NYC Department of Education (DOE) issued their Social Media Guidelines this week. As someone working to develop digital literacy for school staff and learners at city wide level in the UK, I'm of course very interested in the approach they've chosen to taken.
It's disappointing, although not surprising, to see that the media coverage of the guidelines was predominantly limited to negative framing of the friending issue – one of the least controversial elements of the guidance. That school staff should not friend learners (in particular, connect to learners existing personal accounts) on social media sites, is advice you'll find in the 2009 Cyberbullying: Supporting School Staff that I led on for the UK's Department of Children Schools and Families, on behalf of Childnet International.
Some of questions I asked myself when reading through were:
1. Does this policy help keep learners and staff safe? By that I don't mean, does it prevent them from doing anything that carries risk, but does it support them in recognising risk and managing risk, and responding to harm?
2. Does the policy support NYC staff who are already using social media productively and responsibly with their learners, for their own professional development, and/or for school communication and activity?
There are some great things going on in the NYC public sector – in Government, schools, museums and libraries – in terms of the social and educational use of technologies. And there will be DOE employees already using social media effectively and responsibly with their learners and for their own professional development – how does the guidance support them? My comments on the guidance are limited to how it reads as a stand alone document – there is reference to implementation activity but no detail.
3. Does the policy encourage staff and schools who don't currently use of social technologies to develop the skills and confidence to make critical and effective use of techniques and resources?
I've responded directly to the policy and reproduced it (without permission) here. I'm happy to take the DOE text policy text down if they'd like me to (please just ask); my comments are obviously clearer if you can read them in direct relation to the text. DOE text is in bold throughout, my comments in regular.
A warning for people clicking through – it's a long document.
My summery thoughts (aka 'the short version'):
Although the guidelines open with a positive statement about the potential of educators and schools use of social media to support learners, the content of the policy doesn't really support or develop this opening stance.
The broad approach is to draw a line between two kinds of engagement with social media – 'personal' and 'professional'. These are not defined particularly clearly, and the binary doesn't reflect most peoples – including learners and education employees – actual engagement with and experience of social media.
This effectively de-legitimises existing practice that doesn't conform to the distinction of 'work/not work', and provides an extremely limited model of how technology might be used.
This post: Personal – Professional – Organisational: three basic online identities is useful in terms of my questions and arguments, but basically – organisational use of social media (what I do on behalf of my employer an in direct relation to my role as an employee) is not the same as professional use of social media (professional development or engagement activities relating to me as a professional, but not as an official employee or in an official capacity).
The guidelines decouple 'personal' and 'professional' use, and defines all 'organisational' activity as 'professional' activity. I'd argue this approach isn't a productive one. The guidelines risk stymieing the development of staff skills and confidence in the use of technology to support learning an learning communities; it doesn't attend to common safeguarding situations; it could potentially derail current effective practice; and I'd also say it oversteps the employee-employer relationship with regard to existing and new effective and responsible use of social media.
Additionally, the centralisation of regulating network activity is always going to be, at best, a very limited approach. There's a basic misunderstanding of the nature of networked activity going on if you think that the most effective way of addressing behaviour and safeguarding issues is not by supporting and prioritising whole community engagement and development.
While official guidance is usually written by people who have a nuanced view of the complexity of their area, it's issued and often expected to be implemented by people who may have limited experience of the topic being addressed. It's crucial then to ensure any guidance is clear enough to not just end up being used by gatekeepers to discourage potentially positive activity.
photo credit: by Ed Yourdon, shared under a Creative Commons licence