Nonconformist students – allies in educational technology use

Yesterday I posted about the new NSBA report on teen and tween use of online networks for talking about education and creating content. Today, I’d like to review a really interesting part of the report that has gotten less attention – nonconformist students and their use of technology.

Nonconformists — students who step outside of online safety and behavior rules — are on the cutting edge of social networking, with online behaviors and skills that indicate leadership among their peers. About one in five (22 percent) of all students surveyed, and about one in three teens (31 percent), are nonconformists, students who report breaking one or more online safety or behavior rules, such as using inappropriate language, posting inappropriate pictures, sharing personal information with strangers or pretending to be someone they are not.

No surprise here, it’s probably the non-conformist teachers who are also the heaviest users of technology too!

Nonconformists are significantly heavier users of social networking sites than other students, participating in every single type of social networking activity surveyed (28 in all) significantly more frequently than other students both at home and at school — which likely means that they break school rules to do so. For example, 50 percent of non conformists are producers and 38 percent are editors of online content, compared to just 21 percent and 16 percent, respectively, of other students.

These students are more in touch with other people in every way except in person –their own classmates, other friends, teachers, and even their own parents.

These students seem to have an extraordinary set of traditional and 21st century skills, including communication, creativity, collaboration and leadership skills and technology proficiency. Yet they are significantly more likely than other students to have lower grades, which they report as “a mix of Bs and Cs,”or lower, than other students. However, previous research with both parents and children has shown that enhanced Internet access is associated with improvements in grades and school attitudes, including a 2003 survey by Grunwald Associates LLC.

These findings suggest that schools need to find ways to engage nonconformists in more creative activities for academic learning. These students talents are being ignored, when in fact they are:

  • Traditional influentials (students who recommend products frequently and keep up with the latest brands)
  • Networkers (students with unusually large networks of online friends)
  • Organizers (students who organize a lot of group events using their handhelds)
  • Recruiters (students who get a disproportionately large number of other students to visit their favorite sites)
  • Promoters (students who tell their peers about new sites and features online)

So, are these kids your allies or enemies?
These students could be the key to successful school-wide use of technology, providing both expertise and the networking ability to create wider acceptance among their peers. By providing them with a role, graduated responsibility, and an understanding of what the goals are for educational technology, they could be a primary asset, an advance team, and a force for change.

Download the NSBA reportCreating & Connecting: Research and Guidelines on Online Social and Educational Networking (PDF)

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