Do we need Social Media policies?


Web 2.O promotes sharing, openness, transparency, and collective knowledge. Web 2.0 tools  are low cost (sometimes free) and accessible anywhere with Internet access. These tools are available in several mediums (video, text, audio, images). They don’t require a great deal of computer or tech knowledge to use and are generally usable on any computer or mobile device and from almost anywhere in the world. These characteristics would at first glance seem like a perfect recipe for any teacher, classroom or student. But they come with a price. Content is public. Anyone can post anything about anyone at anytime, from anywhere. Regardless of skill, knowledge, age, or ability, anyone can publish his or her work. And yet, even knowing this price – this risk, some teachers and their students across our globe are doing it anyway. Some have fully implemented social media into their classrooms and in their own professional development often without policy, without guidelines and without district support or professional development. They use social media to empower students, to promote discussion, critical thinking and problem solving. But often due to the lack of public or community understanding, these educators face scrutiny in the media.

I argue that social media policies in education are lacking and require attention. However, because of the fast changing pace of social media and the lack of knowledge and research of its use in education, policy makers are taking a cautious stance.

The recently published, ‘Professional Advisory – Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media(Ontario College of Teachers, 2011) is an excellent example of this – where the problem is defined and framed by focusing on teacher behaviour and appropriate conduct, rather than framing the problem as being the lack of teacher preparedness and lack of district initiative for ongoing professional development about the appropriate use of social networking tools at all level of education.  The intended message of the advisory is very clear  – in large blue font on the cover of the document reads,

This professional  advisory  is  intended  to  provide  a   context  for  the  responsible,  professional  use  of     electronic  communication  and  social  media  by   members  of  the  College. For the  purposes  of  this  advisory,  electronic     communication  and  social  media  encompass     software,  applications  (including  those  running     on  mobile  devices),  e-­mail  and  web  sites,  which     enable  users  to  interact,  create  and  exchange     information  online.  Examples include,  but  are     not  limited  to,  sites  such  as  Facebook,  Twitter,   LinkedIn,  Flickr,  YouTube,  Wikipedia,  Picasa     and  MySpace. (Ontario College of Teachers, 2011)

In this case, the Ontario College of Teacher intention is to set guidelines about teacher use of these tools. Since many teachers have already been using these tools in their classrooms as instructional practice, without these guidelines in place, it will be interesting to see what changes, these cautions will have in Ontario classrooms. Will teachers stop using these tools? From the point of view of the College, whose mandate is to provide guidelines for the teaching profession,  the recently published advisory would seem appropriate. However, the real problem should be the lack of training and knowledge that the members have about the use of the tools as they pertain to education since professional conduct is nothing new. And, it is nothing new that some teachers and educators  breach their professional conduct, as told by our history. Further, simple searches on the Internet lead to thousands of blogs, Wikispaces, classroom Youtube videos, and even classroom Facebook pages. Almost every night (or day) of the week, teachers from around the world are gathering to discuss strategies and research based methods both using synchronous and a synchronous learning methods. Real people around the world are using these tools to advocate for change and social justice. Teachers across the world are using sites such as Skype in the Classroom™ or Voice Thread (and so  much more) to connect students with other students and classrooms, authors, and experts. School districts, directors of education, superintendents, trustees, teachers and students can follow and contribute to the same news feeds and respond to one another in real time using social media tools. I am fully immersed in this world of knowledge mobilization and interactivity and yet I still find it incredible.

Regardless, policies continue to focus on those teachers that are not using these tools effectively, instead of addressing the issues at a system level. Policies need to be putting the responsibility on the districts to provide proper and ongoing training for teachers which includes professional conduct. Policies need to allow districts room to move and grow at the same speed as the tools our students are using when they go home.  Such policies should insist that schools are teaching proper use of social media tools rather than discourage it. Above all, such policies and guidelines need to be considered priority. If schools are not teaching and modeling these tools, who will?

