Key Considerations When Introducing Social Media Applications, to Help Ensure Student Privacy and Safety
Technology continues to roll onward at its customary pace, presenting exciting advances in education, as in many other fields. Teachers are incorporating technology at an increasing pace, utilizing cutting-edge teaching aids in their classrooms – and beyond. In this modern era, many technologies develop a following in the consumer markets and then bridge the gap into the academics and the professional world. Social Media fits that pattern. Once applications like Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram, became a part of many people’s personal lives, they soon saw increasing adoption by business, and by education.
While social media applications create new opportunities for teachers and students, there are potential issues to address before mixing kids with technology that could potentially put them at risk. Here we examine some of these, and consider what can be done to address those risks before they become a problem.
It Starts with Policy
The first step toward protecting young students using social media is to clearly articulate policies within schools. Social media blurs the lines between professional and personal interactions, so engaging students through these channels must include very clear boundaries and calculated approaches from teachers and school administration.
Sharing too much, for example, can end-up compromising student privacy. Posting pictures and other student information on blogs or social media sites, for example, places students' privacy in jeopardy and opens the door for virtual opportunists with ulterior motives. While connecting with students outside the classroom is the future of instruction, it must unfold deliberately, with very clear boundaries in-place.
Keep in mind as well that in addition to following school policies, teachers inspiring learning via social media and expecting students to access these tools outside of the classroom should make sure parents are aware of expectations, and the intended goals and benefits.
Content Filtering & Malware Protection
Computers used in classrooms and school networks must be set-up appropriately. Firewalls installed on school networks can limit the types of sites being accessed, and prohibit students from opening malicious email attachments and other malware. Filtering software provides further fortification, restricting access to specific types of sites and content.
Malware exists in many forms and best practices on networks and computers can go a long way towards ensuring that the use of social media doesn’t fall victim to these malicious software applications. Be sure to talk with your institution’s technology staff about filtering, firewalls, and other forms of malware protection.
Consider Education-Specific Alternatives to Mass Market Social Media Tools
Many educations-specific applications leverage functionality that many of us have become familiar with through popular social media applications. One good example is Edmodo, a free application that brings Learning Management System style functionality to thousands of K-12 schools, with a user interface that is reminiscent of Facebook. With discussion groups, easy ability to link out to other web content, and other capabilities that we take for granted from our use of mass market social networking tools, Edmodo is a easy to adopt.
Tools like Edmodo engage and encourage students and teacher alike through familiar formats and essential functions. Edmodo allows teachers to post and receive assignments online, and access to information is specifically limited to those invited to share. While instructors have access to everything, they also control information shared on the private site. Parents are brought into the loop using access codes, allowing them to be informed and aware. Teachers are able to send quick messages too, which students receive using computers, tablets and even by way of an iPhone app.
Many of these special features provide the best of both worlds – familiar, essential functionality, with education-specific requirements like close attention to privacy. Another such application is Diipo, which furnishes comparable features for K-12 instruction.
Cyberbullying is another technology issue facing educators who are embracing social media in the classroom. Stopbullying.gov (site no longer available as of 2018 – KW) offers these tips for protecting students from cyberbullies:
- Remain aware of what your children are doing online.
- Establish rules related to Internet use.
- Stay tuned-in to school policies regarding online interactions.
This resource, Cyberbullying & Substance Abuse, provides a great overview of cyberbullying (and then goes on to discuss the unfortunate link between cyberbullying and substance abuse).
As technology moves forward, teachers continue to tread the fine line between its practical uses and the risks associated with virtual education. Well-crafted school policies and safe platforms for educators help keep kids safe from malware, cyberbullies and opportunists, while parental engagement and diligent monitoring are additional techniques that can help position teaching with social media for success.
What are your experiences with this? If you have feedback, insights, or commentary to offer, please share. Other teachers and students will benefit from your input.