Sunday, December 18, 2011

Social Media in Schools #EdChat

Today, an article was published by the New York Times about the use of Social Media in schools and how some districts are imposing very restrictive guidelines for their staff. I was interviewed for this article a couple of months ago. I talked with the reporter for close to an hour and this is what was published.

"Nicholas Provenzano, 32, who has been teaching English for 10 years at Grosse Point High School in Michigan, acknowledged that “all of us using social media in a positive way with kids have to take 15 steps back whenever there is an incident.” But he said the benefits were many and that he communicated regularly with his students in an open forum, mostly through Twitter, responding to their questions about assignments. He has even shared a photo of his 6-month-old son. On occasion, he said, he will exchange private messages about an assignment or school-related task. He said that in addition to modeling best practices on social media use, he has been able to engage some students on Twitter who would not raise their hand in class. 

He also said social media networks allowed him to collaborate on projects in other parts of the country."

There are a couple of things I want to point out before I go into more detail on Social Media in Schools.

1. I teach at Grosse Pointe South High School in Grosse Pointe Farms, MI
2. I'm not sure why my age was really important to the article, but I am 32.
3. When I talked about exchanging private messages, I was referring to DMs of Twitter. Some students feel more comfortable asking, what they deem dumb, questions through a DM. They feel more comfortable asking those in private. No different than staying after class to ask the question once everyone leaves.
4. Yes, I have shared a photo of my beautiful 6 month old son (now 7 months old). I'm not sure exactly how that point fits in the paragraph, but I think I was trying to show that while Twitter can be a great place to connect and discuss school related issues, it is also nice to be able to show students you are a person too.

These are just a few of the things I wanted to clear up regarding the article that I was quoted. For the full article, you can find it here.

As for Social Media use in schools, here is what I think.

When it comes to Social Media, like any tool, there needs to be a clear goal in mind. Using Facebook or Twitter because the kids do is an awful reason if it is the only one. I chose to use Twitter with my students because I saw it as a way to connect with my students outside of the classroom. It is also an avenue for me to connect with parents. I created an account that is for my school only. @MrProvenzano is an account I openly use with my students, parents and other teachers in the district. My twitter account is on my syllabus and my school web page. I embed the feed onto my site as well so anyone can see the tweets that go out. I also use the hash tag, #MrPAmLit to specify class content. Over the past couple of years, it has been a great communication tool. My students have used Twitter as a back channel for class discussions and to ask me questions after school hours. It has been a great experience for me and my students. It is only possible because I put some strict guidelines in place.

I told students that I would follow them back on Twitter, but may choose to un-follow them if they use language or discuss topics I deem inappropriate. I have a discussion about digital footprints and the words they use could come back and haunt them no matter how well they think they are covering their tracks. I've only had to un-follow a couple of students because their language was just too foul. Sometimes I will say something to a student about an errant F-Bomb in a tweet and they are always apologetic and promise to be more mindful. I support their first amendment right to tweet what they want, but I always tell them people are allowed to think what they want based on their tweets. It's all about the modeling.

I know it is easier to block everything and punish harshly. I feel that is the response of lazy administrators. I say sit down and get your hands dirty and create a policy that works for parents, teachers, students and the district. Social Media is a new territory that needs to be explored in education, but like all new territories, it must be explored with caution and open mind.

Please feel free to share your thoughts below. 

- @TheNerdyTeacher


  1. I have been using Google Voice with my students for the past two years. There have been no inappropriate situations or comments. My 4th year students in French registered for their Twitter accounts on Friday. I will be preparing a guide in a major step for them as well asFrench over the break. This will be for me. Additionally, I registered for a school-only account that the students will follow. I hadn't planned on following them, but perhaps your system of following them with conditions seems more logical. I will also add the administration to the group, but as they don't speak French, I will add another French teacher for support. I am not nervous about this endeavor, but cognizant of the issues that must be addressed before the official launch. Many thanks for your continued postings. My new blog on podsI in French class will chronicle our adventures.

  2. This topic always fires me up and even a 40 mile ride in sub-30 temps today couldn't cool my passion after reading the Times article. I'm fortunate to work in a district that trusts its teachers to use social media in a responsible way to connect with their students, parents, and the community. I use social media to communicate the great things going on in our class, answer homework questions, share great information, communicate schedule changes, and most importantly, model appropriate online behavior. I've taught first graders through 6th graders digital citizenship and creating/maintaining a positive digital footprint. I don't think that kids will understand how to act or portray themselves online on their own. We not only have to teach them the proper behavior, but we must show them as well.

    Crossing the street is dangerous, but we don't ban cars.

  3. I was troubled with the slant of that story, thinking to myself that the reporter was just getting it wrong, suggesting that thoughtful administrators and union officials agreed that the most responsible course of action for schools is to restrict teacher's use of social media.
    What would the connected principals on #cpchat say? I thought about #pencilchat, and wondered what a Greek chorus of impatient educator technophiles would have to say about the story. Certainly, stories of a teacher abusing a teacher-student relationship predate pencils. These egregious crimes have happened as long as there have been schools. Social media is just a new context.
    Restricting social media in schools only increases the likelihood that students today won't learn how to harness the power of the Internet. When we restrict social media in schools, we tie the hands of progressive educators who are working to make sense of learning possibilities that never existed before. Adults who would violate the trust of parents and communities by having inappropriate contact with students aren't paying attention to rules anyway.

    Educators who work to answer the challenge of preparing students for jobs we can't even imagine yet must continue to work with social networking tools. According to Will Richardson , author of Personal Learning Networks, use of the Internet and social media tools in school makes students safer, since young children have access to the Internet through their cell phones, video games and personal computers. For most, schools are the only place where children will hear about not only Internet safety but the power of the Internet to connect us to ever-expanding resources for learning.

  4. Nice post! After reading the times article yesterday I was quite furious. Furthermore I considered it quite 'funny' that they talk about social media guidelines and then don't dare to get into a discussion about the things they wrote.

    I'm quite happy to see this post and the comments here who make me realize that I wasn't alone with my thoughts.

    Especially the part '... he has been able to engage some students on Twitter who would not raise their hand in class. ' is an incredible positive touch of using social media for teaching.

    I'm teaching foreign languages in Thailand (being from Europe though) and have to say that social media helps a lot to get conversations started and into the right direction. Students sometimes are just to shy to ask question in front of 30 other classmates so they use twitter or facebook to get in touch or clear things up. Or we use facebook for groupchats and discussions, upload video assignments, etc...

    Like always in life it depends on HOW you use the tools that are given to you.

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