FETC 2013 | Q&A

Engaging Without Restrictions

Restrictive approaches to social media in the classroom are hurting K-12 districts that expect their teachers to successfully guide students into the new media world, according to Steven Anderson.

Steven Anderson is shocked by some of the social media policies instituted by K-12 schools and districts nationwide. "It completely boggles my mind," said Anderson, director of instructional technology at Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. "I'm not saying there isn't a need for policies around social media usage, but the best practices and guidelines have to allow kids to both explore and make mistakes."

From there, Anderson said it's up to the district to figure out how those mistakes are going to be addressed. Take the high-profile problem of cyber-bullying, for example. Anderson said that rather than restricting social media usage in order to curb bullying, districts should be addressing the issue the minute students enroll in school. "To create a culture where students don't bully each other online," he explained, "you have to teach them how to use social media responsibly from day 1, in kindergarten."

Anderson will share more of his insights on the use of social media and technology for learning at the FETC conference in 2013, where he will offer two different sessions on the topic. Passionate about the use of social media for the students he serves, Anderson is an educator, speaker, renowned blogger, and avid tweeter. Using the handle "@Web20classroom" on Twitter, Anderson was voted by his peers the Edublog Awards Most Influential Tweeter, is the #Edchat co-creator, a #140Conf character, and an ASCD Emerging Leader.

Steven Anderson, director of instructional technology at Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
Steven Anderson, director of instructional technology at Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools

As his district's director of instructional technology, Anderson helps guide a technology program for over 53,000 students in Winston-Salem, NC. He regularly travels around the country sharing ideas with schools and districts related to the use of social media in the classroom and was recognized with both a NOW Award and a Twitterer of The Year Award.

Bridget McCrea: How far has social media come in the K-12 classroom?

Steven Anderson: When I started in social media three-and-a-half years ago I'd go to professional development conferences and start talking about it to other attendees. At the time the usage numbers were tiny within the educational environment. Twitter was a popular platform for people who were "in the know," but that was the extent of it.

At the time I was working in a rural district and trying to find an easy way to share resources with teachers. I'd used Twitter in the past but given up on it because I had no direction or purpose and thought it was kind of silly. So I just began sharing blog posts and figured that was an easy way to start getting teachers connected online. It just kind of grew from there.

Over the last few years there's been an explosion in the number of teachers who are embracing social media, either on the professional development side or by actually taking it into the classroom.

Steven Anderson, an educator, speaker, renowned blogger, and avid tweeter, will be presenting two sessions at FETC 2013, which starts Jan. 28, 2013 in Orlando, FL:

  • Creating Student And Teacher Friendly Social Media Guidelines and
  • Super Secret Twitter Tips, Tricks, And Resources.

Anderson will discuss the growing use of social media in today's K-12 classrooms and show attendees how to set up effective guidelines for Facebook, Twitter, and other online platforms.

McCrea: How is social media impacting student learning in the classroom?

Anderson: It allows them to see their worlds in a whole new way. It offers an unfiltered, unmuted view. For example, they can see firsthand what's happening in places like the Middle East and North Africa--information that hasn't even hit a textbook yet and that is filtered by the media. When they can follow hashtags and YouTube videos posted by people who are actually in the Middle East and participating in the protests, students can see exactly what's going on.

That's powerful stuff for learning, and it wouldn't be possible without social media.

McCrea: Where are districts going wrong when it comes to social media policies?

Anderson: Policies are punitive, and they usually address something that is negative, or they punish people. They are usually there to protect the district and not to protect the people that the rules are enforced upon. When I started looking at policies around the country, I saw that districts were taking a very hard-nosed line when it came to social media. So you had these teachers saying, "I want to use it in my school but my district says I can't do this and I can't do that. So it makes it kind of unreachable and what's the point? Why should I even bother?"

McCrea: Do you have a favorite "worst offender" when it comes to social media policies?

Anderson: One of my favorite ones is a school district in Pennsylvania where students are not allowed to use social media and teachers are not allowed to have social media accounts associated with their school e-mail addresses. And yet two paragraphs down the policy states: "Teachers are responsible for teaching kids all aspects of Internet safety." So the district wants teachers to teach kids Internet safety, but it doesn't allow them to use products that permit them to teach Internet safety.

McCrea: What's a better approach?

Anderson: Use guidelines instead of policies. In North Carolina, for example, we have professional codes of conduct so there is not really a need for a separate code of conduct when it comes to social media. In other words, a social media policy isn't going to protect students or teachers from people who are going to do harm; there are already mechanisms in place to do that. Instead of taking a hard-nosed view a better strategy is to create guidelines and best practices that say, "We want to embrace this and we want you to use this platform, but we want you to do it in a responsible way so we're going to teach you how to do it appropriately." For example, we'll teach you how to identify when someone is being cyber-bullied and what you can do about it and how you can report it.

McCrea: How does the fact that most students are using social media outside of school factor into the guideline development?

Anderson: We can't just close our minds and shut the doors and pretend that social media doesn't exist. We're living in a hyper-connected world; some of us are online 24 hours a day. We have to teach kids upfront how and why to act appropriately instead of saying, "You can't use social media at all, it's bad, it's terrible and it's going to cause the end of the world." When students leave the school building guess what they're going to do? They're going to use Facebook, Twitter, and all of those services that we've labeled as bad and horrible--and they're going to use them inappropriately.

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