Update 6/13/2011: Apparently, this blog post struck a nerve…in a good way. 24 retweets, about 5 comments across social networks, and over 911 hits in 48 hours. 

Thanks to a G+ post by one of the thousand+ in my Professional Learning Network (PLN), I ran across this post entitled Block Social Media? Then Gen Y Won’t Work for You.  

Christy Tucker shares this quote which I wholeheartedly agree with:

If you don’t trust your employees, the problem is with your management or hiring practices, not social media. h/t +Tracy Parish

A school district recently asked me to offer a keynote on the use of social media/networking tools in schools, and then proceeded to cite multiple examples of jaw-dropping inappropriate uses of social media on campus. The reports of teacher use of Facebook in the news video below have nothing on the jaw-dropping uses shared. 

Given the challenges, I immediately turned to my PLN for help (Plurk and Twitter), asking if anyone had presentations for discussing the use of Facebook in K-12 settings. The image below captures the overwhelming response:

When I read Doug Johnson’s post on the subject, What do principals need to know about Facebook?  (More reading on this topic) I was grateful…then had the same brainstorm that Tracy Parish had had…this is about hiring professional educators who know how to be appropriate in education with social media. It’s not about blocking social media to prevent child molesters, pornographers, etc. from using social media to advertise how they are exploiting children in their classrooms. Isn’t it? 

Educators would like more training, professional development, and direction on using social networking and other technology from school/district leaders. Although educators are joining social networks, they express a need for guidance, training, and professional development. 

Many educators have a high level of concern about joining social networking sites.  They are concerned about privacy; they have very little time; and they get too much email.   

Schools and districts often block access to sites, and many educators are frustrated by this….

Source: A Survey of K-12 Educators on Social Networking and Content-Sharing Tools, 

Of course, what are school districts doing to help their people be more appropriate in the use of social media tools?

Even if we block social media on school district computers and networks, 28% of people surveyed by Pew Research (read source via Engadget) use their mobile devices for social media access. The Engadget folks point out that None of the top 100 companies to work for block social media access at the office. Given popular opinion among education reformers that we should privatize schools, would social media access be blocked in private/charter schools?

Will we start a ban in schools about using your mobile phone–bans are already in place for students–if you’re an adult?

I can imagine a conversation now….

“Er, excuse me, why are you using your mobile phone during the work day?”
“Uh, I’m updating class wiki that feeds into my class twitter feed so that I can notify my students’ parents what the homework assignment is this week.”
“That use, sir, is not consistent with District policies. Please delete the twitter account and don’t access your social network at school. You need to be focused on teaching the curriculum [points to a 3-ring binder on the shelf, dust trails revealing it hasn’t been opened but that only emphasizes the message] rather than playing with technology tools not approved by the School Board.”

This conversation (In Loco Parentis) is coming up again and again. One example is how much attention this blog post I wrote in 11/2010 sharing the Texas Education Agency’s New Ethics for Texas Teachers. Read the comments for an “eye-full” of opinions. For another example, on G+, Mark Hall shares this problem scenario for feedback: 

I thought I had come on a deal breaker on using G+ in the classroom, but in writing this post I solved the problem. Follow me here. 

Here is the scenario: I post something in my stream and share it with my students, and they begin responding to my comment as well as each other. Then it happens. Johnny or Jessica, it matters not which one, posts an inappropriate comment. (I know, NONE of your students would EVER do that, but I have maybe one or two who might. But only if there were a sub in the room!) 
My only option seems to be to mute the whole post, which I obviously do not want to do. There is good stuff there. This happened here, someone posted something on my stream that I find offensive. I blocked the person now, but the comment does not go away. That sucks, so I was wondering what is going to happen when this type of thing happens in the classroom.
Duh. I am going to walk over to Johnny or Jessica and tell them to delete the comment. You know, hold them accountable for what they do. What was I thinking!

In retrospect, my response to Mark would be to ask, What are YOU thinking using an emerging technology like Google+, still in field testing, with students who aren’t allowed to have an account due to age restrictions? 

Update 06/13/2011 on Age Restrictions for Google+ (currently in Field Trials):I understand they won’t be letting users under 18-years-old into the Field Trial until they’re confident that they have the right teen safety features in place. They currently don’t have plans to open the product to users under 13. (Source: G+ comment by Linda Nitsche)

At the time, though, my response to Mark Hall was as follows from the perspective of disinterested observer:

Interesting, but I’d rather wait until G+ has groups/pages type solution. Otherwise, too many variables. You do get “cool” points for trying this out already, though. 

Matthew Wacker makes the point better:

Very cool and true, but I agree with Miguel, we should hold off on using it with kids until we know more about what it will look like in a more polished form. Seems like we do that a lot with ed tech…we jump on a tool/resource get students into it and then we need to pull it back because it’s not safe or ready. Great or recent example is dropbox…there’s gotta be a lot of teachers scrambling to figure out what they are going to do now that the TOS issues have been raised.

Source: G+ Post
The problem is social media’s changing nature and growth speed!

“The number of Google+ users worldwide reached 7.3 million…July 10 – up from 1.7 million users on July 4th. That is a 350% increase in six days.”

Should we put new technologies on the shelf, continue treating them as forbidden fruit, and instead, grab that 3-ring binder? Is social media forbidden fruit in schools?

Educators who have joined a social network are more positive about the value of this technology for education than those who haven’t, but they want the ability to separate their personal and professional communications.

