Making Progress: Rethinking State and School District Policies Concerning Mobile Technologies and Social Media


It is commonly recognized that our nation’s progress depends on improving learning, thereby creating healthier communities and a stronger workforce. In today’s world, that requires us to take advantage of new learning tools to ensure that our children’s learning is practical and prepares them for the challenges of the 21st century. The advantages of digital media now greatly outweigh the disadvantages and require that schools update their thinking and policies to provide guidance on the use of these tools to improve student learning and achievement.
In 2000, when the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) was first enacted, the major concern on the part of legislators and education policymakers was to protect children from viewing pornography on the Internet. A decade later, the nature and scope of digital media differs sharply from what existed in 2000. Mobile devices, social media, and other Web 2.0 applications have become mainstream in many sectors of society, and an increasing number of educators are demonstrating the power of these applications to enrich the learning environments in their classrooms.
There is a growing recognition on the part of teachers, education support professionals, school administrators, and prominent educational experts that emerging digital technologies are here to stay and, when used properly, can offer substantial educational benefits. These benefits, however, are not without some risks. Recent abuses of social media have prompted a number of state legislatures and boards of education to consider enacting legislation or policies to respond to concerns about the use of digital media to harass, bully, or make inappropriate sexual contact with children. Before steps are taken to impose limits on the use of social media and mobile technologies in schools, policymakers and educators need to consider the consequences for learning that such restrictions would produce. In this document, we argue that such action should carefully consider the advantages of social media for learning and that these guidelines for responsible use bring media into mentored environments where they can be safely explored and shared.
Many of the problems raised by these new technologies – from bullying to engaging in risky behavior – are not new to the public discourse, but are merely being delivered in different media. The challenge to responsible educators remains the same: to provide stimulating and safe learning environments that support the acquisition of practical skills necessary for full participation as a 21st-century citizen. Achieving this without mentored use of new technologies seems both impractical and counterproductive. One of the most powerful reasons to permit the use of social media and mobile devices in the classroom is to provide an opportunity for students to learn about their use in a supervised environment that emphasizes the development of attitudes and skills that will help keep them safe outside of school. A popular analogy is to driver’s education, where behind-the-wheel training is as important as the more theoretical study of the “rules of the road.” To advance thinking about the issues involved, we offer a summary of the emerging themes in educational uses of social media and conclude with recommendations for responsible use policies.
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