“If we’re not having these conversations in our schools and as a community, I think you’re doing your kids a disservice—and the parents; parents need help, too,” he said.
And students need more than rules on what not to do, Larkin said.
“If the only thing we’re saying is, ‘Don’t do something wrong,’… Our goal should be to not have empty Google searches when someone does a search of our students, but that they find amazing work when they do those Google searches,” he said.
Students and teachers in the district are working to make sure that examples of student projects, research, and extracurricular activities appear online.
Too often, school social media use only appears in the news when it concerns something bad, Larkin said, and his district strives to spread the word about students’ responsible and positive social networking.
“The fact that we’re able to share good news—that’s what our goal is; to share what students are doing and what teachers are doing,” he said.
How Twitter can be used as a powerful educational tool
“I think we really have to focus on the ability that our students have to be creators,” Larkin added. “Social media is the way to get that out.”
Opening up lines of communication via Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking tools also helps students check on their peers’ safety. In one case, a student saw something alarming on a friend’s Facebook page and reached out to Larkin because he was worried. The student in question was safe.
“He reached out to me because he could—we’re connected, which is great. The times I’ve been contacted, it’s been when people needed to contact me,” Larkin said.
“The positive examples don’t get the play in the news media,” he said. “But our job in our schools is to show that these things are used responsibly and well, routinely, and that’s been the case for us.”
Schools can follow a few basic guidelines for using social networking in class, and they can add to or customize the rules according to their unique needs:
• Run parent technology nights to help parents learn about different social networking resources and learn how to use them.
• Be aware of acceptable use policies and guidelines regarding personal vs. professional accounts and use.