As educators, are we content with letting our children use web 2.0 social media tools without proper instruction? They are doing it anyway, so lets bring it into the classroom and teach them to use it safely and properly. Policies and guidelines should take a proactive approach

Consider the following questions –

1.     Why are some teachers and schools making decisions to use social media tools into their instructional practice without district policy or guidelines?

2.     Has the growth in cloud based instructional tools and individual use of social media forced districts to develop related policies?

3.     Are teachers putting themselves and their students at risk by using tools and strategies that are not addressed by policy?

4.     Finally, is it possible to create a policy about social media when the tools and programs are changing at exponential rates?


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9 Replies to “Do we need Social Media policies?”

  1. Change only happens when innovators engage emerging tools and strategies, in spite of the chance that things may go awry. OCT’s guidelines, which highlight the need for educators to communicate in a professional manner, don’t necessarily inspire such risk-taking, but they do remind teachers of boundaries.

    I’ve long been an advocate for the 4th R. I see ‘Relationship’ as foundational to the most meaningful learning that students and teachers will undertake. While the traditional learning relationship is being challenged by learning that is taking place beyond the hours of the school day, this doesn’t change the fact that we need to keep our communications professional… at any hour of the day, in any medium.

    Next Question: Now that we know the sensible limites, who’s creating the playbook for what exemplary use of social media looks like.

  2. Zoe,

    You have written a solid response to the communication release. The actual discussion and video at the session were more positive than the isolated point form condensed version. I did raise points about the need for digital citizenship, authentic learning needs for teachers & students in this area, and in my opinion the false use of the term ‘friend’ in facebook — friend = contact, the interaction between 2 contacts is all about relationship, professionalism combined with appropriate security and privacy settings. The reaction to my comments indicated it is all about the context, not don’t do it.

    I agree with Rod, we need to lead the way with open, transparent and professional leadership. Getting the masses on board quickly will be the challenge.

    ~ Mark

  3. Can I try to answer #1?
    “Why are some teachers and schools making decisions to use social media tools into their instructional practice without district policy or guidelines?”
    You hinted at the answer to this already in your post, Zoe, in your first paragraph. There are so many good reasons for using social media. What’s the saying? “It’s better to beg forgiveness than ask permission”. By the time you get the administration or school board to understand what you are trying to do with social media, justify its use for teaching and learning, and gather all the paperwork to ensure that legally speaking you aren’t putting yourself or your school in “danger”, then the teaching moment may have passed. It’s hard to follow policy when none are available, and hard to follow policy written for one specific type of media when you need/want it to apply to another that has different ramifications. I’ll refrain from using any examples because I wouldn’t want to get anyone (especially me) in trouble. I’d really like to see Rodd’s question addressed by the OCT and I suspect that we could find some great exemplars of responsible and rich social media use.

  4. Zoe and Rodd
    It is nice to see this conversation. I am happy that there is now a document that serves as a reference for teachers. From my viewpoint (outside of the system) it is folks like you that are demonstrating exemplary use of social media.

  5. I can sympathize with the college, because they don’t want teachers being friends with their student, but disagree with them completely banning social media. I liked your point that there needs to be more training for the educators, rather than handcuffing us completely. Furthermore your statement about how the students are already using this medium is important, because a lot of the time they are using it improperly. So, why not educate educators about web 2.0, and allow them to teach their students about proper digital citizenship.

  6. Scott, thanks so much for you comments here. I am glad that you pointed out the issue that educators need to be learning the tools that their students are already using. It seems somewhat backwards and yet is so important – a dichotomy that needs to be examined a bit more, eh?

  7. Thanks so much for the reply. Your comment here demonstrates how incredibly passionate you are about educational reform – especially as you point out the fact that it is hard to follow policy “when none are available”. The work you do in education is inspiring and I hope you never feel you have to “refrain” from showcasing the innovation that you use to engage your students. Thanks for sharing so much on your blog. This could be one of the exemplars you speak of.

  8. Pingback: Ontario Social Media Advisory (Part Two) | PIPEDREAMS

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