The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) has released “Making Progress: Rethinking State and School District Policies Concerning Mobile Technologies and Social Media.” While the title is just barely tweetable at 110 characters, the report could essentially be boiled down to just four letters: BYOT: Bring your own technology (twitter hashtag #BYOT.)
The goal of the policy report, which is the result of a convening of senior level education leaders and policy makers in December 2011 by CoSN and the FrameWorks Institute, is to influence and inform educators and policymakers to “address new digital media in the context of improved learning.” It hopes to highlight both the affordances and drawbacks around the use of social media, mobile devices and emerging digital technologies in the classrooms, in order to reconcile policy with both the changing landscape of education, and the changing skills needed by students in the 21st century. The report boldly advances the once revolutionary and now widely accepted premise that our schools-most of whom only allow students to bring mobile devices to use on breaks and in emergencies-should actually integrate the use of these devices and ubiquitous social media into deeper and more personalized curriculum and teaching strategies.
The report suggests that while compliance with federal regulations such as the Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA) and E-rate is indispensable to schools across the country, the yeoman’s load of the responsibility for setting acceptable use policies (AUP) as well as scalable integration of ever-changing technology should reside at the district or state level. This individuation may include allowing students to bring their own technology, as well as lifting the ban on mobile technology in classrooms. Driving these recommendations are five critical observations regarding digital media and devices in K-12 schools.
1. Usage of mobile devices and social media is widespread. Harnessing this usage allows educators to create more teachable moments in and out of the classroom, and construct and support personalized learning as well as peer-to-peer dialogue.
2. Social media and mobile devices offer “substantial educational benefits” for students and schools. The report cites a non-comprehensive list of six possible benefits of this usage, including the importance of mastering 21st century skills that will be key throughout a person’s life. It also lists five examples of how technology and education can be integrated.
3. The current realities of mobile device and social media use among students need to be reflected in federal, state and local policies and procedures. If use of these are increased in schools, policies and AUPs must be updated to instill the knowledge of students in regards to their use.
4. Plans to structure a positive use of social media and digital technology must be facilitated. Possible negative behaviors such as TMI, sexting or bullying should be addressed.
5. Digital Equity. Instituting a BYOT policy, even with the most consciences AUPs, can increase the digital divide. Additionally, the use of social media for teachable moments outside the classroom presumes Internet access for all students. As the report says, “Failure to address this will create a critical fault line in the differential learning opportunities available. . . potentially leave some groups of students ill prepared to join in our country’s 21st century workforce.”
The report, based on these observations, follows with suggestions to policymakers, including: rescinding bans on mobile devices and social media in classrooms and emphasizing professional development for all stakeholders that focuses not only on technological integration for higher quality instruction, but also “the ethical, legal and practical issues related to social networking and mobile devices in the classroom.” It also offers some “real world cases” of classroom integration of digital innovation tools.
The Cooney Center has joined an alliance of educational and public engagement organizations like CoSN and the FrameWorks Institute in advancing many of the ideas in the report. While technology, well deployed, has great potential for strengthening the quality and impact of our educational system, the issues raised in this important report point out that schools have a long way to go in considering emerging “best practices.”