Social media is old news to the digital natives currently enrolled in K-12 education, but as the news reveals on a semi-regular basis, a few adults overseeing education still can't wrap their heads around it. For all the Facebook pages set up for classroom discussion and homework help, there's a sordid tale like that of the New York City teacher who wrote "this is sexy" under the Facebook photos of his female students.
So, no surprise that on Tuesday, the NYC Department of Education joined the more than 40 national public school districts with its first official set of social media guidelines for DOE employees. Most notably, teachers are advised that approved Facebook pages and similar online outlets are permitted for classroom conversation, but there is to be no friending" or other such communication with students via personal accounts.
"In an increasingly digital world, we seek to provide our students with the opportunities that multi-media learning can provide — which is why we should allow and encourage the appropriate and accepted use of these powerful resources," reads the Rules & Policies notification on the NYC's DOE website. "As we challenge our students with new methods of learning, we will ensure that these tools are used responsibly, and serve to enrich the learning environment in our schools."
To ensure teachers use social media tools responsibly, the new guidelines note that any school employees who use Facebook and other social media with their students should use a separate, professional email address connected with the accounts, one that is not used for personal emails.
Should teachers and students connect on Facebook?
Say a teacher gets lazy and continues to use personal email for school-related social media projects, or professional email for his or her Facebook profile. Then that teacher can expect to have all that digital communication considered "professional," and as such, "have no expectation of privacy." That "professional" label means principals and other officials are free to monitor for "questionable behavior."
What kind of "questionable behavior?" According to the guidelines, "If a particular type of behavior is inappropriate in the classroom or a professional workplace, then that behavior is also inappropriate on the professional social media site."
Other school districts are more restrictive, some barring unmonitored digital contact between students and teachers altogether. Last month, the Board of Education in Paramus, N.J., prohibited any digital communication with students outside unless it took place over school computer, email and telephone accounts.
Last year in Missouri, legislators repealed a law that barred teachers from using websites such as Facebook and Twitter that allowed "exclusive access" with students -- restrictions educators protested. The state now advises districts to implement their own social media guidelines.
For some NYC teacher representatives, however, the city's new guidelines do more to hinder education than help. In an interview with the New York Times, Michael Mulgrew, president of the teachers’ union, the United Federation of Teacher, told New York Times he had concerns over the guidelines. "The DOE is basically telling the people who have gone above and beyond to make education more interactive, 'Hey, if you want to do it, you do it at your own peril.' "
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