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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Nashua school officials support Facebook faculty ‘fan page’

NASHUA – School officials have “liked” a proposed policy establishing guidelines for teachers communicating with students through social networking sites and electronic means.

Under the policy, which still needs final approval from the Board of Education, teachers who want to use Facebook in the classroom would be encouraged to set up a “fan page” to communicate with students, as opposed to “friending” students. The proposed policy, as written, would prohibit teachers from beings “friends” with students on the popular social networking site.

At a meeting earlier this week, members of the Board of Education’s policy committee were generally favorable to a recommendation from Assistant Superintendent Brian Cochrane to use the policy, taken from a district in Illinois, as the framework for a Nashua School District policy on electronic communications with students.

While addressing social networking is important, Cochrane said the goal is to have a policy that covers all electronic communication, including e-mail and texting.

“This policy intends to deal with electronic communications in general, of which social networking Web sites like Facebook are probably the most complex to deal with,” he said.

While the district already has a policy on staff ethics, Cochrane said the district should move forward with a policy specifically addressing the issue of using Facebook, Twitter and blogs.

It’s known that many teachers already have started to incorporate those mediums into the classroom. For example, Cochrane pointed out that Nashua High School South principal Jennifer Seusing has started a Twitter account for the school, where she posts updates about student accomplishments

“Clearly, we can make use of it in a lot of appropriate ways,” he said.

The proposed policy states electronic communication with students should be transparent, accessible and professional. It then goes into a narrative about acceptable communication methods, such as school Web sites and Moodle, an open source e-learning software platform, and less acceptable methods, such as texting. The policy encourages teachers, coaches and advisers to let parents know if they plan to use texting.

Teachers would be prohibited from using non-district e-mail accounts to communicate with students.

Board of Education Tom Vaughan, chairman of the policy committee, said the proposed policy strikes an appropriate balance between encouraging innovative practices and establishing appropriate guidelines. Vaughan said he has seen other district’s policies, including Manchester, which seem to discourage the practice altogether.

“If I read that as an instructor, I would find it chilling,” Vaughan said. “They’re basically saying don’t do any of that technology stuff. I don’t think that’s a place we want to be.”

The policy committee will have to vote again before it goes to the full board for final approval. In the meantime, Vaughan said he’s hoping to get feedback from parents, students and teachers.

“I’m hoping that they might point out something we haven’t thought of,” he said.

Some board members at Tuesday’s meeting raised concerns about confidential information being sent through electronic communication. Steve Haas wanted to make sure there was wording included that let teachers know that should be prohibited.

For some board members, drafting a policy on how to communicate on Facebook has also been an introduction to social networking.

“I find this whole Facebook thing incredible,” Dennis Ryder said. “What people are posting about themselves, I can’t believe it.”

Ryder said he supported the policy.

“I can’t see anything to object to anywhere,” he said.

Michael Brindley can be reached at 594-6426 or mbrindley@nashuatelegraph.com.