Facebook, Edutopia Collaborate on Social Media Guide

The new, free primer includes steps for introducing formal social media policies in schools.

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As most high school students are gearing up for summer break, many teachers and administrators are planning and prepping for the next school year. Part of their planning may include strategies to integrate technology in the classroom, through digital textbooks, gaming, and social media.

On May 8, the nonprofit Edutopia released "How to Create Social Media Guidelines for Your School." The free guide, released during Teacher Appreciation Week, is part of a collaboration with Facebook.

[Learn how a new Facebook effort targets educating school counselors.]

"Without having a plan and a focus on how you're going to go about incorporating social media, you're potentially going to find that you're not able to reap the benefits," says Cindy Johanson, executive director of The George Lucas Educational Foundation, which produces Edutopia.

The guide lists steps teachers should take to introduce a formal social media policy—a document that states, in very specific terms, how teachers and students should behave while using social media. The Edutopia primer includes examples from various schools, such as Minnesota's Minnetonka Public Schools social media policy, which explains how teachers should protect confidential information, ensure the safety of students online, and more.

Besides examples of policies, the guide also lists seven steps that teachers can take to create a policy and move it through the ranks of school board administrators.

"Instead of starting from scratch, we hope that others can refer to the steps in the primer and also … the real world examples," says Johanson.

This sharing of ideas is also part of the appeal of social media in the classroom. Teachers can spread ideas beyond their classrooms, and students can collaborate with peers from other classes on projects.

Students and teachers from several classrooms may be able to contribute to a class project, for example, by adding input and ideas via comments on a shared Facebook "group" page. And by following a different set of guidelines from Facebook, teachers can determine the best kind of page to create for a class project—such as a "group" page, which doesn't require teachers and students to be Facebook friends (and thus perhaps blur relationship lines and even violate the school's social media policy) to edit the page.

"So often in education, innovation has been isolated within the four walls of a classroom, or within a school district," Johanson notes. "Thanks to social media, we're able to share more broadly."

Students often use social media to collaborate with peers by posting schoolwork on blogs, Facebook, or elsewhere on the Internet, and receiving peer review and contribution, Johanson says.

[Read why the Education Department wants Tweets from teachers and students.]

"It's much more motivating for students at all levels—especially in high school—to be able to create work, get feedback, and share their work," Johanson says. "So many educators on the front line are seeing this great opportunity where kids are no longer just creating work for an audience of one—which might have been, in the past, a teacher—but they're able to produce work that can be shared in a much broader way."

The reach of social media in the classroom is so broad that it engages not only teachers and students, but it also connects parents to school life, Johanson says.

"Social media creates a much stronger link between the home and the school than we've had in the past," she notes, partially because parents can often see not only their child's work, but all the "learning that's occurring in the classroom."

And although most social media platforms have been around for less than a decade, the parent engagement that it facilitates is a classic, low-tech concept—one that is essential for an effective school, Johanson says.

"A very healthy parent connection and a strong parent collaboration with the school is an important part of being a successful school."

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