School boards restrict teacher-student web friendships

Teachers and students in Lamar County, Miss., can’t be internet friends this year after the local school board revamped rules prohibiting them from being friends through online social networks, the Clarion-Ledger reports–and two other Pine Belt, Miss., school districts are looking at similar policies. The Lamar County School Board approved the staff policy against online communication and text messaging between teachers and students at its July 7 meeting. Online social networks such as MySpace and Facebook allow people to create profiles that include pictures and personal information, with the option of adding friends who also have online profiles. The casual rapport between students and teachers on such networks concerned the school board, Superintendent Ben Burnett said. "It’s not to say teachers and students can’t have a MySpace page; that’s a First Amendment right," he said. "This just keeps them from communicating socially through those kinds of means." Burnett said the school board hasn’t decided what consequences the policy carries or how it will be monitored. He said the idea for the policy was addressed by board attorney Rick Norton after attending a conference earlier this year…

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Web networking photos come back to bite defendants

The Associated Press reports on a new trend that should give students yet more pause when posting controversial photos of themselves online. Internet hangouts such as Facebook and MySpace have offered crime-solving help to detectives and become a resource for employers vetting job applicants, AP reports–and now the sites are proving fruitful for prosecutors, who have used damaging internet photos of defendants to cast doubt on their character during sentencing hearings and argue for harsher punishment. "Social networking sites are just another way that people say things or do things that come back and haunt them," said Phil Malone, director of the cyberlaw clinic at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. "The things that people say online or leave online are pretty permanent."
The pictures, when shown at sentencing, not only embarrass defendants but also can make it harder for them to convince a judge that they’re remorseful or that their drunken behavior was an aberration. (Of course, the sites are also valuable for defense lawyers looking to dig up dirt to undercut the credibility of a star prosecution witness…)

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New vision proposes broader role for schools

Randi Weingarten, the New Yorker who is rising to become president of the American Federation of Teachers, says she wants to replace President Bush’s focus on standardized testing with a vision of public schools as community centers that help poor students succeed by offering not only solid classroom lessons but also medical and other services, the New York Times reports. Weingarten, 50, is running unopposed for the presidency of the national teachers union, whose delegates at an annual convention in Chicago are expected to elect her July 14. In a speech prepared for delivery after the vote, Weingarten criticizes No Child Left Behind, President Bush’s signature domestic initiative, which is defended staunchly by Margaret Spellings, the secretary of education. Saying the law "is too badly broken to be fixed," Weingarten lays out a "new vision of schools for the 21st century." "Can you imagine a federal law that promoted community schools–schools that serve the neediest children by bringing together under one roof all the services and activities they and their families need?" Weingarten is expected to ask in the speech, a copy of which was provided by the union to the New York Times. "Imagine schools that are open all day and offer after-school and evening recreational activities, child care and preschool, tutoring and homework assistance," the speech reads. "Schools that include dental, medical, and counseling clinics."

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Online political action can effect offline change

Will Anderson’s first foray into politics didn’t come via a letter to the editor or a campus flier, the Sun-Sentinel of South Florida reports: Instead, the 21-year-old started a group on the social-networking web site Facebook opposing changes to a state scholarship program. In 11 days, Anderson’s online supporters swelled to almost 20,000, and he got a phone call from state Sen. Jeremy Ring, announcing that he had decided to drop the bill seeking the scholarship change. "You can’t ignore 20,000 people," Ring, D-Parkland, said later. Welcome to politics in the new media age, where social-networking portals, the video-sharing site YouTube, and sharp-tongued bloggers are playing an increasing role in shaping policy and opinion, from the presidential campaign trail to county and city halls and the state Capitol…

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Museums exhibit high-tech appeal

Paintings and sculptures long stored away are finding a new audience, as museums strive for mass appeal with high-tech web sites packed with video, podcasts, and interactive elements, Reuters reports. Moreover, these institutions are finding that rather than diminishing the number of museum visits, the web is actually boosting in-person attendance. “All museums, especially art museums, realize the internet is a way to drive visits,” said Ford Bell, chief executive officer of the 6,500-member American Association of Museums. “Some museums now let people go online and download tours ahead of time on their iPods.” The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art offers a podcast series that includes audio and video interviews with artists, curators, and visitors as they explain or react to works on display there. Visitors can also save $2 on admission if they present their MP3 player loaded with the current podcast of Scottish video artist Douglas Gordon describing how he filmed an elephant in the middle of the night for his work “Play Dead: Real Time,” which was recently featured at the museum…

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On Facebook, love now comes with a drop-down menu

With profiles on the Facebook social networking site ( almost de rigueur on college campuses, students can define their relationship status with menu choices ranging from “married” to that perennial favorite, “It’s complicated.”

“It’s complicated” could also describe the emotional calculations people in their late teens and early 20s make as they decide whether their relationships are what they call “Facebook-worthy.

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Social-networking sites confound schools

Only 35 percent of the educators, administrators, and school board members who registered for the National School Boards Association’s annual Technology + Learning (T+L) Conference and responded to an eMail survey given before the event was held in Dallas earlier this month said their districts had policies to address the use of social-networking sites by their students. Fifty percent of respondents said their districts had no such policies, and 15 percent weren’t sure.

The survey’s findings suggest a degree of confusion on the topic that was reflected in forums held during the T+L Conference itself and in a separate webcast hosted by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) last week.

Among respondents who said their districts have a policy that covers social-networking web sites, the most common approach seems to be the use of a firewall or filtering software to block students’ access to these sites while at school. …Read More

Stop the presses: School newspapers moving online

For the first time in decades, students at Arkansas’ Nettleton High School will not find copies of The Chieftain floating around campus. Instead, they’ll find the school newspaper online.

Beginning with the September issue, the paper became internet-only.

“This generation is an online generation,” said adviser Dinah McClurg, citing one of the reasons the Jonesboro-based school decided to make the switch. …Read More

Experts to students: Watch what you post online

Much has been made of the danger of posting too much personal information on web sites such as, where millions of people–including child predators–can, in seconds, find out where site users go to school, learn their interests, download their pictures, and instantly send them messages.

But there is another, less widely reported danger as well: that the information students post online could come back to haunt them later in life.

In recent weeks, a Dover, Del., newspaper reporter was fired from his job after someone alerted his editor to racially offensive comments he had posted to his personal blog on–and seven Lincoln, Neb., high school students were suspended for two weeks when a school staff member found a posting that mentioned the students drinking alcohol. …Read More

Wikis test students’ research skills

The rise of Wikipedia and other communally aggregated reference materials on the internet has created a new set of challenges for educators: How accurate or reliable are these sources for student research, and what kind of policies should educators set regarding their use?

The emergence of Wikipedia and other similar online reference tools is too recent a phenomenon for most educators who spoke with eSchool News to have formed clear policies that address these sites, and opinions vary widely as to how useful or reliable such tools are for student research. But the educators we spoke with did agree on one thing: No matter what approach schools take, the use of these resources and their growing popularity underscore the need for students to learn and practice solid information-literacy skills.

“Wikis” are collaborative web sites that represent the ongoing, collective work of many authors. Similar to a blog in structure and logic, a wiki allows anyone to edit, delete, or modify content that has been placed on a site–including the work of previous authors–using only a browser interface. …Read More