New Jersey middle schoolers next year may be assigned to tweet and post Facebook updates as part of new classes on social media and internet use.
In January, the state became the first in the nation to pass a law requiring students in grades six through eight to take a class that will teach the appropriate use of various social media sites. The curriculum also will cover cyberbullying, cyber safety and ethics.
“Kids should never be held back later in life because of their social media use today. It is our job to prepare students for the professional world, one that increasingly takes place online,” says New Jersey Assemblyman Angel Fuentes, who sponsored the bill. “Strategic social media use can build bridges just as easily as inappropriate social media use can build walls.”
A Kaplan survey found that more than 80 percent of college admissions recruiters check social media activity when seeking or vetting potential students.
“With this law, we’re helping our students make the most out of the different social media platforms available to them,” Fuentes says. New Jersey’s commissioner of education will be required to provide districts with sample learning activities and resources for the courses.
New Jersey is the only state to pass such a law, but many districts nationwide have developed classes in digital literacy to teach responsible technology use. Schools receiving federal E-Rate funds—which comprise 98 percent of students—are required to have an internet safety policy that sets guidelines for online behavior and cyberbullying.
However, policies vary from district to district, and range from giving students a list of online safety tips to offering a year-long class, says Rebecca Randall, vice president of education programs at Common Sense Media, a nonprofit dedicated in part to helping students and educators navigate the digital world.
Common Sense Media, Google and others offer free digital literacy and citizenship curriculums that teachers can download. Common Sense Media’s units cover broad topics like privacy, security cyberbullying and copyright law. They also have lessons on how to communicate and develop safe online friendships.
“Our research shows that kids don’t see their online life as different from their offline life,” Randall says. “They need the skills to know how to engage online, and especially with social media, to be smart, ethical, and responsible.”