May 16 2012

7 Steps to Safer Social Media in the Classroom

How to create guidelines for responsible use of social tools.

The growth and popularity of social media, from Facebook to Twitter, has created a host of opportunities and challenges for today’s educators. Even the most tech-savvy among us have yet to harness the vast educational potential of these resources without opening schools up to the lingering uncertainties — and potential pitfalls — of integrating a medium that extends beyond the walls of the classroom.

News spreads fast over the Internet. And the minute a student or teacher says something online or posts something from a school computer that could be construed as hurtful or defamatory, you can bet someone somewhere will see it. And consequences will ensue. 

To protect their students — and themselves, for that matter — schools need appropriate social media guidelines. In a recent article for Edutopia, produced in collaboration with Facebook, Steven Anderson, a district instructional technologist and independent educational consultant with the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools in Winston-Salem, N.C., offers seven considerations for drafting a clear social media policy.

While no single approach is right for any one school or district, Anderson says, through an examination of culture, teamwork and existing policies, it is possible to develop a set of rules that work for your community. Here’s a truncated version of his list (some verbatim, some edited for space):

1. Examine your school culture. Gain an understanding of how your community feels about social media.

2. Organize a team. Include both educators who use social media in the classroom and those who do not.

3. Research. Evaluate policies already in place at your school. Look around at other schools. See what they’ve done. Get a sense for what works and what doesn’t.

4. Write a draft and solicit feedback. This is the hard part, says Anderson. Gather the information you’ve collected and ask others to weigh in. Schedule meetings and talk to stakeholders face to face.  

5. Have the draft vetted by the school attorney and school board. Make sure your policy does not violate any current laws, policies or ordinances.

6. Introduce the policy to the community. Every team member should be tasked with reaching out to different stakeholder groups, says Anderson. It’s important to be open and transparent.

7. Conduct periodic reviews. Your new social media policy should be “a living document that is revisited often.”

Do you agree with Anderson’s seven steps? Read his full post, including a list of resources for each step and potential questions to ask, here.    

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