Breaking Down the Walls: Social Media and the Classroom

In this VoiceThread I describe my rational for breaking down the walls that block access to so many great resources in many educational institutions.  There is a transcript of the text below.

(It seems that you cannot embed VoiceThread content into WordPress.  I attempted to find some workarounds, but was not successful with these either.  So… here is the link to my VoiceThread.)

When thinking of a walled garden I think back to the Disney movie Aladdin. Princess Jasmine has been stuck in the palace walls all of her life and wants out.  She wants to do something on her own.  She wants to experience life outside the walls.  What happens though when she sneaks out?

She almost loses her hand for taking an apple, which she assumed was OK to do.  The people outside the palace were much different than what she was used to.  It was a different culture.  Jasmine was not prepared to communicate with them and she didn’t know how to properly interact with the people outside the palace walls.

Isn’t this what we are doing to our children or students? By avoiding the topic and blocking the sites we make them more vulnerable.  Yes, we must protect them but as I mentioned in my post Internet Safety, the best way to protect them is to educate them so they can make responsible decisions when they are on their own.

By keeping them within the walls, are we really preparing them for what they will face?

Are we truly doing what is best for the child?

My answer to that would be no.  And there are two reasons I have come to the conclusion that the walled gardens should be opened up to students: Safety and Learning


You may be wondering how opening up the walls makes things safer.  Well rather than letting kids sneak over the wall and encounter new situations on their own, I propose we teach them how to use the media.  I will continue with the Princess Jasmine analogy.

  1. Boost them up – give them a peak over the wall, demonstrate what is out there, point out the dangerous places
  2. Take their hand – lead them outside the walls, don’t go far at first, guide them through, practice together, show them what to do in a bad situation, keep practicing and venturing further
  3. Loosen the grip – you’ve given them the tools and knowledge, now they need to experiment, they will still help and guidance so stay within sight, talk about their experience
  4. Let go – it’s a big world out there, but at least you can say you’ve done what you can to equip them, they are still bound to make mistakes, but they will learn.  They weren’t going to stay in the garden forever.

Beth Holland in her article Teaching Toddlers to Tweet? Introducing Social Media to Elementary Students recalls how as elementary students we were all taught the “social media” of our time.  We learned to write letters, answer a telephone, or maybe send a thank you note.  Shouldn’t we be teaching today’s students how to use the social media of their time and how to use it safely?


OK, I can’t resist, sappy love song aside, Aladdin’s “A Whole New World” describes the “dazzling place”, the “thousand things to see”, “new horizons to pursue” and much more.  The internet is the same way.  Outside of the walled garden exists a fantastic world of learning and education.  Do we really want to limit what students can learn?  Is it appropriate that we are not teaching them how to succeed by collaborating and interacting with others around the world?  Isn’t our job to put them on the magic carpet and show them the world?

If we are to teach students how to use the Internet for what it is, a vast information network and collaboration platform, what good are we doing them by keeping them within the walls?

I grew up in a district with very little ethnic diversity and teach in a district with even less diversity among the student population.  I see great potential in programs like K-2 Building Bridges to Tomorrow and A Week in the Life… from Flat Classroom or ePals, to connect and educate our students about the world outside our small community.

Holland, B. (2013, June 18). Teaching toddlers to tweet? Introducing social media to elementary students.  Edutopia. Retrieved from


This article fits under AECT Standard 3 Utilization because it involves decision making regarding opening up web access to use social media.  Ultimately it would lead to implementing new policies for staff and student access.


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