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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Social Media Guidelines

Steven Anderson

District Instructional Technologist/Independent Educational Consultant

Editor's Note: Check out the series of "How to Create Social Media Guidelines for Your School" articles that Steven Anderson wrote for Edutopia in May 2012, or download the full version as a PDF.

Look what happens on the Internet in one minute.

Credit: Shanghai Web Designers


More and more, social media is becoming a part of our daily lives. Just today, Mashable is out with a report that says Pinterest (which is less than a year old) is the #3 social network in the U.S. This report mentions that the amount of monthly traffic Facebook receives is seven billion page views, and Twitter receives 182. Again, these are just U.S. statistics. If we were to look at the numbers worldwide, I would guess they would be much, much higher.

But it isn't just adults who are moving more of their lives to online spaces. In a recent Pew Internet survey, 73 percent of all teens used social networks daily. The most popular of these is Facebook; however, Twitter, Myspace and even LinkedIn are not far behind.

And it isn't just teens. The #1 social network for kids under the age of 13 is Club Penguin. It is visited more times each day than the New York Times.

This data is staggering.

The Age of Personalization

Being involved in social media allows adults, teens and kids connect with each other, learn with each other and grow together. If I live in a small town in Kansas and I am interested in urban planning or engineering or snake research, there might not be anyone in my town that I can connect with. But thanks to the endless connections on social media, I can send a Tweet to someone, post a message on a Facebook page or join a Ning of others with similar interests. I don't have to go to the world anymore, I can bring the world to me.

We live in an age of personalization.

Yet when many of our students reach the schoolhouse door, it's like the Internet and social media don't exist. We tell students to turn off their cell phones and put away their tablets. You can't learn with those. Facebook for learning? No way. Sending Tweets? That's for celebrities. Trying to do research? Sorry, we block a bunch of websites, so that is going to be tough.

The list goes on and on and on.

A 21st Century School Improvement Plan

One of the schools I work with wanted to change that direction. They knew that social media was a bigger part of their students' lives, and that there were endless possibilities for personalizing their teachers' professional development. And they knew it was important to teach students (and faculty) how to live in this age of hyperconnectivity. I partnered with their Technology Facilitator Sam Walker and Melissa Edwards, a fellow District Instructional Technologist, to create an environment that embraced the use of social networking and social media, but also taught students how to live in that world.

It began in the 2010-2011 school year. We needed a plan first. What was it we wanted to accomplish? To truly make this a part of the school culture, we had to add it to the School Improvement Plan. In North Carolina, every school is required to submit a plan each year identifying areas of weakness and how it will improve them. These areas are usually related to testing goals or closing achievement gaps. In addition to those five goals, this school added a sixth goal that was the first of its kind in the state. They wanted to "create an environment where faculty are educated and can educate students in the 21st century literacies." So our focus was going to be not only on the students, but we planned to work with faculty as well.

There were many parts to our goal. But one of our areas of focus would be on the district's social networking policies. We wanted to see how we could use them to encourage our teachers' use of social media products, because in our many conversations with them, most said they did not use social media professionally because they were unsure as to the rules the district had for their use. They didn't want to do something that the district would see as a violation of policy, so they just stayed away.

As Sam, Melissa and I looked deeper into our policies, we realized that we didn't need anything policy-wise. Why create something that might handcuff the ability of teachers to do their job effectively? We had Standards of Professional Conduct. We had policies on student communication and communication using school-owned devices. We saw these and decided what we needed were some simple best practices. These included things like:

  • Protecting your own privacy
  • Being honest
  • Respecting copyright laws
  • Disclaimers
  • Thinking about consequences

Best Practices vs. New Rules

We developed a document and took it to our School Attorney, and with her blessing we gave it to the staff. Soon, more schools in our district wanted them, and now several have given copies to their teachers. And many are taking the next step and going over modified versions with their students. This is just a list of common sense best practices that, if followed, will allow anyone to use any type of social networking site, or social media in general, better and more effectively.

I work with districts across the country on developing social media policies. The biggest desire is to prevent inappropriate contact between students and staff. So administrators feel that if they block the use of social media products, they will prevent this type of behavior. The sad reality is that blocking won't prevent it. If someone really wants to initiate contact, they will find a way around the block. So why punish the educators who are doing right and want to harness the power of social media and social networking by limiting them with the fear of something that may or may not happen? As we've seen in our own district, most districts, if not all, already have policies in place for communication with students or through school-owned devices. And most, if not all, have standards of professional conduct. Why create additional policies that will do more harm than good for learning?

