Subject Material

Is there Room for Both a Facebook and a Textbook in Class?

Published: 03.03.2010, Updated: 03.03.2017
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It seems that some students find it hard to focus on traditional school activities. Numerous tempting web sites offer themselves for our students just a click away - and it seems that all our friends have entered the classroom as well, through Facebook. Is it all too much for a good learning environment? Some maintain that students and teachers have to learn to deal with it - others want restrictions and control of networks. At some schools principals have banned the use of Facebook. Do we want tougher measures or not?

Facebook NetworkFacebook Network / CC BY-SA 2.0 Classrooms have changed little throughout history. A boy from the 1930s would easily find his way around a typical classroom of 2010: blackboard, rows of desks and text books. Not many institutions have altered so little as schools. However, things are now changing. The technological revolution is sweeping in creating a foundation for excitement, conflict and confusion.

New Classroom Issues

Teachers are troubled by a whole new array of challenges - such as students straying off on the internet, printer malfunctions, 404s (network error) and bullying via the Internet and cell phones. The upside is that teachers now have at their disposal fresh and varied subject material from a variety of sources on the Internet. The options are limitless; which again is problematic . . .or challenging, as we like to call it. The options of digital learning are very impressive - blindingly so according to critics. And obviously there are activities that are better off without the computers humming in front of us - like class discussions. We all know the feeling of talking to someone who frequently steals glances at a computer screen. It is not very encouraging. Thus knowing when not to go digital is just as important as knowing when to.

Computers - Tools or Toys?

How do we maintain discipline in a classroom that has many tempting web sites and social fora available? Many schools are frustrated by students’ lack of discipline. Having a book where everyone is on the same page leaves less room for distracting factors. The temptations of MSN, YouTube and Facebook often prove too much, not only for students in the classroom, but also for employees in many companies. Can we afford the distractions? Having multiple channels of infotainment available is a new type of challenge that we lack experience in handling. The easy solution is to ban web access and crack down on offenders, but that will hardly make students more responsible and motivated for learning. We need to create an awareness that a computer at school is a tool for learning and not a toy. Or might there even be room for both - toys and tools?

Ethical dilemmas

Another issue that the digital revolution is throwing at us is the harassment of others in social media. Some seem to find it easier to attack people verbally from behind a keyboard than face to face. Many of these attacks are anonymous as well, with the writer hiding behind a nickname. A sad result is that teachers and students all to often fall victim to ugly criticism and defamation of character made public to the whole world. How can schools help students develop an internet conscience?

Suspend, Deny or Discuss?

What can we do to tackle these problems and answer classroom challenges?

Do we

  • shut down specific web sites
  • ban certain files
  • install monitoring software
  • ban computers all together
  • ban user accounts of those who don't follow the rules?

Or do we

  • wait for students to mature
  • discuss and agree on rules for good conduct
  • let students themselves take action against those who don't follow the rules
  • encourage teachers to suspend disobedient students from class?

These are but a few of the many approaches to reducing the unwanted side-effects of net-based teaching. Measures taken will vary between subjects, schools and classes. There is no doubt though that discussing and debating the issue is a first step towards creating a better awareness around the responsibilities of all the individuals who take part in creating a learning environment.