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Tech Leadership                                              Page 11

 

Updating for Mobile Devices,

Social Networking     

BY KEITH KRUEGER

 Keith Krueger

“I concluded that it made as much sense to deny student use of mobile devices and social networking as if I’d been told as a child to leave my pencil box at home.”

That’s how Pam Moran, superintendent in Albemarle County, Va., sizes up the all-too-common practice of banning students from using personal technology in their schools. She acknowledges she has been bombarded by news media accounts of “misuse of technologies by students at home and in school causing fear among educators and parents.”

Like her leadership colleagues in school districts nationwide, Moran faces these hard questions: How do you create thoughtful school policies around pervasive technologies like mobile devices and widespread applications like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube? Is the customary response of banning their use the right answer?

Ubiquitous Tools
Innovative educators like Moran, who is an avid blogger and Twitter user herself, are on the vanguard of wholly revamping their districts’ acceptable use policies. To begin that process, she formed a technology advisory committee with a mandate to explore the learning potential of the tools that many young people own but that they’ve either been forced to leave at home or turn off as soon as they reach school.

According to recent Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project surveys, 95 percent of all teens use the Internet regularly, 80 percent use social networking sites, and 75 percent have cell phones. Internet and cell phone access by young people outside of school is rapidly approaching universal status.

What about school use? According to Pew, 85 percent of students report they are able to bring their cell phones to school but must keep them off when they are in class. This policy environment appears to be changing. Although exact figures are lacking, the number of school districts that permit students to use their own mobile devices in the classroom appears to be rising steadily. The growing popularity of “bring your own” technology programs is fueled, in part, by the idea it can cut costs by supplementing school-purchased technology, as well as benefit learning.

A new Consortium for School Networking report, “Making Progress: Rethinking State and School District Policies Concerning Mobile Technologies and Social Media” (accessible at www.cosn.org/MakingProgress) makes these suggestions:

  • Banning is not the answer. Until recently, many districts banned the use of social networking sites, such as Facebook. As schools have reconsidered opening the doors to social media, a few high-profile cases with negative consequences have prompted states to consider imposing statewide bans. So far, such efforts have been met with resistance, leading to a more balanced approach. In Missouri and Rhode Island, there has been a shift from establishing centralized rules to requiring districts to set their own policies for social networking and technology use.
  • Rethink acceptable use. School systems should move beyond the traditional acceptable use policy, which has students and family members sign a form “accepting” certain rules with little action required after that. Replace these with a “responsible-use policy” that emphasizes education and treats the student as a person responsible for ethical and healthy use of the Internet and mobile devices. Staff, too, should be signatories of responsible-use policies.
  • Seize opportunities to educate students. The new Federal Communications Commission’s E-rate requirements (issued August 2011) reinforce what many educators already believe is the key to online safety and security — adequate student education.
  • Stress staff development. Emphasize not only technology integration and continuous improvement but also the ethical, legal and practical issues related to social networking and mobile devices in classrooms.

Early Success
So what has been the impact of rethinking policies in Albemarle County? Moran reports no significant or pervasive misuse by allowing student-owned technology. That doesn’t mean there isn’t an occasional issue.

“I know classroom walls are no longer a limit for learning,” she says.

Keith Krueger is CEO of the Consortium for School Networking in Washington, D.C. E-mail: keith@cosn.org

 

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