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Social Media: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

The Kentucky Department of Education announced it has officially joined the social networking phenomenon by launching a Twitter and a Facebook page.

The jump was spurred by a desire to update members of the community about meetings and updates more quickly, said a press release. The state's education commissioner, Terry Holliday, is a proponent of social media, using his own Twitter page, as well as blogs and websites, to communicate with others.

"It's important that we reach as many audiences as possible, and having a social media presence enables immediate sharing of information and news. It also provides a means for direct feedback from educators, parents, students, elected officials and others," he said in a press release.

This news comes on the heels of an announcement by a Texas school district that it would be shutting down its Facebook page due to the liability concerns of the comments on the site. It took too much staff time to maintain and ensure that all commenters were "playing nice," according to the article.

I briefly spoke with James Bosco, who heads up the Participatory Learning initiative for the Consortium for School Networking, or CoSN, about the issue to see if the challenges that precipitated the closure of Mansfield school district's Facebook page were typical. Here is what he had to say:

"School districts around the U.S. are facing the issue of how to contend with the proliferation of student owned mobile devices, social media, and other Web 2.0 applications. It's clear that this is not a passing fad and the devices will become increasingly prevalent and the applications more abundant and useful in all sectors of society—including education.

When these [digital tools] first emerged, many districts banned them. Reports in the media about bad things happening with social media and concerns about kids using their own Internet devices to access sites they should not be seeing or in ways that were an enticing distraction indicated to many school personnel that they had no place in the school. While some districts are continuing to ban or severely restrict them, other school districts are rethinking and revising their policies.

At CoSN we are seeing a growing number of leading edge school districts around the U.S. recognize the value student mobile devices, Web 2.0 social-networking and participatory-learning applications can provide for our K-12 students. These districts understand the downside as well as the upside of these technologies, but their approach is to focus on developing responsible use to enrich the learning environment rather than to attempt, which probably will ultimately be unsuccessful, to keep them out of the school."

Bosco recommended that districts and schools check out the Acceptable Use Policy Guide, created by CoSN, to help craft appropriate policies around this issue.

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