Social Media Blocked by School Culture

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This past week, I had the opportunity to participate in a conversation about the use of social networking tools in schools. This was a relatively informal gathering of technology directors and chief technology officers. One of the topics that came up was the use of social media tools (e.g. Twitter, Facebook) by school districts themselves. Obviously, there's a problem everyone in the room is aware of...the accounts for Twitter and Facebook are created but there's no "authority" or "permission" granted for them to be used. One CTO created a Facebook account for the District that looked "real good" but then it had to be de-activated at the Superintendent's direction.

This is a fascinating phenomenon to districts know they need to use social media but can't because of their top-down culture.School districts are rushing to get Twitter and Facebook accounts, but after they get the account, they don't do anything with them except create a pretty store-front.

Clayton Christensen writes in Disrupting Class book... organization cannot disrupt itself. It cannot implement an innovation that does not make economic or cultural sense to itself.
Simply, school districts are paralyzed in the face of social media because they are afraid to say or do anything. The social media model empowers the individual but in a top-down organization like schools, empowering the individual to speak up is forbidden. Only what the top hierarchy allow to be spoken, is. Those who violate that rule are subject to punishment. Innovation, individuality now possible through social media are anathema to large organizations like schools who want to control their image.

What they don't realize is that they can't. Worse, because the school district is paralyzed in its use of social media, everyone looks to ONE person in the organization. First, they look to the Superintendent. The challenge is that superintendents are often the LAST persons in the organization to demonstrate technology use. Their position and power is based on back-door conversations with the school board, command-n-control of the Superintendent's cabinet staff. Effective social media use wouldn't replace the need for secrecy and control, but it might undermine it.

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(View other social media policies for organizations online)

If an individual uses Twitter or Facebook to say negative things about the school district they work for, they would probably face censure, or even, termination. This is true for other school district staff members. These are organizations that would rather suppress expression of opinions and fact, they would argue that people just don't know how to responsibly use these technologies. As such, these technologies shouldn't be available in schools UNTIL people learn how to use them.

The ultimate irony, of course, is that social media tools are given lip-service by school leaders but strictly controlled to prevent any disruption from occurring. Yes, a superintendent could connect directly with the community but what would the school Board think about that? Teachers could speak directly to Board members to make them aware of inappropriateness, but what lengths would their employer go to silence them?

It's a fascinating issue and one we all have to wrestle with in schools today.

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


mark @ Gaggle said…
Intriguing post Miguel! I'm surprised there aren't a ton of responses to this. I'm curious as to others' opinions for resolution to these issues? What will it take for the 'status quo' paradigm to shift?

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