Staff at the William A. Davies School in Hamilton Township use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the school website to keep parents and the public informed of events at the school.
But school Principal and “lead learner” Stephen Santilli and instructional technology integration coach Kim Mattina also keep close track of what is posted, and the responses they get.
“Access is limited and it is monitored daily,” Santilli told almost 300 educators Wednesday at the annual “From My Classroom to Yours” conference, sponsored by the Southern Regional Institute and Educational Technology Training Center, or ETTC, at Richard Stockton College in Galloway Township.
Teachers are integrating more technology into their lessons, a move encouraged by the Department of Education as part of the Core Curriculum Content Standards in Technology. Social media increasingly is part of that process, allowing teachers to share lessons and projects and interact with students outside the classroom.
But the increased use of social media also is increasing concern about how it is used. A teacher at North Brunswick High School recently was charged with child endangerment for allegedly having online chats with a 14-year-old student that included discussions of engaging in sexual activity.
A new state law approved in January requires school districts to begin teaching responsible use of social media in grades six through eight beginning in the 2014-15 school year. A bill requiring all school districts to adopt policies concerning electronic communications between school employees and students was approved by the the state Legislature on Feb. 27.
Educators attending the conference said their districts have acceptable use policies, but ultimately districts must also rely on the professionalism of their staff.
Northfield computer education teacher Kevin Jarrett runs a hugely popular after-school program for middle school students on the game Minecraft, but students are not part of his social network.
“There is no one on any of my networks under age 18 because there is no reason for it,” he said. “It’s incumbent on districts to have (social media use) policies that reflect real life, and trust their staff to be professional.”
Frank Pileiro, technology coordinator at the Belhaven Middle School in Linwood, said even parents are often surprised to discover that, technically, users of Facebook are supposed to be at least 13 years old.
Teachers and coaches have used social media to stay in touch with students, but they make sure parents are also included in the process. They have rejected student offers to “friend” them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.
“You have to make sure anything the kids have access to, the parents do, too,” Pileiro said.
Patricia Weeks, director of the ETTC, said they have begun doing workshops in school districts on social media usage.
“Teachers are sometimes shocked at what they can and can’t do,” she said. “Even checking personal email on a school computer during lunch can be a violation of policy. The big issue right now is the boundaries between students and teachers.”
She said reporting also becomes an issue if a teacher were to see something on a student’s Facebook page that legally they are required to report to authorities.
JoAnne Colacurcio, supervisor of instructional technology at the Millville School District, said teachers must be trained in how to use social media in a school setting. She said programs such as Remind101 allow teachers to send notices out, but not get responses, which limits the risk of an inappropriate conversation between a student and teacher.
The Davies School is using social media to help “brand” the school and keep parents and the public informed. Facebook postings may include the winner of the school spelling bee, but they’ve gotten the most hits for things such as snow day announcements, notice of a small fire at the school, and a school lockdown when a bomb scare was reported at the Atlantic County courthouse.
“It’s branding, but it’s also communication,” Santilli said.
Santilli said the initiative took time and many conversations to develop, but is increasingly necessary when students are using social media on a daily basis.
“If something happens, the kids have already texted their parents,” Mattina said. “We have to get our message out, too.”
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