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Facebook Funds Social Media Research

Guest blog post by Jaclyn Zubrzycki

How are educators preparing students for a social media-infused world? What does good digital citizenship look like? Facebook is funding four research projects addressing these questions through its Digital Citizen Research Grants program. Facebook announced yesterday that it will split $200,000 among four winners, chosen from an initial pool of 100 projects.

One grant will fund a project led by Shari Kessel Schneider, a research associate from the Education Development Center, in Waltham, Mass. Ms. Kessel Schneider has previously written about sexting and online bullying. Her project with EDC will examine anti-bullying policies in approximately 25 schools in the Boston area and determine how kids, parents, and others perceive their effectiveness. The group will release a report with recommendations for enhancing school-based bullying prevention and education to promote positive social media use.

Ms. Kessel Schneider said Facebook's program is an "acknowledgment of how important it is to use research to inform decisionmaking on the best programs and policies to protect youth.

Facebook will also fund the Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education (SITE)'s work to create and assess resources on digital citizenship, including a 15-week, research-based curriculum on digital citizenship for preservice teachers and a series of course modules on the same topic for working teachers. Michael Searson, SITE's president, said that while his program focuses on educating teachers, "As we train our teachers to be aware of this issue and behave as digital citizens, we hope they can pass it on and formally address it with their own students." He said it's critical to teach these issues in grades K-12, as people have almost inevitably (but often inadvertently) begun forming their online "brand" by the time they arrive in college.

Mr. Searson said, "If you're a proponent of using these media—in Facebook's case to interact socially, in ours for educational purposes—you have a responsibility to teach how to use it well."

The other grantees are European SchoolNet, which will investigate "how much teachers are benefiting from the full potential of social media" and create a mentoring program and course on the topic, and the work of McGill University professor Shaheen Shariff, whose "Define the Line" program focuses on clarifying what type of online behaviors constitute cyberbullying.

Facebook made education headlines last fall when founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg donated $100 million to Newark city schools in New Jersey. But this is the first time the company has sponsored research into online safety as it relates to students and schools.

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