A former local newspaper reporter, Tanveer is a student at the Medill School of Journalism learning all things digital and entrepreneurial. He also writes about political figures for WhoRunsGov.com and hopes to own the high score on multiple Ms. Pac-Man machines one day.
While kids may rely social networks for personal use, there is a place for them in K-12 education, as well. In 2007, half of all students who used the Internet said they use it to talk specifically about schoolwork, according to a National School Boards Association survey. Still, most schools continue to discourage or outright ban the use of the technology in school. This is often due to a lack of understanding, its status as a distraction, or both.
The fact is, social networks are here to stay, and with or without rules, kids are going to use them. Here are four tips for educators on how to develop a technology policy that seizes on social networking as a learning tool and teaches children how to use it responsibly.
1. Let Down the Filters, Cautiously
Schools have been understandably cautious in allowing students access to social media sites. After all, they are required to filter content under U.S. federal law. In the NSBA survey, 52% of schools said they prohibit any use of social networking sites on campus. Some districts are working toward making those sites more accessible to students, but they need an educational justification to do so while ensuring usage won’t be abused.
For many schools, it is easier to apply broad filters that restrict access to inappropriate sites and social networks alike, allowing for minimal supervision. Dan Weiser, who is working on the digital policy for the Pajaro Valley Unified School District in California, said his district allows teachers to work around the filters to access sites, but doesn’t have staff that could monitor and customize usage on a regular basis.
While dedicated staff should soon, if not already, be a necessity, there are simple ways to monitor access. Patrol computer labs, place computers where staff have a presence, and install management software allowing monitoring from one computer, says Justin Reich, co-director of EdTechTeacher.org.
2. Add “Digital Citizenship” to the Curriculum
Weiser also said his district won’t open up social networking sites to students unless a curriculum explaining how to use them is in place. “How do you teach ethical use if you can’t access it?” Weiser asks.
Enter “digital citizenship,” or the idea that with the growing importance of the social web, students should be taught about digital ethics. While children are usually savvy when it comes to using new technologies, they aren’t necessarily aware of the issues that come with them. Behavior is as important as know-how, and the framework for this type of curriculum addresses issues like intellectual property, security and privacy.
Susan Brooks Young, a former educator who is now a technology consultant for schools, likens children’s social media usage to driving; neither activities are going away. “We really guide them through the process of driving to make it as safe as we can. Social media in a lot of ways parallels that. You would never just give that child a set of car keys.”
3. Keep One Eye on Student Conduct, the Other on the Law
While schools can regulate what students and teachers may do with on-campus computers, their ability to police usage both off-school grounds and with students’ personal devices becomes murkier in terms of the law and technological ability.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to this. Different states and countries have different rules, and a variety of factors come into play including the devices used, whether the communication took place on or off school grounds, and the context of what was said or done online.
Many states have laws giving schools authority over off-campus conduct if it disrupts in-school instruction. Francine Ward, a California-based lawyer specializing in social media issues, expects the number of cases involving social media use and schools to climb in the next few years. The best way to get ahead of this is to amend every school’s “Code of Conduct” to include online activity, if only to have a policy in place when something does erupt. Adding social media policy to student handbooks sends a message that schools take online usage seriously.
4. Teach With Social Media
One way to keep social media use from being a distraction in schools is to find ways to use it in existing curricula.
A 2009 survey commissioned by PBS shows digital and social media use by teachers is on the rise, but social media usage in classes lags behind other types of media. While 76% of American K-12 teachers say they use digital media in class, only 29% say they use a social networking site or social media community for instruction.
Part of the delay is because educators are at a loss about how to incorporate social media into lesson plans. But there are ways educators have seized on using social media tools like Skype, cell phones, and Twitter to connect the classroom with the outside world. Teachers have also used accounts at Wikispaces, an free online Wikipedia-style software system, which even first grade classes have found a use for.
Not surprisingly, there are social networking sites devoted to use in the classroom. Classroom 2.0 is a good community for bouncing around some ideas.
Instead of dismissing social media as distracting or destructive, schools should embrace it as an essential part of the curriculum. Not only does this limit the potential for students to abuse the technology, but it opens a new set of valuable educational tools.
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More education resources from Mashable:
- 3 Ways Educators Are Embracing Social Technology
- How Twitter in the Classroom is Boosting Student Engagement
- Why Banning Social Media Often Backfires
- 5 Ways Classrooms Can Use Video Conferencing
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