Technology Advances Since 1982 Lead To 2012 DOE Social Media Guidelines
“Our guidelines were created to provide support and information to Department of Education employees who use social media technology for educational and school related activities,” Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said, as reported by gothamschools.org on May 1.
The guidelines cover uses of Facebook, Twitter and other forms of electronic communication through which users create online communities, but they do not cover texting and cellphone use. The rules apply 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year and not just during the school day or school year.
Approximately three quarters (73 percent) of all American teenagers age 12 to 17 use social networking sites, according to the Pew Research Center, and nearly half (43 percent) of students in grades 9 to 12 say social networking sites are their primary mode for communicating with friends online, according to Project Tomorrow.
As an integral part of daily life with accessibility from virtually anywhere, social media sites like Facebook (550 million daily users), Twitter (65 million Tweets per day) and YouTube (two billion video views daily), allow public sharing of personal information in the form of words, pictures, videos and audio, raising concerns over privacy.
Almost one billion (901 million) people log onto Facebook every month, spending an average of 20 minutes per visit during which they upload 300 million photos and post 3.2 billion “likes” and comments daily. Increasingly, people get news, conduct business, meet and stay in touch, tell things about themselves and influence other people through social media.
According to ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development), an educational leadership organization, 80 percent of colleges now use Facebook to recruit student applicants and one in 10 admissions officers from the top 500 colleges check applicants’ social networking profiles during their decision-making process.
With these escalating changes, the number of complaints about inappropriate contact between students and teachers via social media received by New York City Department of Education (DOE) Special Commissioner of Investigations Richard Condon jumped from two in 2008 to 59 in 2010 although not all instances were substantiated, according to a May 1, 2012 report in the Wall Street Journal.
“Social media technology can serve as a powerful tool to enhance education, communication and learning,” the nine-page Department of Education memorandum issued on May 1 said. It credits social media as necessary to prepare students for future success while delineating a set of best practices to be followed in order to keep personal use separate from professional use.
“While resources like social networking, blogs, Web sites, and other online media can support and enrich learning opportunities, it is important for school and DOE staff to use these tools in a way that protects the privacy and safety of our students and employees,” the DOE guidelines state.
Through the burgeoning use of smart phones and tablet computers, it is now estimated that Internet users will double by 2015 to a worldwide total of some four billion, or nearly 60 percent of the Earth’s population. Mobile Web devices are on track to surpass wired Internet access by 2015 and social networking now accounts for nearly a quarter of the time Americans spend online, according to Nielsen.
In 1982, CD players were the new technology. But in the three decades since, technology has rocketed ahead with U.S. consumers now buying computer tablets, e-readers and smart phones “at an increasing rate”, spending $144 billion on such electronics in 2011, according to CNET.com news (Feb. 13, 2012).
“Without technology, social media would cease to exist,” Digg.com, a social media Web site said. Quite a difference from school communications sent via letters and notes in backpacks 30 years ago. Today, 50 percent of parents say they communicate using social networking tools (Project Tomorrow).
Six months after the first issue of the Queens Gazette was published in June 1982, Time Magazine announced its Man of the Year. It was not Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher. Instead, in a unique departure from past practice, it was The Computer, marking the first time ever that Time’s editors selected a non-human recipient for their annual award.
“There are some occasions where the most significant force in a year’s news is not a single individual, but a process and a widespread recognition by a whole society that this process is changing the course of all other processes,” explained the editors of Time in their announcement. The editors went on to say that 80 percent of Americans expected that “in the fairly near future, home computers will be as commonplace as television sets or dishwashers”.
Three decades later, computers have certainly moved to become commonplace inbusinesses, homes and schools. In 1980, 724,000 personal computers (PCs) were sold in the U.S. In 1981, that number doubled to 1.4 million. In 1982 it doubled again (2.8 million), with about 15 million personal computers in use worldwide in 1979. By 1994 most U.S. classrooms had at least one PC available for instructional use and a decade later, 14.2 million computers were in classrooms across the country (2005-2006 school year), according to the 2010 Statistical Abstract of the United States.
The Texas Instruments’ TI 99, using a television screen as a monitor was the world’s most popular personal computer in 1980. In 1983, the Apple II computer was introduced in K through 8 classrooms, followed by the Apple Macintosh in 1984 with software applications for learning and games. They were prevalent in schools by 1986.
In 1983, the ARPAnet, a precursor to the Internet created by the United States Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA) in 1969 to test new networking technologies linking universities and research centers (.edus), was officially changed to use the Internet Protocol, thereby creating the Internet. The first commercial dot-com (.com) domain name, Symbolics.com, was registered in 1985, although domains for educational institutions (.edu) were still predominant.
In 1986, the Internet Mail Access Protocol was defined for e-mail transfer, giving rise to the universal popularity of electronic mail transmissions. The rise of social media can be traced to the first e-mail between two computers one meter apart in 1971. Commercial Internet service providers for the public in the U.S., such as CompuServe (1979), AmericaOnline (1983)—now AOL—and Prodigy (1984), began using “dial-up” technology to give Internet access through the 1980s and into the 1990s.
In 1997, AOL Instant Messaging let Internet users chat in real time and in 1998 Google opened as a major Internet search engine and index. By 2000, 70 million computers were connected to the Internet.
Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard dropout, began Facebook in February 2004, and Twitter, with a limit of 140 characters per Tweet, began in 2006. By 2010, the Internet had surpassed newspapers as a primary way for Americans to get news, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
Before he died on Oct. 5, 2011, Apple cofounder and CEO Steve Jobs oversaw the introduction of the iPad 2 and the iPhone 4S. Also coming out last year were the Kindle Fire by Amazon and the Barnes and Noble Nook.
In May 2011 Skype, a voice over the Internet service and software application, was acquired by Microsoft for $8.5 billion and Motorola Mobility, a maker of Android smart phones, tablets, Bluetooth accessories and other communication products, was acquired by Google in August for $12.5 billion.
The DOE guidelines for professional utilization of social media, including staff and students, seek to do so in a “safe and responsible manner” by recognizing “the public and pervasive nature of social media communications” and the fact that in the digital era the lines between professional and personal endeavors are sometimes blurred. For example, establishing a Facebook page for his/her school by a DOE principal or establishing a blog for his/her class by a DOE teacher is considered an acceptable schoolbased, work-related social media activity. But personal social media use is non-work related activity.
DOE staff members are advised to use the schools.nyc.gov e-mail address they have been assigned only for work related correspondence and to keep separate e-mail accounts for personal use. If a personal e-mail account is regularly used for professional use, DOE will consider it a professional e-mail.
Student information of any kind cannot be posted without a signed parent release form and the DOE prohibits students from posting photos of students on professional social media sites.
DOE staff are not to communicate personally with currently enrolled students on personal media sites and are banned from communicating via “friending”, “following”, “commenting” or “posting”. Staff cannot “tag” photos or videos of DOE employees, volunteers, contractors or vendors without their permission, nor can they post personally identifiable student information or tag photos or videos of students on social media sites.
The DOE has the right to monitor professional media sites and have access to public online behavior by all DOE staff. “These are strong recommendations,” Matthew Mittenthal, a DOE spokesperson, said in the May 1 WSJ report.
The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) also “believes that appropriate uses of technology in the classroom fosters more engaged learning and inspires students to participate”, according to a May 14 response by the UFT to the new DOE social media guidelines. But the UFT sees the new guidelines as doing “more to discourage” the use of technology than encourage it. “The UFT agrees that the Internet should be a safe place for members and students to do the work of teaching, learning and communicating, but the union doesn’t want to curtail appropriate uses of new technology that engage students and help them learn.”
Public schools in New York City are not banned from using social media sites as learning tools, but are blocked by the DOE until a request from the principal is received. U.S. Department of Education Director of Technology Karen Cator has recommended social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube for instruction, according to a report on May 21, 2012.
The Metrofocus report by Honor Moorman, an educational consultant who works with New York City high schools in the Asia Society’s International Studies Schools Network, faults the new DOE social media guidelines for not offering any guidance as to how social media can be used and offers two areas of focus where students interact and learn from the real world and connect with students all over the world.
Moorman notes that YouTubeEDU are videos organized by subject area and grade level that offer educational content free of any advertising or comments by organizations like the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), History Channel, Khan Academy, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Geographic, Public Broadcasting Station (PBS) and TED, a non-profit devoted to ideas worth spreading. TEDED is a Web site that turns educational videos into interactive lessons that enable teachers to individualize instruction.
Another critical use is a classroom Web log (blog). With parental consent, “students and teachers can share their learning” on a class blog or individual student blogs where they can embed documents, photos and videos and invite family and community members to comment on their work. Teachers can also gain a broader audience for their class blogs by sharing updates on Twitter, said Moorman.
A second approach for effective educational use of social media is through a global project where students can learn from and work in collaboration with their peers in one or more classrooms around the world. Moorman suggests incorporating international events as a means to do so. One Day on Earth, for example, invites participants to film their local communities during a 24-hour period and submit their videos for a global documentary. Possible topics include environmental science, oral history, cultural diversity and the arts. Organizations such as Global Kids and TakingITGlobal offer established projects for teachers to participate in as well.
There are also global online communities such as The Global Education Conference Network, or Skype in the Classroom that offer collaboration between U.S. schools and worldwide partners.
“When students engage in real-world, global learning using social media, they not only learn the knowledge and skills of the traditional curriculum, they also learn 21st century skills and global competencies that empower them as global (and) digital citizens,” Moorman wrote.
ASCD has issued a fact sheet titled, “Students Like Social Media”, that references numerous surveys showing students are increasingly online using social media and demonstrating their desire to have schools enhance learning through the use of new technology.
The surveys show teenagers get 62 percent of their news about current events and politics online (Pew), 63 percent of students in grades 6 to 12 want online textbooks that allow communication with classmates and 40 percent want online texts with collaboration (social media) tools (Project Tomorrow.)
Schools remain cautious, nonetheless, about social media as a learning tool, ASCD said, and the National School Board Association notes that 69 percent of American high schools, including the New York City Department of Education, currently ban the use or possession of mobile devices on school grounds.
Still, one third of middle and high school students favor electronic communication with their teachers (Project Tomorrow) and more than half (63 percent) use their mobile devices anyway in schools that ban them (National School Board Association).
The DOE will review the new social media policy every three months.