Social media in school debates continue amongst parents, teachers, and administrators. Lists of pros and cons regarding the dangers, professionalism, and safety of Facebook and Twitter occupy educators’ time, while students continue to use these sites with little or no guidance. Instead of arguing and preventing, schools should step into the 00’s and realize technology is here to stay, and if used properly, is a valuable educational tool.
In Chicago Public Schools (CPS), students are required to sign an “Acceptable Use Policy” each year. As a teacher in multiple CPS schools, I’ve noticed students who are caught may have privileges revoked; however, chances of this are slim with schools pushing for more technology.
CPS utilizes a system-wide program blocking social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, kids are more tech-savvy than the system. As quickly as proxy servers are detected, students network demonstrating kindergarten-acquired sharing skills. Trusted teachers need only ask students if they wish to access Facebook during school hours.
When deciding whether teachers and students should be “friends” on social networking sites, adopting a “don’t ask-don’t tell” philosophy may work while no written policy exists. One option for teachers-without questioning professionalism-create an account specifically for school.
Also, be up-front with parents regarding social media in school. Sending a letter to parents/guardians highlighting social networks used in class with a rationale-connected to learning standards-allows teachers to accomplish several goals. First, teachers respect parents/guardians by requesting permission; second, parents/guardians have the chance to develop rapport with teachers, opening dialogues regarding internet safety; and third, establishing a connection between learning and social media opens school-related conversation.
Social media makes life easier. It’s easy Tweeting homework reminders, answering questions through Facebook, or grading writing by checking a student’s blog. Facebook’s discussion pages are great for asking questions, with the bonus of answering once, versus once per class.
When I discovered students using blogs for non-class-related writing, I was excited to see students writing for themselves. Teachers may be surprised to discover students’ blogs are far more philosophical than four-letter vocabularies used in school.
When it comes to safety, parents and teachers should work together to assist students in proper use of social media. If students use Facebook as part of a project, teachers should set aside class time to navigate settings (ie: “private” or “friends only”) to exclude cyber-predators.
Advantages to using social media in education outweigh disadvantages when used properly and with caution. As former students continue their education, social networking sites allow current students to get real feedback, from real students, about colleges. Former students ask questions regarding college papers, trustworthy sources, or for job and program references via Facebook.
While the debate regarding social media in schools continues, younger and younger students navigate cyberspace without guidance. Telling teens not to Tweet is an exercise in futility. As every English teacher knows, the best way to get students to read a book is to ban it.