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Schools weigh risk, benefit of Facebook

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"We need to have some sort of rules and guidelines for how you use social media ... but the goal should be to educate our students on what it means to participate in the world in which they live" rather than simply banning certain sites, says William Stites, technology director at Montclair Kimberley Academy in New Jersey and blogger in chief at edSocialMedia, which explores the role of social media in education. "It's meeting students where they are."

Like others, Mr. Stites sees big learning opportunities for students with Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and numerous other sites, some of which have been designed specifically with teachers in mind.

The bans on certain digital activity may be new, but the fears prompting them regularly arise with new technology, says Steve Jones, a communications professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago. When movies first appeared, he notes, there were efforts to prevent children from going into theaters because of fears that they'd be harmed by both the content and the lack of fresh air.

"There are always some children who need protection, and most children don't need it," he says. "So how do we provide protection and yet keep things sufficiently open, flexible, available, and accessible so that we don't deprive children? It's unclear whether the law can really handle that sort of distinction."

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