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More schools using SocMed: are we asking for trouble?

I noticed an article this morning out of The Oregonion, not for any particular nostalgia for my days growing up in the Pacific Northwest, but because the headline in my RSS feed caught my eye: "Schools use Facebook, Twitter to get out their message."Well sure they do.

I noticed an article this morning out of The Oregonion, not for any particular nostalgia for my days growing up in the Pacific Northwest, but because the headline in my RSS feed caught my eye: "Schools use Facebook, Twitter to get out their message."

Well sure they do. Even my district uses Twitter, although we're hardly active posters. Twitter is seen as fairly benign and can be as one-way as you want it to be. Yet the story is worth a bit more thought than that:

Community forums and newsletters sent home in backpacks are so old school. You want to find out whether stewed tomatoes are on tomorrow's lunch menu? Check out the district's latest tweet. How about the date for the next school board meeting? Look on Facebook. Don't like a school district decision? Post a comment.

I write a blog that very often invites comment, criticism, and some very strong views from my readers. That goes with the territory. The very nature of the medium is meant to be interactive. ZDNet has even made it easier for users to comment, lowering their "comment wall" and some of the discussions on ZDNet can get, well, lively. Do we, however, want "lively" discussions on a school-sanctioned site?

It's entirely possible that we do. Healthy dialog is a great thing, as is public input and feedback for what we do as educators. Administrators, teachers, and even parents really need to know what they might be getting themselves into by using social media tools. Similarly, as the author points out,

At the same time, the new domain comes with a new set of questions about how to maintain the district-sponsored sites, what kind of content is appropriate and who should have access to the sites during the workday.

These questions, as well as what we hope to gain and what potential risks we could face all need to be addressed before schools make the leap into social media. The host of legal and regulatory issues with which schools grapple on a daily basis makes the use of social media even more complicated than it is for businesses.

Am I saying we shouldn't use every tool at our disposal to reach busy parents and wired kids? Absolutely not. The OregonLive piece quotes, Karen Kleinz, associate director of the National School Public Relations Association

...most school districts will have to create clearer policies about what's OK and what isn't.

"I suspect we are going to see some of those policies change," Kleinz said. "There are already conversations out there about the fact that you can't have it both ways -- you either embrace technology and use or you don't."

That policy piece is particularly important. Creation of a policy with the involvement of teachers, students, parents, and administrators means that stakeholders are all aware of both risks and benefits and have ownership a policy that hopefully maximizes benefit and limits risk.