FCC opens access to social media sites for e-Rate users


Anyone who has spent five minutes surfing around Facebook or MySpace knows that there is plenty of potentially obscene, pornographic, or harmful material available. Although acknowledging this possibility, the FCC ruling leaves the identification and definition of objectionable material to local authorities.

This means school boards need to adapt their current policies for students and staff to account for social media sites and other emerging technologies. This also means wise teachers and school leaders aren’t going to jump into social media outreach and instruction without clear written guidelines to support them if—or, more likely, when—someone abuses the privilege of gaining greater online access at school.

For school IT professionals, who also have to contend with the growing “bring your own technology” (BYOT) to school movement, protecting student and personnel privacy is getting tougher, especially as smart mobile devices threaten traditional firewalls with obsolescence.

With mobile device use becoming ubiquitous everywhere but school, it’s only a matter of time before the hordes of tablet, smart phone, and eReader users overwhelm school boards with requests for full access in classrooms. Students, teachers, and principals working at night or on the weekends are going to want more access to school system databases, information, records, and academic content.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) is encouraging 24-7 access for teachers and students through a variety of public policy initiatives, including Race to the Top. The vision, according to ED’s website, is a “highly connected teacher, with ready access to not only the digital content, tools, and resources, but also to the experts and peers who can offer immediate assistance regardless of geographic proximity.”

Keeping copyrighted and legally protected information private while providing maximum access via a host of devices and platforms is a tough challenge, especially for cash-strapped school systems that have seen their budgets slashed repeatedly since the Great Recession started in 2008.

Although the notion of controlled access is likely an oxymoron when it comes to social media and internet access, that seems to be what the FCC was aiming for in its latest ruling, which updates rules created before the emergence of social media sites.

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