After spending the day practicing cursive writing and discussing how money moves through a community, Mike Ice’s 2nd graders at Dunn Elementary School in Louisville, Ky., took out their notebooks and described what they’d learned—in 140 characters or fewer.
Then Mr. Ice selected a few students to type their abbreviated reports on the classroom’s Twitter page—so that all the parents following their progress would receive a “tweet” about their day.
“We did cursive morning work, it was the letter D,” wrote Jenna Sexton, 8.
Updating the classroom’s Twitter page has become a daily practice for the Kentucky teacher’s students.
“It’s just one more way to show [parents] what their children are doing each day,” Mr. Ice said of his decision to use the microblogging site.
Social networking is a practice that the 98,000-student Jefferson
County, Ky., public school system, which includes Louisville, has only recently begun to embrace. Until just a couple of weeks ago, the district had blocked such sites as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube because of concerns, addressed in the federal Children’s Internet Protection Act, about access to potentially offensive content over the Internet on school and library computers.
But now, the Jefferson County district and other nearby school systems, including Oldham and Bullitt, are allowing teachers to use some social-media sites such as YouTube and Twitter to enhance their lessons—a shift in policy direction being made by districts in other states, too. (“Twitter Lessons in 140 Characters or Less,” Oct. 21, 2009.)
“Based on the Children’s Internet Protection Act, we are being very cautious with allowing access to these sites,” said Bo Lowrey, the director of telecommunications for the Jefferson County schools. “We are able to monitor everyone’s use on these sites.”
District officials say the educational benefits—such as better communication and improved instruction—are proving social media to be more than just a distraction.
“We have examples of classroom teachers that have used YouTube to explain different concepts to their students,” Mr. Lowrey said.
Facebook may be unblocked next, he said, so teachers and staff members can use that site to communicate with parents and the community.
Some of those policy changes are being embraced at the highest levels of state education agencies. For instance, Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday has a Twitter account and tweets regularly about things going on at the state education department and the places he’s visited. “I like it because you can provide instant news and information about what is going on in the education world,” Mr. Holliday said.
In Lexington, Ky., officials with the 38,000-student Fayette County school system have set up both a Twitter account and a Facebook page.
“We are using both sites as yet another way of communicating with our parents and our community,” said Fayette County schools Superintendent Stu Silberman.
Mr. Silberman also has his own Twitter account, where he tweets about interesting things going on in the district or links to important education-related articles.
“We saw a large increase in fans when we had all the bad weather about a month ago,” Mr. Silberman said. “Parents discovered that they could find out directly if school was going to be canceled or delayed, and the numbers really skyrocketed.”
He said there was some initial resistance within the district to jumping into social networking.
“But so far, it’s been a great communications tool,” he said. “We see this as a service to our parents and our community. The whole social-networking thing is part of a whole new world out there, and it’s important that we became involved with it.”
District Facebook Page?
Jefferson County school officials say they are studying the possibility of creating a district Twitter account and a Facebook page, said Lauren Roberts, a spokeswoman for the district.
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Jennifer Hughes, a parent of three children in the district schools, said she hopes the district signs up for the social-networking sites.
“I check my Facebook page more than I check my e-mail,” said Ms. Hughes, 37. “It would be wonderful if I was able to get news or information about the schools directly from the district on my Facebook page.”
Ms. Hughes added that more and more parents are signing up for Twitter and Facebook.
Jeremy Renner, a technology resource teacher with the Jefferson County school district, said he is thrilled that the district lifted its ban on Twitter and YouTube.
“I see a lot of potential for it—from professional growth and idea-sharing among teachers to reaching out to students, parents, and the community, ” he said.
Mr. Renner, who travels to 15 elementary schools and helps instruct teachers on how to integrate technology into their lesson plans and classrooms, said he would love to see more teachers start using Twitter. “When used the right way, it can really be a good teaching tool,” he said.
Mr. Ice of Dunn Elementary in Louisville said he plans to find other 2nd grade classrooms from across the country, or world, to follow through Twitter, as well as interesting people, such as astronauts who are tweeting from space.
A version of this article appeared in the March 17, 2010 edition of Education Week as Districts Change Policies, Embrace Twitter, YouTube for Educational Purposes