Source: A Survey of K-12 Educators on Social Networking and Content-Sharing Tools, 

Folks like David Read make the point about Google+ in education. He’s an ESL teacher who is considering how to best use Google+ in his classroom, and references Edmodo as well (what fun it is for technology directors to check Edmodo and find out district teachers are already there using it…in violation of district policy):

Whenever I look at a new web 2.0 tool these days, my first question is always: how could this be used with my students? Just from a very sketchy, limited use of Google Plus I think that it could offer more to the classroom than either Facebook or Twitter. Both of these tools do have their place, but the limited group functionality on both of them do set limits on their use in education. I’m always looking for tools that will allow me to work just with my group and to protect their and my privacy along the way….(Read Source)

Who made the classroom teacher the decision-maker for protecting student privacy? Are they the ones deciding who to expose students to “the public” or is that a decision that teachers are simply called on to enforce, or if you prefer, implement?

…most condemning the trend as pandering to lazy Internet-addicted students, and arguing that it will not allow kids to shed their inhibitions but rather reinforce them. Others say it won’t challenge students to learn how to communicate as adults, and could foster less coherent thoughts that would be delivered in a more impersonal manner.
A lot of these criticisms seem to stem from the idea that there is little real-world value in social media. (Read Source: Why Social Media Tools Have a Place in the Classroom)

A colleague recently sent me a text message as I was driving home yesterday. When I pulled into the driveway at home, I realized she was sharing her recent attendance at a local conference. One of her remarks, which I hear repeatedly from folks, struck me. She had just listened to a keynote presenter sharing about all the great stuff you can do, watching the razzle-dazzle of new and emerging technologies. But then came the remark that should make any keynote presenter flinch:

Great keynote–but then the bubble burst. . .most school districts aren’t there [where the keynote presenter was describing]

If it’s not clear from the context, the reality of schools is much different from the grand vision of the keynote presenter. How valuable are these vision exercises? Some might suggest that the vision for using social media tools in schools is an over-inflated dream about to pop.

Balloon shredding as it pops via Why Some Balloons Shred

From a school district perspective, could the following lesson be true, too?

When a balloon bursts, somewhere, it started with a single hole.

Source: Why Some Balloons Shred

Recently, a teacher asked for permission to setup a social media account to publicize his class’ announcements, share information, etc. It’s not an uncommon request these days…what is uncommon is that the request was even made. Many teachers ARE already using social media/networking tools without the consent of their school districts, creating a perfect storm of criticism and liability. 

Schools MUST change their approach to social media tools in schools, working to transform a culture of fear to a culture focused on learning and modeling appropriate use no matter where the opportunity arises.

Here’s one response to that teacher’s request. What would YOUR response have been?

Thank you for your recent inquiry regarding the creation of a Twitter account to facilitate information sharing with students, parents, community and staff. Twitter is a powerful social media and/or networking tool in use in a variety of settings, including educational. Other social media tools—such as Plurk, Facebook, and Google+–also facilitate communications and community building. This email shares the District’s current stance on social media tools, presents an acceptable communication strategy, and offers professional development on how to get started that you can take advantage of now to best use the recommended strategy. 

Unfortunately, this District, like many other school districts in Oklahoma and Texas, prohibits the use of social media tools or networks for communication to students and parents. This is due in large part to the liability a tool like Twitter can open the District up to if used inappropriately, even when these tools are used with the best intentions. Other forms of communication that do not use approved District mediums (e.g. Email, classroom web site, wikis) are prohibited.  

In fact, inappropriate contact is such a concern that the Texas Education Agency updated the educators’ ethics code to specifically address these types of tools and their inappropriate use in schools. Note that this stricture also refers to text messsaging (a.k.a. SMS) from mobile devices (e.g. Smartphone). Read more about that online at 

Although a vibrant professional/personal learning network (PLN) can be built through social media/networking tools like Twitter and Google+, this usage is strictly on your own time. Access to these tools is blocked on school district devices and the network. I do encourage you to use these tools to build your own professional learning network and offer the following article for your review –  

An alternative strategy for keeping parents up to date is to encourage parents and students to either visit, or subscribe to the RSS feed, of a wiki or Moodle site. A wiki is an easy to edit web site that includes an RSS feed. This means parents/students could subscribe to the content of the wiki page, and updated content would be delivered to them. A video that can be used to explain RSS and how to subscribe to content is available online at 

Furthermore, you could blend RSS feed from other social media tools into your wiki page. For example, blend in the RSS feed from Science Daily and have that automatically appear on your wiki! 

To help you explore how to pursue this, please be aware of the wiki that has been created for your use online at:

Your most recent email should contain instructions on how to join the wiki space above and begin adding your content. 

Respond to the latest, most recent email message regarding your wiki.
Please do not hesitate to review the various online video tutorials and Pbworks Manual available to support. 

Finally, I appreciate your enthusiasm in embracing social media tools. Ultimately, appropriate modeling of these tools with our students CAN change how they use these tools themselves. Until the “culture of schools” deems the use of social media in K-12 as appropriate, though, I would encourage you to use these tools to build your own personal learning networks that encompass the globe, harnessing the power of committed educators like yourself. 

Grateful for the opportunity to clarify the District’s position and suggest alternatives,

Your Friendly Neighborhood Technology Director 

Watch video on YouTube – Best Practices in Social Networking for Educators

Image References
A Quantum of Circles, Google+. by Joegen Hoerberth

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure