In a world where three out of four teens have a cell phone, and roughly the same number have used a social networking website, it’s imperative that schools not only develop social media guidelines for their students and staff but also teach students about safe and responsible social media use, said a pair of education leaders.
Steven Anderson, instructional technologist for North Carolina’s Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools (WSFCS), and Sam Walker, a technology facilitator at the district’s Kimmel Farm Elementary School, presented a session called “Understanding and Creating Social Media Guidelines for Educators” during ASCD’s 67th annual conference March 25.
Anderson and Walker are leaders in bringing social media into the classroom and teaching students how to use social media safely and ethically. Under their guidance, Kimmel Farm reportedly became the first school in North Carolina to include the teaching of social media in its school improvement plan.
One element of the plan reads: “Create a school environment where faculty are educated and can educate students in 21st-century literacy and best practices in the uses of social media, and Web 2.0 tools, in a globally connected world.”
Anderson and Walker cited results from a Pew Center survey that suggest three out of four students ages 12-17 now own a cell phone, and 73 percent of teens who are online say they’ve used a social networking site. “They’re not almost there; they’re already there,” the pair said, arguing that schools need to meet students where they are and give them the skills they need to navigate social media safely and effectively.
“The reality is kids live in these spaces, but when they come to the school door, we say no,” Anderson said.
He said more videos are posted to YouTube in 60 days than NBC, ABC, and CBS have produced in 60 years combined—and yet many schools prevent students from accessing this information. WSFCS administrators just gave teachers permission to use YouTube in their classrooms, and Anderson and Walker shared messages from teachers in the district who’d thanked them for helping to make this change happen.
Though Anderson and Walker urged schools to integrate social media into their lessons, they acknowledged educators’ concerns and said school leaders need to articulate clear social media policies to guide both students and teachers.
The policies in place at Kimmel Farm include:
• Don’t share secrets.
• Protect your own privacy.
• Be honest.
• Respect copyright laws.
• Be the first person to admit your mistakes.
• Think about the consequences.
• Remember that quality matters.
“Our policy isn’t a policy at all. They are more guidelines for best practices,” the presenters said in a PowerPoint slide. “The only official policy in place concerns ‘friending’ of students.” They added: “These guidelines did go before our School Attorney and have her blessing.”
Even online, the district’s code of conduct still applies, Anderson and Walker noted. As a result, teachers should use common sense—and inappropriate student-teacher relationships aren’t allowed online, just as they aren’t allowed at school.
Anderson and Walker recommended that school leaders include students in the process of creating social media policies. They said student collaboration is a key benefit of social media, and this benefit should be reflected in crafting policies about these tools as well.
However, teachers should remind their students to be careful what they post online. They said research indicates about 25 percent of colleges and universities check applicants’ Facebook accounts. Anderson said educators should help students learn how and what to share, so they can be proud of their digital footprints.
“What we’re teaching them in our schools is to have that presence, so when they go to college, colleges can see the positive [things] they’re doing,” he said. “Ultimately, kids have to know how to manage this themselves, ethically and responsibly.”