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Articles: Social Media

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To the more than 600 million members of Facebook and the expanding legions of Twitter users, you can add a growing number of schools and districts. Whether communicating with parents and the public, enhancing classroom instruction and staff development, or rallying school spirit, administrators and teachers are beginning to leverage the interactive and multimedia features of social networks that have the added advantage of being widely and easily accessible—and free.

07/2011

Some technology experts, including Will Richardson, a well-known social media blogger, say that social media has some value right now, but it's just a first step. He believes that schools in America are still way behind the business world, including journalism, in terms of how social media is used for learning. "We're not yet at the point where it's really altering the landscape, and much of that is because the assessments just want to keep measuring information and knowledge, not learning and skills," says Richardson, who is also a columnist for District Administration.

Among the many challenges facing district leaders, student safety can be particularly difficult as new technologies allow for instant and constant communication. Recent tragic events, most notably the suicide of a Rutgers University student after an intimate sexual encounter was broadcast live via the Internet without his knowledge or permission, have brought increased attention and awareness of the danger of misuse of these technologies. But what can school districts do to protect students and staff without violating their constitutional rights?

Online social networking includes much more than Facebook and Twitter. It is any online use of technology to connect people, enable them to collaborate with each other, and form virtual communities, says the Young Adult Library Services Association. Social networking sites may allow visitors to send e-mails, post comments, build web content, and/ or take part in live chats.

Social networking has become a quick and efficient way for K12 administrators to gain professional development.

Lyn Hilt, principal of Brecknock Elementary School in the Eastern Lancaster County (Pa.) School District recently had to create a new acceptable use policy for elementary student computer use. She posted on Twitter that she was looking for ideas, and within minutes she had dozens of examples from other districts' administrators, including a video that had interviews with students and an administrator discussing the rights and responsibilities of students.

Although the Internet has revolutionized communication and provided powerful new educational tools for student learning, it has also created risks and raised ethical issues for students of all grades, as it has created many opportunities for illegal, inappropriate and unsafe behavior among all participants.

Increasingly, K12 educators are seeing the need to not only utilize the Internet in instruction, but also to teach students the knowledge and critical thinking skills needed to be safe and responsible digital citizens both inside and outside of school.

Sara, a high school student, logs in to her Facebook account only to be confronted with cruel and nasty remarks posted by classmates. She feels angry, humiliated, and afraid that everyone at school will see such postings. Sara has become the target of cyberbullying, and ensuing incidences occur. Consequently, her grades begin to drop, she becomes preoccupied with correspondences on Facebook, and she experiences intense anxiety about attending school.

Here's the quote that I think should compel every school administrator to read Allan Collins' and Richard Halverson's new book, Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology:

"If educators cannot successfully integrate new technologies into what it means to be a school, then the long identification of schooling with education, developed over the past 150 years, will dissolve into a world where the students with the means and ability will pursue their learning outside of the public school." In other words, it's time to figure this technology thing out—now.

Houston Independent School District Superintendent Terry Grier recently pointed out a troubling fact: About 2,800 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders were two or more years older than their classmates. "BIG problem," he posted via Twitter, a Web site that allows him to post text messages and share them with "followers"—other users of the service who are interested in receiving the messages.

If you haven’t read the new MacArthur foundation report Living and Learning with new Media (http:// bit.ly/SooSe), which discusses how our kids are using social networks and tools to connect, you might want to consider it sooner rather than later. In a nutshell, the study found that kids are using online social technologies in impressive numbers to stay connected to the people they already know and, more importantly for us, to connect to other people around the globe they don’t know but with whom they share a passion or an interest.

Cory was a special education sixth-grader at the Saugus (Calif.) Union School District when he wrote an entry on his blog page entitled “The Spied Enemies: A War Journal.” This make-believe story opens with the words “I am Johnny Willow, a hero to some people. I will tell you my story about my adventures in World War II.”

Michael Smith admits he doesn’t talk much about his Web site or weekly blog with the staff, school board or community in his rural Oakland, Ill., district, because most folks probably don’t know what a blog is. That’s not a disrespectful dig, but reality: In his agricultural district 200 miles south of Chicago’s bustle—comprising only 300 students, 50 staff, two schools, and one principal—tending a Web site isn’t as high on anyone’s task list as teaching, farming the corn and soybean crops for which the region is known, or football.

 

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