Let the people Tweet

Troops in the USA are being warned that using the likes of Twitter and Facebook could be damaging. Apparently, it could reveal to the enemy the whereabouts of individuals in action. Strangely, it is only a couple of years since the US Military demanded that the troops be allowed to blog. It seems that once the cat was out of the proverbial bag, the powers-that-be have suddenly realised that once you allow people to use social networks, you have lost any real control you had. Now that US troops can use social media from the front line, getting them to stop is going to be tough. Not because they will disobey the orders, but rather the psychological impact it will have.

If the defence authorities ban the use of social media – which they themselves championed a couple of years ago – the troops will feel as though they are ostracised, excluded in some way. Indeed, this very point is made on a study of the use of Twitter and Facebook by school children, published today. The study surveys the opinions of teachers who claim that Twitter and Facebook is negative. Apparently, so the study says, the use of social media is linked to lower marks.

That is actually not a fact – it is an assumption. Teachers are blaming social networks for poor grades, yet we have the highest grades ever in the most recent A Levels and GCSE exams this summer. If social networking were responsible for poor grades it would be across the entire educational system – all grades would be lowered. They are not – they are the highest ever. What the teachers are saying is that the pupils with the lowest grades must be the only ones on Facebook; I think not…!

What is really going on is that teachers, like military leaders, have realised that once you allow social networking you lose control. Teachers want to blame social networking so that schools will ban it and – hey presto – control in the classroom is resumed. It is unlikely to happen simply because of the feeling of being ostracised. School children will behave negatively to the removal of social networking – in fact, taking it away is more likely to reduce grades than allowing it.

How do I know that? Well, unlike the survey which makes assumptions, I look to empirical research. Several studies have already shown that the use of social media by students and school children increases their involvement with the subject being taught. The latest study from Purdue University, Indiana, shows an increase in engagement when pupils are allowed to use Twitter in the classroom. In my own small way I have experimented with this as well, finding that students are more involved and engaged when they are allowed to use social networks WHILE I LECTURE…!

Far from disconnecting young people, social media is re-connecting them. Other studies confirm this – when people use social media while you are presenting, or in meetings, they have to be more connected to what is going on, otherwise they cannot do either function adequately. The result is, if you ban or discourage social networking either from the classroom or the office, you are going to end up with less engaged people in the room. But at least you will be in charge.

All the so-called studies you read about the negative impacts of social networking are rarely based on actual real evidence, more on surveys and assumptions. When we do study what is happening, the reverse of what people expect is usually found. Social networking should be embraced by teachers and military leaders alike.

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