I originally wrote this post in Sept. 2009. Since then I have done a lot of thinking about and talking about social media policy. I repost it now because we are heading into that time of year when people are starting to ask me and the rest of the members of their PLN's about their best example of social media policies. Districts and district leaders are beginning to see how teachers are using blogs, wikis, Twitter and other tools to create really awesome classrooms and they are scared. Not that there is actual learning going on but what if a parent doesn't like all this? So they are meeting, often times behind closed doors, to draft draconian policies that they say encourage use of these tools but in reality limit their use. My question is why have a policy in the first place?
I have spent a lot of time lately blogging, talking and thinking about Social Media in the classroom. Whether it was trying to provide resources for getting the school year started off right with Social Media or providing you with tips for Social Media Leadership in schools. I really do believe that we are seeing (and some of us a part of) a revolution in education. For too long we have been teaching 21st Century Students with 19th Century methods. And maybe, just maybe, we are beginning to change our thinking about how this thing called "social networking" can be used to educate.
All of this talk about using blogs, wikis, Twitter, Facebook, Nings, and others in the classroom always leads to a discussion on policy. People ask me about examples of good Social Media Policies. What they don't like to hear is that I don't have one. Ok, well, that is not entirely true. I do have examples of school policies that mention Social Media and Social Networking. Here are a few examples:
East Lothian Council Self-publishing and Social Media Guidelines: Pupils
Arapahoe High School Blogging Policy
Laramie County School District 2 - Safe Blogging Policy
Those are some well-crafted policies as it pertains to blogging and Social Media in general. But, when someone asks me about my best example of a Social Media Policy I have to say that, I believe the best policy is probably one you already have in place.
Why is there such a push by school districts to rush and have a policy in place for teachers and students? Look at what the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) did. Over the summer they redrafted their email policy which said, in a nutshell, that all communications with students had to be done through official CPS email accounts. Basically, the policy outlawed blogs, wikis, Twitter, etc, which was odd because a week earlier CPS was all over the media explaining how they were going to leverage the power of Twitter to keep the community updated. They have retracted a bit and are going to examine the policy to make more Social Media sited available.
My point here is that CPS and other districts around the country are knee-jerking and realizing they don't have a blogging policy, or a Twitter policy, so they create the blanket policies that, while hoping to give the appearance of openness in education and progressiveness, actually limit a teachers ability to use New Media in their classroom.
Most schools (because they have to) have an Acceptable Use Policy that covers general computer and Internet use. If schools and teachers are are doing a good job of teaching their students about responsible Internet use why create a whole new policy that just prevents progress? Often times I have seen no one really knows who is responsible to teach. Is it the classroom teachers or media coordinators or instructional technologist? Truthfully, we all know (or at least we should know) that all of us are responsible.
How do you teach kids responsible Internet use? There are several free curricula available. Here are a few examples:
Digital Citizenship Curriculum
A Digital Literacy Curriculum from Microsoft
Technology Literacy Curriculum
Curriculums are great, but they are no good with out communication. We have to start conversations with our students, teachers, parents and the community about what we are doing and why we are doing it. If we are going to be using blogs in the classroom, have your parents in, with the students and explain why. Letters are great, but we know face-to-face is better. If you want to have a classroom Twitter feed or use it in some other way. Explain. The only way we are going to get all parties involved on board is to talk about it. And when you are talking about a blog or a class wiki or Twitter feed we can begin to have conversations about how we are keeping kids safe and how we are teaching kids to stay safe. If we are having these conversations and educating all involved then what is the point in having a policy?
I get asked all the time about my districts' Social Media Policy. You will be disappointed to know that we don't have one. Not because we haven't thought about it. We have spent a lot of time discussing what would work best for our kids and our teachers. We decided that what we have in place works. But it works because we spend a lot of time talking about responsible Internet usage. In my mind why limit a teacher use of Social Media or punish a student for an inappropriate comment on a blog (which should be moderated by a teachers anyway). Take the time to educate!
If you are a school leader, principal or administrator in district that is considering a Social Media policy, I encourage you to look at the computer usage policies you have in place and examine how you are teaching your students Digital Responsibility.