If heeded, this will represent a giant leap forward for US education: more than a dozen key education associations and advocacy groups issuing a report together that calls on schools not to ban but to “leverage mobile technologies and social media” and students’ avid use of them.” According to The Journal, the consortium also advises schools to revisit their acceptable use policies so they’re flexible enough to fit both “today’s technology-enhanced learning environment” oncoming technologies and to something we ConnectSafely folk have been promoting for years and what was recommended in the latest national task force on youth online safety (see this): They wrote that “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.”
A government’s progressive view
On whether or not to block social media, the report made this “critical observation” that I hope school leaders nationwide will see and consider: “In August 2011, the FCC issued a Report and Order that included the following language: ‘Although it is possible that certain individual Facebook or MySpace pages could potentially contain material harmful to minors, we do not find that these websites are per se “harmful to minors” or fall into one of the categories that schools and libraries must block.'” Here’s the report at CoSN, which provides “Real-World Snapshots,” or case-studies of schools taking this more balanced, reality-based approach (free downloadable PDF).
Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and the FrameWorks Institute, which produced the report were joined 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.
A teacher’s change of heart
I was so struck by the first comment by teacher Jane Mitchinson under The Journal article about the report that I’m quoting it in full here: “I’m a teacher who had fears about mobile technologies training youth to become ‘conditioned to be on call.’ It bothered me so much, I travelled to Michigan, Boston, Vancouver, Toronto, London, and Edinburgh to interview experts on the subject, as well as teachers, administrators and students. My findings have been published on a website and made into a documentary.”
Here’s how her thinking about cellphones in the classroom changed: “Cell phones in the classroom are a distraction when used inappropriately. But many cell phones have smart phone capabilities and act as mini-computers. They can increase productivity exponentially when used for good purpose. Besides, cell phones are already in the classroom whether the teacher knows it or not. Kids text behind their backs, under their desks and even in their pockets. Some even enjoy the challenge of not getting caught as they interact with friends in that social space that adults cannot enter. When we ban cell phones we are inviting a challenge from teens that is in their very nature to engage. We also fail to guide those teens that feel a strong compulsion to interact 24/7. Essentially, we are allowing them to be conditioned to be on call.
“Teachers have a wonderful opportunity to guide students through the transition into a world where digital technologies are becoming extensions of ourselves. We see students every day for a good chunk of the day and we are already role models. My students bring their cellphones, laptops and iPods to class every day. I am able to help them learn digital citizenship, social etiquette, and guide them in self-regulation and appropriate, productive use. Often we’ll work in groups when not everyone has the technology. This is so beneficial as it offers a whole other layer of learning. Students have to discuss issues face to face before communicating their ideas/solutions using the technology. And thank goodness we have wireless at school. No one has to use a costly cell phone network, though a growing majority of parents are starting to pay for their children’s cell network plans anyway. The experts that appear in my documentary, produced as part of my Masters work include [Dr.] danah boyd, Linda Stone, Neil Andersen, Dr. David E Meyer, and Dr. David Buckingham. Here’s the link to a segment from the documentary.”