Anne Arundel


Superintendent's Corner

Social Media Marches Toward County Classrooms
By Kevin Maxwell
Superintendent of Schools

On April 18, the Board of Education approved two policies and our school system implemented accompanying administrative regulations designed to harness the power of social media in education across our county.

For all their foibles, social media sites offer a treasure trove of opportunities for students, parents, and teachers. While the most obvious avenue is communication – sites like Facebook and Twitter have long ago replaced email as the favored means of message transmission for many – there are many social media sites that can provide added content and open additional paths of exploration in the instructional arena.

Across the country, school systems are increasingly examining ways to enhance the delivery of classroom lessons for students and to simultaneously allow students to use a platform with which they are well accustomed. On a daily basis, teachers and students use Twitter, YouTube, Vimeo, and many other social media tools to share their learning, pose questions to experts and similar-aged peers around the country and world, and increase their awareness of similarities and differences between cultures and environments.

For example, kindergarten students connected with a class in another country to collaborate to determine how tall a child was by exploring measurement tools.  Students tweeted messages back and forth about their experiments and learned that yellow pencils are not a standard unit of measurement, but that some cubes would work and rulers were best. For older students, these social media tools are used to follow and understand trends and happenings, embedding learning skills in current events. These experiences excite students, provide authentic opportunities to learn, and open a world of opportunities for connecting with others.

In the weeks since the Board took its action, two committees with members from across our school system have been studying the best ways to move forward when students return to school in August. A list of social media sites approved by one of the committees for instructional use will be developed and published so that parents are aware of the sites to which their children may have access.

In the fall, parents will be asked to sign a single consent form, to allow their children to access approved sites throughout the year. Sites will be listed on the form, but it is important to note that parents will not be providing consent to material used in cases where students are simply shown content from an approved site by a teacher on, for example, a classroom Smartboard. In those instances, teachers – just as they do now –will be responsible for determining appropriate content for lessons. Consent will be required for instances where students physically access approved sites through school system devices.

Under the regulations, school system employees will be required to differentiate between personal and professional sites. A drama club advisor, for example, who wishes to use social media to communicate with club members and their parents, can do so by following established protocols. But that advisor must set up a specific, clearly named page and not use his or her personal page for that communication.

The list of approved sites will be reviewed at least annually, and will clearly change as social media evolves. It will also be differentiated by levels, with elementary students, having access to different sites than high school students.

Our intent is not only to continue to find ways to enhance the instruction provided to students, but to use social media to enhance the professional development afforded to teachers and other school system employees. Numerous groups of educators across the country and world seek out and establish connections and weekly meeting times to gather online. They share ideas and resources and discuss topics impacting their work.  These connections enhance the teaching and also provide opportunities for global collaboration for students and teachers.

Parents should review their child’s communications and use of social media to ensure that use is consistent with our stated purposes. We will continue our discussion throughout the summer, and provide parents with more information about the instructional uses for social media at Back to School nights in the fall.

The writer is superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools

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