When districts come to me to talk about developing the policies, I point to the work done at Kimmel Farm Elementary and the development of the Best Practices for Social Media Use as a model that can be replicated anywhere, at any level. I encourage any district or school thinking about social media policies to look at what you already have in place and develop or adopt best practices. Then spend time with staff, students and the community learning how to work within those best practices. Encourage the use of social media for anytime, anywhere learning.

Steven Anderson

District Instructional Technologist/Independent Educational Consultant
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Thomas Stanley's picture
Thomas Stanley
Educational Consultant-former teacher in high school

Using Social Media
When I first decided to use social media as a part a major classroom project there were some obstacles that had to be overcome. The administration and district did not want our students to be on social media--it was too dangerous, the kids would be subjected to predators and there were few if any controls on the programs. I knew that if we were going to do this somehow all of these obstacles had to be overcome. There is not a better way to do that than put the students up to the task. I have to admit I was amazed at the incredible effort the students put forth as they begin to organize their presentations to the administration so that they could use social media as a part of the lesson.
I know that when I announced that we were going to use social media the kids commented; "wow something we finally know something about!" But the journey to get to this point is a long one. First of all, we had already done the research, posted on academic wiki's and blogs, created group norms and roles, and developed rubrics with in the project. The students had decided that they would take political action but wanted to do something more socially to help students be informed on the topic. It was at that point that they decided to use social media as one of the major tools for this process. They were also doing brochures, survey's, and talking at environmental conferences.
As the students decided to begin their social media quest they organized into new groups, each group representing a different type of social media. Within each group there were social, technology, and academic roles assigned to the students. One of the social media sites was assigned as the base site that would help link all of the sites together. Each group was responsible to present to the "powers that be" their case concerning the three major questions; how will it be monitored to be safe? How do we intend to use the content? Who will be responsible to make sure the material on the site is appropriate?
The students selected members of the class to invite the administrators to visit the classroom on the appointed day (we determined that we had one week to get it ready.) Once this was done the students set to work and it was quite a busy week. We not only developed the sites, created the presentations, but peer practiced them 2 days before the final presentation.
On presentation day the kids were amazing, they dressed and spoke well because it was something they believed in. The administrators had questions that were answered effectively by the students and we were able to get the sites up and running.
One final note, students took their job seriously and did not allow just anyone on the sites, they used the sites in their presentation to a youth environmental conference and connected them to the web pages we built. It was an amazing experience! Here is the assignment that won and award as a model PBL program from the district.

Save Walker Lake
Thomas Stanley, Social Studies, Advanced Technologies Academy Clark County School District, Nevada- Now a consultant for global pbl with the Buck Institute, and Techknow and associates.

What does it take to create a "good" law? What roles do the courts play in interpreting laws? How much power do advocacy groups have in shaping the law? Freshman law students embarked on their quest to answer these questions through the Project Based Learning (PBL) experience, Save Walker Lake. This PBL exercise allowed students to learn the process of how laws are changed in a community. The key question for the students was, "What could be done about a policy or a law that you thought was totally unfair?" The students set out to determine if they could have any impact on what it would take to "Save Walker Lake." Students stated their original hypothesis on what should be done, researched that hypothesis, discussed it with experts from Senator Reid's office, the Desert Research Institute, the University of Nevada, Reno, the National Wildlife Foundation, Nevada State Legislators, environmental law groups, and the advocacy group, Walker Lake Working Group. The students developed their actions plans and put them into motion. Some built a Walker Lake Wiki (http://www.atech.org/library/walkerlake), while others created different social media outlets (MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, FormSpring, Tumblr, and Twitter). Some sent their recommendations to key Walker Lake legislators, lobbyists, and advocacy groups and the rest of the students, planned and presented their ideas at the Springs Preserve or during education day at Walker Lake.
Teacher Reflection
This PBL exercise was a great way to get students to understand how they can have an impact on their community. The results exceeded my expectations. Students not only synthesized the concepts they were learning in the classroom about the legal structure, but they applied their knowledge to recommend actions to solve a real world problem. Students developed their own websites, social media sites, and presented information to the school leadership as well as the community at large. All students learned how to use blogs, videos, wiki's and video conferencing as tools of research. The final products have been incredible. The websites are not only well done but include social, political, and economically feasible solutions to a major issue for the State of Nevada. The final products and performances demonstrate that they were well thought out and researched and students continue to work on this project while educating the community.
Student Reflections
"The process and activities opened my eyes as to how difficult it is to get people interested in what should be done."
- Natazsha Merritt, 9th grade "It is exciting to think that adults wanted our ideas and opinions on such an important issue." - Angela Chavez, 9th grade
I was amazed that someone like Senator Reid would write me back and encourage me to follow through on my ideas.
- Alexander Tin, 9th grade

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