Blogs and chatrooms are being banned in schools because of fears of bullying and paedophile grooming but in fact, they are powerful tools for learning, according to research.
Incidents of "cyber-bullying" have led hundreds of schools to place blocks on social-networking websites such as Bebo and Myspace. In Norfolk, pupils were banned from using Bebo after children produced fake profiles of their classmates, one of which read: "I am a fat shit and I wish I had some friends who liked me".
But a study by Futurelab, the educational software research centre in Bristol, urged teachers to explore the learning potential of chatrooms and blogs.
It suggested pupils could move beyond e-learning, towards c-learning, with the "c" standing for communicative, community or collaborative. "If learning to learn, if collaboration, and if the personalisation of educational experiences are at the core of current educational agendas, we need to find ways of enabling young people to come into contact with, collaborate with, and learn from each other," it said.
The report said misuse of blogs and chatrooms is not a good enough reason to ban them.
"Schools should not expect students to leave the 21st century in the cloakroom," the study said. "There is an imperative to teach appropriate use and behaviour for ICT. This should include protection of students' own identities."
Futurelab provides a series of fictional scenarios for c-learning, which are possible with current technology. These include a 12-year-old boy who develops a blog about his local football team, which encourages older fans to add their reminiscences about the club's history. In another scenario an AS student submits an essay in the style of Jane Austen to a fan website, then improves the piece after reading criticism from other Austen admirers.
Alongside the study, Futurelab has produced a report suggesting that the "open source" approach which has created free software could be applied to education.
It recommends that teachers form networks to share ideas and lesson material electronically.
Since April, teachers have posted more than 1,000 teaching resources they have created, including lesson plans, on the TES's free Resource Bank.
Social software and learning and The potential of open source approaches to education is at www.futurelab.org.uk. The TES Resource Bank is at www.tes.co.ukresources