I recently sat in on a departmental staff meeting at a high school. I was there to talk with the assembled group of teachers about the use of the web in their teaching and how best to prepare themselves, in order to more effectively use web 2.0 technologies and social networking with their students. At one point in the conversation, one of the teachers sighed and said, “I just don’t see what any of this has to do with teaching.”
My answer to her was it has everything to do with teaching. I thought my answer was pretty compelling but, maaan, I sure wish I’d read about Megan Moreno before I went to that meeting.
In 2008, Dr. Megan Moreno and her research group at the University of Washington (Dr. Moreno is now with the Department of Pediatrics at University of Wisconsin, Madison) conducted an interesting experiment with 18-20 year-olds and My Space profiles. Dr. Moreno had been studying “risky behaviors” among adolescents on social networking sites. That is, young people who post information about sexual activity, substance abuse, and violence. As we know, social networking sites, like Facebook, MySpace and many others, allow users to create personal “profiles”. The information placed there is accessible to anyone.
Dr. Moreno surveyed 190 public profiles of 18-20-year olds and found that 54% of them contained references to sexual activity and 83% of them made reference to substance abuse. Then Dr. Moreno did an interesting – and a very simple – thing. She sent an email to half of the young people whose profiles included at least three reference to sexual or substance abuse behaviors. You can read Dr. Moreno’s abstract in the online archives for the Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (JAMA).
In her email, she identified herself as a pediatric researcher and questioned them on their public openness about sexual issues and other behaviors. She reminded them that anyone could see this information (“Afterall, if I could see it, nearly anybody could.”) and just asked them – “are you sure that’s a good idea?”
In follow-up visits to the online profiles, Dr. Moreno found that references to sexual behaviors went down 14% in the intervention group vs. 5% in the control group and references to substance abuse went down 26% in the intervention group vs. 22% in the control group.
That’s it. That’s all she did. She sent an email. And some of the students’ behavior changed. Just think what we could do to help young people understand the promise and navigate the nuances of these powerful environments if we actually taught with them in our classrooms. What might be the result if we modeled appropriate behaviors and made this a part of the curriculum?
Dr. Moreno just sent an email. Teachers can do so much more.