Should educators use social media in the classoom?
In my home state of Missouri this has been a highly charged debate. The intention of this article isn’t to prove that either side is right or wrong, but is rather to have a discussion around what may work best for your particular school or community.
I find it interesting that a few who argue for or against the use of social media in schools seem to have a personal perspective instead of a professional perspective. I am talking about a few; please don’t apply a broad brush and confuse the few with the majority. I’m concerned that the loudest voice drowns out the most reasonable voice.
One of these types is the individual who doesn’t understand how the medium is used and doesn’t get the big deal with banning its use. I’m guessing they may not even use social media themselves.
Then there is the person who vehemently advocates for the use of the medium in the classroom. This person acts like a fanatic about the use of social media and can even argue as if you are talking badly about their best friend.
Neither of these extremes persuades the other because they are emotionally based. This complex issue needs rational discussion and information from both sides to create a valued policy.
Last year the Missouri legislature overwhelmingly passed the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act (2011-SB 54). The bill prohibited “exclusive access” between teacher and student, defined as, “the information on the website is available only to the owner (teacher) and user (student) by mutual explicit consent and where third parties have no access to the information on the website absent an explicit consent agreement with the owner (teacher).”
Senator Cunningham’s intent was to keep parents in the loop and prohibit secret communication between a teacher and a student. She would say the bill only required that a parent or school administrator be included in the communication. With that, the bill went through the legislature with little or no controversy.
After Governor Nixon signed the bill, it became clear that this one page out of the 35-page bill was going be a problem for many. This is where I saw the emotional response mentioned earlier from administrators, educators, parents and students.
Some even argued that the law banned a teacher, who is also the parent of a student, from having the ability to be “friends” on Facebook with their child. Consequently, this section of the bill, known locally as the “Facebook Law,” was taken to court and Cole County Judge Beetem said, “The court finds that the statute would have a chilling effect on speech.”
Because the law was to go into effect on January 1, 2012, the legislature took up the bill in an extra session last October and removed the “exclusive access” section of the law.
This legislation still requires school districts to establish a policy by March 1, 2012 related to employee–student communication. Nothing in this bill creates a policy for schools on whether social media can or cannot be used, and the Missouri School Boards Association and the Missouri State Teachers Association each created model policies on electronic communication between staff and students. As you might expect, these policies seem quite different.
As schools deal with this difficult assignment (how about that play on words), they will have to weigh in on a number of issues. If they choose to allow the use of social media, it will be critical to e establish appropriate boundaries between staff and students. They will have to decide what grade to allow the use of this medium. We all know that many students under the age of 13 use social networking, including some who have parents help set up the site, but social networking such as Facebook, require users to be at least 13 years of age.
This issue of social media and schools can’t be answered with an emotionally overcharged response of social media protectionism, or a casual disregard to the usefulness of the medium. This issue will require significant discussion and deliberation to address all of the various complexities of the problem. It is critical that schools include all stakeholders in the process to help form the best policy for YOUR school and community.
Former Missouri ICAC Commander Lt. Joe Laramie (retired) provides strategies and solutions for law enforcement and schools to address policy and training on a variety of technology and child exploitation issues.