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'Banning Is Not the Answer' to Mobile and Social Tools in Schools
Before choosing to restrict the use of social and mobile tools in schools, policymakers and education leaders have to consider the negative impact such restrictions will have on learning. That's the premise of a new policy report released jointly this week by more than a dozen prominent education associations and advocacy groups.
The report, "Making Progress: Rethinking State and School District Policies Concerning Mobile Technologies and Social Media," was released by more than a dozen major education and ed tech groups, including the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and the FrameWorks Institute, which produced the report, along with the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), the National Education Association (NEA), the Student Press Law Center, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, the National Writing Project, the National Council of Teachers of English, Common Sense Media, and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. It was funded through an award from the MacArthur-UCHRI Digital Media and Learning Research Hub at the University of California, Irvine.
The goal of the report, its authors argued, was not to prescribe specific policies but to illuminate issues that need to be considered--both positive and negative--in order to help bring policy in line with the needs of education and realities of technological world in which students live.
"In today's world, most students are attached to mobile devices of some kind whether in or out of school. When policy and practice are aligned, the amazing possibilities presented by this fact surely outweigh the challenges. Creating that alignment is our first step," said NASBE Deputy Executive Director Bradley J. Hull in a separate statement released to coincide with the report.
Social and Mobile Technologies: Current Realities
The report cited five "critical observations" related to the use of social and mobile tools in schools, both supporting their use and acknowledging the need to address issues related to their use. These included:
1. Social media and mobile devices are already in widespread use by students, and schools are beginning to adapt their own policies to take advantage of students' current interest in technology.
2. Mobile technologies and social media offer "tremendous" educational benefits, including bridging formal and informal learning, providing access to educational resources students otherwise wouldn't be able to use, and offering the ability to learn lifelong technology skills, among others.
3. Some federal, state, and local policies do not match up with current realities and need clarification or updating in light of current social trends and technological advancements.
4. Advocates of social and mobile technology need to address negative behaviors that are sometimes associated with these technologies, including the use of technology tools in bullying, along with self-destructive behavior and poor decision-making on the part of minors whose actions can have lifelong consequences. The report's authors pointed out that schools provide a unique opportunity for students to use their favorite tools in a supervised, mentored environment.
5. Equity issues need to be addressed. BYOD programs, for example, some students will not have the financial resources to supply their own equipment. Similarly, Internet access can be an issue. "Failure to address this will create a critical fault line in the differential learning opportunities available to students and, potentially, leave some groups of students ill prepared to join our country’s 21st-century workforce," the report argued.
"Mobile technologies and social media, if leveraged appropriately, have the potential to maximize student learning and engagement, and transform the concept of the classroom from four walls to an interactive space where student-centered learning takes place," said Frameworks Institute President Susan Bales, also in a prepared statement. "While there are a variety of challenges, there are enormous opportunities, and if we--educators, technology leaders and school decision makers--find ways to harness the power of these tools, the benefits to our young people and our education system are countless. There are also legitimate concerns that must be addressed, but they must be weighed against the potential benefits."
Considerations for Policymakers
The report also made four suggestions for policymakers and stakeholders to consider when looking at practices surrounding the use of technology in schools.
1. The first: "Banning is not the answer." Rather, a more balanced approach to access is called for.
"The first generation of policymaking around communication technology in schools has been built on a foundation of fear, and it's time to push 'reboot' and institute 'Policymaking 2.0' built on facts and research instead. Education is something we do 'with' students and not something we do 'to' students," said Frank D. LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, also in a prepared statement.
2. Second, the function of acceptable use policies needs to be revisited. AUPs, the report's authors argued, should focus on "policy goals that go beyond the narrow set of Web site access issues that were the primary focus of many earlier AUPs."
"The 'Making Progress' document supports a vision of schools that amplifies the use of mobile and connective technologies from restrictive or 'acceptable' to 'responsible,'" said Bob Farrace, NASSP senior director for communications and development.
"The rapid pace of technological developments and changing attitudes about appropriate ways to communicate online, personal privacy, and freedom of speech present school leaders and policy-makers with an evolving set of challenges from the classroom to the boardroom. [The 'Making Progress' report] encourages thoughtful conversations before a crisis occurs so the promise and potential of these new tools will not be lost in the rush to try and right some unfortunate wrong," said NSBA Director of Education Technology Ann Lee Flynn.
3. Schools should use the adoption of social and mobile tools as an opportunity to reach students on issues of digital citizenship, digital literacy, and responsible use of online tools in a supervised environment.
"At Common Sense Media, we recognize how social media is changing and enriching the way kids learn and discover the world around them--both in and out of the classroom," said Linda Burch, chief education and strategy officer at Common Sense Media. "We also know how important it is for districts to develop comprehensive policies to ensure that students can harness technology to its full potential, which includes arming students with the right skills and knowledge to use social media safely and responsibly."
"Many young people are already active digital consumers, but school is often the place where they learn to be critical, reflective, and powerful digital citizens. But to do that, students and teachers need to be able to read, write, search, and collaborate with broad access to wide range of Web 2.0 tools," said National Writing Project National Programs and Site Development Director Elyse Eidman-Aadahl.
"The Partnership for 21st Century Skills supports CoSN's work to help schools and school districts responsibly and effectively integrate mobile technologies and social media into the learning environment. As reinforced by the report, when used appropriately, these technologies can help students facilitate the 4Cs--communication, collaboration, critical thinking skills and creativity, key 21st Century Skills all students need to succeed in college, life, and career. It is important to help students understand the power and potential peril of these new technologies as part of their overall information, media, and technology skills attainment," said Lillian Kellogg, P21 chair and vice president of Education Networks of America.
4. And finally, professional development is crucial to the successful adoption of any technology and should be emphasized to support mobile and social initiatives, focusing in particular on legal, ethical, and practical issues.
"Technology in the classroom can enhance what and how a student learns and helps teachers cater to the unique needs, skills, interests, and learning styles of their students," said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, also in a prepared statement. "But educators must be provided with professional development in digital technology in order to learn how best to engage students in and out of the classroom using these tools. This is also an opportunity for parents and school personnel to work together to teach all students responsibility and how to make good decisions regarding the appropriate use of mobile devices."
In addition to observations and policy suggestions, the report provides snapshot profiles of schools that are making a positive impact on students through the use of technology, along with a resource directory highlighting the successful use of social media and mobile devices in schools, examples of acceptable use policies, and other resources for schools looking to explore the use of mobile and social tools as a part of education.
The complete report is available as a free download in PDF form from CoSN's site.
Executive Producer David Nagel heads up the editorial department for 1105 Media's education publications — which include two daily sites, a variety of newsletters and two monthly digital magazines covering technology in both K-12 and higher education.
A 21-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art and business publications.
He can be reached at email@example.com. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/profile/view?id=10390192 or follow him on Twitter at @THEJournalDave (K-12) or @CampusTechDave (higher education). A selection of David Nagel's articles can be found on this site.