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School District Grappling with Use of Social Media

In an effort to regulate online communication concerning the district, the Port Washington-Saukville officials reviewing ways to bring social media under the administration's purview.

When a candidate applies for a teaching job at the , administrators now make a regular point of checking the applicant's Facebook page to look for any red flags.

But first, they must navigate around the district's filter that blocks Facebook and other sites.

Conundrums like this are becoming more common in schools as social networking permeates many aspects of education. Although he said doesn't have a Facebook account himself, Superintendent Michael Weber has been researching it and other social networks for a few months in an attempt to come up with policy recommendations regarding social media in schools.

Weber presented his research to the School Board Monday as a foundation for crafting a district policy - or multiple policies - on social networking.

As discussed, the goals for such policies could be to encourage healthy use of social media in education, to prevent online bullying, and to prohibit inappropriate contact between students and teachers.

Weber said many teachers would like to use online platforms to reach students in more effective ways in and out of the classroom.

“Some teachers are finding that a fast track to reaching students is to use the ways they already communicate," Weber said. "Maybe the date for a trip is changed - then they might want to use texting or Facebook or a Google Doc."

However, with more online communication between teachers and students, comes more risk for employees and the district.

“Since these sites are more informal, the communication can be more informal, and that makes it easier for people to communicate at a level that’s not appropriate when you’re interacting with students," Weber said.

Weber said administrators have the authority to monitor teachers' activities on Facebook if they either identify themselves as an employee, the activity occurs on district technology, the activity affects the employee’s job performance, or the activity involves or relates to students within the school district.

However, administrators don't often have access to a teacher's Facebook page.

Allowing social networking to happen at school allows administrators to track communication more easily, but it also creates new problems.

For one, anything that is communicated from a school-owned computer or on the school's network constitutes a public record.

It also opens more avenues for bullying to occur at school. Some of this can be prevented with filtering systems, but the blocking game is complicated.

For example, Weber said he once realized that a chain of emails never made it to his school email account because the filter spotted the word "sex" within "Sussex." The filter could then be adapted, but it's not perfect.

Rather than trying to filter everything that goes through social networks, one solution could be Edmodo, a social learning network specially designed to give schools more control over who is interacting and how. Administrators and teachers would be able to track how long users spend on Edmodo, where they go, who they talk to, and what they say.

Weber said the district could likely get Edmodo for $500.

School Board Vice President Jim Eden said a platform like Edmodo could allow teachers to role model positive usage of social networking.

"We can’t ignore it," Eden said. "If we demonstrate good responsibility, it’s also helping our students learn it as well."

The board decided that teachers should be advised on how to be cautious with social media as soon as possible, possibly through staff meetings. The drafting of the policy, however, could take much longer. Weber said he did not have a target date for finishing the policy, but he said the board will continue to discuss it.

Jaime Sommers October 04, 2011 at 01:53 PM
This would be less of a current issue and already addressed if the first response wasn't avoidance (to ban Facebook on district computers in a previous year). That knee jerk decision has delayed your understanding of social media, including both its opportunities and its liabilities. Teachers have been communicating by email to students and parents for years, sometimes personal email, and this conversation clearly indicates a fear and lack of understanding of social media by some policymakers. This is unfortunate because it's what kids are using, how kids are socializing, much of their social time since 2005 or so and the window of opportunity to get it in your purview was a few years ago. With the vast knowledge kids have of social media over teachers and admin now, kids are more qualified to teach it than Edmondo. I thought school districts were experts on school, you know, kids and helping kids grow... Guess I was mistaken. It's about liability and policy first, not kids first.
Dave October 04, 2011 at 05:20 PM
talk about over thinking
Jaime Sommers October 04, 2011 at 07:47 PM
I cannot believe this is news. Grappling is right. How about let's get on the bandwagon BEFORE it drives by.
Rory Linnane October 04, 2011 at 10:51 PM
I'm not sure what happened with the extra comment. It's showing up that way for me too, but we have not deleted any comments. If anyone posted a comment that did not show up or disappeared, please let me know.
Greg Huegerich October 05, 2011 at 04:34 AM
Thanks for this write-up. It seems a bit scary that there's a lot of "research" being done, but not much in terms of usage. Social Media evolves very quickly, if you're reading a book about facebook, its a History book, not an instruction manual, features, settings and norms will have changed by the time the book went to print. The most effective social media policy* will be one that can quickly evolve to the changing features and norms of these services (eg. Video and Audio sharing are now available alongside everything else). Finding ways to embrace the technologies that people use today, rather than force marching kids into an alternate platform would likely be a better approach. Folks will use Edmodo only when they *have* to, they'll use other platforms when they *want* to. Working in logical ways to interact with popular technology in a positive way would be a better approach than forcing folks into an alternate application. Pages for classes, clubs, activities, even the school board itself (posting events/meetings, notes, etc) would all be reasonable approaches. The less technical board members could focus their efforts on the legal language around the usage, rather than blocking existing tech and then spending money on less popular alternatives. *Another concern is the number of internet enabled devices that are being sold. 3G devices will bypass filters, which is where a more active role in existing social media becomes a better approach.
Jaime Sommers October 05, 2011 at 04:17 PM
http://the21stcenturyprincipal.blogspot.com/2011/03/engaging-more-school-leaders-in-using.html

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