Education groups weigh in on digital media use policies

School policies should reflect technology’s potential for teaching and learning, a new report says.

A new report from a number of prominent education groups aims to guide school leaders as they revise their mobile technology and social media policies to better reflect how today’s students want to learn.

The report, “Making Progress: Rethinking State and School District Policies Concerning Mobile Technologies and Social Media,” was produced by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and the FrameWorks Institute.

It defines social media as “the set of applications for digital devices that enable the creation and exchange of user-generated content.” Mobile technologies are “devices with internet connectivity that can be held easily in one’s hand.”

“Policy makers and educators are struggling to balance the educational opportunities that mobile technologies and social media can provide at school with legitimate concerns around providing a safe environment focused on learning. This document from leading education and state policy nonprofits aims to inform better decision making in state capitals and school boards and among educational leaders,” said CoSN CEO Keith Krueger.

“Mobile technologies and social media, if leveraged appropriately, have the potential to maximize student learning and engagement, and transform the concept of the classroom from four walls to an interactive space where student-centered learning takes place,” said Frameworks Institute President Susan Bales. “While there are a variety of challenges, there are enormous opportunities, and if we – educators, technology leaders, and school decision makers – find ways to harness the power of these tools, the benefits to our young people and our education system are countless. There are also legitimate concerns that must be addressed, but they must be weighed against the potential benefits.”

The report includes the following key observations:

  • The use of mobile internet devices and social media by young people is widely prevalent. The use of student-owned mobile devices for classroom instruction is growing, and more schools are moving from policies that ban their use to integrating them into the classroom.
  • Students and schools experience substantial educational benefits through the use of mobile technologies and social media.
  • There are legitimate concerns about the use of social media that need to be addressed.
  • Current federal, state and local policies and procedures need modification or clarification in order to respond to current realities of expanded social media and mobile devices in schools.
  • Equity is a vital issue to consider when establishing policy around social media and mobile technologies.

Technology has great potential to enhance student learning and teacher instruction, but it also requires the necessary support from all angles, noted National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel.

“Educators must be provided with professional development in digital technology in order to learn how best to engage students in and out of the classroom using these tools,” he said. “This is also an opportunity for parents and school personnel to work together to teach all students responsibility and how to make good decisions regarding the appropriate use of mobile devices.”

While compliance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act and eRate guidelines is essential, the report urges school leaders to take several things into consideration as policymakers work to craft acceptable and responsible use policies that reflect today’s technology-infused world:

  • Banning is not the answer: Until recently, many districts have banned the use of social networking sites such as Facebook. As schools across the country have begun reconsidering their policies and opening the doors to social media, a few high-profile cases with negative consequences have prompted states to consider imposing statewide bans. So far, such efforts have been met with resistance and have led to efforts to find a more balanced approach.
  • Rethink and revise the district AUP (Acceptable Use Policy): Many school districts are moving in the direction suggested by the shift described above–dropping the bans and, instead, focusing on policy goals that go beyond the narrow set of website access issues that were the primary focus of many earlier AUPs.
  • Take the opportunity to educate students: New FCC eRate requirements reinforce what many educators already believe is the key to online safety and security: adequate student education. A number of schools across the nation, as well as some organizations, have developed programs on digital literacy and safe Internet use to help students learn how to use social media and other Internet content in a safe, effective, and appropriate way.
  • Emphasize professional development: Professional development for all stakeholder groups is key to the effective support of social media and mobile technologies in the classroom. Today’s technology-related professional development must emphasize not only technology integration and continuous improvement, but also the ethical, legal, and practical issues related to social networking and mobile devices in the classroom.

“The first generation of policy making around communication technology in schools has been built on a foundation of fear, and it’s time to push ‘reboot’ and institute ‘Policymaking 2.0’ built on facts and research instead. Education is something we do ‘with’ students and not something we do ‘to’ students,” said Frank D. LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center.

“Making Progress” is not a prescriptive policy statement; rather, it is intended to help inform policymakers and educators as they develop or reconsider policies addressing new digital media in the context of improved learning. The report is the outcome of a workshop convened by CoSN and the FrameWorks Institute in Washington, DC, in December 2011, which was made possible through a grant from the MacArthur-UCHRI Digital Media and Learning Research Hub at the University of California, Irvine.

The report is part of CoSN’s Participatory Learning in Schools: Leadership & Policy initiative, which is based on the recognition that Web 2.0 tools provide powerful learning resources for children, thus preparing them for the world beyond the classroom. The overall initiative is supported by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and sponsorships from Cable in the Classroom, Gartner, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Lenovo, Lightspeed Systems, Pearson and Smart.

Collaborating national partners include the American Association of School Administrators, Common Sense Media, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Association of State Boards of Education, the National Council of Teachers of English, the National Education Association, the National Writing Project, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, the Student Press Law Center and the Technology Leadership Network of the National School Boards Association.

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