Will students be satisfied with "neutered" social networks?

It's a good question, actually, but it begs the fundamental question of why are we using social media tools in schools in the first place?

I had actually planned to go to bed early tonight and write my blogs in the morning, but you know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men. I couldn't resist writing a post based on a comment I saw tonight on Twitter:

I'm not sure these social media sites that cater to schools are the solution. Kids will want the real thing. Not some neutered version.

Thanks to @smschools for asking the question (and retweeting my post from yesterday on kid-safe social media tools). It's a good question, actually, but it begs the fundamental question of why are we using social media tools in schools in the first place?

Are we using them because kids are already using MySpace and Facebook, so we want to use tools with which they identify? Is it because social media are becoming increasingly important business tools with which we expect students to be adept? (Has anyone noticed that ZDNet's resident social media guru, Jennifer Leggio, rebranded her blog as "Social Business"?) Are we just trying desperately to keep the iGeneration engaged with new web-based tools for doing the same thing?

It might be a little bit of all of these things, but I'm convinced that our best bet is to bring social media tools into the classroom to enhance learning and build vital collaboration, networking, and information synthesis skills that will be absolutely essential outside of the classroom. While @smschools makes an interesting point, this, as with many things in education, can't be about what kids want. If they want the "real thing", they can have it outside of class.

In the classroom (or at home, as they work on their computers completing their homework), providing students with safe, carefully-monitored, educationally-rich environments gives them a new model for learning together and interacting with classmates, their instructors, and the wider world (ePals is perhaps the best example of the latter).

We don't need to co-opt Facebook to keep kids engaged. Rather, we need to embrace the tools that MySpace, Facebook, and Ning have polished and change the way we deliver content to be consistent with both business and personal interactions.

Social learning environments aren't neutered versions of the real deal. They are specialized tools and are the real deal in their own right. Kids will increasingly be exposed to a variety of social networks, whether as simple as sharing links and bookmarks through Diigo, building their own communities in Ning, accessing information in their jobs, or working together in school.