The Social Network Block

The following blog post has been written for students. It will appear in this month's Sanborn Voice (student newspaper):

To Block or Not to Block Social Networking Sites at Sanborn?

This is a question that I have agonized over for the past few months. Not a day has gone by that a staff member or a parent has asked me a question related to that topic. “How come Sanborn doesn’t block social networking sites like every other high school?” a parent may ask. “Why can’t the technology department give me to control when to turn on and off the Internet?” a teacher might ask. For the past few months I have been able to avoid the inevitable – making a decision to temporarily block popular social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and Formspring, etc on the Sanborn network.

Social networking sites have historically been blocked at Sanborn. At some point early in the 2009-2010 school year, the decision was made to remove the block. Dr. Blake, myself, and others believe that no good can come from blocking websites and other forms of new social media as it restricts the flow of new ideas, new ways to communicate, and ultimately, new ways to learn. We embrace all forms of technology and look for ways to help students manage them and use them to promote lifelong learning. Last year’s removal of the block produced a series of new social networking education sites – individual teacher classroom pages, pages for each graduating class, club pages, and even popular school and alumni pages. All of these sites have served to connect students, parents, teachers, and community members in an online forum and extend learning far beyond the 7:30-2:20 time period.

Adults don’t always understand the fascination students have with social networking. They often see it as a waste of time. Here is my view: I compare the relationship students have to social networking to the scroll bar that you often find running at the bottom of cable news channels – you know, that one that gives you stock information, sports scores, or news events that you can follow while you watch a program on television. The scroll bar is harmless because you can choose to ignore it and concentrate on your program, but when you want a quick update on news around the world, you just have to look down at the bottom of your screen. Social networking serves that same purpose for you, the Millennial generation. You can choose to ignore it, but when you need it, you have information at your fingertips.

The problem is, open access to social networking sites at Sanborn has also caused a series of problems - problems that have been growing since the beginning of this school year. I couldn’t ignore the facts:
• Almost on a daily basis teachers were asking me to block social networking sites because they felt students were spending far too much time on them and not focused on their work.
• Although they wouldn’t tell me – teachers generally felt afraid to send kids to the office who had been asked repeatedly to get off social networking sites for fear administrators would think they weren’t doing their job managing the classroom.
• I’ve often walked through computer labs and seen kids running social networking sites in the background while they have been at work.
• I polled all the area high schools (Timberlane, Exeter, Raymond, and Epping) and all four have permanently blocked social networking sites.
• The week before the decision was made to institute the block, I learned that on average, nearly 80% of our bandwidth and Internet traffic was consumed by social networking sites.
On Friday afternoon January 7th, I made the decision to put a temporary block on social networking sites. I have hired a consultant to come to Sanborn on March 29th to give each of you training on how to effectively and safely use social networking sites. After this training, I’ll begin the process of re-evaluating the decision to put in the block and develop an action plan to bring social networking back to Sanborn. I promise you that when it returns, the focus will again be to promote the flow of new ideas, new ways to communicate, and ultimately, new ways to learn.

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