Teaching (Photo by DBduo Photography).

Things have been tumultuous for educators since social media began its proliferation. The immense power of the digital tools provides a stunning array of new and useful ways to approach teaching. By the same token, the concern over improper interactions has cost many teachers their jobs over the same time period.

Fortunately, there are two pieces of news which make it much easier to avoid the pitfalls while embracing the opportunities presented in a connected world. The first is something that is pertinent to all working Americans, not just teachers. It is the new legal trend supporting employee privacy rights and social media. CBS reports:

A few landmark pieces of legislation have already started to define the legal terrain, and it’s clear which direction states are headed — they are beginning to side with employees. Six states have now outlawed employer efforts to coerce employees into turning over social media account information. In addition to Delaware, Maryland, Michigan and New Jersey, states that already had such laws on the books, Illinois and California now have similar legislation that kicked in as of January 1.

While anything posted publicly is fair game, employers in these states can no longer demand an employee’s logins and passwords so they can view private data. What a person does in their spare time, if legal, should not be subjected to scrutiny.

The other interesting and highly useful bit of news is the growth of educator-only communities online. Data from a survey conducted by MMS Education, sponsored by edWeb and MCH Strategic Data, shows a definite trend toward dedicated communities. Jason Tomassini of The Huffington Post brings us the abbreviated stats:

On the surface, educators’ social-network membership mirrors that of the general population, the survey shows. Overall, such membership among educators increased from 61 percent to 82 percent between 2009 and 2012, with female educators showing slightly more online activity than males, and younger educators tending to use social networks more than their older colleagues. The most popular network among the 694 survey respondents was Facebook, with 85 percent usage. LinkedIn (41 percent) and Twitter (39 percent) were runners-up.

But the survey revealed interesting data on less common social-network use among educators. For instance, 27 percent of respondents use Edmodo, the social learning site that is as much a classroom-management tool as it is a network. That’s up from 3 percent in 2007 and equal to membership on Google+, the search giant’s much-ballyhooed social endeavor. Ranking second behind Edmodo was edWeb, with usage by 15 percent of respondents.

One interesting bit of info from the report is that when educators use social media the most problematic aspect of it is the least one interesting to them. Very few want to use social media to interact with students — in general, the goal is professional development.

Dedicated communities are much more useful in this regard as the signal-to-noise ratio is much better. For example, 52% of respondents who use social media were also members of Discovery Education Network, an online forum created by the media company. PBS and Scholastic also offer online educator forums with significant levels of engagement.

Additional information of note from the findings includes the following:

  1. Users of education-specific social networks use them more frequently than they use general social networks: 26% of teachers said they would join a new educator-specific social network within the next year. By comparison, only 5% said they would join a new network for personal use.
  2. Eighty-four percent were concerned by the privacy issues associated with platforms like Facebook and Twitter. A mere 45% had those worries about educator specific networks.

The Internet puts so much information at our fingertips that it’s utterly astounding. Once the birth pains of these new media pass and we refine our approach to dealing with the new state of affairs, I think we will see a truly great leap in both the quantity and quality of education.

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