06 SES 07, Media Environments: Challenging schools and teacher
Social media, and especially Social Network Sites (SNSs), provided society with a vast array of new interaction capabilities and therefore, started to play an increasing role within our daily lives, and thus in education. SNSs, such as Facebook, can - if used appropriate - offer many benefits in educational settings, such as the facilitation of group work and the enhancement of communication between staff, students, and peers (Rowe, 2014). However, by introducing another space where schools, teachers and students interact, SNSs might “contribute to a blurring of boundaries between professional and personal personas” (Sugimoto, Hank, Bowman & Pomerantz, 2015). Therefore, researchers hold different conclusions when it comes to the teacher-student relationship and whether or not to ‘befriend’ a student. On one side, they emphasize the need for teachers of keeping separate professional and personal profiles in order to avoid undeserved and unwanted trespasses into teachers and/or students’ personal lives (Wang et al., 2014). Furthermore, researchers pointed out that being a ‘friend’ on Facebook has a different connotation from being friend in real life. On the other side, despite the existence of different roles on a formal level, Chen and Bryer (2012) stress the need of ‘keeping natural’ in the use of SNSs and not upsetting the social context generated by users’ interactions through unnatural or artificial boundaries. Furthermore, “Facebook personal profiles include a huge amount of identifiable information which can open the door to sexual predators, cyber stalking and cyber bullying” (Manca & Ranieri, 2014, p.12). Moreover, where bullying ended when school was over, it now continues online, through for instance SNSs.
Thus, although at first sight, interactions on SNSs might simply seem to be an extension of on- and off-school lives and hence fall under the same policies governing institutional codes of conduct, the medium merits special considerations for staff, teachers and students (Sugimento, Hank, Bowman & Pomerantz, 2015), and requires a thoughtful approach by the school. Such strategies and policies “would give the school community guidance in behaviours that are expected online.” (Junco, 2011, p.60). The introduction of a social media policy might also play a role in educating students about the importance of security settings and what content should be visible to the public (Williams, Feild & James, 2011) and may help to increase students’ awareness of social media professionalism (Henry & Webb, 2014, p.854).
Although schools increasingly use and have to deal with social media, research on schools’ social media strategies is scarce and mainly pertains higher education settings (Ranieri, Manca & Fini, 2012; Rodríguez-Hoyos, Haya Salmón & Fernández-Díaz, 2015; see e.g., Rowe, 2014; Pomerantz, Hank & Sugimento, 2015). Colleges and universities that do have published social media policies and guidelines relate only to official university social media accounts and communication (e.g., privacy rights and the authorisation for university use). Only few policies also address institutional and personal use and include behavioural standards (Henry & Webb, 2014). In Flanders (Belgium, Europe) there are no rules or guidelines for schools initiated by the government regarding the use of and behaviour on social media. This implies that schools have the freedom to develop this according their own vision, ideas or needs.
Several elements suggest that research about schools’ social media policies is needed. The objective of this study is to determine the existence and extent of social media policies and guidelines in secondary schools in Flanders (Belgium) and to explore how these policies are embedded in the schools.
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