Social Media Failure in Our School Districts

By now, we’ve all heard the concerns about social media in the K-12 setting.  The fears of teachers revealing their personal lives of Facebook.  The worry of what can be accessed and posted on YouTube, revealing the good, bad, and ugly of the 21st century classroom.  Even ongoing tweets about both policy and practice in the classroom or the central office.  The concern has grown so significant that many school districts have policies banning the use of social media, even erecting firewalls to ban access to sites like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter with LEA computers or through LEA-based Internet connections.

Last month, Eduflack wrote on edreformer.com about current disintermediation efforts.  The concept is a simple one.  Rather than work exclusively through the traditional media, hoping they can offer a complete and balanced story, more and more folks are doing the storytelling themselves.  Using blogs, Facebook, YouTube, and the like, they cut out the media “middle man” and get the story directly to those stakeholders who need it most.  The Obama Administration has been particularly adept at the practice, using the powers of the Internet and social media to build lasting dialogues on the issues of the day.

This is a practice also pursued by the good folks over at the U.S. Department of Education, where, among other things, they have their own usedgov YouTube channel.  To date, there are 139 videos up there.  Some are of events that EdSec Arne Duncan and his staff participate in.  Others are specific efforts to deliver the ED message directly to key stakeholder audiences.

About three weeks ago, ED offered up a video from Duncan for school principals.  In the five-minute piece, Duncan lays out the Administration’s education priorities, funding commitments for programs like Title I and IDEA, and plans for improving the federal commitment to public education (particularly through ESEA).  It is just Duncan in front of a blue curtain and US flag and the ED learning tree seal, but it is effective.  A good video, with both good intent and a good message.  And it also gives a strong pat on the back to those school leaders who are fighting the good fight each and every school day.

By now, we all know that ED has been investing resources to ensure that school principals are part of the ESEA reauthorization discussion and have bought into school improvement efforts like i3.  We’ve seen teacher quality expanded to include principals.  And we’ve seen school leaders better involved in discussions than we seen in years past.  According to the Digest of Education Statistics 2008, there were 98,793 K-12 public schools in the United States.  We assume most of these schools have principals leading them.  So figuring out how to engage these nearly 100,000 school leaders on issues of policy and improvement is a good thing.

Yet as of this morning, there have only been 143 views of the video.  In three weeks, only 143 people have watched the piece (and I assume some of them are like Eduflack, not principals, the intended audience).  Nearly 100,000 school leaders, yet only 143 visits.  Why?

One primary reason, it appears, is our school districts’ fear of social media.  ED is using YouTube to distribute the video.  Most school districts ban YouTube, fearing access to unauthorized materials and a general waste of instructional time.  So even if ED puts all of the promotional efforts at its disposal behind the release of this video (and others like it) the intended audiences simply can’t access it.  Classroom teachers can’t get to the usedgov YouTube channel  Principals can’t peruse it.  Even superintendents and central office personnel can’t get in.  (Eduflack first heard about this video from educators in Houston who wanted to view the video, but were denied.  Since then, it seems the ban is a pretty standard practice.)

We ask our schools to prepare students for the rigors and opportunties of a 21st century world, yet we are asking them to teach with access to only the most basic of 19th century tools?  We continue to ask a technologically adept student population (for the most part) to unplug when they get to the schoolhouse doors, and forget how to access an unending wealth of information?  We ask teachers to improve the quality and result of their teaching, yet deny them the ability to supplement instruction through shared technologies and content that are FREE to all?  

Years ago, when the Edu-mom used to teach 10th grade English, she would roll out an old videotape of the Simpsons to help teach Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven.  It was nothing special, just Bart Simpson reciting the poem, word for word, with the requisite Homer and company as backdrop.  But it helped make the poem more relevant for the students.  It took it beyond the printed words in the textbook and brought it to life.  (And the Simpsons then subsequently did the same with Hamlet, the Iliad, and other classics that should be covered in an English class in a way that even the most disinterested student would pay attention.)

ED should be complimented for offering up information distribution channels like YouTube and delivering information directly to the stakeholder audiences who need it the most.  (Though it is important to note that ED’s own firewalls prevent most employees from accessing sites like Facebook or many education policy blogs.)  The real failure here is on the school districts.  Despite the fears of accessing unauthorized materials or wasting classroom time and resources on social media, these uniform bans are only handicapping educators and shortchanging students.

We should be encouraging intellectual exploration and finding new ways to engage new technologies and medias to make learning more interactive, more relevant, and more effective.  We should be expanding educators’ access to the resources they need, not restricting them.  If we are really focused on 21st century learning, we need to find ways to embrace and maximize 21st century tools.  Now’s the time to embrace, not run away in fear.

         

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