Schools split on social media

By Kelli Ameling • Last Updated 5:46 pm on Thursday, September 22, 2011

Torrey Davis, 17, is a manager for the Jacket Depot, a student-run store at Greenville High School. One of his duties is to manage the Jacket Depot Facebook page to keep students updated. This is a project for Kelly Roney’s marketing class, teaching the students how to run a business.

Social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter are becoming popular more and more every day, giving schools a question of whether to embrace the technology or seek to curtail it.
Some local schools are opening the floodgates of social media to teach students how social networking sites can be beneficial. Interaction on social media between teachers and students is not uncommon.
Other schools are more hesitant and are shying away from much school-student interaction.

Part of education
Greenville Public Schools (GPS) falls in the corner of embracing social networking sites, especially Facebook.
“Our experience and philosophy may be a little different than others,” said Superintendent Pete Haines. “We have actually used social media to support some instruction.”
Many Greenville clubs, teams and some of its schools use social media to promote fan pages, Oatley said.
“We embrace and value the effectiveness it serves as a marketing and communication tool,” Greenville High School Assistant Principal Todd Oatley said.
The use of web-based communication will only grow with the new wireless Internet capacity currently being installed in all Greenville schools.
Haines said there are always concerns with any new technology. But he believes it is better to teach students how to function ethically and maintain reasonable safeguards with social media, which undoubtedly will be part of their lives for decades to come.
“We maintain controls at school and have not opened all of those doors,” he said.
Haines said many of the social conflicts that are addressed in school have roots in online conduct outside of school.
“We’ll be working to develop skills as we begin to rely on such services,” Haines said.
Currently, Haines said he is not aware of conflicts or incidents where staff and students were having inappropriate interactions in social networking environments.
Oatley said there is not a formal vision in place for district staff to use social media sites, such as Facebook.
“We have been pretty clear about our expectations on this topic with our staff,” Haines said. “I have not received any complaints here in Greenville.”
He is sure some staff and students are “friends” on Facebook, but regardless teachers are urged to be careful about all content they post online.
An international expert on Facebook safety recently addressed students, he said. A statewide expert on emerging trends in technology such as “sexting,” appropriate social media etiquette and online safety was also brought in.

The state of Missouri recently enacted a law making it illegal for student-teacher interaction on any sites that are not school related.
Belding Area Schools is following more in that mold, taking a more cautious approach to social media sites.
Belding’s director of instruction and technology, Mike Burde, said student-teacher interaction on social media sites there has not been a problem in the past. But administrators are taking no chances.
Already early in the school year, Superintendent Leslie Mount encouraged the staff to avoid “friending” students on Facebook, Burde said.
When it comes to teaching about social media in the classroom, Burde said students need to understand how they work.
“It is important to realize you leave a digital footprint on social network sites,” he said. “Employers investigate and research prospective employees’ activities on these websites.”
Burde believes it’s important to not share anything a person would not want their parents or boss seeing.
A difficulty with social media is controlling harmful behavior, such as cyberbullying.
“Cyberbullying is another catchphrase and phenomenon that is becoming increasingly problematic,” Burde said.
The staff at Belding schools continues to work through proper etiquette while encouraging positive communications in the digital landscape, he said.
Currently, Belding does not provide an email account for its students, but Burde said the school is looking into providing more options for students to communicate with their teachers outside of classrooms while avoiding social media sites.
“This is an area we are giving serious consideration to moving forward with,” Burde said. “Believe it or not, most students view email as an outdated means of communication.”
Because of the benefits with alternate forms of communication, Burde said it is worth capitalizing on. Microsoft has spiked the school district’s interest in using.
Although BAS is not using Facebook in classes or communication, Burde said the school is utilizing Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment (MOODLE), which is a free and open source e-learning platform.
“We are starting this year to send communications through Twitter accounts,” he said.
This social network site, he said, is a good alternative to Facebook.
“It is a one-way communications tool and it allows us to tap into mobile technologies, which is what most students prefer,” Burde said.

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