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