Thursday, August 18, 2011

Taboo of Social Media in Schools!!?!

 Over the past few weeks there has been much news about policies being developed to curb the social media experience between teachers and students. It poses many ethical and moral questions to a significant part of the population, especially the mainline purists and puritans controlling the media throughout the country, but the reality is still there; social media is a significant tool for educational purposes. To avoid it, encourages the movement, to understand it and facilitate it for constructive educational purposes is to be part of the 21st Century.

Case in point is the new law that has recently been promulgated in Missouri banning social media interactions between teachers and students. Specifically, #SB54 of the Missouri legislature forbids teachers from communicating privately with a student using a non-work social media account or website. Any discussion between a teacher and student online must be completely public and transparent.[1]

The inference is quite clear, though. There are bad people in the world that do nasty things in perverting the welfare of children. But, they are in every corner of society, not just on the Internet. They are in the community, in churches, in movie theaters, and malls, as well as online. The issue is how to support the creative act of working through social media to express one’s ideas and to write in a constructive manner. The key reference to the law above is to find a way to do so that is “public and transparent”. [2]

But, first, let’s rationalize and define the barriers of good and bad social media practice. These are bad uses of social media experiences:

• Barrow County, Ga.: an English teacher sued to get her job back after being fired when someone anonymously told school officials that a student accessed the teacher's page and viewed photos of her drinking alcohol. The district couldn't prove a student ever viewed the page.

• Brooklyn, N.Y.: a fifth-grade teacher, faces termination after saying she hated her students and that a trip to the beach would be good for them, a day after a 12-year-old student drowned there on a school trip.

• Brownsville, Pa.: a high school Spanish teacher, was suspended (but later reinstated) over a photo taken at a bachelorette party that showed her posing with a stripper.

• Cohasset, Mass.: a high school math and science teacher, resigned after parents saw Facebook posts, which the teacher thought were private, where she called district residents "arrogant and snobby."[3]

Here is an outstanding and positive use of social media:

Bethany Fenyus, an eighth-grade language arts teacher at Steel Valley Middle School, said she decided to create a class Twitter page for its potential educational benefits. Steel Valley doesn't have a policy regarding social media use, but Fenyus got permission from her superintendent and principal to set up the account. She had parents sign an informational sheet acknowledging that she intended the page to be used for educational purposes and that she wasn't personally responsible for how students used it.
She said she's never had a problem with any tweets.

"I've told them that I'm getting everything you're tweeting so remember to keep it appropriate," Fenyus said.
Fenyus said she'll send tweets from a vacation spot in hopes that students might go online and learn more about the place. She'll also let students know about education shows on the History Channel.
"I'll tweet something that I think they'd find interesting or is educational," she said.[4]

A big difference between the top examples and the one from the enterprising and constructive leader of 21st Century learning at Steel Valley Middle School, right?

Kudos to the administrators from Bethany’s school district for having the fortitude to allow this young teacher to use the social media tool to interact with students, and continue to write and express their thoughts and ideas. Kudos to the teacher for being so skillful in considering all of the dangers and pitfalls for something like this, and then designing a format to allow an open, transparent communication process through the media.

This is an example of 21st Century thinking and learning. I sincerely hope others will be daring enough.

[1] Heaton, B. (2011, August 3). Social media between students and teachers restricted. Retrieved from

[2] Ibid.
[3] Weigand, J. (2011, August 18). Pitfalls await teachers who publicize lives on social media. Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Retrieved from
[4] Ibid.