While the Internet has been a transformative tool for education – which has witness the growth of online learning, in-classroom collaboration and the use of online research tools – it has also presented an enormous challenge in education, particularly for school-age children. A sharp-edged tool, the Internet is a place of both valuable educational materials and distractions that can be time-wasting at best, dangerous in a worst-case scenario. Many schools are calling the distraction of social media one of their biggest challenges when it comes to twenty-first century education.
According to a recent New York Times article, many schools today are finding technology solutions to help them control the more nefarious aspects of social media. These technologies involve filters that can keep track of what students are doing on school networks, and some even offer automated tools that can monitor off-campus postings to catch small problems before they become large problems.
These technology solutions have presented challenges of their own. Many schools that successfully track student use of social media are struggling to understand whether they should – or even whether they can, according to the law – take steps to discipline school children for misuse of social media in situations such as bullying or the posting of inappropriate material.
Several recent high-profile incidents of online bullying – some of which have resulted in suicides of teens – have brought the issue to the forefront.
“Educators find themselves needing to balance students’ free speech rights against the dangers children can get into at school and sometimes with the law because of what they say in posts on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr,” wrote Somini Sengupta for the Times. “Courts have started to weigh in.”
Since there is little by way of legal precedent for schools becoming involved in students’ off-campus use of social media, school administrators and local courts are operating in murky waters. Some courts have sided with schools in decisions to suspend students for off-campus social media misbehavior, while others have rules that schools have no jurisdiction after-hours and off of school networks.
“It is a concern and in some cases, a major problem for school districts,” Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, which represents public school superintendents, told the Times.
Unfortunately, it’s a fine line between upholding free speech and protecting students and upholding school rules of conduct, and schools that don’t tread carefully could find themselves in deep with legal troubles.
Edited by Alisen Downey