare to stand corrected by anyone who can come right back at me with a rationale based on experience.  What I’d love is an open-minded discussion (I mean, rather than fixed-position debate).

My hope is that, given a chance to use social media safely in an education context, anyone who takes that chance will learn a lot about how to make their personal social media use safer too.  One of the many comments that has stayed with me since Friday is that Facebook, for example, isn’t the reason for bullying but the vehicle.  As are mobile phones, chat rooms, emails – and voices.  “Do we really want to start asking people to stop talking to one another?” asked one workshop participant.  Well…no.

The argument that young people need to be protected from social media at college or university is surely grounded in the assumption that they are not mature or wise enough to be able to keep themselves safe.  Of course this will sometimes be true – and twelve years’ teaching experience has shown me that it’s just as true of adults.  Bringing explicit discussions around safety and boundaries into the classroom, negotiating and providing good practice guidelines, facilitating students to think for themselves about their experiences – surely these are effective constructivist tools which can empower students to make themselves safer in life, as well as in their studies.

I’ve survived an attempt to bully me (by an adult) on Facebook so I do know how painful and undermining it can be.  My confidence took a wobble when this happened, early into my experimentation with Facebook for back-channel discussions.  Luckily, I had the resilience and support to take a step back, see how what had occurred  – and reconfigure my boundaries.  I learned a lot from that experience and it strengthened, rather than damaged me.  As a metaphor for life, it’s a powerful one.

I don’t teach under-19s but I train teachers who do.  I’d love to know how you think social networking could support young people’s engagement with their studies and whether or not you think you could help them keep it safe.


Author: TeachNorthern

We are hard working educators with passionate interest in Teaching for a Social Purpose. Everything we've learned is through observing colleagues and students, all of whom are committed to changing the world. And reading interesting stuff. We work at The Northern College in Barnsley and its mission (and thirty-eight year history) of social transformation makes it an ideal base to face the challenges of teaching adults in 21st century England.

4 thoughts on “Young Adults and Social Media – a discussion?”

  1. I guess I can. Come at this from a number of angles teaching side and youth worker side.
    We can either block it out or face it and lets face it Facebook is here for many its become the portal of choice from people to companies. In someways it’s a cyber street Corner for young people it’s there patch and if education is to reach them as teachers we need to take teaching to our students. One of the best ways is to make education relavant to them and at times that suit them.

    Before I say more remember 1 in 4 Open University (OU) students are under 25. when Facebook came along did they run for the hills no they set up facebook groups and left them to run understanding all too well students need to interact. As an OU student a can say it works.

    Like you say anyone no matter how old can need protection but as a youth worker I have seen this protection used as little more than a stick used by others to stop you going things not finding ways to things with the rules. In my mind policies that become unworkable are worse not having anything at all.

    I have seen many times the real benefit of treating young people as adults. I had some really good teachers who did just that equally I had collage lectures who treated you like an infant. The barrier that had to learning cannot be underestimated.

    Students will set up Facebook groups with or with out you if you think that’s wrong then take your blindfold off and stop dreaming. We can either stay blind and go on believing education stops outside our class room or join in and add to the colour of the students outside learning experience.

  2. I really enjoyed our workshop, and felt energised by most of the discussion. During the key-note – so ably given by James Clay I did look around the room as I felt that he was pushing an open door with the audience, yet in our workshop the structural barriers seemed to concern quite a few people. Safeguarding, child protection, ECM et al all seem to be prostituted in the name of what you so eloquently state is basically infantilising our young people. While I do have reservations about the function of social networking in a teaching and learning arena, I worry that by closing it down for even very young people in school, those skills of evaluation, measuring risk, criticality etc are not being developed in a real environment. By the way I am also seething with jealousy that not only can you take on facebook and win, you can also blog like a pro!

    1. Thanks both for your comments. You’ve helped me crystallise thinking I’ve been doing about something which is lacking from our Certs programme – a session on how to work with young people to help them develop those skills you describe, Alison. I can now feel the session gathering like candyfloss in my head (unwelcome glimpse into my creative process!) Samthewestie, very interesting stuff about the OU, am thinking maybe it’s worth chatting to them. Do either of you have any contacts?

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