Mal Lee and Roger Broadie
In alerting those on the digital evolutionary journey of the potential positives of digitally based school ecosystems we neglected to address the likely negatives and the potential considerable pitfalls of unbridled social networking, and the importance of schools more consciously ‘controlling’ and harnessing the power of social networking.
Social networking, as many an individual and organisation can attest has, can be damaging.
Schools are not immune, and yet globally many are schools naively entering into the world of digitally based social networking, hoping for a positive experience, but being ill equipped to control its power.
In shaping of the desired school ecosystem look factor into your thinking the desired controls, the avoidance of undue risk and ways to use the power to the school’s advantage.
Understand the instant schools opt to communicate digitally they immediately – and usually unwittingly – markedly up their involvement with the unbridled world and power of digitally based social networking. While hoping for benefits the school immediately also exposes itself to many potential negatives. In using the expression ‘communicate digitally’ we are referring to the many forms of digital communication and social networking used by the schools – the class blogs, online forums, websites, e-newsletters, email, school apps, online surveys and not simply the mainstream social media facilities.
Indeed it bears noting that many of the pathfinder schools have consciously opted not to use the latter social media in their digital communications suite, rightly believing they had no control over them.
In seeking to control the social networking the authors suggest viewing the facility in its traditional, wider sense of ‘a network of social interactions and personal relationships’ (OED). By adopting that perspective and appreciating the digital element is but part of the organisations effort to enhance all manner of human networking and collaboration one can more readily appreciate that part to be played in shaping the school’s ecosystem.
Intriguingly human networking has always rightly been viewed positively and the home-school collaboration it engenders has been shown to enhance student performance (Hattie, 2009) but the instant the digital is added the thinking changes. Emotions invariably rise, folk become paranoid and the positives that flow from humans networking and collaboration are often forgotten.
That said the pathfinders, like the authors recognise that by adding the digital to the social networking the schools enter into a vast, rapidly growing, largely ungoverned world that can hurt the school and its students. Within seconds of digitally distributing information the school’s message, often with an accompanying comment is redistributed throughout the social networks of the immediate and wider school community. The hope is that the accompanying comments will be positive and supportive but there is no surety.
The message coming through very strongly is that the schools that have successfully normalised the use of the digital will be appreciably better placed to control the social networks and manage the risk than other schools. The years of concerted and astute effort the schools have invested will invariably see them viewed positively by ‘their’ social networks. If per chance there were an untoward comment the school’s digital community would likely take ‘control’. Digital normalisation is only possible when the school has been willing to distribute the control of teaching and learning, and create a culture where the total school community is trusted, respected, empowered, and through genuine collaboration is made aware of all the school’s purpose and shaping educational vision (Lee and Broadie, 2016).
The related reality is that when schools – like all other organisations – attract a significant number of friends the algorithms underpinning the social media garner supporters and the social dynamics of the online make if that much harder for people to criticize the school.
Those without that ecosystem, that culture and years of concerted and astute homework and detailed understanding of the digital and networked world are far more vulnerable. They are highly susceptible to negative social networking, unable to call upon the kind of controls, the ecosystem support or the digital and networking acumen found in the digital leaders.
The message for all schools, at all points along the digital evolutionary continuum is be wary of the power of digitally based social networking, opt for digital communications facilities over which the school has reasonable control, avoid using high risk services and move as fast as possible out of the danger zone and into a digital environment where the school can exercise greater control over the message.