The tug-of-war between social media ‘policies’ and ‘guidelines’

Social media in the education system is often treated with the broad brush. I’ve gotten used to this, and fielded this argument long before I got into education – as a communication consultant.

Organizations who have been mildly exposed to the uses and abuses of social media immediately throw two things at it: filters and policies. You see that’s how we always dealt with these things, didn’t we? When email came along we had gatekeepers (human filters), and policies. Long before that, when people started had access to phones, people did exactly that – they ‘locked’ phones inside booths and rooms, and were worried that employees might spend too much time talking on the phone.

Fast forward to today. Schools are wrestling with this age-old communication issue of Policies vs Guidelines. Gatekeepers vs Accessibility. To address this head on was a timely White Paper on Ed tech in Schools (by the American Association of School librariess) that noted how Acceptable Use Policies or AUPs, are more a list of things young people should not do, rather than what they ought to be considering as digital citizens.

Expanding on this, Frances Harris and Megan Cusick update it with a call to rethink social media policies in schools.(“What’s Not to ‘Like’? March 10, 2014), citing Common Core standards that call for making knowledge “robust and relevant to the real world.” I like how they dig deeper into CCSS to suggest that we ought to be teaching students to use technology  “to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products in response to ongoing feedback, including new arguments or information.” (Italics, mine). The point here being that, one effective way to solicit feedback is to get them to be out there in public, on published platforms. While we are busy erecting high fences around this pool, we may be leaving them unprepared to dive into the “real world” where the pools are everywhere and unfenced.

Don’t get me wrong. I teach K-6, and have children of my own, so I know the importance of guidelines and ‘small fences.’ But to the authors’ larger point, we parents often try to teach our children to swim, rather than making them fear the deep end.

I’ve just begun a class on blogging for my 6th graders. They’ve read the AUPs, and that’s behind us now. Now it’s time to see them go public.


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