Facebook a valid educational tool, teachers told

Teachers and lecturers are getting the lowdown on how to use social networking sites such as Facebook and Bebo in an educational way.

Most schools and colleges in the UK block access to the websites but they are missing out on their potential for education, a government-funded guide says.

The report for Childnet International and funded by Becta, the government body for technology in learning, says while teachers and lecturers may be using social networking services they may not recognise the educational potential for their students.

Schools could help students develop "e-portfolios" where learners can record their achievements and collect examples of their work, the guide suggests. Or teachers could use social networking services to set up groups that "semi-formalise" students' online communications and "document discussions and milestones as they go".

Young people are more likely to have learned their social networking skills from their friends or classmates than from any formal instruction or support from adults.

But as social networking spills over into the classroom, with students using sites to collaborate on homework projects or discuss lessons, they can provide many opportunities, the report says.

"In addition to providing a whole community with useful information about a school, college, organisation or event, a social network profile sends a clear message to learners that you are aware of the types of spaces they enjoy online.

"This is a good reminder that these spaces are public and are inhabited by people who may not necessarily be within their friendship network, encouraging them to look at issues around permissions and sharing personal information," the report finds.

It also includes an evaluation tool to walk teachers through key features of sites they may be considering using to support teaching and learning.

Stephen Carrick-Davies, the chief executive of Childnet International, said: "The phenomenal speed at which the internet is developing and the rapid take up of new web 2.0 services by young people can be challenging.

"However, it's vital that all of us really take the time to understand the way students are using the latest technology, the various features of these new services and appreciate how these new tools can aid good social interaction and learning."

Stephen Crowne, Becta's chief executive, said: "As technology increasingly becomes a key ingredient in classroom learning, broadening our knowledge of the technology used in school can really bring benefits, whether you are a parent, carer, governor or teacher."


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